Cars, people and events in this week’s Motoring Milestones include: Canadian Grand Prix, Richard Petty, Fiat Topolino, and the first mobile telephone call
80 years ago this week, 300,000 people gathered on a rainy and fog swept Nürburgring to see the Adac Eifelrennen, the first major race of the year on German soil, the AVUS race being cancelled as the track was under re-construction [14 June 1936]. As the cars lined up for the start the fog lifted but the heavy rain continued. Tazio Nuvolari took the start followed by Rudolf Caracciola coming up from third row of the grid and Bernd Rosemeyer. As expected it was rain master Caracciola who soon took the lead after passing the Alfa at the Karussell curve. After two laps Nuvolari charged and took back the lead and soon afterwards Caracciola had to retire with engine failure. The increase of the engine volume to 4.7 litres had weakened the cylinder block. Manfred Von Brauchitsch now held third place behind Nuvolari and Rosemeyer. Then the fog came back with dramatic results. Rosemeyer closed in on Nuvolari and passed the Alfa, coming out from Südkehre to the joy of the spectators and continued into Hatzenbach and out of sight in the fog. The fierce race between the Auto Union and the three Ferrari Alfa Romeos continued, von Brauchitsch having retired with the same problems as Caracciola. In places the sight was reduced to 20 – 40 meters and the drivers slowed down, except for Rosemeyer who continued to race at high speed. Nuvolari tried to follow, but could do nothing to Rosemeyer’s extraordinary ability to see through the fog. The Auto Union driver opened up the gap to the Italian by 30 seconds per lap and went on to take a remarkable victory. Nuvolari led home a good Ferrari 2-3-4, Lang finishing 5th as best Mercedes-Benz driver. The other Auto Unions came home a disappointing 7-8-9, Chilean driver Zanelli was last with the Scuderia Torino entered Maserati. Eifelrennen (Nürburgring), 14-6: Bernd Rosemeyer, Auto Union Typ C…… the following day, Fiat’s Topolino (‘little mouse’ in Italian), referred as “the five hundred”, was officially presented
to the public under the slogan “the smallest automobile in the world” [15 June 1936]. It was equipped with a 13 hp 569 cc 4 cylinder, side-valve, water-cooled engine mounted in front of the front axle, with hydraulic brakes for all four wheel and a hand brake for rear wheels. It had a top seed of 53 mph (85 km/h) The radiator was located behind the engine which made possible a lowered aerodynamic nose profile at a time when competitors had a flat, nearly vertical grill. Total car length was 3250 mm….. 70 years ago this week, a driver in St. Louis, Missouri. pulled out a handset from under his car’s dashboard, placed a phone call and made history [17 June 1946]. It was the first mobile telephone call. A team including Alton Dickieson and D. Mitchell from Bell Labs and future AT&T CEO H.I. Romnes, worked more than a decade to achieve this feat. By 1948, wireless telephone service was available in almost 100 cities and highway corridors. Customers included utilities, truck fleet operators and reporters. However, with only 5,000 customers making 30,000 weekly calls, the service was far from commonplace. That “primitive” wireless network could not handle large call volumes. A single transmitter on a central tower provided a handful of channels for an entire metropolitan area. Between one and eight receiver towers handled the call return signals. At most, three subscribers could make calls at one time in any city. It was, in effect, a massive party line, where subscribers would have to listen first for someone else on the line before making a call. Expensive and far from “mobile”, the service cost $15 per month, plus 30 to 40 cents per local call, and the equipment weighed 80 pounds. Just as they would use a CB microphone, users depressed a button on the handset to talk and released it to listen. Improved technology after 1965 brought a few more channels, customer dialing and eliminated the cumbersome handset. But capacity remained so limited that Bell System officials rationed the service to 40,000 subscribers guided by agreements with state regulatory agencies. For example, 2,000 subscribers in New York City shared just 12 channels, and typically waited 30 minutes to place a call. It was wireless, but with “strings” attached…… 60 years ago this week, the Zavod Imieni Molotova (Molotov Automobile Plant) in Gorky, USSR, manufacturers of the luxury ZIM, changed its name to the Gorky Automobile Plant, with its product now called the Volga [14 June 1956]….. Percival Lea Dewhurst Perry, 1st Baron Perry KBE (77), Chairman of Ford Motor Company Limited for 20 years from its incorporation in 1928, completing almost a lifetime’s work with Henry Ford, died [17 June 1956]…. Driving a Fiat Abarth 750, with bodywork by Bertyone, Carlo Abarth set a whole series of speed and endurance records on the Monza Track [18 June 1956]. He broke the 24hour record, travelling 2,352.8 miles (3,743 km), at an average speed of 96.3 mph (155 km/h)……50 years ago this week, Ford GT40’s took 1st, 2nd, and 3rd at the 24 Hours at Le Mans – the
first time an American car manufacturer won the classic 24-hour race [19 June 1956]. The win wasn’t easy for Ford. It came after years of testing and much money spent to improve engineering efforts. And it wasn’t until Carroll Shelby took over the program that the GT40 won. Although this 1966 Le Mans race is noted for the Mk IIs sweeping the top three positions, the finish itself was quite the controversial affair. Ford had decided that the Bruce McLaren/Chris Amon and Ken Miles/Denis Hulme cars should cross the finish line together, for two reasons: It would be the first time ever that a pair of cars would take the overall victory at Le Mans, which would drive home the point that the car, a Ford GT, and not a driver, had won the race. Secondly, it would make for a great publicity photo…… 30 years ago this week, Richard Petty made his 1,000th NASCAR start at the Miller American 400 in Brooklyn, Michigan [15 June 1986]. Petty’s records of success and longevity are likely
never to be broken. “The King,” as he is called, is first all-time in wins (200), races started (1,184), top-five finishes (555), top-10 finishes (712), pole positions (126), laps completed (307,836), laps led (52,194), races led (599), and consecutive races won (10). His statistical domination of NASCAR racing is unparalleled in the sports world. Petty, of course, grew up on the NASCAR circuit watching his daddy, hall-of-famer Lee Petty. Richard started his first race on July 10, 1958, just after his 21st birthday. During the early part of his career he normally had to beat his dad to earn victories–and Lee wouldn’t let him have anything for free. Richard explained his accident in his first Grand National race this way: “Daddy bumped me in the rear and my car went right into the wall.” By the late 1960s, Petty was the dominant figure in stock-car racing, recording the astounding record of 10 consecutive victories in 1967, a year in which he won 27 of 48 races. During the late 1960s and early 1970s, Petty duelled spectacularly with fellow Ford driver David Pearson. Petty’s star power was in large part responsible for keeping NASCAR alive in the lean years of the ’70s. Winston began sponsoring the circuit in 1972, and in that year Petty’s car was the only one to run with factory sponsorship. STP offered “The King” lifetime sponsorship and for the rest of his 35-year career, and now long into his career as a team owner, Petty cars have carried the red oval. Petty won his last of seven Daytona 500s in 1981. Victories began to dry up over the next few years, but Richard’s enthusiasm for racing and his fans kept him running. In 1984, with President Ronald Reagan there to watch, Petty won the Pepsi Firecracker 400 at Daytona raceway to capture his 200th win. The second most successful driver in circuit history, Dave Pearson, won only 105 times. From 1984 until his retirement in 1992, Petty didn’t win a race but his name recognition was important to the sport. Not knowing what else to do with himself, “The King” stayed on the circuit to watch NASCAR become one of America’s most popular spectator sports…… Before the start of the last race of Italian Sport Prototype Championship meeting, at Pergusa, Italy a service van driven by a circuit security guard crashed head-on into a private car passing in the one-way only small service road, all around the track [17 June 1986]. The female driver of the car was killed at the scene, her passenger, a young boy, sustained serious injuries. The Pergusa race director immediately stopped the racing event and sent the autodrome ambulance to rescue the unfortunate by-passers, and the start of the race was postponed…. Two days later, Coluche, aka Michel Colucci (41), French comedian, died when his motorcycle crashed into a truck on a road in the commune of Opio in southeastern France [19 June 1986]….. 25 years ago this week, Riccardo Patrese in a Williams-Renault FW14 won the Mexican Grand Prix held at the Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez circuit [16 June 1991]…..20 years ago this week, the Canadian Grand Prix at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve was won by Damon Hill driving a Williams-Renault FW18, ahead of home hero Jacques Villeneuve, Gilles’ son [20 June 1996]. Michael Schumacher started from the back of the grid, as his crew were still working on his car as the field set off on the warm-up lap. This started a run of mechanical problems for the reigning double World Champion…..10 years ago this week, A1 Grand Prix announced plans to change the sporting and technical regulations for the second season, increasing the length of the Feature race, reducing the Sprint race and changing the overall points system [14 June 2006].