16-22 March: Motoring Milestones

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

120 years ago this week, the new Fiat plant in Turin, Italy was officially opened by the Duke of Genoa [19 March 1900]……. The following day [20 March 1900] Bugatti delivered its first 16-valve car, a Type 13, to a customer in Basel, Switzerland. Bugatti, a Swiss-based luxury car company, was famous for its exquisite, powerful vehicles. In the 1920s and 1930s, the Bugatti car was a symbol of wealth and status, and its cars were equipped with massive racing engines. A bizarre footnote in Bugatti history: the renowned American dancer Isadora Duncan was driving in a 16-valve Bugatti when her trademark long scarf caught in the rear wheel of the vehicle, and she was instantly strangled to death…….. 110 years ago this week, Barney Oldfield set a world speed record of 131.724 mph, driving his ‘Blitzen Benz’ at Daytona, US, for

Blitzen Benz

which he earned the nickname “speed king” [16 March 1910]. It was the fastest any human being had ever travelled…….. A four-wheel brake system designed by J.M. Rubury of Argyll was patented by Henri Perrot and John Meredith Rubury (British Patent number 6807)[ 18 March 1910]…….90 years ago this week, Clessie L Cummins  (cover image) set the first official world land speed record for diesel-powered cars, reaching 80.389 mph at Daytona Beach, Florida in the Cummins Diesel Special [20 March 1930]……. Racer Gastone Brilli-Peri was killed at age 36 when he crashed during a practice run for the Tripoli Grand Prix [22 March 1930]. This famous Italian racing driver won the 1925 Italian Grand Prix in an Alfa Romeo P2 to secure the inaugural World Manufacturers’ Championship title for Alfa Romeo. In 1929, still in the Alfa P2 he won the Circuit of Cremona and the Tripoli Grand Prix. Today the stadium of his native city, Montevarchi, is named in his honour………80 years ago this week, Felice Nazzaro (60), legendary Italian racecar driver, a native of Turin, died [21 March 1940]. He won the Kaiserpreis in 1907 as well as the French Grand Prix in 1907 and 1922 and Targa Florio in 1907 and 1913. His European wins in 1907 resulted in an invitation to compete in the 1908 American Grand Prize in Savannah, Georgia, where he finished third. He returned to the United States for the 1910 event but a damaged rear axle forced him out of the race……..70 years ago this week, introduced at the Geneva Motor Show, the ‘1400’ was Fiat’s first all-new

FIAT 1400

postwar model, its first unibody car, and its first passenger car offered with a diesel engine [16 March 1950]. It also was the first passenger car produced by Spanish manufacturer SEAT and Yugoslavian manufacturer Zastava. A 1400 cc model tested by the British magazine The Motor in 1950 had a top speed of 74.4 mph (119.7 km/h) and could accelerate from 0-60 mph (97 km/h) in 35.7 seconds. A fuel consumption of 24.2 miles per imperial gallon (11.7 L/100 km; 20.2 mpg‑US) was recorded. The car was never sold in the UK, but the Italian market price would have equated to approximately £750 including taxes. Having eulogised the performance and “quite exceptional…top gear flexibility”, British journalists went on to praise the “astonishing silence, smoothness and comfort provided by the vehicle”, highlighting various “unique features designed to prevent the transmission of noise and vibration to the passengers”. Great use was made of rubber and of “a sound-proofing compound…liberally coated…[on the car’s]…integral structure”. The Motor tested a 1901 cc diesel model in 1954 and recorded a top speed of 63.8 mph (102.7 km/h), acceleration from 0-60 mph (97 km/h) in 45.2 seconds and a fuel consumption of 33.9 miles per imperial gallon (8.3 L/100 km; 28.2 mpg‑US). The car was not at the time available on the UK market but a price in Italy of 1,545,000 Lire was quoted which they worked out as equivalent to £909……….. Preston Tucker filed suit against his former prosecutors [21 March 1950]. Tucker looked to capitalize on the high demand that the postwar conditions offered and intended to meet the new demand with a revolutionary automobile design. His 1945 plans called for an automobile that would be equipped with a rear-mounted engine as powerful as an aircraft engine, an hydraulic torque converter that would eliminate the necessity of a transmission, two revolving headlights at either side of the car’s fender along with one stationary “cyclops” headlight in the middle, and a steering wheel placed in the center of the car and flanked by two passenger seats. In the end, only 51 Tuckers were produced, and none of them were equipped with the features Tucker had initially advertised. Still, loyal fans of Tucker claim that Tucker was the victim of industrial sabotage carried out by the Big Three. The Securities and Exchange Commission indicted Tucker before he could begin to mass-produce his automobiles. He was eventually acquitted of all charges. Emboldened by his acquittal, Tucker filed suit against his prosecutors. Historians who argue against the conspiracy theory maintain that post-war manufacturing conditions left small manufacturers little room for success. They suggest that, if anything, Tucker’s acquittal was merciful. Tucker failed to meet the requirements for capital and production capability that his project demanded. After raising almost $15 million from stockholders, Tucker defaulted on federal deadlines for the production of car prototypes. When he finally did produce the cars, none of them were equipped with the technological breakthroughs he promised. Still, the Tucker was a remarkable car for its price tag…….. 60 years ago this week, Citroën opened the legendary ten storey Marbeuf garage, an architectural masterpiece, in Paris [16 March 1960]. This immense showcase, which stood 19 metres high, was designed to resemble a theatre by architect Albert Laprade. Dozens of vehicles were parked on the “balconies”, where they could be seen from the street. Sadly the garage was unfortunately destroyed in 1952…….. The Mercury Comet, the first of the marque to have a 6-cylinder engine, was introduced as a new series [17 March 1960]. In late 1958, the Ford Motor Company’s recently consolidated Mercury-Edsel-Lincoln division was struggling

Mercury Comet

to recover from the poor sales numbers that followed the introduction of the unpopular Edsel. Ford had just authorized production of the compact Falcon and the management of MEL, considering the same hunch that the buying public would be interested in a smaller economy car, made an argument for their own compact vehicle. Originally slated to be part of the Edsel line, possibly an effort to bolster Edsel’s sales numbers, the new compact was approved provided it shared the Falcon platform and as much from its parts stock as possible. Known within the company as the Edsel B, the compact shared much of the Falcon’s platform with the exception of having a longer wheelbase and being slightly longer than the Falcon overall. It otherwise would share most of the Falcon’s major components such as the engine, suspension, and basic body shell. In late 1959, the compact, now officially named the Comet, was about to enter production when Ford made the decision to pull the plug on Edsel after the release of the 1960 model year. The Comet project was kept on track, and although it would ultimately be sold through Mercury dealerships, it was initially produced as it’s own model, without the badge of Edsel or Mercury. The compact Comet was an immediate hit. During the 1960 calendar year, 116,330 Comets were produced. 1960 Comet models included a two-door Sedan, four-door Sedan, and two Station Wagons, available with two doors or four. The Comet was virtually unchanged for 1961 except for exterior trim and the addition of air conditioning as an option. Late in the season, the S-22 Sport Coupe debuted. It was essentially a stylish Comet two-door Sedan with bucket seats and a console. Over 183,000 cars were built. By 1962, the Comet line expanded to include three trim levels, Comet, Comet Custom, and Comet Special. This year also marked the first time the Comet was officially branded a Mercury. The cat’s-eye taillights were replaced with smaller, round lenses, six on S-22s, and four on lesser Comets. In 1963, the Comet celebrated its third birthday with the production of its 500,000th car. Comet production for the 1963 model year was 150,694. Power steering was introduced, and the 260 cubic inch V8 engine was offered as an option. 1963 also saw the mid-season introduction of the S-22 two-door Convertible and two-door Hardtop Sportster. New for 1964, the Caliente replaced the top-of-the-line S-22. The Caliente was available as a four-door Sedan, two-door Hardtop, Convertible, and a Cyclone two-door Hardtop. All Comets featured a Lincoln-inspired grille. 1965 brought impressive style changes in the Comet’s sheet metal. Stacked headlights and angular fenders foreshadowed the 1966 Fairlane design. Model year production dropped to 162,335. In 1966, the new Capri series replaced the old Comet 404 series. Cyclones and Cyclone GTs were available as two-door Hardtops and Convertibles. Comet calendar year production again dropped, to 153,680. Changes for 1967 were subtle, however, the Comet received a thorough shakeup for 1968. The only Comet actually available was a two-door Hardtop with a base price of $2,477. The Montego and Montego MX (actually Comet sheet metal with a higher price tag) were only available as two-door Hardtops and four-door Sedans. The Cyclone was no longer available in Convertible form and the Hardtop Coupes were available as Fastbacks or Formal-Roof Hardtops. The 1968 calendar year Comet/Montego production was 149,390. The 1969 Comet/Montego hotshot of the year was the Cyclone CJ two-door Fastback model with a 428 cubic inch V8 engine. In 1970, the Comet was dropped completely and Montegos took over, offering the Montego MX, Montego Brougham, Cyclone, Cyclone GT, and Cyclone Spoiler models. The Comet name would eventually be brought back in 1971 for the Mercury version of the Ford Maverick……… Jim Clark drove a Ford-Cosworth powered Lotus 18 to victory in the Formula Junior race at Goodwood, England [19 March 1960]. It was the first win for a Lotus 18. In second place was motorcycle world champion John Surtees making his 4-wheel race debut in a Ken Tyrrell entered Cooper-BMC……..50 years ago this week, Jackie Stewart won the Race of Champions held at Brands Hatch driving a March-Cosworth 701 [22 March 1970]………40 years ago this week, Riccardo Patrese and Walter Rohrl drove a Lancia Monte Carlo to victory in the Brands Hatch 6 Hours Sports Car race [16 March 1980]. The winning duo completed 147 laps, finishing a lap ahead of Lancia teammates Eddie Cheever/Michele Alboreto. The race was round 2 of the 1980 World Championship for Makes season…….. on the same day [16 March 1980] sophomore Dale Earnhardt fended off a pesky Rusty Wallace to score his first superspeedway victory in the Atlanta 500 staged in Hampton, Georgia (US). Earnhardt came from the 31st starting position to beat Wallace by 9.55 seconds. Wallace made his NASCAR Winston Cup Grand National debut in a Chevrolet owned by Roger Penske…….30 years ago this week, whilst on tour, a semi trailer rammed into a tour bus containing singer Gloria Estefan, husband Emilio, their son and three other passengers at Tobyhanna, Pennsylvania, US severely injuring Gloria [20 March 1990]. Following extensive surgery, she returned to an international tour ten months after the crash………20 years ago this week, Renault bought Benetton for US$110 million, less than three years after dropping out of the sport, with Flavio Briatore installed as the team principal. Benetton’s chairman Luciano Benetton said they had been driven out by the rising costs of grand prix racing [16 March 2000]. “Competing is all about winning and if you have a budget that’s less than the others, you can’t expect miracles,” he said………. Bernie Ecclestone launched a savage attack on Tony Blair after a £1 million donation to the Labour party was returned after it became public knowledge, amid accusations it had been given in a bid to get Formula One an exemption from the ban on tobacco advertising [17 March 2000]. Ecclestone said they had agreed to stick to a “keep mum” policy, refusing either to confirm or deny questions about any donations. Instead, without warning, Blair “started talking”. In early 1997 he had promised Labour managers that he would keep quiet about his donation. “I rarely regret anything I do, but I’m disappointed that Blair could not keep his word about that,” he said. “I said to those clowns: if someone puts me up against the wall with a machinegun, I will not confirm or deny anything about the donation. They said, okay, okay, we will do the same. The next thing that happens is that Blair has started talking. I only found out by accident. It is third-rate behaviour.”………. Alchemy Partners announced the impending launch of the MG Car Company following an outline agreement with BMW to acquire the Rover Group [21 March 2000]. The new company would continue with Rover’s current model range of the 25, 45, 75 and “Old Mini” and would provide an ongoing service to Rover’s customers.

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