13-18 February: Motoring Milestones

Cars, people and events in this week’s Motoring Milestones include: J. Frank Duryea, driving licences, Hore-Belisha, Mercedes, and Chevrolet Corvette…

90 years ago this week, Ford standardised 21-inch wheels on all Model T cars [14 February 1927]…. During the Ninety Mile Beach 5 lap handicap race, a non-competing car hurtled down the beach and collided with racer Bert Fitzherbert’s car, killing its unknown lady passenger [17 February 1927]. Fitzherbert was at the wheel of a Dort. The race was held in the circuit of Ninety Mile Beach, a beach located on the western coast of the far north of the North Island of New Zealand, west of the town of Kaitaia. In the 30s Ninety Mile Beach was used as the runway for some of the earliest airmail services between Australia and New Zealand…….80 years ago this week, the Flatenloppet ice race run on a small lake (Flaten) 7 km south of downtown Stockholm, Sweden was won by Eugen Björnstad, Alfa Romeo 8C-2300 Monza [14 February 1937]….. Automobile stylist Amos E Northup (47) died at Harper Hospital in Detroit, Michigan, US two days after slipping on ice and breaking his skull [15 February 1937]….. 70 years ago this week, a period of one year was granted for holders of wartime provisional driving licences to convert to a full licence, without having to take a test [18 February 1947]…..60 years ago this week, American Motors registered a stylised ‘Metropolitan’ as a trademark for its British-built subcompact car [14 February 1957]…… Isaac Leslie (64), 1st Baron Hore-Belisha, PC, a British Liberal Member of Parliament and Cabinet Minister remembered for his innovations in road transport and for being an alleged victim of anti-semitism, died [16 February 1957]. Hore-Belisha was appointed Minister of Transport in 1934 coming to public prominence at a time when motoring was becoming available to the masses. All UK speed limits for motor cars had controversially been removed by the Road Traffic Act 1930 during the previous (Labour) administration. There was, in 1934, a record number of road casualties in Great Britain, with 7,343 deaths and 231,603 injuries being recorded, with half of the casualties being pedestrians and three-quarters occurring in built-up areas. Hore-Belisha described this as ‘mass murder’. Shortly after being appointed, he was crossing Camden High Street when a sports car shot along the street without stopping, nearly causing him ‘serious injury or worse.’ He became involved in a public-relations exercise to demonstrate how to use the new ‘uncontrolled crossings’.Hore-Belisha’s Road Traffic Act 1934 introduced a speed limit of 30 mph for motor cars in built-up areas. That was vigorously opposed by many, who saw the new regulations as a removal of ‘an Englishman’s freedom of the highway.’ The earlier 20 mph speed limit had been abolished in 1930 because it was universally flouted. A large backlog of court cases had made the law unenforceable. In addition,

The Automobile Association (AA) and the Royal Automobile Club (RAC) had frequently been successful in defending their members against evidence from primitive speed traps. Hore-Belisha rewrote the Highway Code and was responsible for the introduction of two innovations that led to a dramatic drop in road accidents: the driving test and the Belisha beacon, named after him by the public. On his retirement, he was made vice-president of the Pedestrians’ Association and, to this day, the logo of the organisation includes a Belisha…..50 years ago this week, J. Frank Duryea, founder of the Duryea Motor Wagon Company with his brother Charles, died in Old Saybrook, Connecticut, at the age of 97 [15 February 1967]. Seventy-four years earlier in the month of February, the Duryea brothers manufactured the first of 13 Duryea Motor Wagons, unofficially giving birth to the auto production line and the American automobile industry. There has been a great deal of disagreement over exactly which brother was responsible for the invention of the Motor Wagon. Because he outlived Charles by almost 80 years, Frank had the last word. Until the day he died the younger Duryea brother insisted that the pioneering automobile was entirely his own creation (except, that is, for the troublesome steering tiller that never worked quite correctly). What is beyond dispute is that

Frank Duryea was the first automobile driver on the American road. In September 1893, he was behind the wheel as the Duryea car made its first successful trip, 600 yards down his street in Springfield, Massachusetts. When he tried to turn the corner, the Motor Wagon’s transmission blew; however, Frank managed to patch it back together and putter down the road for another half-mile or so. In September 1895 the two brothers organized the first car company in the United States, the Duryea Motor Wagon Company, to build and sell their gas-powered contraptions. On Thanksgiving Day of that year, in a brilliant promotional stunt, Frank won the country’s first automobile race, the Chicago Times-Herald race from Chicago to Evanston. (The race unfolded despite an enormous snowstorm that made the roads nearly impassable; still, Frank managed to complete the 50-mile loop in a little more than 10 hours.) Frank left the Duryea Motor Wagon Company in 1899 and two years later he helped start the Stevens-Duryea Company, another auto manufacturing concern in Chicopee Falls, Massachusetts. He retired in 1915 and spent the rest of his days living comfortably in Connecticut, traveling, gardening and puttering around his workshop….. Mario Andretti, in only his second Daytona 500, won the race. Fred Lorenzen was the only other driver on the lead lap at the end [16 February 1967]…… 40 years ago this week, the 500,000th Chevrolet Corvette was produced, a white coupe with red interior to match the first 1953 Corvette. It was purchased by 22 year old Francis Patric Meraw of Detroit, Michigan, US [15 February 1977]…..30 years ago this week, Bill Elliott qualified for the pole position at an all-time Daytona record of 210.364 mph (338.532 km/h) [15 February 1987]. He had already won convincingly in the 1985 race, and won his second Daytona 500 in 1987 in dominating fashion…… Frank Kurtis (79), an American racing car designer who built midget cars, quarter-midgets, sports cars, sprint cars, Indy cars, and Formula One cars, died [17 February 1987]. He founded Kurtis Kraft in Glendale, USA, when he built some very low glass-fibre bodied two-seaters sports cars. Ford (US) running gear was used. The Kurtis Kraft chassis midget car featured a smaller version of the Offenhauser motor. The National Midget Auto Racing Hall of Fame described the combination as “virtually unbeatable for over twenty years.” Kurtis Kraft created 120 Indianapolis 500 cars, including five winners. Kurtis sold his midget car business to Johnny Pawl in the late 1950s, and his quarter midget business to Ralph Potter in 1962. He has since been enshrined in the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame, the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America and the National Midget Auto Racing Hall of Fame……20 years ago this week, Alain Prost bought out Ligier to set up the Prost Formula One team. Ligier had been in the sport since 1976 but hadn’t been a serious contender since the late 1970s and early 1980s [13 February 1997]. The Prost team experienced some success in its first year, scoring two podiums and finishing sixth in the constructors’ championship. However, it failed to match that performance again and finally went bust in 2001…… Twenty-five-year-old Jeff Gordon claimed his first Daytona 500 victory, becoming the youngest winner in the history of the 200-lap, 500-mile National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR) event, dubbed the “Super Bowl of stock car racing.” [16 February 1997] Driving his No. 24 Chevrolet Monte Carlo for the Hendrick Motorsports racing team, Gordon recorded an average speed of 148.295 mph and took home prize money of more than $377,000. According to NASCAR.com, Gordon was “a veritable babe in a field that included 27 drivers older than 35, 16 at least 40.” Gordon’s Hendrick teammates Terry Labonte and Ricky Craven finished the race second and third, respectively…… 20 years ago this week, the Spice Girls and Jamiroquai attended one of the most extravagant F1 launches of all time, as McLaren unveiled its 1997 challenger at Alexandra Palace in London [14 February 1997]. The car was the first McLaren to feature a striking silver Mercedes livery after years of running red and white Marlboro sponsorship. It also marked a turning point in the team’s fortunes as it scored a victory on its debut outing, the team’s first since Ayrton Senna left in 1993. One year later and McLaren had won the title with Mika Hakkinen……15 years ago this week, joining the ranks of the oldest living man (112-years old), tallest living woman (7 ft. 7 in.) and coldest place on Earth

(Vostok, Antarctica), the Mazda MX-5 Miata roadster was named the best-selling sports car by Guinness World Records(TM) [13 February 2002]. More than 600,000 of the popular sports car have been produced since it was introduced in 1989…… The Lamborghini Murciélago established three international speed records for a series production car: the greatest distance covered in one hour, and fastest times to complete 100 km and 100 miles [16 February 2002]. The testing took place at Italy’s Prototipo ring. The car passed the 100 km marker after just 18:44.9 minutes, and 100 miles after 30:09 minutes, completed at average speeds of 198.853 mph (320.023 km/h) and 198.996 mph (320.254 km/h), respectively……10 years ago this week, former Babyshambles singer Pete Doherty was fined £300 and disqualified from driving for two months after admitting to two charges of driving without insurance or a licence at Thames Magistrates Court in London [13 February 2007]…… Formula One edged further away from the threat of a breakaway series as Renault announced it was leaving the Grand Prix Manufacturers’ Association (GPMA) [15 February 2007]. The organisation had been in meetings about the future of the sport with the FIA and Formula One Management but had backed down on a plan to create an alternative series. Renault followed Toyota out of the group, leaving just BMW, Daimler-Mercedes and Honda in the GPMA…. Kevin Harvick edged past Mark Martin to win the 2007 Daytona 500 [18 February 2007]. The 2007 race, held exactly six years to the day of Dale Earnhardt’s tragic death, was the first time Toyota, a “foreign name plate” car, entered the Daytona 500. Two of the four qualifying Toyotas completed the race, with Dale Jarrett finishing 23rd and Michael Waltrip finishing 30th. Tony Stewart’s wreck that took him out of the race was strangely similar to the one that claimed Earnhardt, although Stewart was not injured in the crash. One car, the Jack Daniels #07 driven by Harvick’s RCR teammate Clint Bowyer, flipped on its top with another car colliding into him, causing Bowyer’s car to catch fire. Bowyer’s momentum carried him over the finish line, upside-down and in flames, for an 18th place finish. The car then righted itself in the infield grass and Bowyer alertly exited the burning vehicle to walk away unharmed.

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