9-15 December: Motoring Milestones

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

110 years ago this week, the Gramm-Logan Motor Car Company of Bowling Green, Ohio, US registered is name as a trademark, said to be styled in handwriting of Benjamin A Gramm [13 December 1909]. The firm built only trucks and was dissolved in 1910……….The last brick, made of gold was laid at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, giving the track its popular nickname “The Brickyard” [14 December 1909]. In a span of 63 days, 3.2 million paving bricks, each weighing 9.5 pounds, were laid on top of the original surface of crushed rock and tar to upgrade the Speedway.” The ‘gold brick’, which was actually made from gold plated brass, was the idea was the brain child of Ernest ‘Ernie’ Moross, the first publicity man for the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, who formerly promoted for barnstorming racer Berna ‘Barney’ Oldfield. Unfortunately, legend has it that the “gold” brick only spent a couple days in its intended location before it was stolen and never recovered. In October 1961, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway completed a massive asphalt paving project, which paved over the last of the paving bricks on the main straightaway, except for a 3-foot section at the start-finish line, still giving meaning to the ‘brick yard’. The completion of the 1961 project was marked by the ceremonial placement of a ‘gold’ brick in the “yard of bricks,” with a group of witnesses that included 1911 winner Ray Harroun, Speedway President Anton “Tony” Hulman Jr, and Louis Schwitzer, the long-time chairman of the Technical Committee, and winner of the first race held on the Speedway, a five-mile preliminary event held on August 19 1909. Through the years, to avoid a repeat of the theft of the original “gold” brick, the second 39-pound gold brick was kept in a safe in the Indianapolis Motor Speedway office at the corner of Georgetown Road and 16th Street and was only placed in the track for special occasions. The truth is that the 1961 version of the gold brick was really not gold but Dirilyte, a “gold-hued” bronze metal alloy manufactured in Kokomo Indiana. Kissing those bricks after a successful race remains a tradition among Indy drivers……. 100 years ago this week, the Locomobile Company was organised by E. S. Hare to acquire the assets of the Locomobile Company of America [15 December 1919]. Locomobile, an automobile that became known as the “Best Built Car in America”, was also one of the most expensive and elegant automobiles manufactured in the United States. By 1911, the six-cylinder Model 48 weighed 3 tons and was built of magnesium bronze, aluminium and steel, cost $7,900 and was owned by the who’s who of upper East Coast aristocracy – Melon, Gould, Vanderbilt, Wanamaker, Governor Cox of Massachusetts, Wm. Wrigley to name a few. In the West, Locomobile 48’s were owned by names such as Charlie Chaplin, Tom Mix and Cecil B. DeMille. Two people would bring the company to its fruition as the successful builder of the best built car in America: Andrew Riker, a talented and brilliant engineer, and Samuel Davis as financial manager and treasurer. Locomobile had it’s beginnings in Watertown, Massachusetts in 1898, when a man named John Brisben Walker, an entrepreneur and owner of Cosmopolitan Magazine became fascinated with the automobile. Hare had taken control of Locomobile as well as Mercer and Simplex, in a plan to make a larger corporation under his control. Unfortunately Hare’s company did not have the sound base and financial assets to sustain its goals. Locomobile finally was able to separate itself from Hare in 1921 after a new board of directors took control………90 years ago this week, the Cadillac V-16 was announced to dealers in a letter from division President Lawrence P Fisher [10 December 1929]………. 80 years ago this week, the first production Lincoln Continental

Lincoln Continental – 1939

was finished. Originally developed as Edsel Ford’s personal vehicle, the Lincoln Continentals of the 1940s are widely considered to be some of the most beautiful production cars ever made [13 December 1939]. Continentals were produced by the Lincoln Division of the Ford Motor Company from 1939 to 1948 and again from 1956 to 1980 and 1981 to 2002………70 years ago this week, regular production of cars at the Saab factory in Trollhättan, Sweden began [12 December 1949]. The first car – a green Saab 92 – rolled off the production line a few weeks later. Powered by a transversely mounted, water-cooled 2 cylinder, two-stroke 764 cc, 25 hp thermosiphon engine based on a DKW design, giving the ‘92’ a top speed of 65 mph (104.6 km/h). The transmission had three gears, the first unsynchronised. In order to overcome the problems of oil starvation during overrun (engine braking) for the two-stroke engine, a freewheel device was fitted……..Raymond Mays and Ken Richardson test drove the first BRM V-16 race car in its public debut at the Folkingham Airfield, Bourne, England [15 December 1949]. Work began on the BRM V-16 in 1947. Regulations at the time split Grand Prix into two classes: cars with 4.5-liter naturally aspirated engines, and cars with 1.5-liter supercharged engines. BRM chose the second option, mating a Rolls Royce designed centrifugal blower with two tiny dual overhead cam V-8s joined at the crankshaft. The resulting machine was a little fireball that made 612 horsepower at 12,000 RPM. This astronomical power figure was achieved by the more than 80 pounds of boost coming in from the supercharger. Naturally, an engine of such strange proportions would create a note like no other. In 2004, Pink Floyd drummer, and vintage racing collector Nick Mason wrote a book entitled Into the Red. This book came with an audio CD featuring recordings of 22 of Mason’s race cars, and one chapter is dedicated to the BRM V-16. Unfortunately, the V-16’s racing career didn’t really live up to its stat sheet. In its debut race at Silverstone in 1950, the car broke down on the starting line. The V-16 did later take a win at Goodwood, but blown head gaskets then became a persistent issue, thanks to the insane amount of boost being forced into the engine. Improved cooling would later make the V-16 somewhat reliable, but by 1955, new class regulations meant the engine was obsolete. It was replaced around that time with a much more sensible four-cylinder unit. These events can be seen in a short documentary below. Even if the engine was not the world-beater that BRM had hoped, it is impressive even by modern standards, and it represents the drive and creativity of its era………60 years ago this week, at 22 years and 104 days of age, Bruce McLaren became the youngest driver to win a Grand Prix race as he earned first place at Sebring, Florida, US [12 December 1959]. Jack Brabham won the 1959 World drivers title, whilst Cooper-Climax clinched the Constructors’ Championship. Brabham ran out of fuel in the final race of the season, the US Grand Prix at Sebring, and had to push his Cooper-Climax half a mile home, still managing to finish an amazing fourth!………50 years ago this week, the AC Spark Plug Division of General Motors began developing the catalytic converter under the direction of General Manager George W Chestnut, Chief Engineer, Thomas Hustead, and General Motors President Edward N Cole [9 December 1969]…………40 years ago this week, stuntman Eddie Kidd accomplished a “death-defying” motorcycle leap. During the spectacle he crossed an 80ft gap over a 50ft sheer drop above a viaduct at Maldon, Essex, England on a 400cc motorcycle [10 December 1979]. The stunt was for film ‘Riding High’ about the life of a motorcycle stuntman. “They asked me to do the jump at the end of the film because they were worried,” said Kidd. “It had been raining a few days before and they

Eddie Kidd

insisted that I have a mud guard on the front of my bike. But while in flight the wind caught the mud guard and over balanced the bike, so the landing was not easy.” In the film, audiences were amazed at how the bike was nearly vertical when landing. “I was also told to wear a visor on my helmet, which blew backwards as I was landing, but I ‘nailed’ it” Eddie told BBC Essex. Kidd, who was only 20 at the time, completed the stunt before a stunned group of spectators, fans and press. Only wearing motorcycle leathers and a crash helmet, he landed on the jump and despite the pressure came away with only a minor leg injury………30 years ago this week, Patty Moise set a record closed course run for a female at 216.607mph, driving a Buick [14 December 1989]……..General Motors and SAAB agreed to form a 50-50 joint auto-making company, called Saab Automobile A.B. GM acquired the rest of SAAB a decade later [15 December 1989]……..20 years ago this week, the Aulnay plant in France produced the one millionth Citroen Saxo [13 December 1999]…….The greatest height ramped by a monster truck of 7.3 m (24 ft), was set by Dan Runte driving Bigfoot 14 in Las Vegas, Nevada, US [14 December 1999]. In the process Dan Runte jumped seven cars and his 73′ hauler lengthwise in Las Vegas, Nevada. This 175′ didn’t break his 202′ long jump record but it came in as the number two record. The landing took its toll, tearing off the right front wheel and bending the chassis. The jump was recorded for UPN’s – “I Dare You, The Ultimate Challenge” televised Jan 18th, 2000. Dan said that even though he broke off the wheel the landing was not too bad and he suffered no injuries. Bigfoot 14 is actually the 13th truck built by team Bigfoot. Bigfoot 13 was skipped due to superstition………10 years ago this week, Germany’s Volkswagen announced that it had agreed to pay $2.5 billion for a 19.9% stake in Suzuki, a family-owned Japanese maker of small cars and motorcycles [9 December 2009]………The sixth generation Vauxhall Astra hit UK showrooms after its worldwide debut at the Frankfurt Motor Show [11 December 2009]. Despite being more expensive than the fifth generation, the sixth generation Astra had strong sales success in the UK, where it was the best- selling car in June 2010 with well over 10,000 sales – outselling its crucial rival the Ford Focus by nearly 50%. This, however, was at a time when production of the Mk2 Focus was being scaled back prior to the launch of a new MK3 model in early 2011. The Estate version of the Astra, the ‘Sports Tourer’, debuted at the 2010 Paris Motor Show and went on sale shortly afterwards, with a starting price of £16,575 for the ES version, then Exclusiv, SRI and SE versions, with the SE costing from £20,345. The seventh generation Astra entered production at Ellesmere Port in 2015. In BBC2’s Top Gear, the sixth generation Astra with the Tech Line trim, was used as their fourth “Reasonably Priced Car”.

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