1-7 February: Motoring Milestones

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

120 years ago this week, the Edison Storage Battery Corporation was organised, primarily to develop a nickel-iron alkaine battery to improve the feasibility of electric automobile [1 February 1901]…..110 years ago this week, Rolls Royce appalled by mascots on owners cars, commissioned the ‘Spirit of Ecstasy’ statuette [3 February 1911].

The Spirit of Ecstasy, also called “Emily”, “Silver Lady” or “Flying Lady”, was designed by English sculptor Charles Robinson Sykes and carries with it a story about secret passion between John Walter Edward Douglas-Scott-Montagu, (second Baron Montagu of Beaulieu after 1905, a pioneer of the automobile movement, and editor of The Car Illustrated magazine from 1902) and the model for the emblem, Eleanor Velasco Thornton. Eleanor (also known as Thorn) was the secretary of John Walter, who fell in love with her in 1902 when she worked for him on the aforesaid motoring magazine. Their secret love was to remain hidden, limited to their circle of friends, for more than a decade. The reason for the secrecy was Eleanor’s impoverished social and economic status, which was an obstacle to their love. On the other hand, Montagu was married to Lady Cecil Victoria Constance Kerr since 1889. Eleanor died on 30 December 1915 when the SS Persia was torpedoed by a U-boat south of Crete. She had been accompanying Lord Montagu who had been directed to assume a command in India. He was thought to have been killed too, but survived and was saved after several days adrift in a life raft……100 years ago this week, Carmen Fasanella of Princeton, New Jersey, obtained his cab driver’s license at the tender age of 17 [1 February 1921]. Mr. Fasanella would go on to drive his taxi for the next 68 years and 243 days, setting an unofficial record for the longest continuous career for a cabbie. The term “cab” comes from “cabriolet,” a single-horse carriage used by coach drivers…….90 years ago this week, Captain Malcolm Campbell established a new World Land Speed Record of 246.09 mph on Verneuk Pan, South Africa driving the 23.9 litre supercharged aero engine powered Campbell-Napier-Railton Blue Bird [5 February 1931]. On the first pass he became the first man to break the 250 mph barrier. Campbell was knighted for this effort. The name Blue Bird was originally inspired by the play of that name by Maurice Maeterlinck,and the vehicles were painted a shade of pale blue. Malcolm Campbell had a succession of Darracq racing cars in the 1920s, which in the fashion of the day he had named ‘Flapper I’ , ‘Flapper II’ and ‘Flapper III’ . It was ‘Flapper III’ which he renamed after seeing the play, famously and impetuously knocking up a paint shop owner at night, so as to purchase blue paint before racing at Brooklands the following day. In 1925, he also raced an Itala at Brooklands with the name ‘The Blue Bird’ painted on the bonnet. Whereas Malcolm named his vehicle’s ‘Blue Bird’ his son, Donald broke water and land speed records in “Bluebirds”………..David Evans, driving the Cummins No.8 Diesel Special at Daytona Beach raised the land speed record for this type of vehicle to 100.755 mph [7 February 1931].The car was a racing chassis built by Fred Duesenberg with a 4-cylinder ‘Model U’ diesel engine designed by Clessie L Cummins. It was the first diesel engine produced with fully enclosed reciprocating parts, with full-pressure lubrication. Its output was a jaw-dropping 10hp per cylinder. In May of 1931 Clessie took the Cummins-Powered Duesenberg as the No. 8 Cummins Diesel (cover image) to the Indy 500 and finished 13th with an average speed of just over 86 mph. It was the first car in racing history to complete all 500 miles without any pit stops. The No. 8 car wasn’t retired after the race. Cummins founders W.G. Irwin and Clessie Cummins drove it on a European tour through France, Monaco, Italy, Germany and England to promote the efficiency and reliability of the diesels. In the 1960s, the No. 8 Cummins Diesel was restored and now permanently resides at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway museum. Clessie Cummins showcased the importance of efficient diesel technology to people around the world. It’s a legacy that we continue to honor today…….80 years ago this week, Ransom Eli Olds aged 76 received his last automobile patent for an internal combustion engine design [4 February 1941]. An innovator throughout his career, Olds built the first American steam-powered vehicle in 1887 when he was only 18. In 1897, Olds received a patent for his “motor carriage,” a gasoline-powered vehicle that he built the year before. He is also credited with having developed the first automobile production line. In an effort to meet the production demands for the Olds Runabout, Olds contracted with the likes of the Dodge brothers for the parts to his cars, which he then assembled in his own factory space. Olds’ assembly line was able to produce a higher volume of automobiles in a shorter period of time than was possible using the traditional method of building each vehicle individually. Olds Motor Works sold 425 Runabouts in its first year of business, 2,500 the next year, 5,000 in 1904, and the rest is automobile history……..70 years ago this week, August Horch German engineer and automobile pioneer, the founder of the manufacturing firm that would become Audi, died aged 82 years. [3 February 1951]…… 60 years ago this week, automatic level railway crossing half barriers were introduced in Britain [5 February 1961]…….50 years ago this week, Rolls Royce Ltd voluntarily entered into receivership [1 February 1971]…….40 years ago this week, the Daytona 24 Hour Race was won by Bob Garretson, Bobby Rahal and Brian Redman in a Porsche 935 [1 February 1981]……. The political battle between the sport’s governing body FISA and the Formula One Constructors’ Association (FOCA) came to a head when FOCA held a non-championship race in Kyalami and threatened to create a breakaway series [6 February 1981]. The two sides were battling over regulations, the distribution of income and FISA’s perceived bias towards the manufacturers Ferrari, Renault and Alfa Romeo. Members of FOCA, including Max Mosley, came up with the idea while eating lunch in the French Alps and immediately called the organisation’s ring-leader Bernie Ecclestone. Ecclestone, at the time the boss of Brabham, loved it and FOCA just about scraped together enough money to stage the race, using old Avon tyres from Ecclestone’s warehouse. With the exception of the three manufacturers, most of the major teams took part. In reality FOCA didn’t have the means to hold a full championship, but the threat worked nonetheless and in the same year FISA president Jean Marie Balestre agreed to the first Concorde Agreement………..Carlos Reutemann won the disputed South African Grand Prix in a Williams – the race did not count towards

the FIA World Championship as it was not sanctioned, but one used as leverage by FISA in an ongoing battle with the governing body [7 February 1981]. It was probably the last Formula Libre race staged as the cars did not conform to FIA rules prohibiting the use of skirts. Ferrari, Renault and Alfa Romeo refused to have anything to do with the race in which Reutemann led from start to finish in drying conditions after stealing a march on his rivals by switching to dry tyres minutes before the start. “FOCA have proved themselves capable of staging a race,” wrote Maurice Hamilton in the Guardian, “but even the most ardent enthusiasts had to admit that a race without Ferrari was like an international rugby championship without Wales.”………20 years ago this week, Flavio Braitore revealed that Fernando Alonso would make his F1 debut with Minardi [5 February 2001]. Briatore gave him a few tests in a Benetton to make sure he could get an F1 super-license and then persuaded Paul Stoddart to give him a drive at the small Italian team. Alonso had completed just two seasons out of karts at the time and finished a respectable fourth in the competitive F3000 series the year before. He drove a full season with Minardi, failing to score any points but putting in some solid performances in an uncompetitive car. A year’s testing followed before he secured a race drive for Briatore’s Renault team in 2003 [6 February 2001]. By 2006 he was a double world champion…….Niki Lauda was appointed CEO of Ford’s premier performance division. Essentially this meant that he would act as a middleman between the Jaguar F1 team and the company’s board in Detroit, streamlining and speeding up its decision making process. However, the restructuring didn’t prove successful and the team continued to run in the middle of the pack. Lauda and Ford parted ways in 2003.

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