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21-27 January: Motoring Milestones

Discover the most momentous motoring events that took place this week in history….

120 years ago this week, the five Opel brothers acquired the rights to the Lutzmann automobile, and began production in in Russelheim, Germany [21 January 1899]. The Opel-Lutzmann was soon abandoned, and in 1902, Opel introduced its first original car, a 2-cylinder runabout. In the decades that followed, Opel became one of the premier forces in the European automobile industry, modernizing its factories relentlessly and adopting the continuous-motion assembly line before its European competitors. Today, Opel is a wholly owned subsidiary of General Motors. It produces about a quarter of all German cars, and exports heavily to South America and Africa.The best-selling Opel models in the U.S. were the 1964 to 1972 Opel Kadett, the 1971 to 1975 Opel Manta, and the now-classic 1968 to 1973 Opel GT…….Frenchman Camille Jenatzy captured the land-speed record (49.932 miles per hour) in a battery-powered automobile of his own design [27 January 1899]……….100 years ago this week, Roscoe Sarles drove a Miller-powered Roamer to victory at Ascot Speedway in Los Angeles, California, US [26 January 1919]………70 years ago this week, the United Racing Club (URC), held its first awards dinner at the Hotel Stacy-Trent in Trenton, New Jersey, US [22 January 1949]. The URC, through the visionary leadership of Harry Johnson (and later Louie Kunz) became known for innovative ideas that always seemed to be one step ahead of the other groups. One of the earliest of these innovations was that of an actual sit-down championship awards banquet. The AAA never held such an affair and although some of the Eastern independent groups would have a “gathering” to celebrate the past season, the URC was first to have a real awards dinner. In addition to the usual driver awards, another first was introduced with recognition of the car owners through their own set of points………NASCAR President Bill France promoted a 100-mile race at the new Broward Speedway [23 January 1949]. The huge two-mile speedway consisted of a paved circle used as taxiways at the Ft. Lauderdale-Davie Airport, Florida, US. Red Byron set the pack in qualifying with a speed of just over 115 mph. Lloyd Christopher won a preliminary 10-mile “Strictly Stock Late Model” race. Fonty Flock won the 50-lap

feature at an average speed of 97 mph…….60 years ago this week, Mike Hawthorn, only months into his retirement after becoming Britain’s first World Drivers Champion, was tragically killed at the age of 29 in a car crash on the A3 Guildford bypass in Surrey, England [22 January 1959]. He won Le Mans in 1955 with Jaguar, a year sadly best remembered for the Mercedes crash that killed French driver Pierre Levegh and over 80 spectators. For most of his Grand Prix career Hawthorn drove for Ferrari, for whom he had clinched the World Drivers Championship the previous October by a single point from his great rival, fellow countryman Stirling Moss………Dense fog brought many roads in England and Wales to a virtual standstill [23 January 1959]. An AA spokesman said 28 hours of fog in the capital had left a nil-visibility ring around London. He said: “It is a motorist’s nightmare as rush-hour drivers grope their way through nil visibility in the Hendon, Finchley, Northolt, Wandsworth, Bromley and Sidcup districts.” Traffic patrols reported nose-to-tail jams and vehicles travelling at a crawl from all parts of the capital. At least six people were injured in three collisions on the ice-covered Kingston by-pass in Surrey. Thirty-five vehicles were involved in a collision in dense fog at Hampton Hill in Middlesex. A London Transport spokesman said many buses had been unable to leave their garages because crews could not get to work on time……….50 years ago this week, Ford unveiled its

first fastback sports saloon, the Capri, to the press at the Brussels Motor Show. The Capri was sold as ‘the car you always promised yourself”. Production was actually started at the Halewood plant in November 1968, which meant that all Ford dealers in the UK had at least one Ford Capri in their showrooms by the 5 February 1969. The Capri was designed by American Philip T. Clark, famous for being one of the main designers of the Ford Mustang, which until 2010 was an unknown fact. Using the mechanical components from the Ford Cortina and intended as the European equivalent of the Ford Mustang for the European markets, the Capri went on to be a highly successful car for Ford, and sold nearly 1.9 million units in its lifetime. A wide variety of engines were used in the Capri, throughout its production lifespan, which most notably included the Essex and Cologne V6 s at the top of the range, whilst the Kent straight-four and Taunus V4 engines were used in lower specification models. Although the Capri was not officially replaced by any Ford model, the second-generation Probe was effectively its replacement after the later car’s introduction to the European market in 1992……….40 years ago this week, Jacques Laffite dominated the season-opening Argentina Grand Prix, taking pole position, fastest lap and the win in his Ligier Ford even though he was briefly headed by Patrick Deppailler [21 January 1979]. John Watson took third place despite being involved in an eight-car pile-up on the first corner which caused the race to be restarted. Laffite also won the next grand prix, but reliability issues dogged the rest of his campaign and he finished fourth in the drivers’ championship………The Dukes of Hazzard, a prime-time CBS

television action/comedy show, was aired for the first time [26 January 1979]. The show starred John Schneider and Tom Wopat as cousins Bo and Luke Duke, who tangled with the crooked law-enforcement officers of Hazzard County with a little help from their cousin Daisy and Uncle Jesse. However, the real star of the show was their car, The General Lee, a 1969 Dodge Charger with a bright orange paint job and a Confederate flag on its roof………30 years ago this week, at 11 minutes and 56 seconds past 3:00 a.m., a Subaru Legacy completed 100,000-kilometers in the fastest time ever- 447 hours, 44 minutes, and 9.887 seconds [21 January 1989]. The record was set at the Arizona Test Center, an oval course 9.182 kilometers in circumference…… on the same day [21 January 1989], Robby Gordon won the Grand National sport truck race in the season opener of the Mickey Thompson Off-Road Championship Grand Prix series at the Anaheim Stadium, Anaheim, California, US…..10 years ago this week, “Gran Torino,” a movie named after the 1972 Ford muscle car, opened in Australia and New Zealand [22 January 2009]. The critically acclaimed film, which starred Clint Eastwood as a retired Detroit autoworker, had opened across the U.S. earlier that month and later premiered around the rest of the world, eventually grossing more than $263 million, making it among Eastwood’s most commercially successful movies…….The FIA ditched a controversial rule that led to drivers being penalised for pitting during the early stages of the safety car being deployed in a race [27 January 2009] They also confirmed the revised rule allowed the pits to stay open, with new software regulating the speed of drivers returning to refuel……. On the same day [27 January 2009], Road Chef, the Watford Gap UK Motorway services operator, paid £1,000 at an auction for a collection of celebrity signatures, which were collected by former employee, Beatrice England. The book included signatures of Sir Paul McCartney, Sir Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Brian Jones, The Eagles and Dusty Springfield. The Blue Boar services as it was once known received so many famous guests in its 50-year history that Jimi Hendrix mistook it for a London nightclub as it was mentioned so often by his contemporaries.

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