12-18 March: Motoring Milestone

Discover the momentous motoring events that have taken place this week in history …….

120 years ago this week, the South African Motor Car Company began offering round trip bus excursions from Cape Town to Somerset West Strand [13 March 1888]…… 110 years ago this week, Lewis Strang drove an Isotta to victory in the 342 mile Savannah Challenge Cup race. Strang averaged 50.7 mph over the 17.1 mile open road circuit in Georgia, US [12 March 1908]…… The Ford Model T was announced to dealers [18 March 1908]……. 90 years ago this week, Kurt Volkhart took the Opel RAK-1 rocket-powered car for its first test run, in Russelsheim, Germany [12 March 1928]….. On the same day [12 March 1928], the British Racing Drivers’ Club was founded. The founder of the BRDC, Dr. J. D. Benjafield, one of the famed ‘Bentley Boys’ at Le Mans, was keen to organise dinner parties after races for his friends and drivers. It was these dinner parties which were the seeds from which grew the highly prestigious and much respected British Racing Drivers’ Club we know today. The Club was inaugurated early in 1928, with 25 members and a clear set of objectives. These were to promote the interests of motor sport generally; to celebrate any specific performance in motor sport; to extend hospitality to racing drivers from overseas; and to further the interests of British drivers competing abroad. At that time, Membership was restricted to racing drivers of proven success and experience, and quickly grew following the decision of the BRDC to move into race organisation. The first Club-organised event, the BRDC 500-Mile Race, took place at Brooklands in October 1929 and the BRDC badge quickly established itself as a regular feature on overalls worn by the Club pioneer drivers. After the Second World War, the BRDC became a major force in international motor racing, taking over the lease of Silverstone from the RAC in 1952 and subsequently announcing the aquisition of the site’s freehold from the Ministry of Defence in 1971. The Club, through its wholly-owned subsidiary company, Silverstone Circuits Limited (formed in 1966 to develop the commercial aspects of the property), then set in motion a major redevelopment of what had been a wartime bomber training base producing one of the foremost motor racing facilities in the world. A Masterplan for the development of Silverstone is currently being implemented. Silverstone Circuits Limited promote a number of major international race meetings at Silverstone, including the British Grand Prix, plus rounds of the FIA GT Championships, The British Touring Car Championship, Le Mans Series, British Superbike, British F3-GT and, from 2010, the MotoGP World Championship. As a Club, the BRDC has grown to become the most prestigious motor racing club in the world and today, membership totals over 800…….The Luxford, a taxicab built on the Ford Model A chassis, was introduced [13 March 1928]…….The first set of permanent traffic lights to be installed in Great Britain began operating in Leeds, West Yorkshire [16 March 1928]. It was not an offence to disobey traffic signals until ascent was given to the 1930 Road Traffic Bill…… 80 years ago this week, Eric Fernihough riding his 996cc Brough Superior covers one kilometre at 143.39mph, the highest official speed by a motorcycle at Brooklands [12 March 1938]…… 70 years ago this week, the Playboy was  introduced at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City [13 March 1948]. Produced by the Playboy Motor Car Corporation of Buffalo, the car was powered by a 4 cylinder, 40 horsepower Continental or Hercules engine and featured an all-steel convertible disappearing top. The company only produced fewer than 100 cars before going bankrupt in 1951….. 60 years ago this week, the first ‘For Sale’ Series II Land Rover vehicles rolled off the production line. The regular model had a 2-litre petrol engine and cost £640 [14 March 1958]…….Curtis Turner surged to victory on third-mile Champion Speedway in Fayetteville, North Carolina (US), for his 12th win in NASCAR’s top series [15 March 1958] . Turner led 145 of the 150 laps, besting Gwyn Staley by a car-length. Buck Baker took third place……..Bruce McLaren left New Zealand for England on the same day [15 March 1958], where he would drive for John Cooper. His good friend and mechanic Colin Beanland accompanied him…… 50 years ago this week, the Lamborghini Islero 400 GT, launched at the Geneva Auto Show, featured an aluminum, quad cam V12 engine; all wheel independent suspension and disc brakes; comprehensive cockpit fittings and luxury interiors [14 March 1968]. Described as a businessman’s car, the Islero, although shorter, was roomier than the 400 GT 2+2, and had plenty of glass area…… Construction started on the north tunnel of the Eisenhower Johnson Memorial Tunnel on Interst
ate 70 in Colorado, some 60 miles west of Denver, US [15 March 1968]. Located at an altitude of more than 11,000 feet, the project was an engineering marvel and became the world’s highest vehicular tunnel when it was completed in 1979. Four months after opening, one million vehicles had passed through the

tunnel. The largest one day volume was over 50,000 vehicles, one million vehicles in a month is now commonplace. Because of this volume, the traffic is monitored, and sometimes traffic is held back until a queue has cleared from the tunnel for purposes of safety……Gordon Johncock took advantage of a late mistake by Bobby Unser to win the USAC Championship season opener, the ‘California 200’ at Hanford Motor Speedway [17 March 1968]. Johncock was running a distant 3rd with 14 laps to go when Unser went too hard into turn 1 in an effort to beat Roger McCluskey into the turn. Unser spun up the banking and 2nd running Art Pollard hit the wall trying to avoid. Unser restarted after losing a lap, but Pollard was out. Having been in a lengthy battle for the lead with both McCluskey and Pollard, Unser apparently wasn’t aware that McCluskey had lost a lap after a recent stop for fuel. Joe Leonard escaped injury after his new Brawner-Ford hit the wall and burst into flames on lap 53. Unser won the pole in his turbocharged Offy powered Eagle with a speed of 155.709 mph on the 1.5 mile banked paved tri-oval. Sonny Ates and Gary Bettenhausen both made the starting field in upright dirt cars, as did a front engined roadster. It was Johcock’s 2nd straight win at Hanford, both coming in the waning laps. In the Fall 1967 race, Pollard ran out fuel while leading and Leonard crashed with 3 laps left to give Johncock the win…….on the same day [17 March 1968] the McLaren M7A’s raced by Bruce McLaren and Denny Hulme finished 1st and 3rd at the non-championship “Race of Champions” at Brand Hatch, England. Pedro Rodriguez finished second in his BRM P133. This race also marked the debut of the Matra MS10-Ford driven by Jackie Stewart who finished 6th…….40 years ago this week, Theodore P Hall (79), developer of the Hall flying automobile, died in San Diego, California, US [17 March 1978]…….Peter Gethin drove his Chevron B24 to victory in the opening round of

the European Formula 5000 series on the Brands Hatch circuit [18 March 1978]. The race was a preliminary to the following day’s non-championship F1/F5000 ‘Race of Champions’. Gethin, the ’69 and ’70 European F5000 champ, won the pole and led the 25 lap race wire to wire. 3 time Tasman and ’72 U.S. F5000 champ Graham McRae ran 2nd despite an overheating motor until a deflating tire sent his McRae GM1 spinning off circuit with just 5 laps to go. Carl Hogan brought his American F5000 team over for the weekend and U.S. driver Brett Lunger finished a lonely 2nd in a Lola T330. Tony Dean was 3rd, also in Chevron B24. The entire 20 car field was Chevrolet powered. Jody Scheckter, David Hobbs (in the other Hogan Lola), Gijs van Lennep, Teddy Pilette and future F1 drivers Guy Edwards, Bob Evans and Ian Ashley made up what had to be one of the best fields in European F5000 history. Hobbs finished 5th, last car on the lead lap, but was uncompetitive. When asked afterwards why he was so slow, Hobbs said “There was nothing wrong with the engine.”……20 years ago this week, Ferrari revealed it was prepared to offer Schumacher £52 million for him to remain with them for the rest of his career, and then to continue to act as its ambassador when he did retire [12 March 1998]. The move came after he was linked with a switch to McLaren-Mercedes despite being paid £17.5 million a year. In the event he stayed, won five more championships and retired in 2006 before making an unexpected comeback in 2010 … with Mercedes…….10 years ago this week, Volkswagen, the biggest European carmaker, vowed to become “the best auto manufacturer in the world” and welcomed a looming takeover by luxury sports car maker Porsche [13 March 2008]…..The first race of the season was held in Australia in front of 200,000 spectators and it marked the 250th grand prix start for Rubens Barrichello . It was not a happy day for him, however, as he was disqualified after ignoring a red light at the pit-lane exit. Lewis Hamilton qualified his McLaren Mercedes on pole position, and went on to win the race and that year’s drivers’ championship. Nick Heidfeld finished second in a BMW Sauber car, [16 March 2008] with Nico Rosberg third in a Williams, his first ever F1 podium. The race saw a very high rate of attrition, with only seven cars out of the 22-car grid running at the chequered flag – which reduced from seven to six after Rubens Barrichello’s disqualification – with two other drivers being classified as they had completed at least 90% of the 307.574 km race distance in order for classification.

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