Cars, people and events in this week’s Motoring Milestones include: the first British Grand Prix, Jeeps, Lewis Hamilton and Britain’s first traffic lights.
90 years ago this week, London’s first set of traffic lights, a manually operated set of red, amber and green lights came into operation at the junction of St James and Piccadilly [2 August 1926]. It was not an offence to disobey traffic signals until assent was given to the 1930 Road Traffic Bill. On the same day, Milan, Italy switched to driving on the right, the last Italian town to do so [2 August 1926]. Cars had remained right-hand drive (RHD) until this time. Italian marque Lancia for example did not produce left-hand driveLHD cars until as late as the early 1960s, and only stopped making RHD cars altogether in 1994…..The first British Grand Prix was held at Brooklands in Surrey, over a
distance of 110 laps (287 miles) [7 August 1926]. The full banking wasn’t used for the race and, instead, cars continued straight on at ‘the Fork’ and drove down the finishing straight, on which two chicanes were constructed. Winners at 71.68 mph were Frenchmen Louis Wagner and Robert Sénéchal, sharing a Delage. This car overheated so badly that its drivers changed it during the race, which later became customary. Runner up was Sir Malcolm Campbell in a Bugatti 39A …. 75 years ago this week, [1 August 1941] Parade magazine called it “…the Army’s most intriguing new gadget…a tiny truck which can do practically everything.” During World War I, the U.S. Army began looking for a fast, lightweight all-terrain vehicle, but the search did not grow urgent until early 1940. At this time, the Axis powers had begun to score victories in Europe and Northern Africa, intensifying the Allies’ need for an all-terrain vehicle. The U.S. Army issued a challenge to automotive companies, requesting a working prototype, fit to army specifications, in just 49 days. Willy’s Truck Company was the first to successfully answer the Army’s call, and the new little truck was christened “the Jeep.” General Dwight D. Eisenhower said that America could not have won World War II without it. Parade was so enthusiastic about the Jeep, that, on this day, it devoted three full pages to a feature on the vehicle….. Although the United States had not yet entered World War II at this time, gasoline rationing began in parts of the eastern United States [3 August 1941]. The rationing would spread to the rest of the country as soon as the United States. joined the Allied forces, and the production of cars for private use halted completely in 1942. Measures of a similar sort had already taken place in most European countries. 60 years ago this week, Wilhelm Herz was clocked at 210 miles per hour at Wendover, Utah, to become the first person to race a motorcycle over 200 mph [4 August 1956]. The following day, 45 year old Argentine Juan Manuel Fangio won the German Grand Prix at Nürburgring and broke Hermann Lang’s 17 year old lap record in a Mercedes [5 August 1956]…..40 years ago this week, Austrian World Champion Niki Lauda was seriously burned in an accident during the German Grand Prix [1 August 1976]. His great rival, British driver James Hunt, won the race in a McLaren-Cosworth M23……20 years ago this week, Spanish racing driver Emilio Zapico (52) was killed in a road accident in Huete, Spain [6 August 2006]…..15 years ago this week, Jeff Gordon won the eighth Allstate 400 at the Brickyard, becoming the first three-time winner of that prestigious event [5 August 2006]…..Roy D. Chapin, Jr. (85) the Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of American Motors Corporation (AMC) died [5 August 2001]. Chapin’s father, Roy D. Chapin Sr., was one of the co-founders of the Hudson Motor Car Company; Hudson later merged with Nash-Kelvinator Corporation in 1954 to form American Motors….Lewis Hamilton won from pole at the Hungarian Grand Prix and later revealed that team mate Alonso, who came home fourth, was no longer speaking to him [5 August 2006]…..10 years ago this week, Market share of Detroit auto companies fell to 52% [1 August 2006], its lowest point in history (52.2% in October 2005). Auto sales figures showed that Toyota passed Ford Motor Company to rank as the second-biggest-selling auto company in the US. Honda outsold DaimlerChrysler’s Chrysler group for the first time. General Motors held a 27% share of the auto market and Chrysler – 10%….. “Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby,” an irreverent comedy based in the outlandish (fictionalized) world of American stock car racing, premiered in movie theaters around the U. S [4 August 2006]. The comedian Will Ferrell (who also co-wrote the screenplay with director Adam McKay and served as an executive producer) starred as Ricky Bobby, a leading driver on the NASCAR circuit. Macho and arrogant, Ricky Bobby is known for his motto “If you’re not first, you’re last!” and has no problems with the fact that his winning record is based on the willingness of his loyal friend and fellow driver, Cal Naughton Jr. (John C. Reilly) to always come in second to Ricky’s first……Jenson Button won the
Hungarian Grand Prix [6 August 1996], the first victory of his career and the first race win for a British driver since David Coulthard won the Australian Grand Prix three years previously, and the first by an Englishman since Johnny Herbert won the 1999 European Grand Prix nearly seven years previously, in similarly changeable weather circumstances. Pedro de la Rosa finished second for McLaren, the first podium finish of his career, and Nick Heidfeld finished third, giving BMW Sauber their first ever podium. It was the first win for a Honda chassis since John Surtees’ victory in the 1967 Italian Grand Prix and the first win for a Honda engine since Heinz-Harald Frentzen’s Mugen-Honda-powered Jordan triumphed in the 1999 Italian Grand Prix, 119 races earlier…..Jimmie Johnson won the Allstate 400 at the Brickyard, his first victory at IMS and a record fifth in NASCAR Sprint Cup Series competition at the track for team owner Rick Hendrick [6 August 1996].