12-18 December: Motoring Milestones

Cars, people and events in this week’s Motoring Milestones include: Rover cars, Formula One, Clay Regazzoni, Vincent Bendix, and Scion.

 225 years ago this week, a traffic regulation in New York City established the first street to go in one direction only, or “One Way,” as the signs said [17 December 1791]…135 years ago this week, Vincent Hugo Bendix, the American inventor and industrialist who founded the Bendix Corporation of Chicago in 1907 to manufacture Bendix Buggies, was

born [12 December 1881]. The company failed two years later after producing 7000 vehicles, but in 1910, Bendix invented and patented the Bendix drive, that allowed the development of practical starter motors for internal combustion engines. The device allows the pinion gear of the starter motor to engage or disengage the flywheel of the engine automatically when the starter is powered or when the engine fires, respectively. The Bendix drive is still in widespread use at the beginning of the 21st century, so much so that mechanics often refer to such a mechanism simply as a “bendix”…… 120 years ago this week, the U.S. government awarded Patent Number 573,174 to inventor Stephen M. Balzer for a gasoline-powered motor buggy that he built two years earlier [15 December 1896]. Balzer never mass-produced any of his cars, but his “experimental” vehicle was one of the first functioning automobiles to be built in the United States. Today, the Balzer car is on display at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. It was the first gas-powered car in the museum’s collection. In 1894, Balzer was working in the machine-manufacturing business by day; by night, he was building an internal-combustion motor car that he hoped would make him famous. The Balzer car had a three-cylinder, air-cooled rotary motor. It was open at the top and sides, so it looked a bit like a park bench held awkwardly aloft by four pneumatic bicycle tires. Unlike other autos of the era, the Balzer’s rear wheels were much larger than its front wheels–they were 28 and 18 inches across, respectively. This design quirk helped the car to keep its traction and its maneuverability. (Some modern-day tractors still use this wheel configuration.) Though his car could not go faster than 4 miles per hour, New York City police officers still insisted that Balzer be accompanied on his test-drives by an assistant marching ahead of the sputtering vehicle, warning pedestrians out of the way by waving a giant red flag……110 years ago this week, the first Brooklands Automobile Racing Club meeting was held in England with Lord Lonsdale as President [12 December 1906]……75 years ago this week, the Nazi-occupation government in France ordered that all automobiles registered before December 1925 had to be destroyed to supply material for the armaments industry [14 December 1941]…… The American Federation of Labor Council adopted a no-strike policy in war industries, which included car plants being converted to military production. Domestic car manufacturing stopped completely in the US from 1941 to 1944 [15 December 1941]……70 years ago this week, the Austin Princess limousine was announced [18 December 1946]……50 years ago this week, Leyland Motors (not yet British Leyland) announced that they were buying Rover Cars for £25 million [12 December 1966]……30 years ago this week, a federal jury in Detroit cleared automaker John DeLorean of all 15 charges in his fraud and rac

keteering trial [17 December 1986]……25 years ago this week, racer George Abecassis died in Ibstone, UK, at the age of 78 [18 December 1991]. Abecassis had been racing an Alta voiturette with some success since 1935 when World War II broke out. He resumed racing after the conflicts ended and is recorded as being the man who won the last race held in England before the war and the first to be held immediately after it. His only appearances in Formula 1 happened at the 1951 and 1952 Swiss Grand Prix at Bremgarten at the wheel of an HMW after having won his class at the 24 hours of Le Mans race the previous year, partnering Lance Macklin at the wheel of an Aston Martin…. On the same day [18 December 1991] General Motors announced it would close 21 North American plants over the next four years and slash tens of thousands of jobs in a sweeping restructuring of the world’s largest company…… 15 years ago this week, a £2m prototype supercar was reported stolen by Allard Marx, chairman and founder of the company behind the unique Delfino Feroce after it went missing from outside a friend’s home in Fulham, west London [15 December 2001]. It was found a week later in a police compound. Mr Marx had to pay more than £200 to get the car out of the pound……10 years ago this week, a bus plunged into a river after colliding with a truck on a mountain road near Bagua, Peru, killing 21 and injuring 30 [13 December 1906]…… Racer Clay

Regazzoni (64) was killed in a bizarre road accident crashing head on with a truck in Parma, Italy [15 December 2006]. He drove for Ferrari from 1970-72 and 1974-76, winning the Italian Grand Prix in 1970 and 1975, the German Grand Prix in 1974, and the United States Grand Prix in 1976. In 1974 he was second to Emerson Fittipaldi in the F1 championship. Regazzoni also raced for BRM, Ensign, Shadow and Williams, with whom he won the British Grand Prix at Silverstone in 1979. Regazzoni was confined to a wheelchair in 1980 when he suffered spinal damage in a crash during the US Grand Prix West in Long Beach, California….. On the same day [15 December 2006], Marco Andretti made F1 history when he became the first third generation F1 driver. Marco is the son of Michael Andretti and the grandson of 1978 world champion Mario Andretti…… Scion unveiled the next-generation xB, based on the t2B concept, and the new xD, successor of the xA, at an invitation-only, no-camera event in Miami [16 December 2006]….. Mike Dickin (63) late-night host on the British radio station talkSPORT was killed in a car crash while driving on the A30 near his home in Cornwall [18 December 2006].

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