Cars, people and events in this week’s Motoring Milestones include: Genetral Motors, A1GP, Hispano-Suiza, leaded fuel, Hudson Jet and the Ford Model A.
155 years ago this week, legendary American industrialist William Crapo Durant was born in New York [8 December 1861]. He established a carriage company in 1886 and joined the new but failing Buick Motor Car Co. in 1903, quickly reviving it. In 1908, he brought together several car manufacturers to form the General Motors Company. He lost
control of the company two years later, but with Louis Chevrolet he founded the Chevrolet Motor Co., which acquired control of General Motors in 1915. During the Wall Street Crash Durant purchased along with the Rockefeller family and other financial giants, large quantities of stocks, to demonstrate to the public their confidence in the stock market. His effort proved costly and failed to stop the market slide. By 1936, the 75-year-old Durant was bankrupt…… 120 years ago this week, the George N Pierce Company was incorporated in New York state by George N Pierce, Henry May, Samuel J Thompson, E Clifford Poter ad Lorenzo B Somerby [9 December 1896]. Although best known for its expensive luxury cars, Pierce-Arrow which was active from 1901 to 1938, also manufactured commercial trucks, fire trucks, camp trailers, motorcycles, and bicycles…… 110 years ago this week, two 4 cylinder Hispano-Suiza luxury cars were unveiled at the Paris Salon [7 December 1906]…… Daniel MacKinlay Jr., driving a Spyker, and L de Dantos, driving a Daracq, finish in a dead-heat in the first documented motor race competition in Argentina, a trial from Buenos Aires to Tigre [9 December 1906]….. Rolls Royce recorded its first export sale of a Silver Ghost, taking an order for a Barker bodied phaeton from Jefferson Seligman of New York City, US [11 December 1906]…… 95 years ago this week, a young engineer at General Motors (GM) named Thomas Midgley Jr. discovered that when he added a compound called tetraethyl lead (TEL) to gasoline, he eliminated the unpleasant noises (known as “knock” or “pinging”) that internal-combustion engines made when they ran [9 December 1921]. Midgley could scarcely have imagined the consequences of his discovery: For the next five plus decades, oil companies would saturate the gasoline they sold with lead, a deadly poison. In 1911, a scientist named Charles Kettering, Midgley’s boss at GM, had invented an electric ignition system for internal-combustion cars that made their old-fashioned hand-cranked starters obsolete, making the driving of a fuelled auto available to more people. Unfortunately, as these GM cars became more common, more and more people noticed the problem that when heated up, the engines made an alarming racket. The problem, Kettering and Midgley eventually figured out, was that ordinary gasoline was too explosive for spark-ignited car engines due to low “octane”. To raise the fuel’s octane level and make it less prone to detonation and knocking, Midgley wrote later, he mixed it with almost anything he could think of, from “melted butter and camphor to ethyl acetate and aluminium chloride…[but] most of these had no more effect than spitting in the Great Lakes.” He found a couple of additives that did work, however, and lead was just one of them. Iodine worked, but producing it was much too complicated. Ethyl alcohol also worked, and it was cheap, however, anyone with an ordinary still could make it, which meant that GM could not patent it or profit from it. Thus, from a corporate point of view, lead was the best anti-knock additive there was…… 90 years ago this week, Pierre Fenaille was issued with a French patent for a CV U-joint considered essential for a successful front-drive automobile [8 December 1926]…… 85 years ago this week, the last Ford Model A was produced in Detroit, whereupon the Ford motor works were shut down for for retooling [7 December 1931]. The Model A came in a wide
variety of styles: Coupe (Standard and Deluxe), Business Coupe, Sport Coupe, Roadster Coupe (Standard and Deluxe), Convertible Cabriolet, Convertible Sedan, Phaeton (Standard and Deluxe), Tudor Sedan (Standard and Deluxe), Town Car, Fordor (2-window) (Standard and Deluxe), Fordor (3-window) (Standard and Deluxe), Victoria, Station Wagon, Taxicab, Truck, and Commercial. Over 4 million Model A’s were produced. Prices for the Model A ranged from US$385 for a roadster to US$1400 for the top-of-the-line Town Car. The engine was a water-cooled L-head inline 4-cylinder with a displacement of 201 cu in (3.3 l). This engine provided 40 hp (30 kW; 41 PS). Top speed was around 65 mph (105 km/h). The Model A had a 103.5 in (2,630 mm) wheelbase with a final drive ratio of 3.77:1. The transmission was a conventional 3-speed sliding gear manual unsynchronised unit with a single speed reverse. The Model A had 4-wheel mechanical drum brakes. The 1930 and 1931 models were available with stainless steel radiator cowling and headlamp housings. Its successor was the Model B, which featured an updated 4-cylinder engine, as well as the Model 18, which introduced Ford’s new flathead (sidevalve) V8 engine…… 80 years ago this week, Austin W. Deyo (46), designer of the Larabee truck and an official of the Larabee-Deyo Motor Truck Company 1915-1917, died [5 November 1936]…… 75 years ago this week, US marque Buick lowered its prices to reflect the absence of spare tyres or inner tubes on its new cars [11 December 1941]. The widespread shortages caused by World War Two had led to many quotas and laws designed to conserve America’s resources. One of these laws prohibited spare tyres on new cars…… 65 years ago this week, Porsche won its first race in the United States, when the 1500 cc car sponsored by Max Hoffman and Walter Glockler, the marque’s Frankfurt, German agent, dominated a race at Palm Beach, Florida, until retiring with valve gear problems [8 December 1951]….. Hudson announced their intent to produce a ‘light car’, the Jet [9 December 1951]. The Jet was the automaker’s response to the popular Nash Rambler and the costs of developing and marketing the Jet ultimately led to Hudson’s merger with Nash……50 years ago this week, Rover and Alvis marques were acquired by the Leyland Group [11 December 1966]….. 40 years ago this week, Mrs Kitty Hambleton in a 48,000 hp rocket-powered 3-wheeled SM1 Motivator over the Alvard Desert, Oregon, USA achieved a speed of 524.016 mph (843.32 km/h) – the highest ever recorded by a woman [5 December 1976]. Her official two way record was 512.710 mph (825.13 km/h) and probably touched 600mph (966 km/h) momentarily…… 10 years ago this week, A1GP World Cup of Motorsport significantly expanded its global television reach, signing an exclusive broadcast deal with America’s SPEED channel and a terrestrial highlights package with Channel Five in the UK [6 December 2006]…… The first showroom ready Kia cee’d ran off the production line in Zilina, Slovakia [7 December 2006]. In a high profile ceremony, the new cee’d was signed by production and quality control staff, senior management and local dignitaries. Employees joined Mr Euisun Chung, President and CEO, Kia Motors Corporation, Mr In-Kyu Bae, President and CEO, Kia Motors Slovakia, Mr Jan Slota, Mayor of Zilina and Mr Jean-Charles Lievens, Senior Vice President, Kia Motors Europe as they personally ‘signed-off’ the first cee’d. The new Zilina plant – 200 km north-west of capital city Bratislava – was built in record time. The official groundbreaking took place in April 2004 with showroom production beginning just 28 months later….. MINI agreed to acquire John Cooper Works [11 December 2011]…… 5 years ago this week, the last bendy buses were withdrawn from service in London [10 December 2011].