Cars, people and events in this week’s Motoring Milestones include: Riley cars, Barney Oldfield, Austin Motor Company, Formula 1, and the Indianapolis 500.
120 years ago this week, William Riley Junior founded the Riley Cycle Co. Ltd in Coventry in the West Midlands [23rd May 1896]. In 1905 they went on to produce a Tricar powered by their own ‘V’ twin 9-bhp engine, which had a steering wheel instead of the usual tiller of the time. Riley also built motorcycles until 1906 after which time they concentrated their efforts on car production. The first commercial four-wheeled cars were of 1,034cc selling
£168 and larger two-litre V-Twins followed two years later. The business was reformed as Riley (Coventry) Ltd in 1912 and continued along the same lines with the manufacture of two-cylinder machines, as well as a 2.9 model making an introduction. After the War, four-cylinder Riley’s were favoured including the ‘Redwing’ in 1923. The company ventured further into competitive racing into the 1930s releasing road versions of models such as the ‘Monaco’ and 1496cc ‘Sprite’. After the conclusion of World War II, new styled 1.5 litre cars were introduced, followed by the 2.5 litre ‘Roadster’ in 1948. Eventually falling under the control of British Leyland, cars were sold under the Riley name until 1969 ….. 110 years ago this week, Vauxhall Bridge, a steel arched bridge for road and foot traffic, crossing the River Thames in a north-west south-east orientation, between Lambeth Bridge and Grosvenor Bridge, in central London was opened by the Prince of Wales [26 May 1906]….. 100 years ago this week, Barney Oldfield ran a qualifying lap in his front-wheel-drive Christie at 102.6 mph [27 May 1916]. It was the first time any driver had rounded the
Indianapolis Motor Speedway in excess of 100 mph. Oldfield ended up finishing fifth on race day, as Dario Resta beat the field in his Peugeot .Barney Oldfield is remarkable for having set so many landmarks in so many different places in so many different cars. He had a knack for creating history. It was Oldfield who first drove Ford’s 888 cars to success; Oldfield who made Harry Miller famous in the Golden Submarine; Oldfield who beat Ralph DePalma in a series of match races. He somehow always managed to associate himself with the famous figures and venues of his time. He even served a ban for drag racing the African-American heavyweight champion of the world, Jack Johnson….. 70 years ago this week, The English car designer and builder who founded the Austin Motor Company, Herbert Austin KBE (74), died after a heart attack [23 May 1941]. In 1893 he become General Manager of the Wolseley Sheep Shearing
Company, where he indulged his interest in the design of a horseless motor vehicle and in 1896 exhibited an experimental motor vehicle at Crystal Palace, while his third car design won a silver medal in the 1000 miles trial in 1900. By 1905, he left Wolseley to found the Austin Motor Company at Longbridge, Birmingham. The Austin Motor Company’s most successful product was the Austin Seven, introduced in 1922. He was knighted in 1914 and was Conservative MP for Kings Norton, Birmingham from 1918 to 1924………The first production Kaiser and Frazer automobiles came off the Willow Run line [29 May 1946]. The first cars were shipped to dealers on June 22; all were registered as 1947 models. Despite Kaiser and Frazer’s earlier talk of inexpensive small cars, neither model was anything close to a low-priced economy car. The Kaiser Special started at $1,868, nearly $700 more than the cheapest 1947 Chevrolet. The Frazer, meanwhile, started at $2,053, over $100 more than an eight-cylinder Buick Special. Both Kaiser-Frazer products rode well, were reasonably economical, and had nicely trimmed interiors, but they were in no way exceptional. At almost any other time, that would have been disastrous, but Kaiser-Frazer had the good fortune to roll out its new cars close to the beginning of the postwar automotive boom. Unlike depressed, devastated Europe and Japan, American roads were intact and American buyers, flush with unspent wartime
earnings, had money to spend. As soon as civilian production resumed in the fall of 1945, customers began snapping up every new car they could get their hands on. Dealers soon had lengthy waiting lists and automotive “scalpers” became common. Kaisers and Frazers might have been ordinary, but they were new and they had four wheels, which was enough for many buyers.n such a seller’s market, it was all Kaiser-Frazer could do to keep up with demand. When Continental couldn’t build engines fast enough, Frazer arranged to lease a plant in Detroit so K-F could build most of the engines itself. Kaiser-Frazer ultimately sold 70,474 Kaisers and 68,775 Frazers in the 1947 model year, giving the company the best market share of any of the American independents. Kaiser-Frazer posted a $19 million profit for 1947 calendar year, offsetting the previous year’s losses.Graham-Paige, however, was still not pulling its weight. Graham was supposed to build a third of all Kaiser-Frazer cars, but ultimately managed fewer than 9,000. Moreover, Graham-Paige still hadn’t been able to meet its contractual obligation to finance one-third of Kaiser-Frazer’s operating expenses. In February 1947, the Graham-Paige board finally decided to sell its remaining automotive assets to Kaiser-Frazer and get out of the passenger car business once and for all. Kaiser-Frazer sales remained robust in 1948 despite even higher prices. Demand was still strong enough that buyers didn’t flinch at the $2,460 price of a new Kaiser Custom model or the even-costlier Frazer Manhattan, which actually listed for $27 more than a Cadillac Series 62 sedan. Total K-F sales for the model year amounted to 91,851 Kaisers and 48,071 Frazers, yielding a $10.4 million net profit. Despite two profitable years, Kaiser-Frazer remained perilously under-capitalized. In January 1948, the company tried to organize another stock offering, underwritten by Allen & Company, First California, and Otis and Company, but the brokers got cold feet and the offering collapsed almost immediately. The main results were a significant drop in Kaiser-Frazer’s share prices and a protracted legal battle between Kaiser-Frazer and Otis and Company’s Cyrus Eaton. Without the expected income from the stock offering, Kaiser-Frazer had to obtain another $20 million loan from Bank of America….. 30 years ago this week, the 44th Belgian Grand Prix and the 32nd to be held at Spa-Francorchamps, run over 43 laps of the 7.0-kilometre circuit for a total race distance of 301 kilometres, was won by British driver Nigel Mansell driving a Williams FW11 [25 May 1986]. It was Mansell’s third Grand Prix victory after his two breakthrough wins at the end of the previous season and his first in 1986. Mansell won by 19 seconds over Brazilian driver Ayrton Senna driving a Lotus 98T….. 25 years ago this week, The critically acclaimed road movie “Thelma and Louise” debuted in US theatres, stunning audiences with a climactic scene in which its two heroines drive off a cliff into the Grand Canyon, in a vintage 1966 green Ford Thunderbird convertible [24 May 1991]….. 20 years ago this week, Buddy Lazier won the Indianapolis 500 at an average speed of 147.956 mph [26 May 1996]….. 10 years ago this week, the 1.2 mile long A6144(M) in Greater Manchester ceased being a special road, losing its motorway status [25 May 2006]. It is now subject to a 50 mph (80 km/h) speed limit and is classified as the A6144. The road through Sale retained the A6144 number, meaning that there are two branches (and two junctions with the M60 motorway) with the same road number. Despite losing motorway status, the road still prohibits pedestrians, cyclists, and horse riders…… The 2006 Monaco Grand Prix is remembered by many people for Michael Schumacher’s actions during the closing stages of the qualifying session for the race [28 May 2006]. Schumacher stopped his car in the Rascasse corner preventing his rival Fernando Alonso improving his time and most likely taking pole off Schumacher. Whether the move was deliberate is still a matter of debate. In the end, Schumacher’s actions were deemed “deliberate” by the race stewards and he was demoted to the back of the grid as punishment for his actions, promoting Alonso from second to pole position. Fernando Alonso won the race in his Renault R26….. Sam Hornish Jr. earned his first Indianapolis 500 victory – and the record 14th Indy win for team owner Roger Penske – in dramatic fashion by passing rookie Marco Andretti on the last lap, just before the finish line [29 May 2006]. Hornish’s margin of victory was 0.0635 of a second, the second-closest finish in “500” history. Hornish’s pass of Andretti marked the first time in race history that the winner took the lead on the final lap.