30 November- 6 December: Motoring Milestones

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

Paris Auto Show 1910

120 years ago this week, the National Association of Automobile Manufacturers was organised in New York City with Samuel T. Davis of Locomobile as its first President [1 December 1900]…….110 years ago this week, neon lighting, invented by French physicist Georges Claude, was first demonstrated at the Paris Auto Show [3 December 1910]. The demonstration lasted until December 18. Over the next fifty years neon would soar in use, illuminating thousands of signs across the globe. The technology of Claude’s neon glow lamp is still widely used today, especially as a component of plasma displays and televisions. As a chemist, Claude made a series of notable discoveries. In his studies of inert gases, he found that by passing electrical current through them, they would produce light. Subsequently, he produced the neon lamp and his display in Paris was in the form of two long tubes. The adaption to signage was obvious and the first sign was reportedly sold to a Parisian barber in 1912. Claude would go on to become a man of considerable wealth. In 1923, Claude’s company sold two neon signs to a Los Angeles-based car dealer and business pioneer, Earle C. Anthony. Neon and America were seemingly made for one another. Within less than twenty years, there were nearly 2000 businesses in the United States producing neon signs. By the 1950s urban centres were literally lit with commercial signage and advertisements–some of which still exist today…….70 years ago this week, the 1,996-cc, 4-cylinder Renault Frégate, an executive saloon, was launched at the Paris Motor Show in the Palais de Chaillot [30 November 1950]. Although comfortable, the engine, according to the motoring press, didn’t have enough power and the car felt ‘heavy and lumpish to drive’. The first models were not delivered until November 1951. The assembly plant at Flins where the car was assembled, which had been renamed after Pierre Lefaucheux, was formally opened in October 1952. Production built up only slowly. Even in 1953 it was reported that the Frégate, with approximately 25,000 units sold on the French market, was comfortably outpaced by the standard wheelbase versions of Citroën’s ’11 Normale’ model, with approximately 35,000 sold that year, despite the Citroën being little changed since its unveiling fifteen years earlier and, since the war, available from the manufacturer’s French factory only in black. From its appearance late in 1950 until 1953 the car was branded simply as the Frégate, but the nomenclature became more complicated at the Paris Motor Show in October 1952, and from early 1953 the Frégate was available in two trim levels, as the “Frégate Affaires” and the “Frégate Amiral”, advertised at 799,300 francs and 899,000 francs respectively The “Frégate Amiral” was little changed from the previous year’s Frégate, although the interior was slightly reworked and it did feature twin fog lights at the front whereas the previous year’s model came with just a single fog light. Further minor external modifications for the October 1953 Motor Show included updated door handles and a change to the badge on the car’s nose. The motif on the little shield was still diamond-shaped, but within the diamond the image of a three-masted frigate (“frégate”) had been replaced by a tiny outline map of mainland France containing the inscription “RNUR-France”. The “Frégate Affaires” offered a price saving of approximately 100,000 francs in return for a reduced specification that involved a simplified dashboard, reduced interior trim, the removal of exterior chrome over-riders from the bumpers as well as the loss of the twin fog lights and windscreen washer which remained a standard feature on the “Frégate Amiral” The launch of a cut-price Frégate was presumably part of the same strategy that was behind the launch of the cut-price 4CV Service. Neither of these stripped down versions were well received by customers: in the Frégate’s case, this was one of several attempts to make the model more competitive that failed to shake Citroen’s dominance of the French market for large family cars. Renault addressed the complaints about the lack of power from the 2 litre engine by introducing in 1956 the new 2141 cc Etendard engine, which produced 77 hp (57 kW). A new, luxurious Grand Pavois trim package was launched the same year. In 1957 a three-speed ‘Transfluide’ semi-automatic transmission, incorporating a fluid coupling, became an option along with a slightly more powerful version of the 2141 cc engine producing 80 bhp (60 kW; 81 PS) due to a compression ratio increase from 7.0:1 to 7,5:1. The 1958 models saw another modified front grille. The prominent wide chrome oval and horizontal bars were removed to leave only the row of thin bars over which, since 1955, they had been placed……..60 years ago this week, the first Scout all-terrain vehicle rolled off the assembly line at International Harvester’s plant in the US [30 November 1960]. A versatile, affordable vehicle for both passenger and goods transportation, it was available in both two- and four-wheel drive and featured a 4-cylinder engine, with 3-speed, floor-mounted transmission. The Scout I (80: 1960-1965 and 800: 1965-1971) became the best-selling vehicle in International Harvester’s history, enjoying a full 10 years of production before being replaced by the improved Scout II in 1971….. on the same day [30 November 1960], the De Soto marque, founded by Walter Chrysler in 1928, was officially dropped, just forty-seven days after the 1961 model year was announced…… Leyland Motors announced it would purchase Standard-Triumph International [5 December 1960]…….50 years ago this week, highway administrators piled into a car and took a ceremonial drive through a paper ribbon at the entrance to the final segment, known as the West Leg, of the infamous Dan Ryan Expressway in Chicago, US [5 December 1950]. The road got its name from Cook County Chairman Dan Ryan, who had written the 1955 bond issue that directed many millions of dollars to the county’s expressway-building fund. As of 2005 up to 307,100 vehicles use a portion of the Dan Ryan daily. The Dan Ryan, and its North Side counterpart the Kennedy Expressway, are the busiest roads in the entire state of Illinois. Utilising an express-local system, the Dan Ryan has fourteen lanes of traffic; seven in each direction, with four of those as express lanes and the other three providing access for exit and on-ramps. Despite its width, the Dan Ryan is prone to traffic jams. The posted directions on the Dan Ryan are different from the actual compass direction of the expressway, which may cause confusion to many travelers. The Dan Ryan for its entire 12-mile length runs north–south. However, the Dan Ryan is a part of the larger Interstates 90 and 94, which both run east–west through the United States. Many–perhaps most–of Chicago’s urban expressways smashed right through some of the city’s poorest and most troubled neighbourhoods, and the Dan Ryan was a particularly notorious example. Besides displacing residents and businesses and destroying a thriving community, historians argue, the Dan Ryan formed an impenetrable boundary, “the most formal impediment short of an actual wall that the city could have build to separate the white South Side from the black South Side.” From a city-planning point of view, the Dan Ryan was a disaster, and from a transportation-planning point of view it was not much better. So, in 1988, the city undertook a $210 million repair project, and in 2004 it undertook another, spending $450 million to make the road cleaner, less hazardous and less congested……… Myanmar made the super radical change from driving on the left side of the road to driving on the right side [6 December 1970]. Under the command of the British empire, Myanmar drivers first started out on the left side of the road. Although British rule ended in 1948, we remained a driving-on-the-left-side kinda country for the next 22 years. However, in 1970, General Ne Win — who was Prime Minister from 1958 to 1960 and 1962 to 1974, and Head of State from 1962 to 1981 — decided that Myanmar would switch to driving on the right side of the road. Why? Well, no one really knows. However, there are a couple of theories as to why the general had this sudden change of mind, none of which make any real sense (but then again, neither do several things in this country). One theory is that Ne Win’s wife’s astrologer told the general that it would be better for the country if people started driving on the right side. While that might sound weird to some, astrology is huge in Myanmar, so this story might very well be true. Another popular theory is that Ne Win had a dream that the country should switch directions, and well, we did.Ultimately, it was the general who decided that the country should start driving on the right side, and lo and behold, it happened. Of course, it gets more confusing when you consider that most of the current cars in Myanmar are right-hand drives, mainly because they’re Japanese imports. However, that might change next year when the new vehicle importation laws come into effect and only left-hand drives will be allowed in the country………30 years ago this week, Wendell Scott (69), the first African-American NASCAR racer, died of spinal cancer [3 December 1990]. On December 1, 1963, he won a Grand National Series race at Speedway Park in Jacksonville, Florida, becoming the first black driver to win a race at NASCAR’s premier level. Scott’s career was repeatedly affected by racial prejudice and problems with top-level NASCAR officials. However, his determined struggle as an underdog won him thousands of white fans and many friends and admirers among his fellow racers. He was posthumously inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame in 2015.

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