22 February – 5 March: Motoring Milestones

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Cars, people and events in this week’s Motoring Milestones include Rudolf Diesel, Daimler, Parry Thomas, Ferrari and Only Fools and Horses

130 years ago today, the Daimler “Benzin motor carriage” made its first test run in Esslingen and Cannstatt, Germany [4 March 1887]. It was Gottlieb Daimler’s first four-wheel motor vehicle. The “Benzin” has nothing to do with Carl Benz;

Benzin motor carriage, 1887

Benzin motor carriage, 1887

at that time Gottlieb Daimler was Carl Benz’s major competitor. Daimler, an engineer whose passion was the engine itself, had created and patented the first gasoline-powered, water-cooled, internal combustion engine in 1885. In Daimler’s engine, water circulated around the engine block, preventing the engine from overheating. The same system is used in most of today’s automobiles. Daimler’s first four-wheel motor vehicle had a one-cylinder engine and a top speed of 10 miles per hour. By 1899, Daimler’s German competitor, Benz and Company, had become the world’s largest car manufacturer. In the same year, a wealthy Austrian businessman named Emile Jellinek saw a Daimler Phoenix win a race in Nice, France. So impressed was he with Daimler’s car that he offered to buy 36 vehicles from Daimler should he create a more powerful model, but requested that the car be named after his daughter, Mercedes. Gottlieb Daimler would never see the result of his business deal with Jellinek, but his corporation would climb to great heights without him. The Mercedes began a revolution in the car manufacturing industry. The new car was lower to the ground than other vehicles of its time, and it possessed a wider wheelbase for improved cornering. It had four speeds, including reverse, and it reached a top speed of 47 mph. The first Mercedes had a four-cylinder engine and is generally considered the first modern car. In the year of its birth, the Mercedes set a world speed record of 49.4 mph in Nice, France–the very course that was responsible for its marque’s conception. By 1905, Mercedes cars had reached speeds of 109 mph. Forever reluctant to enter car racing, Carl Benz realized he must compete with Daimler’s Mercedes to preserve his company’s standing in the automotive industry. For 20 years, Mercedes and Benz competed on racetracks around the world. In 1926, the Daimler and Benz corporations merged. The two founders never met…… 125 years ago this week, Rudolf Diesel filed for a patent at the Imperial Patent Office in Germany [27 February 1892]. Within a year, he was granted Patent No. 67207 for a

Rudolf Diesel

Rudolf Diesel

“Working Method and Design for Combustion Engines . . .a new efficient, thermal engine.” With contracts from Frederick Krupp and other machine manufacturers, Diesel began experimenting and building working models of his engine. In 1893, the first model ran under its own power with 26% efficiency, remarkably more than double the efficiency of the steam engines of his day. Finally, in February of 1897, he ran the “first diesel engine suitable for practical use, which operated at an unbelievable efficiency of 75%.Diesel demonstrated his engine at the Exhibition Fair in Paris, France in 1898. This engine stood as an example of Diesel’s vision because it was fueled by peanut oil – the “original” biodiesel. He thought that the utilisation of a biomass fuel was the real future of his engine. He hoped that it would provide a way for the smaller industries, farmers, and “common folk” a means of competing with the monopolising industries, which controlled all energy production at that time, as well as serve as an alternative for the inefficient fuel consumption of the steam engine. As a result of Diesel’s vision, compression ignited engines were powered by a biomass fuel, vegetable oil, until the 1920’s and are being powered again, today, by biodiesel. The early diesel engines were not small enough or light enough for anything but stationary use due to the size of the fuel injection pump. They were produced primarily for industrial and shipping in the early 1900’s. Ships and submarines benefited greatly from the efficiency of this new engine, which was slowly beginning to gain popularity. Rudolph Diesel literally disappeared in 1913. There is some question of the timing of Diesel’s death. Some think it might have been accidental or even a suicide. However, others considered a possible political motivation. Diesel did not agree with the politics of Germany and was reluctant to see his engine used by their Naval fleet. With his political support directed towards France and Britain, he was on his way to England to arrange for them to use his engine when he inexplicably disappeared over the side of the ship in the English Channel. This clearly opened the way for the German submarine fleet to be powered solely by Rudolph Diesel’s engine. The Wolf Packs, as they were to become known, inflicted heavy damage on Allied shipping during World War I. Still others believed that the French may have been responsible. Their submarines were already powered by diesel engines. They may have been trying to keep the engines out of both the British and German hands. Whether by accident, suicide or at the hand of others, the world had lost a brilliant engineer and biofuel visionary…… George H. Ellis, a 26-year-old employee of the Deering Harvester Company, successfully tested his automobile in Ravenswood, now a part of Chicago – although additional production was ruled out, this vehicle is considered to be the ancestor of the International truck [28 February 1892]…… 120 years ago this week, the Winton Motor Carriage Company was organised in Cleveland, Ohio, US with Alexander Winton as President, Thomas W Henderson as Vice President, Geirge H Brown as Secretary-Treasurer, and Leo Melanowski as Chief Engineer [1 March 1897]…… 110 years ago this week, Hatsudoki Seizo Co Ltd was founded. It changed its name to the Daihatsu Motor Co Ltd in 1951 [1 March 1907]…..100 years ago this week, Earl Cooper won the AAA Championship race on the 1-mile dirt Ascot Speedway, averaging 65.3 mph in his Stutz. It was the 13th win of Cooper’s great career. Future Indy 500 winner Joe Boyer made his AAA Championship race debut [4 March 1917]…… 90 years ago this week, one of the most bizarre races ever took place inside a six-storey building in Paris [27 February 1927]. To celebrate the opening of a new garage and sports club for the city’s most wealthy residents, Robert Benoist, a famous racing driver at the time, invited 15 drivers to race up a series of ramps to the building’s roof. The ‘hill-climb’ was not timed as there were concerns that drivers might be overly competitive and crash. However, it was a huge success and gained the garage a considerable amount of publicity…… World Land Speed Record holder Parry Thomas (42),

Babs. Parry Thomas

Babs. Parry Thomas

was killed at Pendine Sands, Carmarthenshire, Wales when the chain of his car, the High Special Babs, snapped severing his head [3 March 1927]. He was the first driver to die during a world land speed record attempt. This was the final world land speed record attempt made at Pendine Sands…… The FIAT 509 Sport made its world debut at the Geneva Auto Show [4 March 1927]. For several decades, Fiat supplied the chassis of many Italian sports cars developed by small manufacturers who made use of the large brand’s components. This Fiat 509 roadster had a straight 4 single overhead cam shaft 990 cc engine assembled on a special body inspired by the Alfa Romeo of Zagato…… The LaSalle was formally introduced and marketed by General Motors’ Cadillac division from 1927 through 1940 [5 March 1927]. Alfred P. Sloan developed the concept for LaSalle to fill pricing gaps he perceived in the General Motors product portfolio. As originally developed by Sloan, General Motors’ market segmentation strategy placed each of the company’s individual automobile marques into specific price points, called the General Motors Companion Make Program. The Chevrolet was designated as the entry level product. Next, (in ascending order), came the Pontiac, Oakland, Viking, Oldsmobile, Marquette, Buick, and ultimately, Cadillac. By the 1920s, certain General Motors products began to shift out of the plan as the products improved and engine advances were made. Under the companion marque stragegy, the gap between the Chevrolet and the Oakland would be filled by a new marque named Pontiac, a quality six-cylinder car designed to sell for the price of a four-cylinder. The wide gap between Oldsmobile and Buick would be filled by two companion marques: Oldsmobile was assigned the up-market V8 engine Viking and Buick was assigned the more compact six-cylinder Marquette. Cadillac, which had seen its base prices soar in the heady 1920s, was assigned the LaSalle as a companion marque to fill the gap that existed between it and Buick. Like Cadillac, the LaSalle brand name was based on that of a French explorer, René-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle……80 years ago this week, the first US license plates for the purpose of identifying registered vehicles were issued by the state of Connecticut, US [1 March 1937]. Earlier, license plate colors were changed annually, and plates had to be reissued every year as a result. Connecticut instead issued a silver and black aluminum plate with a slot for a separate colored tab indicating the year the car was registered for. The tab was made out of a thin, brittle metal that would break if the tab was removed, so it couldn’t be transferred to another car…… 75 years ago this week, the Auburn Automobile Company, builder of the classic Auburn automobiles, changes its name to the American Central Manufacturing Company [3 March 1942]. Having started by Charles Eckhart in 1875 as the Eckhart Carriage Company of Auburn Indiana, the company’s heyday was after it was purchased by Errett Lobban Cord in 1925. One of the most famous Auburns was the 851 Speedster in 1935. But styling and engineering failed to overcome the fact that Cord’s vehicles were too expensive for the Depression-era market and Cord’s stock manipulations that would force him to give up control of his car companies. Under injunction from the Securities and Exchange Commission to refrain from further violations, Cord sold his shares in his automobile holding company. In 1937, production of Auburns, along with that of Cords and Duesenbergs, ended…… 70 years ago this week, aeroplane manufacturer Saab formally resolved it would start to manufacture cars [27 February 1947]…… Enzo Ferrari drove the first 125S vehicle out of the factory gates [2 March

Ferrari 125S

Ferrari 125S

1947]. Like the 815, it was a racing sports car, but unlike its Fiat-powered 8-cylinder predecessor, the 125 S featured a V12 engine (the “125”), a trait it shared with most Ferrari cars of the following decades. The 125S was the first vehicle to bear the Ferrari name when it debuted on May 11, 1947 at the Piacenza racing circuit…. On the same day [1 March 1947] Stirling Moss at the age of 18 entered his first official race, the Harrow Car Club Trial, at the wheel of a BMW 328….. 60 years ago this week, Jack Smith took the lead from Buck Baker with 14 laps to go and won the 100 mile NASCAR Grand National race on the 1/2 mile dirt Concord Speedway [3 March 1957]. Baker finished second and Speedy Thompson third, giving owner Hugh Babb’s factory backed Chevy team a 1-2-3 sweep. Mel Larson of Las Vegas won the pole in his independent Ford, but was retired early….. 50 years ago this week, the United States Rubber Company changed its name to Uniroyal, Inc [27 February 1967]. The company was founded in Naugatuck, Connecticut, in 1892 and was one of the original 12 stocks in the Dow Jones Industrial Average. In 1990, Uniroyal was acquired by French tire maker Michelin and ceased to exist as a separate business. Today around 1,000 workers in the U.S. remain employed by Michelin to make its Uniroyal brand products. One of Uniroyal’s best known tires is the Tiger Paw introduced in the 1960s and included as original equipment for that decade’s muscle cars such as the Pontiac GTO, which itself was promoted as The Tiger during its early years….. Hans Ledwinka (89) of Tatra died in Munich, Germany [2 March 1967]…… An angry David Pearson took the 100th win of his NASCAR Grand National career when he took the checkered in the ‘Carolina 500’ at North Carolina Motor Speedway [5 March 1967]. Benny Parsons and Pearson hooked fenders while battling for the lead with 36 laps to go, spinning Pearson. Pearson pitted for new tires then ran down and passed Parsons for the lead. Donnie Allison, driving relief for brother Bobby, finished second in the Bud Moore Ford. Parsons wound up third. Afterwards, Pearson said “I was the maddest I’ve ever been. I don’t think he did it for meanness, but I was determined I was going to run him down and pass him. I wasn’t going to do anything crazy like take us both out of the race. But I wanted to win this one real bad.”..… 40 years ago this week, Tom Pryce (27) died during the 1977 South African Grand Prix driving for the Shadow Team [5 March 1977]. His team mate in the other Shadow car, Renzo Zorzi, had a mechanical fault and came to a stop off the track by the barriers, about 30 seconds ahead of Pryce. A marshall carrying a heavy metal fire extinguisher rushed across the track towards the car, with the race still in progress. Pryce, who was driving the next car on the scene, could not avoid the marshall and hit him at full speed, killing him. At the same time, the extinguisher struck Pryce full in the face, and despite his helmet, the force of it broke his neck and killed him instantly. It later turned out that the force of the blow had actually torn his helmet clean off his head, as it was found several hundred yards away from where his car finally came to a stop. With Pryce dead at the wheel, his car continued uncontrolled down the straight part of the track for some distance, until it finally struck another car at the next bend. This double tragedy brought about severe changes in the rules governing marshalling at Grands Prix…… 20 years ago this week, Ford announced that it planned to phase out production of the Thunderbird (b.1955) until a new generation model in 2000 [28 February 1997]…… Photographic ID became compulsory for both practical and theory driving tests in the UK [1 March 1997]…… Roger Reiman (58), longtime Harley-Davidson dealer who won the inaugural Daytona 200 contested at the Speedway in 1961 as well as 1964–65 died of injuries sustained in a multi-bike accident [4 March 1997]. He won the AMA Grand National Championship in 1964 and promoted motorcycle racing in his home state of Illinois….. 10 years ago this week, the Reliant Regal three-delwheeler used in the hit TV comedy Only Fools and Horses emblazoned with the sign Trotters Independent Trading Co, was sold at Coys of Kensington specialist car auction for £44,227 – more than double its original estimate [27 February 2007]. Also under the hammer was a 1960s Batmobile which sold for almost £120,000. The vehicle, which had been estimated at £75,000, attracted overseas telephone bids but eventually sold to a bidder at the auction. It was built in 1966 to tour the USA, promoting the TV series starring Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward as his sidekick, Robin…… Tough new laws came into force in the UK. Drivers caught using their phone whilst at the wheel faced 3 points on their licence and a £60 on the spot fine [27 February 2007]. The change in penalty came in as new research showed that 1 in 5 people used their mobile whilst at the wheel…… German drivers were required to purchase an emission sticker when passing through the “environment zones” in several cities and municipalities [1 March 2007]. Certain “green zones” completely disallowed entrance to vehicles with higher particle emissions (“yellow” and “red” groups). Travellers passing through these areas without the sticker were fined €40 and given one penalty point…… A consortium led by Prodrive chairman David Richards purchased Aston Martin for £475m (US$848m) [2 March 2007].

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