6-12 May: Motoring Milestones

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

140 years ago this week, George Baldwin Selden of Rochester, New York filed the first US patent for an automobile [8 May 1879]. It was issued almost two decades later on 5 November 1898 for a unique combination of an internal-combustion engine and a road vehicle. Shortly thereafter the fledgling American auto industry began its first efforts and George Selden, despite never having gone into production with a working model of an automobile, had a credible claim to have patented an automobile in 1895. In 1899 he sold his patent rights to William C. Whitney, who proposed manufacturing electric-powered taxicabs as the Electric Vehicle Company, EVC, for a royalty

George Selden

of US$15 per car with a minimum annual payment of US$5,000. Whitney and Selden then worked together to collect royalties from other budding automobile manufacturers. He was initially successful, negotiating a 0.75% royalty on all cars sold by the Association of Licensed Automobile Manufacturers and began his own car company in Rochester under the name Selden Motor Vehicle Company. However, Henry Ford, owner of the Ford Motor Company, founded in Detroit, Michigan in 1903, and four other car makers resolved to contest the patent infringement suit filed by Selden and EVC. The legal fight lasted eight years, generating a case record of 14,000 pages. Ford’s testimony included the comment, “It is perfectly safe to say that George Selden has never advanced the automobile industry in a single particular…and it would perhaps be further advanced than it is now if he had never been born.” The case was heavily publicized in the newspapers of the day, and ended in a victory for Selden. In his decision, the judge wrote that the patent covered any automobile propelled by an engine powered by gasoline vapor. Posting a bond of US$350,000, Ford appealed, and on January 10, 1911 won his case based on an argument that the engine used in automobiles was not based on George Brayton’s engine, the Brayton engine which Selden had improved, but on the Otto engine. This stunning defeat, with only one year left to run on the patent, destroyed Selden’s income stream. He focused production of his car company on trucks, renaming his company the Selden Truck Sales Corporation. It survived in that form until 1930 when it was purchased by the Bethlehem Truck Company. Selden suffered a stroke in late 1921 and died aged 75 on January 17, 1922. He was buried in Mount Hope Cemetery in Rochester. It is estimated he received several hundred thousand dollars in royalties……..130 years ago this week, the Benz automobile was exhibited at the Paris (France) World Fair [6 May 1889]……..120 years ago this week, Ettore Bugatti, driving a Prinetti & Stucchi, won the Reggio-Brescello-Parma-Reggio road race in Italy [8 May 1899]……….on the same day [8 May 1899], Olds Motor Vehicle and Olds Gasoline Engine Works of Lansing merged to form Olds Motor Works with $500,000 capital. Olds in Detroit on Jefferson Avenue East built the first factory specifically for automobile manufacture in the US………90 years ago this week, the 20th Targa Florio received 29 entries comprising eight Bugattis, four Alfa Romeos, three Maseratis, two each of Fiats and Salmsons. Bugatti with Divo, Minoia, Conelli and Wagner as official drivers, the Alfa Romeo team with Campari, Brilli Peri and Varzi, as well as the Maserati factory with Borzacchini and Ernesto Maserati emerged as the most potent entries [5 May 1929]. The 19 car field was completed by ten independent drivers without a real chance to win of which Lepori and Bittmann with Bugattis were the most prominent. Minoia and Divo in official Bugattis dominated the race although Borzacchini’s Maserati held second and third place until falling behind. The race was then between the faster Bugattis and the factory Alfa Romeos of Brilli Peri and Campari. The exhausting race ended after more than seven hours with Divo victorious ahead of Minoia followed by the Alfas of Brilli Peri and Campari, who were the only other finishers…….The Junior Car Club Double Twelve race at Brooklands (8 a.m. to 8 p.m. on May 10th and 11th 1929) was won by G. Ramponi driving an Alfa Romeo, at an average speed of 76 mph………80

Studebaker and two OMs at the JCC Double Twelve Race, Brooklands, Surrey, 1929

years ago this week, the Maserati 4CL race car debuted in the Brooklands International Trophy dash in Surrey, England [6 May 1939]. The entry of private owner Reggie Tongue, finished third. The 4CL was introduced at the beginning of the 1939 season, as a rival to the Alfa Romeo 158 and various ERA models in the voiturette class of international Grand Prix motor racing. Although racing ceased during World War II, the 4CL was one of the front running models at the resumption of racing in the late 1940s. Experiments with two-stage supercharging and tubular chassis construction eventually led to the introduction of the revised 4CLT model in 1948…… the following day [7 May 1939], the Mercedes-Benz W165 is a racing car designed by Mercedes-Benz to meet voiturette racing regulations, won its only race, the 1939 Tripoli Grand Prix, driven to a 1-2 victory by Hermann Lang and teammate Rudolf Caracciola. This car was remarkably designed and built in 6 months, which was the time that the rules were changed by the Italian organizers. The car had a 1.5L supercharged V8 engine. Following an invitation by Indianapolis Motor Speedway owner Tony Hulman, Caracciola entered a W165 in the 1946 Indianapolis 500. However, Swiss customs refused to allow the car out of their country, preventing Caracciola from competing………70 years ago this week, the Monaco Grand Prix was cancelled due to the death of Prince Louis II of Monaco [9 May 1949]………Sam Breadon, a millionaire St. Louis Pierce-Arrow car dealer and the owner of the St. Louis Cardinals baseball team (as well as Allentown’s Breadon Field minor league stadium on the North Seventh Street Extension), died aged 72 [10 May 1949]…….60 years ago this week, Fireball Roberts drove to the last of his four victories in NASCAR’s Convertible Division, outrunning Joe Weatherly by nearly a full lap to win at Darlington (South Carolina, US) Raceway [9 May 1959]. Roberts started 10th and led 120 of 219 laps. Weatherly held on for second place with Larry Frank third. Pole-starter Curtis Turner, Weatherly’s teammate in Thunderbirds owned by Doc White, led 76 laps early before crashing……..The Monaco Grand Prix was held at the Circuit de Monaco over 100 laps of the three kilometre circuit for a race distance of 315 kilometres [10 May 1959]. Australian racer Jack Brabham driving a Cooper T51 for the factory Cooper Car Company team won the race. It was the first win for Brabham, a future three-time world champion. It was the first World Championship Grand Prix victory by an Australian driver. It was also the first win for the factory Cooper team. Coopers had won races previously in the hands of Rob Walker Racing Team. Brabham finished 20 seconds ahead of British driver Tony Brooks driving a Ferrari 246. A lap down in third was the Cooper T51 of French driver and 1958 Monaco Grand Prix winner Maurice Trintignant of the Rob Walker Racing Team……….50 years ago this week, LeeRoy Yarbrough inherited victory when Bobby Allison crashed four laps from the end in a 400-mile main event at Darlington (South Carolina, US) Raceway [10 May 1969]. Yarbrough led just eight of the 291 laps in a Junior Johnson-owned Mercury. Pole-winner Cale Yarborough — no relation — was second in a Wood Brothers Mercury, one lap down. Paul Goldsmith wound up third while Allison was credited with fourth place…….40 years ago this week, stylists completed the full-sized clay model of the Pontiac

Pontiac Fiero

Fiero [7 May 1979]. The Fiero was the first two-seater Pontiac since the 1926 to 1938 coupes, and the first mass-produced mid-engine sports car by a U.S. manufacturer. Many technologies incorporated in the Fiero design such as composite panels were radical for their time. Other features included hidden headlamps and, initially, integrated stereo speakers within the driver and passenger headrests. A total of 370,168 Fieros were produced over the relatively short production run of five years; by comparison, 163,000 Toyota MR2s were sold in their first five years. At the time, its reputation suffered from criticisms over performance, reliability, and safety issues. The word fiero means “very proud” in Italian, and “wild”, “fierce”, or “ferocious” in Spanish. Alternative names considered for the car were Sprint (which had previously been used on a GMC and would later end up on a Chevrolet instead), P3000, Pegasus, Fiamma, Sunfire (a name which would later be applied to another car), and Firebird XP. The Fiero 2M4 (two-seat, mid-engine, four-cylinder) was on Car and Driver magazine’s Ten Best list for 1984. The 1984 Fiero was the Official Pace Car of the Indianapolis 500 for 1984, beating out the new 1984 Chevrolet Corvette for the honor………30 years ago this week, the Monaco Grand Prix around the temporary street circuit in Monte Carlo was won by Ayrton Senna driving a McLaren-Honda MP4/5 [7 May 1989]………20 years ago this week, Pat Austin set a NHRA Top Alcohol Funny Car 1/4-mile speed and elapse time records of 253.23 mph and 5.59 seconds,

Wind Up

respectively [9 May 1999]…….10 years ago this week, the smallest roadworthy car is “Wind Up” which measures 104.14 cm (41 in) high, 66.04 cm (26 in) wide and 132.08 cm (52 in) [8 May 2009]. It was created by Perry Watkins (UK) and finished and measured in Wingrave, UK, officially became the smallest roadworthy car on this day. The body of the car was constructed out of an old Postman Pat coin-in-the slot childrens ride. The car took 7 months to build and is registered in tax class PLG and has Insurance and road tax. It conforms with all construction and use regulations and has all the usual car features such lights, indicators, brake lights, washers, wipers, etc.

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