27 January – 2 February: Motoring Milestones

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

140 years ago this week, the first electric streetlight was installed in Wabash, Indiana, US [2 February 1880]. The city paid the Brush Electric Light Company of Cleveland, Ohio, $100 to install a light on the top of the courthouse. A month later the city commissioned four more lights to be installed…….110 years ago this week, construction work began on the Playa Del Rey board track, the first of the great wood plank automobile US speedways [30 January 1910]. For years bicycle and motorcycle races were conducted on wooden velodromes, but Playa Del Rey brought the concept to events for race cars. This speedway was designed by Jack Prince, the most renowned designer of board track facilities. Board tracks rose in popularity through the 1920’s largely due to their relatively inexpensive start-up costs, but proved excessively expensive to maintain. Blindingly fast, their appeal was self evident. The opening of Playa Del Rey came in the spring of 1910. Caleb Bragg made a big statement in his breakthrough victory over Barney Oldfield and the Lightning Benz in a best of three match race……100 years ago this week, the Toyo Kogyo Company, Ltd., was founded in Hiroshima, Japan [29 January 1920]. The company’s initial business, the manufacture of synthetic cork products, soon fell on hard times and in early 1921, its creditors appointed a new president, 45-year-old Jujiro Matsuda, who had previously founded his own firearms company, Matsuda Works. Matsuda took Toyo Cork Kogyo in new directions, including the manufacture of machine tools and a brief stint at building motorcycles. In 1931, Toyo Kogyo introduced its first successful motor vehicle: the Mazda-GO DA Type truck, a three-wheeled, cargo-carrying motorcycle, powered by a 500 cc engine……..70 years ago this week, D McCall White (69), designer of the first Cadillac V-8, whose long career also included stints with Daimler, Napier, and Crossley in his native Great Britain and Nash, Lafayette and Tucker in the US, died in Hartford, Connecticut, US [29 January 1950]…….60 years ago this week, Automotive engineer Earl S MacPherson (68), whose career included stints with Chalmers, Libert, Hupmobile, and Chevrolet before executive roles with General Motors and the Ford Motor Company, died [28 January 1960]. For most of World War I, MacPherson was in Europe working on aircraft engines for the U.S. Army. His experience there left an indelible impression on MacPherson, and his exposure to the advanced, sophisticated engineering informed everything he would do in the next half-century. His entire pre-war career revolved around the automotive industry. From 1919 to 1922, he worked for auto manufacturer Liberty, before moving on to Hupmobile until 1934, when he joined General Motors’ central engineering office. In just one year, MacPherson would become Chevrolet’s chief design engineer. His task: direct the creation of a small car for Chevrolet. That car never came to fruition. And it is a second small Chevrolet that never materialized for which MacPherson is generally remembered. The charge was to produce a Chevrolet that was to sell for $1,000 or less. The least expensive Fords and Chevrolets were priced at $1,050. GM’s chairman, Alfred P. Sloan, was opposed to building small, cheap cars, believing (rightly it turned out) that the United States would be treated to unprecedented prosperity, and that conventional automobiles would win the day. As a compromise, Chevrolet embarked on the Chevrolet Light Car Project in 1945, and MacPherson was installed as chief engineer. MacPherson assembled an incredible team of engineers for the project. Earl W. Rohrbacher, chief designer for mechanical components on the Light Car, noted in an article written by Karl Ludvigsen that “MacPherson didn’t like to rush a design,” adding “He liked to think it out very thoroughly before any experimental parts were built up. He said you saved money in the long run that way.” Parts did begin to be constructed, though, and when they did, they were world-class. Elements of the Light Car were described as “an engineer’s dream.” The car featured a front engine and rear drive, since MacPherson decided that this was the best configuration for a four-door passenger car with a target weight of 2,200 pounds. The car was small: It was designed for just four passengers, and had a wheelbase of just 108 inches, eight inches shorter than a traditional Chevy. It was the Light Car’s suspension system, though, that was truly revolutionary. MacPherson had combined the tubular shock absorbers and coil springs into tall towers that also guided the vertical travel of the wheels. Each of the car’s four wheels were suspended independent from each other. Tubular radius rods controlled the movement of the lower end of each tower. The Light Car–by now known as the Cadet–became the first car with a true MacPherson strut suspension. The innovative suspension system was also employed at the rear, which is something you don’t generally see on modern cars. It had to be in this case, because MacPherson wanted more seat and trunk room, and to reduce unsprung weight and provide an exceptional ride. In testing at the GM Proving Grounds in Milford, Michigan, the cars showed outstanding characteristics. The Delco Division worked to improve durability of the struts, while eliminating any squeaks with nylon bushings. The struts allowed for long wheel travel, while still providing light and pleasant handling, described as “snappy” by testers. Handling characteristics were better than that year’s Chevrolet’s, and even better than contemporary Cadillacs’. Unfortunately, the project was proving to be expensive. At the $1,000-a-unit threshold, Chevrolet’s salesmen would have had to sell 300,000 Cadets a year to make a profit, something they felt was impossible. After tangling with GM engineering vice president James M. Crawford, who felt that the Cadet was “too much of a jewel of a car,” and pressed for more simplicity in its design and engineering, MacPherson had seen just about enough at General Motors. MacPherson soon received an offer from Harold Youngren at Ford Motor Company, and he packed up and took his talents to Dearborn. In the intervening years, MacPherson’s genius was employed in the Ford overhead-valve six-cylinder, and most notably, in the use of his innovative suspension system in the front of the French Ford Vedette, and later, the English Ford Consul and Zephyr, and later on Volkswagen Type IVs and Super Beetles. The combined advantages of low unsprung mass and space-saving design made the MacPherson strut suspension system the tool of choice for cars built in the 1980s. Ironically, it wasn’t until 1980, when the X-body Citation debuted, that Chevrolet would finally employ the system MacPherson designed…….. Phil Hill and Cliff Allison teamed to give Ferrari another easy 1-2 victory in the Argentine 1000 Kilometers World Sports Car Championship race [31 January 1960]. Richie Ginther and Wolfgang von Trips placed second in another Ferrari. Driving a 2.8 litre Maserati entered by “Lucky” Casner, Dan Gurney and Masten Gregory led the first 32 laps and turned the fastest race lap. Though no match for the Ferraris, the Porsche RSK entries performed well with the Jo Bonnier/Graham Hill entry finishing third……. Poduction of the Mercury Comet began in Lorain, Ohio, US [2 February 1960]. The Comet was originally planned as an Edsel model. It was reassigned to Mercury dealerships after the demise of the Edsel marque, where it was marketed as a standalone product for 1960 and 1961 as the Comet.Developed concurrently with the Ford Falcon, early pre-production photographs of the sedan show a car remarkably close to the Comet that emerged, but with a split grille following the pattern established by Edsel models. Early Ford styling mules for the station wagon model carried the Edsel name as well. At their debut, the split grille was replaced by one more in keeping with Mercury’s design themes. However, the canted elliptical taillights, first seen on the Edsel prototype, were used and carried the “E” (Edsel) part number on them. While the short lived 1960 Edsels used elliptical shaped taillights, the lenses used on both cars differed in length and width. Certain other parts from the 1959 Edsel parts bin, including the parking lights and dashboard knobs, were used on the first-year Comet. Keys for the 1960 and 1961 Comets were shaped like Edsel keys, with the center bar of the “E” removed to form a “C”. Introduced in March 1960, initial body styles were 2-door coupes, 4-door sedans and 2- and 4-door station wagons. Two trim levels were available, standard and “Custom”, with the custom package including badging, additional chrome trim and all-vinyl interiors. In 1960, the only engine available was the 144 cid Thriftpower straight six with a single-barrel Holley carburetor which produced 90 hp (67 kW) at 4200 rpm. (Some sources list it as producing 85 hp (63 kW) at 4200 rpm.) Transmission options were a column-shifted 3-speed manual and a 2-speed Merc-O-Matic automatic transmission

Mercury Comet

(unique to the Comet, despite sharing a name with the Merc-O-Matic installed in other Mercurys). Ford had purchased the name “Comet” from Comet Coach Company, a professional car manufacturer in which the term belonged to a line of funeral coaches, mainly Oldsmobiles. The coach company then was renamed Cotner-Bevington. In Canada, for the 1960 model year, Mercury-Meteor dealers sold a compact car called the “Frontenac”. The Frontenac was considered a model in its own right and was badge-engineered version of the Ford Falcon with only minor trim differences to distinguish it from the Falcon. The Frontenac was produced for only one year. The Comet was introduced to the Canadian market for the 1961 model year and replaced the Frontenac as the compact offering by Mercury-Meteor dealers. In response to complaints about the low performance of the 144 cid engine, a 170 cid straight-6 with a single-barrel Holley carburetor producing 101 hp (75 kW) at 4400 rpm was released for the 1961 model year. A new 4-speed manual transmission was also an option (a Dagenham without 1st gear synchromesh). The changes to the 1961 Comet were minimal such as moving the Comet Script from the front fender to the rear quarter as well as a new grille design. The optional S-22 package was released. Available only on the 2-door sedan, it was billed as a “sport” package, although it shared the same mechanicals as regular Comets, with the only changes being S-22 badging, bucket seats and a center console. Comet was officially made a Mercury model for the 1962 model year, and it received some minor restyling, mainly a redesign of the trunk and taillight area to bring the car more in line with the Mercury look. This is the first year the car carried Mercury badging. The S-22 had six bullet shaped tail lights, while regular Comets had four oval with 2 flat reverse lights. A Comet Villager station wagon, basically a Comet Custom 4-door station wagon with simulated woodgrain side panels, was added to the lineup. (The Villager name had previously been used to denote the 4-door steel-sided station wagon in the Edsel Ranger series.) While the 1963 model looked almost identical to the earlier models, the chassis and suspension were redesigned to accommodate an optional 260 cid V8 engine using a 2-barrel carburetor and producing 164 hp (122 kW). Convertible and hardtop (pillarless) coupe models were added to the Comet Custom and Comet S-22 lines this year. The front ends of these Comets differed from their Falcon counterparts in that they had four headlights instead of two; similar situations would resurface in the late 1970s, with the Thunderbird/Cougar and the Fairmont/Zephyr. The Comet was produced by Mercury from 1960–1969 and 1971-1977 — variously as either a compact or an intermediate car…….50 years ago this week, the Japan Automatic Transmission Company was formed as a joint venture of the Ford Motor Company, Nissan Motor Company Ltd, and the Toyo Kogyo Company Ltd [28 January 1970]……. The 701, March’s first Formula One car, designed by Robin Herd with Peter Wright, and built by March Engineering, was unveiled [31 January 1970]. The 701 was March’s first Formula One design – following their one-off March 693P Formula Three prototype of 1969 – and was designed and built in only three months. The March 701 made its race debut a month after its public unveiling, at the 1970 South African Grand Prix. In total, eleven 701s were constructed, with March supplying many privateer entrants as well as their own works team. The 701’s career started well, March drivers taking three wins and three pole positions from the car’s first four race entries, but lack of development through the 1970 Formula One season resulted in increasingly poor results as the year wore on. The 701 was superseded by the March 711 in 1971, and made its last World Championship race appearance at the 1971 Italian Grand Prix……. Brian Redman finished first and second in the 24 Hours of Daytona when the Gulf Porsche 917K he shared with Jo Siffert finished behind the Pedro Rodriguez/Leo Kinnunen team car which he also co-drove late in the race [1 February 1970]…….. It became an offence in Britain to drive, or to employ another person to drive a heavy goods vehicle unless the driver held the appropriate HGV licence to drive such a vehicle [2 February 1970]……..40 years ago this week, Rene Arnoux claimed his first race win at the Brazilian Grand Prix but it was his Renault team-mate Jean-Pierre Jabouille who set the early pace, taking the lead on the second lap and staying at the front until mechanical troubles forced him to retire [27 January 1980]. Arnoux, who eased off in the final laps to preserve his tyres, was 22 seconds ahead of Elio de Angelis in an Essex Lotus with Alan Jones in a Saudia-Leyland……. Floyd Sam Nunis, a pioneering figure in American stock car racing, being involved in both the American Automobile Association and the National Stock Car Racing Association died [1 February 1980]. Nunis worked with the American Automobile Association to promote stock car racing in the late 1940s, encouraging the group to promote the sport, which they had previously written off, in addition to AAA’s traditional sanctioning of IndyCar races. He primarily promoted races at Lakewood Speedway near Atlanta in Georgia, both under AAA sanction and under the aegis of the National Stock Car Racing Association, which he co-operated along with Weyman Milam between 1946 and 1951…….20 years ago this week, the Jaguar S-Type (cover image) was named the People’s Choice Car of the Year at the Los Angeles Auto Show [1 February 2000]. The Jaguar S-Type, the company’s first compact saloon in more than 30 years, was the top choice in balloting of more than 5,000 new vehicle buyers, who tabbed the S-Type as the best of the “all-new” vehicles for the 2000 model year. The Jaguar S-Type beat out seven other models for this award……. On the same day [1 February 2000] FIA president Max Mosley launched an attack on the EU for its investigation into the sport’s TV rights handling and accused a top official of malpractice. “[The EU’s] services have made a hopeless muddle of the facts and are completely confused about the regulation and general functioning of motorsport,” he fumed…….. Eddie Jordan called on F1 bosses to “strive earnestly” to put Africa back on the schedule, seven years after the last race on the continent [2 February 2000]. Three months earlier Bernie Ecclestone had visited Egypt to discuss the possibility of holding a grand prix there, but nothing came of it…….10 years ago this week, the first official photographs of the Mini Countryman were released [29 January 2000]. The fourth addition to Mini’s range – after the regular three-door hatch, the Convertible and the Clubman – the Countryman was also the first current-generation Mini to have four-wheel drive and four regular passenger doors.

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