Momentous motoring events that took place during this week in history …..
110 years ago this week, the Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost began its 15,000 Miles Official Trial [21 June 1907]……. 90 years ago
this week, The fifth 24 Hours of Le Mans Grand Prix of Endurance finished [19 June 1927]. The race is commonly remembered due to the infamous White House crash, which involved all three of the widely tipped Bentley team’s entries, and caused the retirement of two of them. The race was eventually won by the third which, although badly damaged, was able to be repaired by drivers Dudley Benjafield and Sammy Davis. It was Bentley’s second victory in the endurance classic. The winning margin was an incredible 21 laps. The total entry for the 1927 Le Mans race was only 23, although this was down to 22 by the time of the race itself due to one of the two Tracta entries crashing while en route to the event. In comparison with previous years, when entries had nearly topped 50 cars, the 1927 field had been depleted by mergers, bankruptcies and other financial worries amongst competitor manufacturers. Amongst the list of absentees were the Lorraine-Dietrich team, winners of the event for the previous two years. With three cars entered, it was therefore the Bentley squad who were pre-race favourites to take an easy victory. After a humiliating run of retirements since their victory in the 1924 event, W.O. Bentley decided to enter a strong team, despite the weakened opposition. Dudley Benjafield and Sammy Davis were again paired in the same 3 litre car which they had crashed just an hour from the finish in the 1926 race: Old Number 7. A second 3
litre was entered for Andre d’Erlanger and George Duller, while Leslie Callingham and 1924-winner Frank Clement were entrusted with the 4½ litre prototype, Old Mother Gun. The majority of the cars ranged against the Bentley Boys were an assortment of small-capacity French cars aiming for victory in the Index of Performance, with only the 2 litre Théophile Schneiders and a lone, 3 litre Ariès, driven by Robert Laly and Jean Chassagne, offering serious competition. However, as the only vehicle in the 5 litre class, Old Mother Gun was substantially quicker than even these. As expected it was car number 1, Old Mother Gun, which led away from the start. The Benjafield/Davis car slipped into second place, with d’Erlanger and Duller in third place making it a Bentley 1-2-3 in the opening laps. Old Mother Gun’s pace advantage was underlined by Clement when he broke the circuit record in only the second lap of the race. Over the following few laps he whittled this down still further, to only 8 minutes 46 seconds for the 10.7 mile (17.3 km) circuit. This early-race performance was yet more remarkable as, at the time, the cars were required to run with their hoods erected for the first three hours of the race. Behind Frank Clement the race was tight, however, with the 3 litre Ariès and the Jacques Chanterelle/René Schiltz Théophile Schneider managing to keep pace with the 3 litre Bentleys as the race progressed into the growing evening gloom. It was just after 9:30pm that the second Théophile Schneider, driven by Robert Poitier and Pierre Tabourin, precipitated the race’s most famous event. A few laps in arrears but being chased hard by Callingham in Old Mother Gun, the driver misjudged his entry speed into the virages Maison Blanche (since bypassed by the Porsche Curves), known amongst the British fraternity by their English translation: the White House curves. The Théophile Schneider slewed to a halt, broadside across the road. Rather than plough head-on into his opponent, Callingham chose to put the Bentley off the road, into a ditch. Unfortunately for him the big car rolled, throwing him into the centre of the road. Unsighted by the corner, when the
second Théophile Schneider came upon the accident site the driver did not have time to take evasive action and thus collided, at speed, with the Bentley and its sister car. A similar fate awaited Duller, at the wheel of the number 2 Bentley, and a 2 litre Ariès, before Sammy Davis in the second 3 litre Bentley approached the White House curves. Davis perceived that all was not as it should be – even tens of metres back up the road its surface was strewn with debris – and so entered the corner slower than would normally have been the case. Even so, his speed was such that, by the time he spotted the wreckage blocking the road in front of him, he did not have sufficient time to brake to a halt. Rather than also hit the stationary cars head-on Davis provoked the big Bentley into a slide. Because of this Davis hit the stricken cars sideways, striking first with the right-hand front wing. In spite of Davis’s prompt action the impact was substantial, but unlike the other unfortunates he was able to restart his car and (once he had assured himself that his team-mates and the Frenchmen were all accounted for and only slightly hurt) drive gently back to the pits. Once in the pits Davis and Benjafield assessed the damage. External assistance was greatly restricted at the time, so it was down to the drivers to effect any repairs needed to continue. The right wing was badly mangled and had to be reattached to the car using string, while the right headlamp was broken beyond repair. More fundamentally, the right front wheel was bent, as were the axle and chassis, but Davis decided to press on regardless. He volunteered to take the car back onto the track and completed six further laps to check that all was well, before Benjafield retook the wheel. In the time which had elapsed during the incident and as the car was being repaired, the 3 litre Ariès had slipped past and was beginning to establish a sizeable lead. Benjafied set about reducing the French car’s advantage, pushing the Bentley hard despite running with only one headlamp and a flashlight strapped to the windscreen frame to guide him through the dark of night. By midday on Sunday they had reduced Laly and Chassagne’s lead to only a single lap, assisted by a few mechanical maladies which afflicted the French car in the pits. The Ariès had a fault with its ignition system, which had resulted in lengthy delays during driver changes, and on its 122nd lap the system failed completely, stranding Chassagne out on the circuit. With its only remaining rival now out of contention, Benjafield and Davies completed the remaining time of the race at greatly reduced speed, nursing the injured Bentley home. They won the race having completed only 1472 miles (2369 km), at an average of just over 61 mph (98 km/h), far fewer than the record, set the previous year, of 1586 miles (2552 km). Despite the comparatively slow overall pace, the dramatic events surrounding the White House crash meant that the race gained much wider press coverage than had been the case in previous years. In particular, Davis’s honourable and heroic actions in searching the wreckage for his compatriots and rivals, before continuing the race in the teeth of adversity, gained him high praise. That such actions had been taken by a group of young men who had previously been much better known for their lavish parties and fast-living lifestyles only added to the popular appeal. Their pluck and determination seemed to embody much of what the British regarded as best in their national character, and on their return to the UK the team were greeted as national heroes. The Autocar magazine fuelled the Bentley team’s reputation by hosting a grand post-race party at the Savoy Hotel in central London, at which Old Number 7 was guest of honour. A repaired Old Mother Gun (which had sat out the remainder of the race still in its ditch) returned to La Sarthe the following year, and won the race with a new record of 154 laps. Both Benjafield and Davis remained significant figures in British motorsport over the following few decades – Benjafield as founder of the British Racing Drivers’ Club, and Davis as sports editor of The Autocar and one of the founders of the Veteran Car Club – but neither’s racing career managed to equal their achievement at Le Mans in 1927…….80 years ago this week, Tazio Nuvolari in an Alfa Romeo 12C-36 won the 2nd Milan Grand Prix, held over 70 laps of the 2.75 km twisty circuit in the Sempione Park with its two tight hairpins [20 June 1937]…… on the same day [20 June 1937], Jean-Pierre Wimille and Robert Benoist won the Le Mans 24-hour race in a Bugatti Type 57G, becoming the first to exceed 2000 total miles during the event. Both men would go on to become active members of the French Resistance during WWII. Benoist did not survive the war. Wimille resumed his racing career, to become arguably the greatest driver of the immediate post-war era. This race saw the death of two drivers in a single accident. Briton Pat Fairfield and Frenchman René Kippeurt collided on lap 8 of the race and were killed…….70 years ago this week, the world premiere of the much-hyped Tucker Torpedo [19 June 1947]. Over 3,000 people showed up for lunch, a train tour of the plant, and the
unveiling in the main auditorium. The unveiling looked doomed, however, as last-minute problems with the car cropped up. The suspension snapped and the car would not move. Tucker ad-libbed on stage for two hours while emergency repairs were carried out. It was finally pushed onto a turntable by hand, and the curtain was lifted to thunderous applause. Tucker was joined on stage by his family, with his daughter smashing a champagne bottle on the “Cyclops Eye” and soaking her father. Also on stage were Tucker’s engineers, still covered in grease from the last-minute repairs……. The first postwar Mille Miglia (“Thousand Miles”) began in Brescia, Italy. The Mille Miglia was originally conceived by Aymo Maggi in 1927, who gained the approval of the Fascist government in Rome to run a road race from Brescia to Rome and back, over Italian roads. The course was plotted for 1,000 miles [21 June 1947]. This postwar version had 155 starters. Aided by a violent rainstorm that hampered runner-up Tazio Nuvolari’s small Cisitalia convertible, the driver Clemente Biondetti won the race in an Alfa Romeo. Even in its new incarnation, Italian drivers and cars dominated the race, which popularised such powerhouse brands as Alfa Romeo, Ferrari and Maserati. Tragically, driver Alfonso de Portago blew a tire and spun off the road during the 1957 edition, killing himself, his co-driver and 10 spectators. Three days later, the Italian government banned the Mille Miglia and all other motor racing on Italian public roads……. 60 years ago this week, Pontiac announced plans to sell British-made Vauxhall cars through its dealer network [20 June 1957]…… Charles King (89), the first person in Detroit to design, build and drive a self-propelled automobile – 3 months before Henry Ford built his automobile, died [22 June 1957]. The Detroit Journal of March 7, 1896, reported that King drove his motor-powered vehicle down Woodward Avenue – being the first person in Detroit to build and drive such a vehicle. The Journal also reported that King made and sold the first complete automobile in Detroit…….The last Hudson rolled off the Kenosha assembly line in Wisconsin, US [25 June 1957]. There were no ceremonies, because at that point there was still hope of continuing the Hudson and Nash names into the 1958 model year on the Rambler chassis as deluxe, longer-wheelbase senior models. The Hudosn Car Company was founded by eight Detroit businessmen in February 1909. Among them was retailing magnate Joseph L. Hudson. Another was Roy D. Chapin, Sr., who led the new firm to high prosperity as its president from 1910 to 1923. Hudson built some of America’s fleetest and finest cars during its 48-year history and was often among the industry’s sales leaders through 1950. A key early success was the low-priced four-cylinder Essex introduced in 1919.By 1925, it had boosted Hudson to third place behind Ford and Chevrolet. Hudson then ran third, fourth, or fifth on volume that reached 300,000 cars by 1929. Unfortunately, total sales fell sharply in the devastated Depression market. Had it not been for the speedy, inexpensive Essex Terraplane, Hudson might have folded by 1940. The firm forged an enviable reputation in the 1920s largely with its Super and Special Sixes: big, smooth, solid cars offering good performance for the money and fine reliability. But with the advent of an Essex Six in 1924, Hudson decided to move upmarket. The result was a single 1930 line called Great Eight. Great it wasn’t. At 213.5 cubic inches, its engine was actually smaller than previous Hudson sixes, had just 80 horsepower to move a heavy chassis, and wasn’t as sturdy. It did boast an integrally cast block and crankcase, and was the first straight eight with a counterweighted crankshaft, but its splash lubrication system was outmoded. Hudson stayed with this engine for the optimistically named Greater Eights of 1931-32 — in retrospect it was a mistake for a depressed market where sixes would surely have sold better. Displacement was increased each year: first to 233.7 cid and 87 bhp, then to 254 cid and 101 bhp. Another 1930 setback was the Depression-related closure of Biddle and Smart, Hudson’s longtime supplier of magnificent open bodies. The company thus turned to Murray and Briggs for phaeton and speedster bodies. A few eight-cylinder Hudsons of this period also sported dashing coachwork by the renowned firm LeBaron. Through 1933, Hudson Eights offered numerous body styles on wheelbases of 119-132 inches: roadsters, Victorias, convertibles, sedans, town sedans, coupes, and Broughams (two-door sedans). It was an attractive line that would have done justice to far-costlier brands, but it wasn’t successful. The Greater Eight managed only 22,250 sales for 1931. The ’32 total was below 8000, despite unchanged prices and lush new Sterling and Major series. Seeing the error of its ways, Hudson launched a new Super Six for its 1933 “Pacemaker” line — the car was essentially the 73-bhp 193-cid Essex Terraplane engine in the 113-inch Hudson chassis. That year’s Eights comprised four 119-inch-wheelbase standard models and five luxurious Majors on a 132-inch platform. But production bottomed out at under 3000. Interesingly, Eights outsold Sixes nearly 2-to-1. For 1934, Hudson again abandoned sixes, reserving them for the new Terraplane line that replaced Essex as the firm’s “companion” marque……..40 years ago this week, the Scandinavian Raceway staged the Swedish Grand Prix, which was won by Jacques Laffite driving a Ligier-Matra JS7 [19 June 1977]…….30 years ago this week, Britain’s most persistent learner driver, Mrs Git Kaur Randhawa of Hayes, Middlesex finally passed her driving test at the 48th attempt after more than 330 lessons [19 June 1987]………The Detroit Grand Prix held in Detroit, Michigan over 63 laps of the four kilometre circuit for a race distance of 253 kilometres, was won by Ayrton Senna in the active ride suspension equipped Lotus 99T [21 June 1987]…… on the same day [21 June 1987] Drivers Roy Lambert and Ray Hancock, with navigator John Taylor, completed a 3,609-mile course around Britain in a diesel-powered Ford Fiesta 1600. The fuel consumption for the 7-day journey was 85.2 mpg…….20 years ago this week, Auto Club Speedway (formerly California Speedway), a two-mile (3 km), low-banked, D-shaped oval superspeedway in Fontana, California which has hosted NASCAR racing annually since 1997, was officially opened [20 June 1997]. The first race, a NASCAR West Series race, was held the next day. The speedway is also used for open wheel racing events…….10 years ago this week, the Vatican issued a set of “Ten Commandments” for drivers, telling motorists not to kill, not to drink and drive, and to help fellow travellers in case of accidents [19 June 2007]…… A lorry driver caught steering with his knees while he ate spaghetti from a pan was jailed for eight weeks after he admitted dangerous driving ‘[20 June 2007]. Martin Veens was spotted driving his left-hand 40-tonne truck erratically on the A55 road near Northop, Flintshire. Prestatyn magistrates heard how the North Wales Police helicopter’s camera filmed him holding and eating from a saucepan as he steered with his knees. Veens, from the Netherlands, was banned from driving for a year….. On the same day [20 June 2007] Bosch manufactured its ten billionth spark plug. The landmark plug was made at the company’s Bamberg plant in Germany, which was opened in 1939 and has manufactured the majority of the company’s output. Laid end-to-end, the Bosch spark plugs that have been made would form a chain stretching for more than 348,000 miles, circling the equator approximately 14 times……… The Ferrari around the world relay comes to an end at their headquarters in Italy. The marketing ploy was in celebration of Ferrari’s 60th anniversary [23 June 2007]. The relay started on January 28 in Abu Dhabi and traveled through 50 countries. Thousands of Ferrari owners participated all over the world carrying a symbolic baton that represented the company.