19-25 April: Motoring Milestones

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

120 years ago this week, New York became the first US state to require license plates by law [25 April 1901]. Owners of motor vehicles were obliged to register their names and addresses, along with a description of their vehicle, with the office of the Secretary of State. The state sent each owner a small license plate, at least three inches high, which bore the owner’s initials. The fee to register a motor vehicle was set at one dollar. In 1901, the state received $954 in registration fees. By the middle of 1903, it had become apparent to state authorities that too many owners were displaying fictitious initials, or using their own without first registering. To counter this trend, New York State cancelled every initial license plate, all of which had been provided by the owner, and issued numbers to those same individuals who were then obliged to make new license plates. As proof that the number displayed was legal, the state issued registration seals featuring the serial which owners were to use in making their license plates. The state initials “NY” were required from 1905 onward, and the colors of the license plates were stipulated as “black on white ground”. New York was the only state in America to authorize this color scheme, which was reverse of the dark colored materials generally used at the time. Consequently, any “black-on-white” pre-state license that bears no state initials is most likely New York from the 1903-‘05 period, as long as the serial number is four digits or fewer. Before the advent of official state license plates late in 1910, over 100,000 registrations were issued, making New York tags among the easiest to collect today from the pre-state era. Neither New York or New Jersey recognized out-of-state numbers, requiring all motorists to license in the state in which they were driving regardless of where they lived. For those living near the state line, venturing into the nearby state meant the display of two numbers……110 years ago this week, the Packard Six, later called the Model I-48, was introduced [22 April 1911]…….100 years ago this week, the first and only Corsican Grand Prix was staged to commemorate the centenary of the death of Napoleon Bonaparte [20 April 1921]. The winner was Albert Guyot driving a Bignan-Sport, and the event is often cited as the birth of sports car racing……The first motorcycle races were held on the 1.25-mile board track at Beverly Hills, California [24 April 1921].

Beverly Hills Speedway (board track)

Jim Davis won the main event on a Harley-Davidson. The speedway was located where many residents of the Beverly Hills Southwest Homeowners Association live, in an area once called Beverly Drive West. It was “bordered” by the future Lasky and South Beverly drives, with Wilshire Boulevard to the north and Country Club Drive to the south. (Country Club Drive was later renamed Olympic Boulevard by the City of Los Angeles just before the 1934 L.A. Olympics.) The entry to the track, just off of Wilshire Boulevard, was called Speedway. It was eventually reconfigured and renamed El Camino. Acting industry investors known as “The Beverly Hills Speedway Syndicate” purchased land for the project from a bean farmer for $1,000 an acre. The wood-board track was built on 275 acres. At a cost of $500,000, it was completed and ready for inauguration on Feb. 28, 1920. Photographs show a track that had to support heavy cars, a 70,000-seat grandstand and timing towers. Some race enthusiasts watched from the interior field. From 1920-24, the speedway was home to racing automobiles, like the famous Model T, and motorcycles that circled the 60-degree banked track. Some historic experts even say that small airplanes landed on the track. Because of rapidly increasing real estate values, the Speedway became an uneconomical use of property. The track was torn down and the Association moved its racing operation a few miles away to Culver City, California in 1924…….90 years ago this week, Louis Chiron driving a Bugatti T51 won the Monaco Grand Prix [19 April 1931]. With 16 Bugattis in a field of 23 cars, the event was close to being a single-make race. Among the 16 were four factory-team Type 51s driven by the Monegasque Louis Chiron, the Italian Achille Varzi and the French Albert Divo and Guy Bouriat. The real challenge came from the Maserati 8C 2500’s driven by Rene Dreyfus, the Italian Luigi Fagioli and Clemente Bondietti. Rudolf Caracciola with his huge Mercedes SSKL (Super Sport Short Light-Weight) was uncompetitive as his larger car performed poorly around the tight Monaco track. The race was between the blue cars from Molsheim and the red ones from Modena. When the start flag dropped it was Rene Dreyfus in his red Maserati who led into St. Devote, only to be passed by ‘Williams’ on the hill to the Casino, but his lead was short lived as the Brit was sidelined by a broken valve spring, and his race was over. Achille Varzi and Caracciola started closing on Dreyfus and Varzi managed to overtake the Frenchman on the 7th lap. Caracciola struggled with a slipping clutch that gave in on lap 53. Starting slowly, Louis Chiron eventually displayed his talents; gaining back ground with a new lap record time. He caught up with all his opponents and left them behind. Chiron, a native of Monaco, finished the race some 5 minutes ahead of Luigi Fagioli. Jean Bugatti couldn’t control his joy and jumped over the parapet of the bleachers and fell into Louis Chiron’s arms. For the Monegasque, this Monaco Grand Prix victory really confirmed his reputation……Matilda Dodge Wilson, the widow of John Dodge, was named on the board of the Graham-Paige Motors Corporation [20 April 1931]. She was the first woman board member of a major car manufacturer…….Dr Ferdinand Porsche founded Porsche KG, a company of “designers and consultants for land, sea, and air vehicles” [25 April 1931]. One of the first assignments was from the German government to design a car for the people, that is a “Volkswagen”. This resulted in the Volkswagen Beetle, one of the most successful car designs of all time……70 years ago this week, alongside the spectacular 300 model (W 186),

Mercedes 300 model (W 186)

Mercedes-Benz presented a second luxury-segment saloon at the International Motor Show in Frankfurt [19 April 1951]. The 220 (W 187), which likewise featured a cutting-edge 6-cylinder engine and was enthusiastically embraced by the market. Its impressive performance caused the specialist press to make reference to the vehicle’s “sports car credentials”, while its handling characteristics were deemed to merge comfort with safety in equal proportion…….Marshall Teague drove his “Teaguemobile” Hudson Hornet to victory in the 150 mile NASCAR Grand National race on the Arizona State Fairgrounds 1 mile dirt oval [22 April 1951]. On lap 72, Teague hooked bumpers with the lapped car of Al King, sending King’s Ford flipping. Teague stopped, got out of his car and checked to make sure King was OK before continuing in the race. Six former, current, or future Indy 500 drivers were in the 30 car field……60 years ago this week, the Sunbeam Rapier Series IIIA was announced [20 April 1961] -cover image. The first of the Sunbeam Rapiers was launched in 1955, as a four-seater sports saloon despite becoming more widely known as a tuned two-door Hillman Minx. The Rapier was a typically intelligent creation plucked from the Rootes Group parts bin – and sold in large numbers as a result. The Rapier closely resembled the Minx, and featured its coil spring and wishbone front suspension and overhead-valve 1390cc engine, although the gearbox and standard overdrive were based on the unit seen in the Humber Hawk. The Series II version received a more powerful 1494cc a new floor-mounted gearchange along with minor steering and suspension changes to sharpen it up. The Series III arrived in 1959, and featured plenty of crossover between the existing Rapier and the then new Alpine sportscar. An alloy cylinder head, front disc brakes and closer-ratio gears improved the car, but in 1961, further tweaking resulted in the Series IIIa. This was powered by a 1592cc engine but featured no other changes – because these were reserved for the final version, the Series IV, which arrived in 1963. Other than minor styling differences, the changes were smaller wheels, a tweaked interior and an all-synchromesh gearbox…….The Citroen Ami 6 was  launched across Europe [24 April 1961]. The Ami 6 was created with good intentions, but ended up being one of the more eccentric attempts to extend the 2CV theme. More powerful than the 2CV, thanks to its flat twin 602cc engine, the Ami’s styling featured an awkward reverse rake rear window, and DS-style rear end…..The last 5cwt and 7 cwt 300E Ford Thames vans rolled off the production line [25 April 1961]…….50 years ago this week, production of the Wolseley 15/60, the first of the mid-sized Pinin Farina-designed automobiles from BMC, stopped after 13 years [24 April 1971]……..40 years ago this week, the first shipment of De Lorean DMC12 sports cars left Belfast for New York [19 April 1981]…… The FIA ruled that the Lotus 88 “twin chassis” F1 car was illegal, though the rules did not exclude it [23 April 1981]. The 88 used an ingenious system of having a twin chassis, one inside the other. The inner chassis would hold the cockpit and would be independently sprung from the outer one, which was designed to take the pressures of the ground effects. The outer chassis did not have discernible wings, and was in effect one huge ground effect system, beginning just behind the nose of the car and extending all the way inside the rear wheels, thereby producing massive amounts of downforce. The car was powered by the Ford Cosworth DFV engine. Lotus drivers Nigel Mansell and Elio de Angelis reported the car was pleasing to drive and responsive. To make the aerodynamic loads as manageable as possible, the car was constructed extensively in carbon fibre, making it along with the McLaren MP4/1 the first car to use the material in large quantity……30 years ago this week, Darrell Waltrip survived 17 cautions and late-race pressure from Dale Earnhardt to win the First Union 400 at North Wilkesboro (North Carolina) Speedway, marking his first victory since leaving Hendrick Motorsports after the 1990 season to form his own team [21 April 1991]. Waltrip, who led 52 laps to Earnhardt’s 19, crossed the finish line .81 seconds ahead of his rival. Jimmy Spencer led 70 laps and came home third…….20 years ago this week, Mike McLaughlin captured his final of six career NASCAR Xfinity (Busch) Series wins in the Subway 300 at Talladega Superspeedway [21 April 2001]. McLaughlin, driving the No. 20 for Joe Gibbs Racing, was one of 16 drivers on the lead lap at the finish……. Bobby Hamilton took the lead from Tony Stewart as they came to the final lap and went on score his first victory in over three years in a caution-free Talladega 500 at Talladega Superspeedway [22 April 2001]. It was the first career victory for Hamilton’s team owner Andy Petree, with the duo going to Victory Lane in only their ninth race together. It was the fourth and final career win for Hamilton, and his first at the 2.66-mile track……..Michele Alboreto (44) died in a testing crash [25 April 2001]. Michele Alboreto first got noted by winning the European and Italian Formula 3 championships as well as a works-driver for the Lancia works-team in the WSC. While racing in Formula 2, scoring Minardiís only F2 victory, Michele got a three-years-deal from Ken Tyrrell to drive for his team and made his Formula 1 debut at the 1981 San Marino GP. His first win came in 1982 in the Las Vegas GP and the following year in Detroit in 1983. Then Ferrari signed him for 1984 and Michele became the first Italian to race for Ferrari for over 10 years. He won the Belgian Grand Prix that year and in the 1985 season Michele scored wins in Canada and Germany but his World Championship challenge was beaten off by Alain Prost. In his three remaining seasons at Ferrari he failed to win another race. Out of a seat for 1988 he returned to Tyrrell but fell out with Ken in midseason. He took a drive with Larrousse at the end of the year but for 1990 he joined Arrows and stayed with the newly-named Footwork operation in 1991, hoping his career would be revived with Porsche V12 engines. They were a disaster and in 1993 he switched to Scuderia Italia which was using Lola cars and Ferrari engines. Another disaster. Then Scuderia Italia merged with Minardi in 1994, which was to be Alboretoís last year in F1. The Italian entered the history books by delivering the last victory to the good old Ford Cosworth DFV noraly aspirated V8 engine at the 1993 Detroit Grand Prix in a time when the dominant Formula 1 teams were all equipped with powerful turbocharged engines. After leaving F1 he resumed the side of his career that had brought success in sports cars in the early 80s and in 1997 won the Le Mans 24 Hours with his former Ferrari team mate Stefan Johansson and Tom Kristensen in a TWR-run Porsche. He went on to become an important member of the emerging Audi works-team and it was testing an R8 at the Lausitzring when he got killed when a high-speed tire failure sent the car airborne and landing upside down……..10 years ago this week, Kyle Busch got around Ron Hornaday Jr. with two laps to go and went on to win the NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series Bully Hill Vineyards 200 at Nashville Superspeedway [22 April 2011]. Busch had dominated most of the race around the 1.33-mile concrete oval but had to get by four-time series champion Hornaday after the night’s final restart to claim his 26th career series win in 89 starts.

 

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