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14-20 January: Motoring Milestones

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

Camille Jenatzy

170 years ago this week, steam engine pioneer Nathan Read (89) died in Belfast, Maine, US [20 January 1849]. Graduating from Harvard College in 1781, Read was a tutor at Harvard for four years. In 1788 he began experimenting to discover some way of utilizing the steam engine for propelling boats and carriages. His efforts were mainly directed toward devising lighter, more compact machinery was common at this period of time. His greatest invention at that time was a substitute for the large working-beam. This was a cross-head beam which ran in guides and had a connecting-rod with which motion was communicated. The new cylinder that he invented to attach to this working-frame was double-acting. In order to make the boiler more portable he invented a multi-tubular form, and this he patented, together with the cylinder, chain-wheel, and other appliances. To prove the usefulness of the high-pressure steam engine, Read made several models of steamcar and steamboat in 1790. Read’s experiment was very successful; it proved that the engine he built functioned well. He also invented the chain-wheel for paddle wheels to propel the steamboat, and set up a shipbuilding factory with his friends in 1796……..120 years ago this week, Camille Jenatzy captured the land speed record in an electric car of his own design: 41.425mph at Acheres Park, France [17 January 1899]. On the same day, however, previous record holder Gaston Chasseloup-Laubat raised the record again, posting a speed of 43.690mph in an electric Jeantaud automobile. The feud wasn’t over yet. Jenatzy took the record again 10 days later, on January 27. Chasseloup-Laubat took it back on March 4, and Jenatzy reclaimed the record on April 29, the last time an electric car held the speed record. Until 1963, all other land-speed records had been set by steam or internal-combustion power. In 1963, Craig Breedlove took the land-speed record in a jet-powered car, and all record-holding cars since then have been propelled by jet or rocket engines…….110 years ago this week, a motorised hearse was used for the first time in the US in a Chicago funeral procession by funeral director H. D. Ludlow & Pearce Undertaking, 659 47th Street [15 January 1909]. The service was in honor of the late Wilfrid A. Pruyn. Ludlow had commissioned the vehicle to be fabricated from the coach body of a horse-drawn hearse mounted upon an omnibus chassis and powered by a gasoline fuelled internal combustion engine. This marked a sharp break from tradition, as stately horse-drawn hearses had been in use for centuries…….The H S Houpt Manufacturing Company of New York City registered is “H” within three concentric circles logo as a trademark [19 January 1909]. Their car was conceived as the Houpt, but first appeared as the Houpt-Rockwell to recognise partners Harry S Houpt and Albert F Rockwell………The newly formed automaker General Motors (GM) bought into the Oakland Motor Car Corporation, which later became GM’s long-running Pontiac division [20 January 1909]……….100 years ago this week, Bentley Motors was established in London, England by W. O. Bentley and his brother H. M. Bentley [18 January 1919]. W.O. started dreaming about building his own cars bearing his name shortly after the brothers opened the UK agency for the French DFP (Doriot, Flandrin & Parant) cars in 1912. Soon, he fulfilled his dream and founded what would become one of the most desirable luxury car brands in the world. After the victory of Bentley 3 Litre Sport at the 24 Hours of Le Mans of 1924, W. O. Bentley’s cars became a major hit among the wealthy British motorists, however, his company was faced with serious financial difficulties as early as 1925. Woolf Barnato, a fan of Bentley cars and a member of the so-called Bentley Boys helped the company with financing which, however, gave him control over the company and made W.O. an employee. The new models that were introduced under Barnato’s chairmanship repeated the success of the Bentley 3 Litre Sport and won Le Mans in 1927, 1928, 1929 and 1930. Despite that, the company was severely hit by the Stock Market Crash of 1929 that was followed by the Great Depression which dramatically reduced the demand for luxury cars such as Bentley. In 1931, an agreement was reached about takeover of Bentley by Napier & Son, however, Napier was outbid by the British Central Equitable Trust. Thus the company was taken over by Rolls-Royce that was behind the British Central Equitable Trust. The real identity of the new Bentley owner, however, was revealed only after the deal was closed. Rolls-Royce formed a new company, while the production was moved to Rolls-Royce’s production facilities in Derby. Bentley factory in Cricklewood was closed. W. O. Bentley who was at the time of Rolls Royce’s takeover still working and designing Bentleys left the company as soon as his contract has expired in 1935. He joined Lagonda where he helped create a line of cars which were “Bentleys in all but name”.By the end of the 20th century, Bentley and its parent company changed owners twice. After the financial collapse of Rolls-Royce as a result of its development of the RB211 jet engine, the company was nationalised by the British government. The Rolls Royce car division was made an independent business – Rolls-Royce Motors Limited which was acquired by Vickers plc in 1980. Meanwhile, Bentley sales dropped alarmingly low. But under Vickers, Bentley restored its former reputation as a luxury sports car and the sales started to rise. The so-called Bentley renaissance, however, started only in 1998 when Rolls-Royce Motors Limited was acquired by the Volkswagen Group. Bentley cars are sold via franchised dealers worldwide.Most Bentley cars are assembled at the Crewe factory, but a small number of Continental Flying Spurs are assembled at the factory in Dresden, Germany and bodies for the Continental are produced in Zwickau, Germany………. 70 years ago this week,

Volkswagen Beetle

the first Volkswagen Beetle, designed by Ferdinand Porsche at the request of Adolf Hitler, arrived in the US from Germany [17 January 1949]. The idea had been for a small saloon that could carry a German family of five flat-out at 100kph along the country’s new autobahns. It was to have cost 990 Reich Marks, which represented 31 weeks’ pay for the average German worker in 1936, making it cheaper than the £100 Fords being made in England (31 weeks pay for the average British worker in 1936 was about £100). To buy one, however, members of the Volk had to join a special savings scheme run by the organisation KdF (Kraft durch Freude, or Strength through Joy); from 1938, the Volkswagen was officially named the KdF Wagen. There was little joy, though, in rival engineering camps. The Czech car company, Tatra, claimed that Porsche had infringed several design patents, notably those by Hans Ledwinka, an Austrian engineer much admired by Hitler. Tatra took legal action, but Hitler invaded Austria, seized its factory and banned Ledwinka’s VW-like prototypes from public show. In 1961, however, VW made a substantial payment to Tatra through an out-of-court settlement. By then, though, Volkswagen had conquered the world. In 1945, factory and car had been saved by Major Ivan Hirst, a British army officer and engineer. Hirst had witnessed first hand the sheer quality of VW-based military vehicles during the war and believed that, once in production, a peacetime Beetle would have an appeal well beyond Germany. Sold to the United States in a brilliant ‘Think Small’ advertising campaign launched in 1959 and devised by the New York agency Doyle Dane Bernbach, the Beetle became the biggest selling foreign-made car in America throughout the ’60s. It went on to sell in various guises, as a soft-top, a sportscar – the svelte, if unhurried VW Karmann Ghia – and as an interminably fashionable Camper van. A ‘New Beetle’, based on the floorplan of the VW Golf, the Beetle’s replacement, went on sale in 1998, although this was always something of a mechanical dress-up doll rather than the real thing. These days, and despite global recession, there is a lot more money in the world, so the elemental nature of the honest-to-goodness Beetle will seem a little too severe for those who dream of buying, let’s say, a Bentley. But, in an almost comic turn of events, Volkswagen now owns Bentley. However impressive, an elite Bentley can never be a People’s Car. Few cars since have ever really lived up to the name, one devised by a brilliant Bohemian engineer and a brutal Austrian-born German dictator seventy years and more than twenty million air-cooled cars ago……The Buick Riviera, a two-door pillarless hardtop, described in advertising as “stunningly smart”, was launched at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City [20 January 1949]………60 years ago this week, a number of firsts marked the opening of the 51st Chicago Auto Show, including Toyota’s inaugural Chicago appearance and introductions of the Rambler American, the Pontiac Wide-Track Bonneville and the Renault Caravelle (promoted by entertainer Sammy Davis Jr) [17 January 1959]. Cadillac reached their pinnacle of chrome dazzle and soaring tailfins, Lincoln offered consumers six varieties of their Continental Mark IV, including a convertible and rare formal-roofed Town Car and limousine. Meanwhile, Studebaker launched the compact Lark, available in a variety of body styles, including a hardtop coupe and a convertible, with either a six-cylinder or V8 engine, setting the pace for a series of small cars from other American manufacturers………50 years ago this week, the 150 bhp Triumph TR6, the ultimate incarnation of the chassis-based Triumph TR series, was launched [14 January 1968]. Built from 1969 to 1976, the Triumph TR6 was the best seller of the TR range built by Triumph at its time and the last in the illustrious tradition of bold British he-man sports cars. Of the 94,619 TR6s produced, 86,249 were exported; only 8,370 were sold in the UK. Its distinctive styling and brutal 2.5 litre straight six engine made the TR6 an instant hit and a fine successor to the long line of Triumph sports cars. The body was re-designed by Karmann of Germany, although the centre section and doors remained the same as on the Triumph TR4, TR4A and TR5 models.

Triumph TR6

The old four cylinder engine that had been used in all models from the TR2 and TR3 through to the TR4A, was replaced by the six cylinder 2,500 cc engine with Lucas mechanical petrol injection. The Triumph TR5 and TR6 were the first UK production sports cars with Petrol Injection.The interior remained similar to the TR4A and TR5 with a walnut dash and good quality trim. The gearbox has synchromesh on all four gears and is fitted with overdrive that works on 3rd and 4th gears. Many saw the TR6 as the last of a breed of hairy-chested British sports cars, and as the only appropriate replacement for the Austin Healey 3000, which had ceased production in 1968………40 years ago this week, the first running of the Paris-Dakar Rally ended with Cyril Neveu winning the motorcycle category on a Yamaha 500XT [14 January 1979]. The dream of the ‘Ultimate Rally’ actually began back in 1977, when the French motorcyclist Thierry Sabine got lost on his bike in the Libyan desert during the Abidjan-Nice Rally. Sabine returned to France still in thrall to this landscape. He then plotted a route starting in Europe, continuing to Algiers and crossing Agadez before eventually finishing at Dakar, Senegal. Sabine coined a motto for his inspiration: “A challenge for those who go. A dream for those who stay behind.” Courtesy of his great conviction and that modicum of madness peculiar to all great ideas, the plan quickly became a reality. Thierry Sabine’s dream took shape on December 26, 1978, as 182 vehicles (80 cars, 90 motorcycles and 12 trucks) turned up in the Place du Trocadéro for a 10,000-kilometre (6,214-mile) journey into the unknown, destination Dakar. The encounter between two worlds sought by the event’s founder unfolded on the African continent. Among the 74 trail-blazers who made it to the Senegalese capital, Cyril Neveu, at the helm of a Yamaha 500XT, would be the first winner of what would go on to be called ‘the greatest rally in the world’. Did you know that in 1979 all the vehicles that took part were classified together, although they would compete separately in subsequent editions of the race and that Cyril Neveu won the rally despite not winning any individual stages, taking the lead on the sixth stage after Patrick Schaal (Yamaha) fell and fractured his little pinky-finger. Betcha he took a lot of shit for that one……..The Ferrari 312T4, which Enzo Ferrari considered the ugliest car to leave his factory, was unveiled [15 January 1979]. The 312T4 monocoque was designed to be as narrow as possible, to take advantage of ground effects, but this was limited by the width of the flat 12 engine.The car was extremely reliable and it won 6 races in 1979, three each for Villeneuve and Scheckter. Other solid placings helped Ferrari win its fourth Constructors’ Championship in 5 seasons and Scheckter his only Drivers’ Championship. Scheckter was given the 312T4 car he drove to his championship after the new 312T5 was ready to be debuted in Argentina in 1980. He still owns it, and ran it at the 2010 Bahrain Grand Prix weekend to celebrate the 60th anniversary of Formula One along with every living Formula One world champion (except for Nelson Piquet and Kimi Räikkönen)……..30 years ago this week, Nick Fornoro Jr. won the 50-lap Coors/Casey’s Truck World Niagara Indoor Midget Racing Series feature race at the Niagara Falls Convention Center in Niagara Falls, New York, US [14 January 1989]………20 years ago this week, Thomas Binford (74) died of cerebral hemorrhage in his office in Indianapolis, Indiana, US [14 January 1999]. Binford was a founding member of the United States Auto Club (USAC), one of the sanctioning bodies of auto racing in the United States. From 1956 to 1979, USAC sanctioned the United States National Championship, and from 1956 to 1997 the organization sanctioned the Indianapolis 500. Today, USAC still serves as the sanctioning body for a number of racing series. Binford was also a former USAC president and the Indy 500 Chief Steward.

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