19-25 October: Motoring Milestones

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

160 years ago this week, an internal combustion engine designed by Eugenio Barsanti and Felice Matteucci was installed at the Maria Antonia railway station in Florence, Italy, the first instance where such an engine was put into practical usage [19 October 1860]…….110 years ago this week, white race car driver Barney Oldfield beat prizefighter Jack Johnson (cover image), the first African-American heavyweight champion of the world, in two five-mile car races in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn [25 October 1910]. Oldfield and Johnson had a history: Oldfield’s friend, the white heavyweight champ James J. Jeffries, had quit boxing in 1908 because he did not want to fight a black man for his title. In July 1910, Jeffries came out of retirement to fight Johnson at last, but lost in 15 rounds. (Twenty-six people were killed and hundreds were injured in the nationwide riots that followed the black fighter’s victory.) After that, Johnson was unable to find anyone who would fight him—so, he turned to car racing instead. In October 1910, he challenged Oldfield to a race. Oldfield, a flamboyant daredevil who had just set a new land-speed record (131 mph) in his Blitzen Benz, accepted the challenge at once. The competitors bet $5,000 on the contest—the driver who won two out of three five-mile heats would win the bet—and invited a Hollywood crew to film the race. But there was a problem: in order to make the race official, Johnson needed a license from the American Automobile Association, but the AAA refused to license black drivers. What’s more, the organisation told Oldfield that it would rescind his license if he went through with the race. But bets had been made and contracts signed, so the race was on! Rain delayed the race several times, but on October 25 the skies were clear. Five thousand people gathered at the Brooklyn track, waving their hats and cheering for the movie cameras. Oldfield, driving a 60-horsepower Knox car, won the first heat by a half-mile, in 4:44. In the second, he slowed down a bit—he kept just ahead of Johnson’s bright-red car, taunting the boxer as he drove–but won the race in 5:14. There was no need for a third heat: Barney Oldfield was the winner. Eighteen months later, the AAA reinstated Oldfield and he began to race again. A few years later, he drove the first 100-mph lap in the history of the Indianapolis 500 race. Johnson’s luck was not as good: Many people resented his success, and especially his habit of dating white women, and he was arrested several times on trumped-up violations of the Mann Act. As a result, he spent a year in federal prison. Johnson died in a car accident in 1946. He was 68 years old……..60 years ago this week, Pedro and Ricardo Rodriguez drove a Ferrari 250 GTO to victory in the Paris 1000 Kms at Montlhery, France [21 October 1960]……. Harry Ferguson (75), the Irish-born designer of automobiles, airplanes and farm tractors, died in Abbotswood, Gloucestershire, England [25 October 1960]….. The 7th Tokyo Motor Show opened with over 350 exhibits [25 October 1960]. One highlight of the Show was Toyota s exhibit of the Publica show car with its catch phrase, “Everybody s Car”. The four-seater equipped with a 700cc air-cooled engine and priced at ¥389,000 was called a $1000 car ($1=¥360 at that time), and attracted much attention. Toyota also announced its second generation Corona “PT20”, whilst Nissan introduced the “Cedric” with four headlights, a product springing from the technical tie-up with Austin. Fuji Precision Machinery marketed the four headlight “Gloria,” and Toyo Kogyo presented a midget car with four-wheel independent suspension, the “Mazda Coupe,” at the low price of ¥310,000……..50 years ago his week, at the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah, American Gary Gabelich attained a record 622.407 mph average speed in the Blue Flame, a

Blue Flame

rocket-powered four-wheeled vehicle [23 October 1970]. Momentarily achieving 650mph, Gabelich’s vehicle was powered by a liquid natural gas, hydrogen peroxide rocket engine that produced a thrust of up to 22,000 pounds. Gabelich’s achievement ended the domination of Craig Breedlove, the American driver who set a series of astounding victories in jet-powered vehicles during the 1960s, breaking the 400 mph, 500 mph, and 600 mph barriers in 1963, 1964, and 1965, respectively. The Blue Flame’s land-speed record stood until 1983, when Briton Richard Noble raced to a new record in his jet-powered Thrust 2 vehicle. The Thrust 2, a 17,000-pound jet-powered Rolls-Royce Avon 302 designed by John Ackroyd, reached a record 633.468 mph over the one-mile course in Nevada’s stark Black Rock Desert…….50 years ago this week, Australian Jack Brabham, three times Formula One champion (1959, 1960, and 1966) and founder of the Brabham racing team and race car constructor, announced his retirement [25 October 1970]…….40 years ago this week, the last International Scout was produced, bringing the total to 532,674 over a 20 year run [21 October 1980]……. Production ceased of the MGB, Britain’s best-selling sports car [22 October 1980]. It was produced by the British Motor Corporation and sold under the MG marque. Available in both convertible and coupe (“GT”) forms, it was launched in May 1962 to replace the MGA…….30 years ago this week, Suzuka staged the Japanese Grand Prix [21 October 1990]. The race is best remembered for the first corner collision between World Championship rivals Brazilian driver Ayrton Senna (McLaren) and French driver Alain Prost (Ferrari), the second consecutive year the two had collided at this race with heavy championship repercussions. It immediately put both cars out of the race and secured for Senna his second World Championship. With Ferrari scoring no points after Nigel Mansell’s retirement, the McLaren team secured their sixth and third consecutive constructor’s championship…..Reliant who called in the receivers. Beans Engineering then brought the company for an estimated figure of £1.5 million [25 October 1990]……20 years ago this week, the San Remo rally was marred by a fatal accident in which an Italian policeman was killed after a collision with the physical coach of Finnish world rally champion Tommi Makinen [21 October 2000]. Pertti Siekkinen and Makinen were having an early morning jog through the streets of San Remo prior to Saturday’s second day of racing when Siekkinen and motor cycle policeman Guiseppe Micale collided. The 33-year-old policeman was killed instantly when he hit his head on the ground, while Siekkinen, 53, suffered a broken jaw and pelvis, according to his Japanese Mitsubishi team.

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