4-10 September: Motoring Milestones

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Momentous motoring events that took place during this week in history …..

120 years ago this week, London taxi driver George Smith, an employee of the Electric Cab Company, drove into the frontage of a building on Bond Street, Mayfair and became the first person in the United Kingdom to be charged with drink driving [10 September 1897]. He was spotted by PC Russell 247C driving his taxi erratically, onto a pavement and into the front corridor of the home of Sir Henry Irving. The Morning Post reported that at about 00:45am on Friday 10 September 1897, 25-year-old Smith’s vehicle ‘swerved from one side of the road to the other, and ran across the footway into 165 New Bond Street’. Taken to Marlborough Street Police Court, Smith admitted having drunk ‘two or three glasses of beer’, pleaded guilty and was fined 25 shillings.Police officers knew that Smith was drunk because he acted drunk and because he said he was, but what they lacked was a scientific way to prove someone was too intoxicated to drive, even if he or she wouldn’t admit it. Blood tests were soon introduced, but those were messy and needed to be performed by a doctor; there were urine tests, but those were even messier, not to mention unreliable and expensive. In 1931, a toxicologist at Indiana University named Rolla Harger came up with a solution–a device he called the Drunkometer. It was simple: all

Drunkometer

Drunkometer

the suspected drinker had to do was blow into a balloon. The tester then attached the balloon to a tube filled with a purple fluid (potassium permanganate and sulfuric acid) and released its air into the tube. Alcohol on a person’s breath changed the color of the fluid from purple to yellow; the quicker the change, the drunker the person. The Drunkometer was effective but cumbersome, and it required a certain amount of scientific calculation to determine just how much alcohol a person had consumed. In 1954, another Indianan named Robert Borkenstein invented a device that was more portable and easier to use. Borkenstein’s machine, the Breathalyzer, worked much like Harger’s did–it measured the amount of alcohol in a person’s breath–but it did the necessary calculations automatically and thus could not be foiled or tampered with. (One tipsy Canadian famously ate his underwear while waiting to take a Breathalyzer test because he believed that the cotton would somehow absorb the alcohol in his system. It did not.) The Breathalyzer soon became standard equipment in every police car in the nation. Even in the age of the Breathalyzer, drunk driving remained a problem. In 2015, more than 1.4 million drivers were arrested for driving while intoxicated, and a Centers for Disease Control survey found that Americans drove drunk 159 million times. That same year, about 13,000 people–more than 30 percent of all traffic fatalities–died in accidents involving a drunk driver……. 110 years ago this week, a Stearns 30-60 with seven passengers on board becomes the first motor vehicle to reach the summit of Pikes Peak, Colorado, US under its own power for the entire distance [6 September 1907]……… 90 years ago this week, Robert Benoist in a Delage 15-S8 won the Italian Grand Prix at Monza run to Formula Libre regulations [4 September 1927]……. A six-wheeled covered-top bus went on a trial run in London, the same month in which buses were allowed to run past Buckingham Palace for the first time [7 September 1927]……. 70 years ago this week, the Rover Board sanctioned the production of an ‘all-purpose vehicle on the lines of

Land Rover - London Motor Show 1948

Land Rover – London Motor Show 1948

the Wills-Overland Jeep’ [4 September 1947]. It was agreed to build 25 vehicles for evaluation, although this was later extended to 50. The Land Rover’s body was made of more expensive aluminium because steel was still in short supply. Announced abroad, at the Amsterdam Motor Show of 1948 and initially priced at £450, the vehicle’s functional design, sound engineering and go-anywhere specifications, coupled with optional four-wheel drive, meant that it was in immediate demand the world over and since then over 70% of output has been exported. Originally a 1.6-litre overhead-inlet, side exhaust 4 cylinder engine was employed, as used in the Rover 60 car, but from 1951 this was enlarged to a 2-litre and from 1957 there was a diesel option, the first of many options. Output soared. The 100,000th Land Rover was built in 1954 and the millionth in 1976…….. 60 years ago this week, the Ford Motor Company proclaimed this day ‘E-day’ to celebrate the introduction of the ‘Edsel’, 5 years after its conception [4 September 1957]. As far as customers were concerned, though, the Edsel’s low price and V8 engine simply failed to overcome its ‘ugly horse-collar grille’. In its first year, Ford sold just 64,000 of the cars and lost $250 million (the equivalent of $2.5 billion today). Overwhelmed by negative press and lack of sales, the Edsel faded into history as Ford’s famed ‘ugly duckling’. Ironically, the low numbers produced have made the Edsel a valuable collector’s item in recent years…….. The New York Times writer Gilbert Millstein gave a rave review to “On the Road,” the second novel (hardly anyone had read the first) by a 35-year-old Columbia dropout named Jack Kerouac [5 September 1957]. “Jack went to bed obscure,” Kerouac’s girlfriend told a reporter, “and woke up famous.” “On the Road” is an autobiographical novel about a series of cross-country automobile trips that Kerouac made between 1947 and 1950, both by himself and with his friend Neal Cassady……. Phil Hill made his Ferrari racing debut, finishing third at Monza in a Dino 246 Formula 1 car [7 September 1957]……. Stirling Moss won the Italian Grand Prix at Monza driving a Vanwall. Juan Manual Fangio finished second in a Ferrari, with Wolfgang von Trips in third driving a Maserati [8 September 1957]……. 50 years ago this week, Richard Petty roared to his sixth victory in a row, winning the Capital City 300 at the Virginia State

1967 Capital City 300. The last NASCAR race at Richmond's Fairgrounds Raceway before the 1/2 mile dirt track was paved with asphalt.

1967 Capital City 300. The last NASCAR race at Richmond’s Fairgrounds Raceway before the 1/2 mile dirt track was paved with asphalt.

Fairgrounds in Richmond, US [10 September 1967]. The win was part of an unprecedented 10-race win streak during Petty’s remarkable 27-win title season in a Plymouth Belvedere. Dick Hutcherson was second on the half-mile dirt track as the only other car on the lead lap, with Paul Goldsmith third, one lap down…… on the same day [10 September 1967] John Surtees snatched victory in Italy after Jim Clark’s epic drive was let down by a fuel pump failure. It was the sixth and final career Grand Prix victory for Surtees, as well as first ever race for the RA300 machine that he drove to the win. This race is considered one of Jim Clark’s greatest performances in Formula One. He led the race until lap 12 when he picked up a puncture and lost an entire lap. He then spent the next 48 laps recovering through the field, amazingly taking the lead on lap 60, and pulled away. But on the final lap, a faulty fuel pump had restricted him to third place. Jack Brabham and Surtees passed the Scotsman and finished first and second, with Surtees ahead by less than a car length at the line. This was the second victory for the Honda F1 team, and the last for the factory team until Jenson Button won the 2006 Hungarian Grand Prix……. 40 years ago this week, Daimler-Benz AG executive Hans-Martin Schleyer was kidnapped by the so-called Baader-Meinhof terrorists [5 September 1977]……. 30 years ago this week, the Italian Grand Prix was won by Brazilian driver Nelson Piquet driving a Williams FW11B [6 September 1987]. It was Piquet’s third and final victory for the year as he raced towards his third world championship. It was also the sixth consecutive victory for the Williams team, a run of wins that had begun at the French Grand Prix back in early July. Piquet, racing an active ride suspension system in his FW11B for the first time, won the race by 1.8 seconds, having taken the lead from Ayrton Senna’s Lotus 99T with eight laps remaining as the younger Brazilian attempted to run the race without stopping for tyres. Piquet’s British team mate Nigel Mansell finished third……. Ford announced it had acquired a majority shareholder (75%) of the luxury sports car marque, Aston Martin [7 September 1987]…….20 years ago this week, Bob Keselowski used a second-half surge to win the Virginia is for Lovers 200 at Richmond International Raceway, marking his only career victory in 86 starts in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series [4 September 1997]. Keselowski, father of current Sprint Cup title contender Brad Keselowski, led 82 of the last 98 laps on the .75-mile track and was 3.059 seconds ahead of runner-up Jack Sprague at the finish. Jay Sauter came home third…… on

Ford Thunderbird 1993. CN-304004-11

Ford Thunderbird – 10th generation

the same day [4 September 1997] the very last tenth-generation Ford Thunderbird rolled off the assembly line. One Ford dealer even held a wake for the beloved Thunderbird, complete with flowers and an RIP plaque. Launched as a two-seater in 1955, it was rivalled only by the Chevy Corvette, going from 0 to 62 mph in less than 10 seconds, with a maximum speed of 112 mph. The ‘T-Bird’ was wildly popular for decades, but the oil crisis was to prove the downfall of this classic car. Ford relaunched the T-Bird in 2002 for its fiftieth anniversary, though only 1,500 models were produced……..Plans were announced to build a new Control Tower at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway that resembled the historic Pagoda structures that stood at the track from 1913-1956 [7 September 1997]. The Bombardier Pagoda was completed in time for the 2000 Indianapolis 500…….The fifth generation Cadillac Seville celebrated its world premier at the IAA Frankfurt [9 September 1997]. It was the first time in its 95 year history that Cadillac organised a new model debut outside the US…….10 years ago this week, Porsche released its the latest 911 Turbo Cabriolet in the UK. The price for the 911 Turbo Cabriolet was £106,180, including a Porsche Vehicle Tracking System (VTS), a sophisticated vehicle security package approved to Thatcham Category 5 standard, and a Porsche Driving Experience programme [8 September 2007]……. Top Gear participated in the 2007 Britcar 24-hour race at Silverstone, where the hosts (including The Stig) drove a race-prepared, second-hand diesel BMW 330d and finished 3rd in class and 39th overall. The car was fuelled using biodiesel refined from crops shown during a tractor review in the previous series [9 September 2007]…… on the same day [9 September 2007], The record for the closest margin of victory in a car race of just 0.0005 of a second was set, when Logan Gomez (USA) beat Alex Lloyd (UK) in the 16th round of the 2007 Indy Pro Series, the Chicagoland 100, at Chicagoland Speedway, in Joliet, Illinois, USA. The Indy Pro Series is the developmental racing series sanctioned by the Indy Racing League. The Sam Schmidt Motorsports cars of champion Alex Lloyd and Logan Gomez battled for the lead with Robbie Pecorari throughout the race, which was slowed by two extended caution flags, the first caused by a major crash involving Chris Festa and Jaime Camara and the second involving Travis Gregg and Wade Cunningham. Gomez led his teammate entering the final lap. Lloyd mounted a challenge and the two cars briefly touched exiting turn four and Gomez was able to hold off Lloyd for his first Pro Series victory by a mere 0.0005 sec. Also on this day [9 September 2007] Volkswagen unveiled the Up at the Frankfurt Motor Show. The front-wheel-drive city car with a transverse 1-litre, 3-cylinder petrol engine mated to a 5-speed manual

Shelby SuperCars (SSC) Ultimate Aero

Shelby SuperCars (SSC) Ultimate Aero

gearbox was just 3.54 metres (11 feet 7 inches) long……. Guinness World Records verified that the Shelby SuperCars (SSC) Ultimate Aero was officially the ‘Fastest Production Car’ in the world [10 September 2007]. It was the first time the production speed-record title had been broken by a US car since the Ford GT40 in 1967. Chuck Bigelow drove SSC’s Ultimate Aero on a stretch of Highway 221 in California, clocking 257.44 mph on the first pass and 254.91 mph on the second, to yield an official record speed of 256.18 mph. This broke the official record held by the Koenigsegg CCR by 15.09 mph and the Bugatti Veyron’s unofficial record by 3.63 mph.

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