6-12 August: Motoring Milestones

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

110 years ago this week, Henry ’s first , affectionately known as the ‘Tin Lizzie’, rolled off the assembly line in Detroit, Michigan, US [12 August 1908]. The Model T revolutionised the motor industry by providing an affordable, reliable car for the average American. Ford was able to keep the price down by retaining control of all raw materials, as well as through his use of new mass-production methods. When first introduced, the car cost only $850 and seated two people. Although the price fluctuated, dipping as low as $290 in 1924, few other changes were ever made to it. Electric lights were introduced in 1915, and an electric starter was introduced as an option in 1919, but eventually the Model T’s design stagnancy cost it its competitive edge and Ford stopped manufacturing it in

1927……..100 years ago this week, Following the lead of other countries across the world, the US government ordered manufacturers to halt car production by 1 January 1919 and convert to military production [9 August 1918]. Factories instead manufactured shells, and the engineering lessons of produced light, powerful engines for planes. Car manufacturers also turned out staff and ambulances by the hundreds. In fact, World War One has been described as the war of the machines……….80 years ago this week, in the opening event of the XVIII Coppa Ciano, Emilio Villoresi won the voiturette race on the Montenero circuit in Livorno, Italy [8 August 1938]. It was the first race win for the Alfa Romeo 158 Alfetta. The Grand Prix race was won by Hermann Lang driving a Mercedes-Benz W154, while Nino Farina placed second with the new 12 cylinders Alfa Romeo 312……..The Ford Motor Company registered ‘Ford Mercury’ and ‘Mercury’ as trademarks – at the time it was unclear if their new car would be a distinct marque or simply an upscale Ford [8 August 1938]………Czech automotive pioneer, co-founder of what is now Škoda Auto, Václav Klement (70),

Václav Klement

died [10 August 1938]. The story of founding the Laurin & Klement Company , which would become Škoda Auto started on the day when Klement bought a bicycle made by the German company Seidel & Naumann. Upon finding a problem with the bicycle Klement sent a letter in the Czech language to the company, requesting repair. The company replied that they would deal with the request only if the letter were written in a “comprehensible” language. Klement was so indignant that he decided together with Václav Laurin, to start repairing bicycles themselves. Later in 1895, propelled by Klement’s modesty, excellent people skills and business acumen, together with Laurin’s technical expertise, the two decided to found the Laurin & Klement Company, producing their own bicycles. These were known as Slavia bicycles. The company took off, and soon had 12 employees, later going up to 40. In 1899 they went on to produce motorcycles which were an immediate success not only at home but also abroad, even in sport competitions. In 1902 Laurin & Klement motorcycles were successful in the famous Paris – Vienna race. This race covered 1430 km and the only motorcycles that made it to the finish line without any breakdowns in 31 hours were the Laurin & Klement motorcycles. Soon these motorcycles became so successful that the company decided to stop bicycle production in order to devote itself fully to motorcycles. In 1903 the company had already about 200 employees producing around 2000 motorcycles annually. In 1905 the company started making cars and in 1907 it expanded, registered on the stock exchange, and stopped motorcycle production. In 1925 the Laurin & Klement Company joined the Pilsner Škoda Concern and the name of the factory was changed to Laurin & Klement – Škoda, later only Škoda which produced hugely successful and became one of the great brand names, recognized worldwide, in the history of the Czech Republic. Václav Laurin kept the position of technical director. In 1991 the Škoda Factory became a member of the Volkswagen Group………70 years ago this week, the first race meeting at the Zandvoort circuit in Holland was organised by the British Racing Driving Club [7 August 1948]. The principle event the Zandvoort Grand Prix was won by Prince Birabongse, ‘Bira’, in a Maserati 4CL at 73.25 mph…….Bobby Hill and Billy Huber finished in a dead heat in the 10-mile National Championship motorcycle race at Lakewood Speedway in Atlanta, Georgia, US [8 August 1938]. This was the only dead heat in American Motorcycle Association history. Coming into the final lap of the race Indian’s Bobby Hill held a 30-yard lead over Harley’s Billy Huber. Huber cut the lead in half during the first turn, holding his position on the back straight. Hitting the final turn wide open, Huber drove out of the corner on the inside and pulled up to just 10 feet behind Hill. Taking advantage of Bobby’s draft, Billy Huber swung out with the finish line only 150 yards away. Determined, Billy cranked it pulling neck and neck with Hill. Both riders crossed the finish line simultaneously in a photo finish, setting a Lakewood Park track record of 7:46.47. With the crowd going batshit, President Mike Benton of the Lakewood Park Speedway declared both riders winners, and both riders received first-place prize money. The first and only tie in AMA National history. Bobby Hill was known as one of Indian’s famed “Wrecking Crew”, along with Bill Tuman and Ernie Beckman. The three made an indelible mark on the motorcycle history books and solidified Indian’s racing reputation. Bobby Hill was AMA National Champion in 1951 and 1952 by virtue of his victories on the Springfield Mile. Hill won a total of 12 AMA Nationals during his professional racing career spanning the years 1947 to 1959. Bill Tuman was the last single-day winner of the AMA Grand National Championship at the Springfield Mile in 1953 before the AMA Grand National Championship Series was created in 1954. That win also marked the last time an Indian rider won the prestigious AMA Grand National No. 1 plate. Tuman won a total of five AMA Grand Nationals during his racing career that spanned 1947 to 1955. Ernie Beckman earned ten podium finishes from 1949-1957 and only finished outside of the top 10 six times in that span. Beckman was the last rider to win an AMA Grand National race on an Indian— August 2, 1953 at Williams Grove, Pennsylvania. Billy Huber won the AMA 100-Mile National in 1950 and 1951, at the Langhorne Speedway near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He held multiple track records and is considered one of the strongest racers of his era. On July 5, 1953, with the temperature over 100 degrees at the 200-Mile National Championship race in Dodge City, Kansas, at the 140-mile mark Huber was overcome by heat stroke causing him to crash hard coming out of the corner. Tragically, he would die the next day from his injuries. All four men were inducted in the AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame in 1998………50 years ago this week [5 August 1968] Giovanni Bracco (60), winner of the 1952 Mille Miglia, died……..William P Lear announced that we would invest $10,000,000 to develop a steam automobile that he would have on the market within 15 months [9 August 1968]………David Pearson sidestepped Richard Petty near the midway point and led the rest of the Myers Brothers 250 at Bowman Gray Stadium in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, US [10 August 1968]. Pearson slipped by to lead the final 111 laps, finishing three seconds ahead of pole-starter Petty on the quarter-mile asphalt track. Bobby Isaac finished third, four laps down……..40 years ago this week, Pete Brock won the Australian Touring Car Championship. Brock was most often associated with Holden for almost 40 years, although he raced vehicles of other manufacturers including BMW, Ford, Volvo, Porsche and Peugeot [8 August 1978]…….. Three teenage girls died after their 1973 Ford Pinto was

Ford Pinto

rammed from behind by a van and bursts into flames on a highway in Indiana, US [10 August 1978]. The fatal crash was one of a series of Pinto accidents that caused a national scandal during the 1970’s. The small and economical Pinto, which debuted in 1970, was Ford’s first subcompact car produced domestically, and its answer to popular imports like the Volkswagen Beetle and the Toyota Corolla. Lee Iacocca, then an executive vice president at Ford and later to earn fame as head of Chrysler, spearheaded the Pinto’s development. By 1974, however, rumors began to surface in- and outside the company about the Pinto’s tendency to catch fire in rear-end collisions. In May 1972, a California woman was killed when her Pinto caught fire after being rear-ended on a highway. Her passenger was burned over 90 percent of his body but survived; he sued Ford for damages. The passenger’s lawyer found that the Pinto’s gas tank sat behind the rear axle, where it was particularly vulnerable to damage by rear-end collisions. He also uncovered evidence that Ford had known about this weakness ever since the Pinto first went on sale, and had done nothing about it, mostly because changing the design would have been too costly. An article in Mother Jones magazine in the fall of 1977 exposed the Pinto safety concerns to a national audience, and a California jury’s award of $128 million to passenger Richard Grimshaw in February 1978 spread the news still further. That June, Ford voluntarily recalled all 1.9 million 1971-1976 Pintos and 1975-1976 Mercury Bobcats (which had the same fuel-tank design). The Ehrlich girls, who died in the rear-end collision in Indiana on August 10, 1978, were apparently unaware of the Pinto-related dangers; their family would not receive a recall notice until early 1979. A grand jury later returned indictments against Ford on three counts of reckless homicide in the Ehrlich case, marking the first time in history that a corporation had been charged with murder. Ford claimed that the Pinto’s fuel-tank design was the same as other subcompacts, and that the company had done everything possible to comply with the recall once it had been enacted. Due to a lack of evidence, the jury found Ford not guilty in that case. A California appeals court upheld the Grimshaw victory, however, ordering Ford to pay $6.6 million and stating that the company’s “institutional mentality was shown to be one of callous indifference to public safety.”………Peugeot-Citroen announced it had purchased Chrysler’s European operation for an undisclosed sum [10 August 1978]……… 30 years ago this week, Ayrton Senna led home Alain Prost at the Hungarian Grand Prix for the 10th consecutive McLaren win of the season [7 August 1988]…….British Aerospace purchased The Rover Group [11 August 1988] ……..Francis Ford Coppola’s critically acclaimed biopic “Tucker: The Man & His Dream” premiered in U.S. theaters [12 August 1988], starring Jeff Bridges as the brash Chicago businessman-turned-car-designer Preston Tucker who shook up 1940s-era Detroit with his streamlined, affordable “Car of Tomorrow.” Remembered by some as a visionary and others as a flamboyant but failed opportunist, Preston Tucker was inspired to build cars by his friendship and pre-World War II business partnership with the race car driver and auto designer Harry Miller. In the renewed prosperity following the war, Tucker believed that Americans were ready to take a chance on a new kind of car, and that he, as an independent entrepreneur, was in the position to take risks that the big, established car companies were unwilling to take. He hired a skilled team including designer Alexander S. Tremulis and chief mechanic John Eddie Offuttas and leased an old Dodge aircraft engine plant in Chicago with plans to design and produce his dream cars. Based on clay mock-ups built to scale, the Tucker team produced a metal prototype, dubbed the “Tin Goose,” in June 1947. The following spring, the teardrop-shaped, 150-horsepower rear-engined Tucker “Torpedo” began rolling off the line, accompanied by the memorable advertising slogan “Don’t Let a Tucker Pass You By.” Among the Torpedo’s innovations were a padded dashboard, a pop-out windshield and an innovative center-mounted headlight. Despite rave reviews in the automotive press, Tucker’s company fell under harsh scrutiny from the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), who investigated the automaker for mail fraud and other charges. The investigation caused a flood of negative publicity for the company, while Tucker struggled to keep producing cars with a fraction of his staff. His efforts were in vain; in March 1949 the company fell into receivership and its assets were seized. Tucker was ultimately acquitted of all charges, but his dream car would never rise again; only 51 were produced after that initial prototype. Forty-seven of those still exist, and a number of them were used in the making of Coppola’s movie, which revived interest in the Tucker ’48 and the story of the man behind it. At the time of his


death in 1956, Preston Tucker was working on plans for a sports car, the Carioca, to be produced in Brazil……….10 years ago this week, Aston Martin released the first image of its newest flagship vehicle – the limited-edition One-77 [7 August 2008]. With a full carbon-fibre monocoque chassis, a handcrafted aluminium body and a naturally aspirated 7.3-litre V12 engine with 750 bhp, it was capable of achieving 220 mph. There was a limited run of 77 cars, hence the model’s name, and it sold for £1,150,000……… The tenth annual Gumball 3000 Rally, an 8-day, 3,000-mile trip across the West Coast of America, North Korea and China, began in San Francisco with a parade that included some 100 participants who had paid the $120,000 entrance [9 August 2008]. The rally passed through Los Angeles, San Diego and Las Vegas before flying to Nanjing in China and spending a night in North Korea for the Mass Games. From here the route then headed to Shanghai before crossing the finishing line in Beijing. 2008 was also David Hasselhoff’s first rally where he drove the original car from ‘Knight Rider’.

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