20-26 January: Motoring Milestones

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

Etienne Lenoir’s engine

160 years ago this week, Belgian engineer Etienne Lenoir was issued a patent for the first successful internal-combustion engine . Lenoir’s engine was a converted steam engine that burned a mixture of coal gas and air. Its two-stroke action was simple but reliable–many of Lenoir’s engines were still working after 20 years of use. His first engines powered simple machines like pumps and bellows. However, in 1862, Lenoir built his first vehicle powered by an internal-combustion engine–a vehicle capable of making a six-mile trip in two to three hours. It wasn’t a practical vehicle, but it was the beginning of the automobile industry [24 January 1860]……120 years ago this week, the Societa Milanese d’Automobili Isotta-Fraschini & C. was organised [24 January 1900]…….90 years ago this week, the MG Car Company Ltd staged a grand inaugural luncheon at its new factory in Abington, England [20 January 1930]. In 1935, MG was sold by Morris to Morris Motors Limited, and at this time MG’s competition activities ceased, while over the next 18 months, the product range was completely altered to re-align it with Morris and Wolseley. Although the MG Car Company as such became dormant, the MG factory at Abingdon survived as an operational unit into the British Leyland era. In the late 1970s it became part of British Leyland’s Jaguar Rover Triumph subsidiary. From time to time the Abingdon factory also produced other makes of car for BMC/BL, such as Riley (1949-1957), Austin-Healey (1957-1971), some Morris Minors (1960-1964) and Vanden Plas 1500s (1979-1980). By a twist of fate, from 1959 onwards MG saloon cars production returned to Cowley, then later at Longbridge, rather than Abingdon. With the discontinuation of the MG Midget and MGB models in 1979-81, the factory was closed, and the Abingdon property disposed of. A and B Blocks are still extant, re-clad and part of the Abingdon Business Park. The Administration Block (known as “Top Office”) still stands at the end of Cemetery Road. Cecil Kimber’s home is now a pub – The Boundary House – in Oxford Road. Between 1982 and 1991, the MG badge re-appeared on sportier versions of Austin Rover’s Metro, Maestro and Montego ranges. In 1992, the MG RV8 was launched, an up-dated MGB Roadster powered by a Rover V8 engine and produced in low volumes. In 1995, the completely new MG F two-seater roadster was launched, selling in volumes unthinkable since the 1970s. In 2000, then parent BMW sold the MG Rover Group to a consortium which used the MG badge on sportier Rover-based cars. Production ceased in April 2005 when MG Rover went into administration. The assets of MG Rover were bought by Chinese carmaker Nanjing Automobile in 2005, who themselves were bought by the Chinese company SAIC in 2007. In 2007 production of the MG TF roadster and MG 7 large sports saloon, derived from the Rover 75, started in China. Production of the MG TF re-started at Longbridge in small volumes in 2008………Visitors on the opening day of to the 1930 Chicago Auto Show had more than 300 new car models to inspect plus 83 exhibits of accessories and 32 of shop equipment [25 January 1930]. England furnished the inspiration for the Coliseum’s fabric draped ceiling and crystal chandeliers that year…….80 years ago this week, car headlamps that had reduced intensity and directed the light towards the ground were introduced along with a 20-mph speed limit in built-up areas in Britain [22 January 1940]. Huge numbers of pedestrians were knocked down and killed as a result of these wartime blackout measures. White paint was the main safety measure, and stripes were painted on kerbs, street refuges and round the doors of tube trains. Even with a 20mph speed limit, car crashes were frequent. A Lancastrian man painted his car white, and found other motorists gave him a wide berth. An Essex farmer even painted white stripes on his cattle so that they wouldn’t be run over. Ghostly policemen controlled traffic with whistles, their capes and tunics dipped in luminous paint, and traffic lights were reduced to tiny crosses of red, amber and green. Sales of walking sticks, torches and batteries rocketed, as collisions even between pedestrians were common…….60 years ago this week, Chuck Booth won the 30 lap Midget race at the Oakland Exposition Building, Oakland, California, US [22 January 1960]…….. Fifty-five electricians went on strike at BMC (British Motor Corporation), which eventually led to 31,000 workers being idle in Birmingham, Coventry and Oxford [26 January 1960]. Only one model of car remained in production, and by the time the strike was over BMC reported a loss of 25,000 vehicles and £12 million turnover…….40 years ago this week, Lenny Boyd won the Three Quarter Midget feature at the indoor Atlantic City Convention Hall, New Jersey, US [20 January 1980]……..30 years ago this week, Ivan “The Iron Man” Stewart won the Grand National Off-Road Sport Truck race at the Anaheim Stadium, Anaheim, California, US [20 January 1990]……. Patty Moise set a record closed course run for a female at 217.498 mph (350.029 km/h), driving a Buick, at the 2.66 mile Talladega Speedway, Alabama, US [23 January1990]. She drove in five Winston Cup races from 1987 to 1989, and 133 Busch Series races from 1986 to 1998…….Frederick Roberts “Bob” Gerard (76) passed away [26 January 1990]. Bespectacled Leicester (England) garage owner Bob Gerard was one of the dogged British Formula 1 privateers who began racing in a Riley in 1933 but did not make his name until the immediate postwar era with a private ERA. He won the Ulster Trophy in 1947 and the British Empire Trophy on the Isle of Man on three occasions. He finished second place behind de Graffenried’s Maserati in the 1949 British Grand Prix at Silverstone and later switched to Cooper-Bristols and competed in most British rounds of the World Championship until 1957. He retired as a driver in 1961 but continued to enter cars until the early 1980s. His wife Joan, who died in 1999, was also an accomplished competitor in her own right……..20 years ago this week, the 200 mph, 492 bhp mid-engined Lamborghini Diablo was presented to the public at the Hotel de Paris in Monte Carlo [21 January 1990]. The Diablo, carried on Lamborghini’s tradition of naming its cars after breeds of fighting bull. The Diablo was named after a ferocious bull raised by the Duke of Veragua in the 19th century, famous for fighting an epic battle with ‘El Chicorro’ in Madrid in 1869. In the words of Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson, the Diablo was designed “solely to be the biggest head-turner in the world”…….Twenty-year-old Jenson Button became the youngest F1 driver, when he signed a five-year deal with BMW. “I am still on cloud nine,” Button said when wheeled out to face the media [24 January 2000]. “The last 45 minutes have been amazing; difficult to explain because I’ve never experienced anything like this before.”

Mini Countryman (R60)

Moss was fulsome in his praise. `It’s a fantastic achievement and I wish him all the best,’ he said. `I’m obviously sorry to have been pushed out of the record books as the youngest British F1 driver, but what the hell. We’ll have to start calling him `The Boy’, as they referred to me when I was new to it”…….Ford reported record earnings of $7.2 billion in 1999, more than any other automotive company in history [26 January 2000]…….10 years ago this week, the Mini Countryman (R60) was officially announced [20 January 2000]……. Electric vehicle network firm Better Place announced it had signed an agreement with an HSBC-led investor consortium for new equity financing of $350m (£217m), valuing the firm at $1.25bn [25 January 2000]. Better Place, led by former software entrepreneur Shai Agassi, hoped to be the leading infrastructure provider for the world’s growing fleet of electric cars.

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