Cars, people and events in this week’s Motoring Milestones include: speed records, Cord, Vanderbilt Cup, Art Afron’s Green Monster, Georges Besse, Renault, and Formula 1.
120 years ago this week, a red-letter day in the history of British motoring saw the Emancipation Run from London to Brighton to celebrate the passing into law of the Locomotives on the Highway Act, which raised the speed limit for ‘light locomotives’ from 4 mph to 14 mph and abolished the requirement to be preceded by a man on foot [14 November 1896]. Organisers’ instructions stated: ‘Owners and drivers should remember that motor cars are on trial in England and that any rashness or carelessness might injure the industry in this country.’ Only 14 of the 33 starters reached Brighton, although it was hinted that a train had transported one of those fourteen finishers and that it had to be covered with mud before crossing the finishing line!….. 115 years ago week, a low-slung car called the “Torpedo Racer”—basically a square platform on bicycle wheels—broke the world speed record for electric cars in Coney Island, New York [16 November
1901]. The car’s builder and pilot, an engineer named Andrew Riker, managed to coax his machine one mile down the straight dirt track in just 63 seconds (that’s about 57 mph; today, by contrast, the world speed record for an electric vehicle is about 245 mph). The battery-powered Torpedo Racer held onto its record for ten years…. On the same day [16 November 1901], A. C. Bostwick became the first American racer to exceed the speed of a mile a minute on the Ocean Parkway racetrack in Brooklyn, New York. During a race sponsored by the Long Island Automobile Club, Bostwick achieved an average speed of 63.83 mph (102.7 km/h) along a one-mile straightaway on the course. European car manufacturers and drivers dominated early motor racing, reflected in the fact that they established the first seven speed records. However, in 1902, just under a year after Bostwick’s historic run, William K. Vanderbilt Jr., a businessman and racing enthusiast, became the first American to enter the land speed record books when he ran a mile in 47.32 seconds, or at an average speed of 76.086 mph (122.45 km/h). The Mors automobile that Vanderbilt drove was also the first vehicle with an internal combustion engine to enter the speed record books…… 100 years ago this week, the last Vanderbilt
Cup race, held in Santa Monica, California, was won by Italian-born British driver Dario Resta in a Peugeot [16 November 1916]. The Vanderbilt Cup, named after the event’s founder William K. Vanderbilt Jnr, had been an early example of world-class motor racing in America, having been first organised in 1904 to introduce Europe’s best automotive drivers and manufacturers to the US. That first race, ten laps of a 28.4-mile circuit, was held on Long Island, New York, and had 18 entries. American George Heath won it in a Panhard et Levassor, edging out the competition with an average speed of 52.2 mph…… The American Grand Prize, the last major race before the USA’s entry into World War One caused a cessation of competition, was won by co-drivers Howard Wilcox and Gil Anderson [18 November 1916]. The pair won $7500…… 80 years ago this week, supercharging was offered as a $415 extra-cost option on the Cord 812 [18 November 1936]…… 50 years ago this week, Art Arfons, driving the Green Monster at the Bonneville Salt Flats, Utah, crashed at more than 600 mph, his final attempt at raising the land speed record [17 November 1966]…… 30 years ago this week, racing driver Rick Mears set a US closed-course record at the Michigan International Speedway. Mears was timed at an average speed of 233.934 mph (376.48 km/h), breaking the record set by Mark Donahue in 1975 [17 November 1986]….. on the same day, Georges Besse (58), who had halved Renault’s deficit, was assassinated outside his Paris home [17 November 1986]. Besse’s killers rode up on a motorcycle as he emerged from his chauffeur-driven automobile. The car chief was shot in the head and chest and died where he fell on the pavement. Leaflets by the militant anarchist organisation Action Directe were sent three months later. The organization claimed responsibility for the murder, stating the murder was in retaliation for his reforms of the financially stricken automaker Renault which involved laying off a large number of workers. However, the Action Directe members denied any responsibility during their trial. Two women, Nathalie Menigon and Joelle Aubron, were charged with his murder in March 1987 and were sentenced to life imprisonment in 1989. Two other Action Directe members, Jean-Marc Rouillan and Georges Cipriani, were convicted as accomplices and also sentenced to life imprisonment. Renault’s car assembly plant in Douai in northern France, was renamed in Besses’s honour…… 20 years ago this week, the first General Motors electric car, the EV1, was produced in
Lansing, Michigan. Its range was estimated at 70–90 miles before recharge [14 November 1996]….. A revolutionary new Volkswagen factory opened in Resende, Brazil [18 November 1996]. The million-square-meter Resende factory did not have an ordinary assembly line staffed by Volkswagen workers: In fact, the only people on Volkswagen’s payroll were the quality-control supervisors. Independent subcontractors were responsible for putting together every part of the trucks and buses that the factory produced. This process, which Volkswagen called the “modular consortium,” reduced the company’s labor costs considerably by making them someone else’s problem: The company simply purchased its labor from the lowest bidder. Eventually, Volkswagen hoped to export this new system to all of its factories in developing countries. In the modular consortium system, eight different subcontractors operated their own mini-assembly shops along the main line and each of those companies was responsible for installing and inspecting its own components. Any quality problems in the finished product were blamed on the subcontractor responsible.The system was an enormously profitable one for Volkswagen. The company was able to negotiate very low rates from its subcontractors for parts and labor, so it saved money on every truck and bus that passed through the Resende plant and could pass those savings along to its customers. Meanwhile, competitors who did not use a subcontractor system had difficulty matching Volkswagen’s low prices. This facility may have been Volkswagen’s “Dream Factory,” as some reporters called it, but for General Motors it was a nightmare. The mastermind behind the modular consortium idea was VW’s head of purchasing, Jose Ignacio Lopez de Arriortua, who had defected from GM three years before. When he left, he took millions of top-secret documents, plans and blueprints for a factory that GM called “Plant X”: a plant, GM argued, that was remarkably similar to the one VW ended up building at Resende. By the end of 1996, Lopez and VW faced industrial-espionage charge in Germany and the U.S., as well as a hefty GM lawsuit, which they settled for millions of dollars the next year. (Lopez resigned from VW and fled to Spain, his home country, which refused to extradite him for trial.) Today, some 4,500 people work at the Resende plant. In all, it has produced more than 300,000 trucks and buses…… The final component of the Confederation Bridge was placed, crossing the Northumberland Strait in Canada [19 November 1996]. The piers are 250 metres apart and offer a ship’s clearance of 564 feet (172 metres) in width. The curved 1.8-mile (2.9-km) bridge joins Borden-Carleton on Prince Edward Island with Cape Jourimain in New Brunswick and is the longest bridge over ice-covered waters in the world…… 15 years ago this week, the BMW Williams team announced that Nico Rosberg and Nelson Piquet Jr would test for the team at Jerez de Frontera in the first week of December to evaluate whether either had the potential to be test drivers in 2004 [14 November 2001]. Jaguar Racing also announced that it would test Red Bull backed Christian Klien and Townsend Bell at Valencia at the end of the month. Both Rosberg and Klien went on to race for Williams and Jaguar Racing while Piquet Jr secured a Renault drive in 2008…… Guildford Cathedral turned into a who’s who of international motor racing as a galaxy of F1 personalities turned out for a service of thanksgiving for the life of Ken Tyrrell, who died of cancer in the summer [15 November 2001]. Those attending included former Tyrrell drivers Jean Alesi, Martin Brundle, Jonathan Palmer and Sir Jackie Stewart who also made one of the addresses. Other racing personalities present included Ron Dennis, Patrick Head, Craig Pollock, Rob Walker, Derek Bell, John Coombs and Teddy Mayer. The occasion included a performance by opera star Dame Kiri te Kanawa and was rounded off by Chris Barber’s jazz band playing When the Saints Go Marching In…… 10 years ago this week, Texas officials closed the last two of Texas’ famed Pig Stand
restaurants, the only remaining pieces of the nation’s first drive-in restaurant empire [14 November 2006]. The restaurants’ owners were bankrupt, owing more than $200,000 in unpaid sales taxes. In 1921, Jessie G. Kirby had built the first Pig Stand along the Dallas-Fort Worth Highway. It was a roadside barbecue restaurant unlike any other: Its patrons could drive up, eat and leave, all without budging from their cars. (“People with cars are so lazy,” Kirby explained, “they don’t want to get out of them.”) Kirby lured these car-attached customers with great fanfare and spectacle. When a customer pulled into the Pig Stand parking lot, teenaged boys in white shirts and black bow ties jogged over to his car, hopped up onto the running board—sometimes before the driver had even pulled into a parking space—and took his order (hence their name “Carhops”). Soon, the Pig Stand drive-ins replaced the carhops with attractive young girls on roller skates, but the basic formula was the same: good-looking young people, tasty food, speedy service and auto-based convenience. That first Pig Stand was a hit with hungry drivers, and soon it became a chain. (The slogan: “America’s Motor Lunch.”) Kirby and his partners made one of the first franchising arrangements in restaurant history, and Pig Stands began cropping up everywhere. By 1934, there were more than 130 Pig Stands in nine states. Food historians believe that Pig Stand cooks invented deep-fried onion rings, chicken-fried steak sandwiches and a regional specialty known as Texas Toast. But wartime gasoline and food rationing hit the Pig Stands hard, and after the war they struggled to compete with newer, flashier drive-ins. By 2005, even the Texas Pig Stands were struggling to survive—only six remained in the whole state—and by the next year they had all disappeared…… BMW announced the start of production of the BMW Hydrogen 7, the world’s first hydrogen-powered luxury saloon car [15 November 2006]…… Kamui Kobayashi started from pole position for the Macau Grand Prix but tangled with Marko Asmer and Paul di Resta to leave Mike Conway ahead of Kohei Hirate [19 November 1996]. Kobayashi charged back through the field before retiring after a crash with Romain Grosjean. Another man on the move was Richard Antinucci who made several passes to finish second, just behind Conway. Japanese F3 champion Adrian Sutil finished third and Sebastien Buemi was fourth ahead of Romain Grosjean and Britain’s John Jakes…… The Huntsville Bus Accident involving a school bus carrying 43 students occurred on an elevated portion of Interstate 565 in Huntsville, Alabama, US [20 November 1996]. Police stated that the bus went over the side after being hit by a small car. Plunging almost 40 feet, 4 students were killed and 23 were injured. The driver was ejected from the bus before it hit the ground.