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9-15 September: Motoring Milestones

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

120 years ago this week, the first American automobile fatality resulted when Henry H Bliss was run over as he alighted from a streetcar at West 74th Street and Central Park West in New York. Bliss, 68, was taken to hospital, where he died [13 September 1899]. The driver, Arthur Smith was arrested and held on $1,000 bail. A plaque was dedicated at the site on September 13, 1999, to commemorate the centenary of this event. It reads: “Here at West 74th Street and Central Park West, Henry H. Bliss dismounted from a streetcar and was struck and knocked unconscious by an automobile on the evening of September 13, 1899. When Mr. Bliss, a New York real estate man, died the next morning from his injuries, he became the first recorded motor vehicle fatality in the Western Hemisphere. This sign was erected to remember Mr. Bliss on the centennial of his untimely death and to promote safety on our streets and highways.” The ceremony was attended by his great-granddaughter, who placed roses on the place where Bliss was struck……..110 years ago this week, George Selden reigned as the “Father of the Automobile” for almost 20 years, his name engraved on every car from 1895 until

George Selden

1911. He held the patent on the “Road Engine,” which was effectively a patent on the automobile – a claim that went unchallenged for years, despite the many other inventors who had contributed to the development of the automobile and the internal combustion engine. Almost all of the early car manufacturers, unwilling to face the threat of a lawsuit, were forced to buy licenses from Selden, so almost every car on the road sported a small brass plaque reading “Manufactured under Selden Patent.” Henry Ford was the only manufacturer willing to challenge Selden in court, and on 15 September 1909 a New York judge ruled that Ford had indeed infringed on Selden’s patent. This decision was later overturned when it became plain that Selden had never intended to actually manufacture his “road engine.” Selden’s own “road engine” prototype, built in the hope of strengthening his case, only managed to stagger along for a few hours before breaking down………..on the same day, [15 September 1909], Charles F. Kettering of Detroit, Michigan, applied for a patent on his ignition system. But the ignition system was only the first of Kettering’s many automobile improvements, a distinguished list that includes lighting systems, lacquer finishes, antilock fuels, leaded gasoline, and the electric starter. His company Delco (Dayton Engineering Laboratories Company) was a leader in automotive technology and later became a subsidiary of General Motors (GM). Kettering himself served as vice president and director of research for GM from 1920 to 1947……….90 years ago this week, the British Transport Minister announced that traffic lights, which were in use in 21 provincial towns, were to be standardised. Red would signal stop, and green go, but amber would warn of a coming change [13 September 1929]. The Minister noted that lights might prove unsuitable where horse-drawn traffic abounds…….70 years ago this week, the Volvo PV445, basically a PV444 chassis on which a speciality body could be mounted, was introduced [9 September 1949]. From 1949 to 1953, the PV445 formed the base for small lorries, vans, estate cars and a few beautiful drophead-coupé

Volvo PV445

convertible) cars. None of these were built by Volvo, but by independent coachwork firms. In 1953, the famous Duett (variant DH) was introduced, based on the PV445. This became legendary, and is the ancestor of today’s exclusive, comfortable, safe and powerful Volvo estate cars…….The fourth race of the inaugural NASCAR Strictly Stock season was held at Langhorne Speedway, Pennsylvania, US [11 September 1949]. Red Byron won the pole. Curtis Turner, the “Blond Blizzard” out of Roanoke, Virginia, out dueled Bob Flock and came home first in the celebrated 200-mile Strictly Stock race at the famed circular Langhorne Speedway before 20,000 spectators. Sara Christian, leading female driver out of Atlanta, finished sixth in a sterling performance. Her effort in the grueling 200-lapper prompted race officials to escort her to victory lane to join winner Turner in the ceremonies. Turner drove his Oldsmobile into the lead in the 141st lap when Bob Flock went to the pits for a tire change. Turner led the rest of the way to pocket the $2,250.00 first prize. Flock scampered out of the pits and finished second, 20 seconds behind the winner. Third place went to point leader Red Byron as Oldsmobiles finished 1–2–3. Frank Mundy and Bill Blair rounded out the top five, both driving Cadillacs. Forty-five new Strictly Stock automobiles went to the starting post, the most cars to stat a race in the 1949 season. Turner averaged 69.403 mph. Byron and Sosebee earned the front row starting positions in qualifying. Fonty Flock, however, registered the fastest time in “Speed Trials” with an 80.140 fast lap. Fonty challenged Byron and Sosebee at the start, but the engine in his Buick blew after three laps. Sosebee struggled with tire problems and wound up 19th. Len Brown drove a 1947 Ford Convertible in the 200-mile championship chase—the first person to drive an open-top vehicle on the premier NASCAR Stock car tour. Brown managed to come home 28th—earning $25.00 for his day of work. Accidents took out Pepper Cunningham, Walter Minx and Chick DiNatale. Tim Flock was a contender for victory until sidelined by a lost wheel……..60 years ago this week, British driver Stirling Moss won the Italian Grand Prix driving a Cooper T51 for the privateer Rob Walker Racing Team. Moss won by 46 seconds over American driver Phil Hill driving a Ferrari Dino 246 for Scuderia Ferrari [13 September 1959]. Championship points leader Australian Jack Brabham finished third in works entered Cooper T51, expanding his points lead, but not sufficiently to prevent a championship showdown with Moss and Ferrari driver Tony Brooks at the United States Grand Prix……..50 years ago this week, Henry Ford II fired Ford Motor Company President Semon E ‘Bunky’ Knudsen just 19 months after hiring him away from General Motors [11 September 1969]. Lee Iacocca was named President of Ford North American Automotive Operations and Robert J Hampson was named President of Ford Non-Automotive Operations……….on the same day [11 September 1969], the experimental Mercedes-Benz C111 with three-disk rotary engine, and the car models 300 SEL 3.5 as well as 280 SE 3.5 coupe and convertible with 3.5-l, V8 engine were presented at the IAA in Frankfurt, Germany. The experimental electric omnibus OE 302 also premiered along with the Audio 100. With the new commercial vehicle model LP 1632 Daimler-Benz introduced the hydraulically tippable driver’s cab. The Porsche 914-4 and 914-6 mid-engined sports cars were also unveiled at the show………”Alabama International Motor Speedway” opened at a cost of $4 million [13 September 1959]. The name would remain for twenty years until 1989 when the facility’s name was changed to “Talladega Superspeedway”. In the first race at the track, all the original drivers abandoned the track due to tire problems, which allowed Bill France to hire substitute drivers with the winner being Richard Brickhouse……..40 years ago this week, South African Jody Scheckter won the Italian Grand Prix for Ferrari,

 securing his one and only World Drivers Title [9 September 1979]. The field was slightly larger than normal at Monza with the return to the World Championship of Alfa Romeo which fielded a new 179 chassis for Bruno Giacomelli and the old 177 for Vittorio Brambilla, back in action for the first time since the crash at Monza the previous season. Ensign decided to give Formula 2 star Marc Surer a run in its car in place of Patrick Gaillard, while Hector Rebaque had his HR100 chassis ready for the first time. In qualifying it was no surprise to see the powerful Renault turbos first and second with Jean-Pierre Jabouille ahead of Rene Arnoux. Then came Jody Scheckter (Ferrari), Alan Jones (Williams), Gilles Villeneuve (Ferrari) and Clay Regazzoni (Williams). The top 10 was completed by Jacques Laffite (Ligier), Nelson Piquet and Niki Lauda in the two Brabham-Alfa Romeos and Mario Andretti in the Lotus. As usual the Renaults were slow off the line and so Scheckter grabbed the lead from Arnoux. Behind then Villeneuve grabbed third while Laffite made a good start to get into fourth place. Jones dropped to the back of the field. On the second lap Arnoux was able to pass Scheckter to take the lead and for the next few laps the five front-runners were nose-to-tail, while Regazzoni ran in a lonely sixth position. That lasted until lap 13 when Arnoux’s car began to misfire and he dropped away leaving Scheckter, Villeneuve, Laffite and Jabouille by themselves. Later in the race Jabouille dropped away with engine trouble and Laffite stopped with a similar problem and so third place went to Regazzoni with Lauda, Andretti and Jean-Pierre Jarier (Tyrrell) picking up the other points……. British Leyland (BL) announced it was to end production of all MG models [10 September 1979]. The history of the marque has been a bumpy one since the creation of the brand in 1924 by Cecil Kimber, who chose the letters MG as a tribute to William Morris, the owner of Morris Garages.The original MGs – known as Morris Garage Chummies – were made by fitting tourer bodies to Morris Cowley chassis. Purists, however, say the first true MG was the 14/28 sports model, which was also the first to sport the distinctive octagonal logo.Originally the cars were built in Oxford, but production was shifted a few miles south to Abingdon in 1929, where it continued until the plant was closed amid huge protests in 1980. The Prince of Wales was one of a number of distinguished MG owners. His first car was a cobalt blue MGC GT, which was bought in January 1968. Ironically on the day the Abingdon plant shut, he was performing the official opening of British Leyland’s Mini Metro plant in Longbridge, where MGs had also been produced since 1962. The closure of Abingdon also stopped production of the much loved two-seater sports cars, even though the brand was kept alive by Austin Rover, who stuck the badge on an array of unimpressive saloon cars and hatchbacks. These Metros, Maestros and Montegos may

have been sportier than their conventional counterparts, but they were not true MGs and did not attract the devotion of the MGB, which had become the world’s top selling sports car. “The marque has a great deal of affection, but has not been treated particularly well,” said Chris Seaward of the MG Car Club. It has been passed from house to house.” In 1995, when the MG was owned by BMW, the MGF – a proper sports car in line with the marque’s heritage was launched. It was hugely successful. In 2000 BMW sold the business to the Rover group which stuck the MG badge on some Rovers, as well as continuing to produce sports cars. It was not a happy period with the company going into receivership and production stopping after an ill-fated rescue attempt by the so-called Phoenix Four, which made huge amounts for the businessmen involved but not for the staff on the Longbridge production line. In April 2005 the MG MG Rover Group went into administration, after which it was bought by NAC China’s oldest carmaker. Production restarted in 2007 in China, and later at Longbridge plant in the UK under the current manufacturer MG Motor. The first all-new model from MG in the UK for 16 years, the MG 6, was officially launched on 26 June 2011……….30 years ago this week, the Land Rover Discovery (cover image)was unveiled at the Frankfurt Motor Show [12 September 1989]. Code-named “Project Jay”, the new model was based on the chassis and drivetrain of the more upmarket Range Rover, but with a lower price aimed at a larger market segment intended to compete with Japanese offerings. This was the only Discovery generation with a four-cylinder petrol engine……..20 years ago this week, Championship Auto Racing Teams (CART) driver Gonzalo Rodriguez (27) of Uruguay was killed during practice for the Shell 300 at the Laguna Seca Raceway in Monterey, California [11 September 1999]….. And on the same day [11 September 1999] Dan Runte reached a speed of 69.3 mph (111.5 km/h) in Bigfoot 14 at Symrna Airport, Nashville, Tennessee, USA, the highest speed ever recorded in a monster truck. The speed was recorded during the run-up to the longest ever monster truck jump of 61.57 m (202 ft)…….With Michael Schumacher out of the championship picture having broken his leg at Silverstone, Mika Hakkinen was expecting a clear run to his second successive drivers’ title, but Eddie Irvine had other ideas [12 September 1999]. Hakkinen took pole and led the race but an uncharacteristic error saw him crash into retirement on lap 30. Although Heinz-Harald Frentzen went on to win the race, Irvine’s sixth place finish drew him level on points with three rounds remaining. “A raging Hakkinen flung away his steering wheel, brushed aside marshals as he stomped the ground in exasperation, threw down a glove to release more frustration and ultimately slumped on to his haunches to weep in his hands,” noted the Independent.

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