31 December- 6 January: Motoring Milestones

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


Charles Goodyear

180 years ago this week, Charles Goodyear developed rubber vulcanization after accidentally dropping some India rubber mixed with sulfur on a hot stove [2 January 1839]. He was granted his first patent in 1844 but had to fight numerous infringements in court; the decisive victory did not come until 1852. That year he went to England, where articles made under his patents had been displayed at the International Exhibition of 1851; while there he unsuccessfully attempted to establish factories. He also lost his patent rights there and in France because of technical and legal problems. In France a company that manufactured vulcanized rubber by his process failed, and in December 1855 Goodyear was imprisoned for debt in Paris. Meanwhile, in the United States, his patents continued to be infringed upon. Although his invention made millions for others, at his death he left debts of some $200,000. He wrote an account of his discovery entitled Gum-Elastic and Its Varieties (2 vol.; 1853–55). The Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company was founded in his name in 1898………150 years ago this week, the first traffic lights in the world was installed in London in December 1868 and hailed with immediate enthusiasm, exploded.  The man who devised it was railway manager and engineer John Peake Knight, who used a semaphore system that was previously utilised for railways. The idea was that these lights would be run on gas and be manually operated by policemen, with the aim of regulating horse-drawn traffic and pedestrians. A gas leak on [2 January 1869] caused it to explode, badly injuring the policeman responsible for operating the historic traffic light. This put a quick stop to further plans for traffic lights in the city. It was only after nearly a 50-year wait that modern day electric traffic lights appeared on the streets of the Great Britain…….120 years ago this week, an editorial in The New York Times made a reference to an ‘automobile’ – the first known written use of the word [3 January 1899]. In a scathing editorial (which is given below), the Times does an 1890s style smackdown on someone who suggested they use the word “autowain” as their word for cars. In an incredibly formal — and condescending — tone, The Times explains how to form words and why this correspondent is incorrect.They even use the phrase “new fangled,” which makes me feel all warm and tingly inside because, boy oh boy is that fun to say. After explaining why they won’t use “autotruck” or “autowain,” The Times settles on “automobile,” as the French, “who are usually orthodox in their etymology if in nothing else” use it………100 years ago this week, General Motors officially acquired the United Motors Corporation, which combined the scattered interests of William Durant into a single entity [31 December 1918]………Edsel Ford succeeded his father, Henry Ford, as president of the Ford Motor Company [1 January 1919]…….90 years ago this week,the very last Model T was assembled – at Ford’s Cork plant in Ireland. Launched in 1908, the Model T had been a best seller throughout its life, with over 15 million vehicles produced world-wide [31 December 1928]. The Model T was Ford’s first automobile mass-produced on moving assembly lines with completely interchangeable parts, marketed to the middle class. Henry Ford said of the vehicle: “I will build a car for the great multitude. It will be large enough for the family, but small enough for the individual to run and care for. It will be constructed of the best materials, by the best men to be hired, after the simplest designs that modern engineering can devise. But it will be so low in price that no man making a good salary will be unable to own one – and enjoy with his family the blessing of hours of pleasure in God’s great open spaces.” The first production Model T was produced on August 12, 1908 and left the factory on September 27, 1908, at the Ford Piquette Avenue Plant in Detroit, Michigan. On May 26, 1927, Henry Ford watched the 15 millionth Model T Ford roll off the assembly line at his factory in Highland Park, Michigan……… on the same day [31 December 1928] .Ferdinand Porsche resigned from Daimler-Benz AG…….. Herbert Austin arrived in New York City to arrange for the production of the Austin Seven in the US [3 January 1929]…….The Auburn 120 was introduced at the National Automobile Show in New York City [5 January 1929]……..E L Cord drove the prototype Cord L29 [6 January 1929] – cover image. The L-29 was engineered by Cornelius Van Ranst along principles patented by famed race-car designer Harry Miller. Front drive was still in its infancy, but Cord wanted it to achieve a low, rakish appearance. The 298.6-cubic-inch Lycoming straight eight was plucked from the largest Auburns and turned back to front for the Cord, with the clutch, three-speed sliding-pinion gearbox, and differential strung out ahead. This layout dictated a mile-long hood, to which stylist Al Leamy added a Duesenberg-like radiator. As a result, the 137.5-inch-wheelbase L-29 was sensationally long and low. Body styles comprised four-door sedan, brougham, and convertible, and a rumble-seat cabriolet. But the L-29 was seriously flawed. The near 21/2-ton curb weight and only 125 horsepower made performance marginal, and the engine placement’s resulting rearward weight bias left the front wheels scrabbling for traction on slippery uphill grades. Handling was twitchy, and the constant-velocity U-joints in the front halfshafts wore out with merciless frequency. But the real problem was price. At $3,095 or $3,295 depending on model, the L-29 cost more than its faster, more refined rivals, and the conservative buyers in this market were wary of new ideas like front drive. An $800 price cut failed to spark interest, and the car disappeared in early 1932. A mere 4,429 had been built since mid-1929. The Cord L-29 featured is a prime example of the close-coupled brougham sedan, owned by Ken and

Jan Findiesen. Like most such Classics, it’s virtually priceless………80 years ago this week, the “Drunk-o-meter” – the first breath test for car drivers, invented by Dr Rolla N. Harger of Indiana University School of Medicine, was officially introduced in Indianapolis, US [31 December 1938]. The person being tested blew into a balloon. The air in the balloon was then released into a chemical solution. If there was alcohol in the breath, the chemical solution changed colour. The greater the colour change, the more alcohol in the breath. The level of alcohol in a person’s blood could then be estimated by a simple equation. Dr. Harger’s invention was bested by another IU alumnus. In 1954, Robert Borkenstein, chairman of Indiana University’s department of police administration, invented a more portable tool called the Breathalyzer………The experimental Rolls-Royce ‘Big Bertha’, a Wraith chassis with a straight-8 engine, was completed [3 January 1938]……..70 years ago this week, Sir Malcolm Campbell, legendary racing driver and land speed record holder, died at his Reigate (Surrey, England) home at the age of 63 after a series of strokes [31

December 1948]. He was one of the few leading drivers of his era, especially those who featured in speed-record attempts, to die in his bed. Campbell became a national celebrity as he broke the land speed record nine times between 1924 and 1935 – on his last attempt he became the first person to drive a car at more than 300 miles per hour……..60 years ago this week, Vincenzo Florio (75), Italian industrialist in the wine industry of Sicily, famous for establishing the the Targa Florio road race, died in Epernay, France [6 January 1959]. The Targa Florio was an open road endurance automobile race held in the mountains of Sicily near Palermo. Founded in 1906, it was the oldest sports car racing event, part of the World Sportscar Championship between 1955 and 1973. While the first races consisted of a whole tour of the island, the track length in the race’s last decades was limited to the 72 kilometres (45 mi) of the Circuito Piccolo delle Madonie, which was lapped 11 times. After 1973, it was a national sports car event until it was discontinued in 1977 due to safety concerns. It has since been run as a rallying event, and is part of the Italian Rally Championship……… 30 years ago this week, American racer Jim Hurtubise died in Port Arthur, Texas [6 January 1989]. He competed in the 1960 Indy 500 and later in the Winston Cup and ChampCar series. He retired to run a hunting lodge in Texas where he died of a heart attack aged 56……..20 years ago this week, Frank Williams , whose 30 years in Formula One according to The Times “combined ruthlessness with a magnificent obsession that has brought nine constructors’ championships and seven individual driver’s titles,” was knighted in the New Year’s Honours List [31 December 1998]……..The “Inspirational Yellow” Concept Thunderbird was introduced at the Detroit Auto Show [3 January 1999]. Ford had discontinued the Thunderbird model in 1997 after more than 40 years. Not only was it’s styling a direct homage to the original Thunderbird, it was a return to the basic two-seater concept. This car was such a sensation that Ford immediately contracted to have two more cars built for the show circuit – one in red and one in black. Both were ready by March 1999 for the show circuit in Europe. Hoods and trunks were kept closed

1999 Ford Thunderbird Concept

during shows. Ford did not yet have an engine ready to show with these cars. These three show cars were shown at various shows around the US, Canada, and Europe. After a hiatus of several years, Ford introduced a new Thunderbird for 2002. The eleventh generation Thunderbird was built at Ford’s Wixom Assembly Plant and was based on the company’s DEW98 platform, which was shared with the Lincoln LS and Jaguar S-Type. Though the Thunderbird’s exterior styling was unique relative to its platform mates, the interior, particularly the appearance of the dash area, instrument panel, and steering wheel, was very similar to that of the Lincoln LS. The sole engine of the Thunderbird was a Jaguar-designed AJ-30 3.9 L DOHC V8, a short-stroke (85mm) variant of the Jaguar AJ-26 4.0 L V8, making 252 horsepower (188 kW) and 267 lb·ft (362 N·m) of torque. The engine was mated to Ford’s 5R55N 5-speed automatic transmission. With sales dropping off significantly after its first model year, Ford decided to make the 2005 model year the Thunderbird’s last with no scheduled successor. The last one rolled off the assembly line on July 1, 2005.

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