8-14 April: Motoring Milestones

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

120 years ago this week, Herr Beissbarth of Munich, Germany was issued a license plate for his Wartburg. This plate survives today and is believed to be the oldest such artefact in existence [14 April 1899]……..110 years ago this week,  Widnes Town Corporation introduced the first closed top double

Commer buses being delivered to Widnes in 1909

decker buses in Great Britain [9 April 1909]. They had to be covered top due to the corrosive atmosphere and acid rain in Widnes associated with the chemical factories. They operated a service from the Transporter Bridge through the town centre to Peel House Lane. Services to Farnworth, Appleton, Halton View and Rainhill soon followed.The four Commer buses purchased from Commercial Cars Ltd based in took 4 days to be delivered from Luton to Widnes in 1909. There was no motorways, roads were in general very poor and at a height of 16ft 6ins, quite a few tree branches had to be cut down to get to Widnes. The wheelbase was 7ft 6ins wide “a wider wheelbase was requested but declined due to the Heavy Motor Vehicle Act” and the bus ran on solid rubber tyres, they carried 34 seated passengers. Cost of each bus was £844 and they were numbered 1,2,3 &4. In the first six months of service an average of over 15,000 passengers were carried each week, with just over £80 in bus fares per week collected……….The Rolls Royce Silver Rogue, driven by Percy Northey to victory in the 1908 Scottish Reliability Trial, was sold as a used car in London, England [10 April 1909]……..90 years ago this week, Prince Pierre inaugurated the first Monaco Grand Prix, with a lap of honour in a

Torpedo Voisin driven by Charles Faroux [14 April 1929]. It was set up by wealthy cigarette manufacturer, Antony Noghès, who had set up the Automobile Club de Monaco with some of his friends. This offer of a Grand Prix was supported by Prince Louis II, with a prize of 100,000 French francs. Course Director, Louis Chiron was notable by his absence at the starting line, as the young Monegasque had enrolled in the Indy 500. There were 16 cars on the starting grid, positions drawn by lots: 8 Bugattis, 3 Alfa Romeos, 2 Maseratis, 1 Licorne and 1 Mercedes SSK. Williams went on to win the Grand Prix in a green 35B Bugatti in 3 hours, 56 minutes and 11 seconds, with an average speed over 100 laps of 49.83 mph (80.194 km/h). The race was a phenomenal success…….70 years ago this week, the Playboy Motor Corporation of Buffalo, New York, US filed for bankruptcy and ‘Flivver Ten Million’, composed by Frederick Converse to honor the Ford Model T, was debuted by the Boston (MA) Symphony Orchestra

Harley Jefferson Earl

under the direction of Serge Koussevitsky……..50 years ago this week, Harley Jefferson Earl (75), American car designer, died [10 April 1969]. A Hollywood builder of custom cars and became GM’s Vice President of styling from 1940-1959, he was the first to introduce tail fins in 1948. His design philosophy was “You can design a car so that every time you get in it, it’s a relief–you have a little vacation for a while” …….40 years ago this week, Canadian Gilles Villeneuve captured pole, fastest lap and the win for Ferrari at the United States West Grand Prix at Long Beach, California, followed by teammate Jody Scheckter, as the Prancing Horses took a big step toward reclaiming the Constructor’s and Driver’s Championships from Lotus [8 April 1979]. Villeneuve’s second straight win came by almost half a minute over Scheckter, as Alan Jones joined them on the podium for Williams. It was the third win of Villeneuve’s career, his second consecutive, and the third United States Grand Prix win in a row for Ferrari…….David Kennedy in a Wolf-Cosworth WR won the International Gold Cup held at Oulton Park, England [13 April 1979]……30 years ago this week, Jim, June and Tony Laird covered all 62 mainland counties of Great Britain by car during a 1444.4 mile route in a time of 24 hours 56 minutes between 8 and 9th April 1979…….Rusty Wallace fended off Darrell Waltrip by just .26 seconds to win a crash-filled Valleydale 500 at Bristol International Speedway, Tennessee, US [9 April 1979]. Wallace led 71 laps, including the final 63 to notch the 13th victory of his career in NASCAR’s top series. Geoff Bodine, Davey Allison and Dick Trickle rounded out the top five. Twenty caution flags slowed the pace to an average speed of 76.034 mph……Ford unveiled the third generation of its small Fiesta hatchback, which was to be built at the Dagenham plant in England and the Valencia plant in Spain [14 April 1989]. The Mk3 represented the biggest change to the Fiesta since the original car was introduced in 1976. In addition to the 3-door hatchback and panel van versions that had formed the Fiesta range, a 5-door hatchback was also added. The Fiesta Mk3 was replaced by the Fiesta Mk4 in 1995, but remained on sale until 1997. The Mk4 was a major restyle of the Mk3, but had the same chassis. The Fiesta Mk3 also spawned a high-cube panel van version in 1991, the Courier, and also shared its platform with the Ka of 1996, which was derived from the Fiesta Mk4……….20 years ago this week, it was announced that the film world’s most successful secret agent, Bond, James Bond, would be driving the stunning new BMW Z8 (cover image) in “The World is Not Enough”, the 19th in the series of Bond films [8 April 1999]……..Larry Dixon mades the first “4.4” pass in NHRA history when he ran the 1/4-mile in 4.486 seconds in Don Prudhome’s Top Fuel car at Houston Raceway Park in Baytown, Texas, US [10 April 1999]……..10 years ago this week, the

Honda FCX Clarity

Honda FCX Clarity, a four-door saloon billed as the planet’s first hydrogen-powered fuel-cell vehicle intended for mass production, won the World Green Car award at the New York Auto Show [9 April 2009]. The first FCX Clarity cars came off the line at Honda’s plant in Takanezawa, Japan, in June 2008. As The New York Times reported at the time: “Fuel-cell vehicles have been a sort of holy grail of the auto industry, offering the promise of driving without emitting air-polluting exhaust. Fuel cells work by combining hydrogen and oxygen from ordinary air to make electricity, in a process whose only by-products are water and heat.” The FCX Clarity is currently available for lease in the U.S., Japan and Europe. In the U.S., it is only available to customers who live in Southern California where “fast-fill” hydrogen stations are available. As of 2010, 20 FCX Clarity were leased for $600 a month which included collision coverage, maintenance, roadside assistance and hydrogen fuel. There are around 10 others on lease in Japan and another 10 in Europe. The number of fuel cell vehicles Honda can put on the road is significantly limited by the number of hydrogen stations the company can use. According to Honda, which reportedly spent more than 15 years and millions of dollars developing its fuel-cell technology, the FCX Clarity is more fuel-efficient than a gas-powered car or hybrid and gets 74 miles per gallon of fuel. The Times also noted that fuel-cell vehicles such as the FCX Clarity are more eco-friendly than an electric car “whose batteries take hours to recharge and use electricity, which, in the case of the U.S.A., China and many other countries, is often produced by coal-burning power plants”…….Former Major League Baseball all-star pitcher Mark “The Bird” Fidrych was found dead at the age of 54 [13 April 2009]. His death occurred following an accident at his farm involving a Mack truck on which he was working. Fidrych, the 1976 American League Rookie of the Year, suffocated when his clothes got tangled in the truck’s power take-off shaft.
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