17-23 December: Motoring Milestones

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

150 years ago this week, Harvey Samuel Firestone, founder of the Firestone Tire and Rubber Company, one of the first global makers of automobile tires and an important contributor to North American economic growth in the 20th century, was born [20 December 1868]. Firestone reportedly had driven the first rubber-tired buggy in Detroit, while working as a manager for an uncle’s buggy-manufacturing concern. When that business folded, Firestone moved to Chicago (1896) and, with partners, began to operate a retail tire business. In 1900 he moved to Akron, then the centre of tire production, with his patent on a mechanism for applying rubber tires to carriage wheel channels, and formed a company in which he held a half interest. Originally formed to sell rubber carriage tires made by others, the company bought a small factory in 1902 and began manufacturing its own tires; in 1904 it began to make automobile tires. Firestone pioneered the manufacture of pneumatic tires for the Ford Model T automobile, and a sale of thousands of tires to Ford in 1906 propelled Firestone to the top of the American tire industry. The company was innovative in design and manufacturing, pioneering many new tires and treads. Firestone promoted the use of trucks for hauling freight and lobbied for the construction of vast highway systems. In protest over the British-held monopoly over the production of raw rubber in Southeast Asia, he established his own large rubber plantations in Liberia. Firestone was president of the Firestone Tire & Rubber Company until 1932, when his son replaced him at the head of the firm…….130 years ago this week, Felix Millet received a patent for a ‘Gasoline Bicycle’ named ‘Soleil’ (Sun) [22 December 1888]. It had an

extraordinary 5-engine incorporated into the rear wheel and developed 2/3 bhp, with a top speed of 34 mph. The five cylinders were mounted radially in the rear wheel, with the connecting rods directly attached to the fixed crank of the hollow-drilled rear axle. The rear fender served as a fuel tank; a surface carburetor and air filter were located between the wheels. Ignition was electric via combination Bunsen cell and induction coil. Millet used a rotating handlebar twistgrip for its operation. It was started with pedals so the motorcycle could be moved even after engine failure……. 120 years ago this week, the first sprint meeting in the world, sponsored by La France Automobile, was held in Arches Park, near Paris [18 December 1898]. The course `was flat but very wet, and competitors were timed over 2 km from a standing start, thus providing two sets of figures, for the standing one-kilometre and the flying kilometre. The Comte de Chasseloup-Laubat, in the 1½ ton Jeantaud electric car, powered by an electric motor and alkaline batteries, covered the first in 72.6 seconds and the second in 52 seconds. His average speed over the flying kilometre, 39.3 mph, automatically became the first official World Land Speed Record. Jeantaud is widely believed to be the first automobile steered by a modern steering wheel rather than a tiller. The tiller was quickly replaced by the steering wheel in the early 1900s……..100 years ago this week, an article entitled, “The ABC Motor Cycle. A New Development”, written by Alvin Higgins, appeared in ‘Motor Cycle’ magazine’s December 19th, 1918 issue. Produced between 1919 and 1925, the ABC 400 had a 398cc horizontally opposed flat twin-cylinder overhead-valve four-stroke motor* with a four-speed tranny. Fitted with Claudel-Hobsob carburetor, it was capable of a top speed of over 70 mph. Founded in 1912 by Ronald ‘Ronnie’ Charteris, it was originally called Tthe All British Engine Company Ltd. of London. The company changed it’s name to ABC Motors LTD. in 1914, then along with his friend and chief engineer Granville Bradshaw, they built a wide-range of engines throughout the First World War. ABC had always had a close association with the Sopwith aircraft company, which included producing the famous Sopwith Camel. In December, 1918, ABC transferred the rights for manufacturing and selling motorcycles to Sopwith Aviation Co. Ltd. This would allow Bradshaw to focus on his designs. In 1919 they co-exhibited the Sopwith 390cc horizontally opposed twin-cylinder overhead valve machine at the annual ‘Motor Cycle’ show. It was the talk of the show with it’s innovative front and rear leaf springs and “expanding” brakes, wet sump lubrication and a four-speed transmission. It was also one of the first motorcycles with a duplex cradle frame. Curiously, it had no starting mechanism (hello, Granville?!), the rider actually had to jump start the engine to get going. The ABC 400 was made under license by the Sopwith Aviation & Engineering Co. in Kingston-upon-Thames and 2,200 were produced. Later models had improved valve gear, speedometers, and electric lighting. And a kick-starter. The shift from producing aircraft to making motorcycles was more difficult than ABC expected and they ceased producing motorcycles after 1923……….on the same day [19 December 1919], General Motors acquired the McLaughlin Motor Car Company of Oshawa, Ontario, which was founded in 1908 by R.S. McLaughlin. after visiting the United States and discovering that automobiles were becoming a modern luxury, to create General Motors of Canada…….90 years ago this week, the Marmon Motor Car Company announced its new marque, the Roosevelt, as the “World’s First Eight Under $1,000” [22 December 1928]. The Roosevelt was named after President Theodore Roosevelt and designed to be priced as an “affordable” automobile. Although the Roosevelt name did not appear for the 1931 range of Marmon models, the car was refined into the new Model 70 Marmon. One of the unique features of the 29 Roosevelt was the horn button. It served 3 purposes. Push down and it would honk, pull up and it was the starter, and turn it, to turn the head lights on and off. It also had a cameo of Theodore Roosevelt, black and white, on the front top middle of the radiator…….70 years ago this week, production commenced of the Ford E493A Prefect, the most inexpensive four-door saloon in the UK at £371 [21 December 1948]. A Prefect tested by the British magazine The Motor in 1948 had a top speed of 61 mph and could accelerate from 0 to 50 mph in 22.8 seconds. A fuel consumption of 33.2 mpg was recorded. 192,229 were made before production ceased in 1953…….50 years ago this week, the London-Sydney Rally which had started from the Crystal Palace racing circuit in London at 2pm on Sunday, November 24th 1968, finished at Warwick Farm (an outer Sydney

suburb), in Australia [17 December 1968]. Roger Clark established an early lead through the first genuinely treacherous leg, from Sivas to Erzincan in Turkey, averaging almost 60 mph in his Lotus Cortina for the 170 mile stage. Despite losing time in Pakistan and India, he maintained his lead to the end of the Asian section in Bombay, with Simo Lampinen’s Ford Taunus second and Lucien Bianchi’s DS21 in third. However, once into Australia, Clark suffered several setbacks. A piston failure dropped him to third, and would have cost him a finish had he not been able to cannibalise fellow Ford Motor Company driver Eric Jackson’s car for parts. After repairs were effected, he suffered what should have been a terminal rear differential failure. Encountering a Cortina by the roadside, he persuaded the initially reluctant owner to sell his rear axle and resumed once more, although at the cost of 80 minutes’ delay while it was replaced. This left Lucien Bianchi and co-driver Jean-Claude Ogier in the lead ahead of Gilbert Staepelaere/Simo Lampinen in the German Ford Taunus, with Andrew Cowan in the Hillman Hunter 3rd. Then Staepelaere’s Taunus broke down leaving Cowan in second position and Paddy Hopkirk’s Austin 1800 in third place. Approaching the Nowra checkpoint at the end of the penultimate stage with only 98 miles to Sydney, the Frenchmen were involved in a head-on collision which wrecked their Citroën and hospitalised the pair. Hopkirk, the first driver on the scene (ahead of Cowan on the road, but behind on penalties), gave up any chance of victory when he stopped to tend to the injured and extinguish the flames in the burning cars. That left Andrew Cowan, who had requested “a car to come last” from the Chrysler factory on the assumption that only half a dozen drivers would even reach Sydney, to take an unexpected victory in his Hillman Hunter and claim the £10,000 prize. Hopkirk finished second, while Australian Ian Vaughan was third in a factory-entered Ford XT Falcon GT. Ford Australia won the Teams’ Prize with their three Falcons GTs, placing 3rd, 6th and 8th……..20 years ago this week, after 18 months the all new General Motors plant in Shanghai, China was finished [17 December 1998]. The plant, located in the Pudong district, was a joint venture of GM and Shanghai Automotive Industry Corporation (SAIC). Same as Eisenach (Germany), Rosario (Argentina) and Gliwice (Poland) the all new Shanghai plant was built following Lean Manufacturing principles. The workforce was predicted to be 3,000 for 100,000 cars and 180,000 engines per year. Total investment was up to $ 1.5 billion…….One of Spain’s greatest champions, Grand Prix motorcycle racer, Ricardo Tormo Blaya (46), died from luekemia [20 December 1998]. As a member of the Bultaco factory team in 1978, Ricardo Tormo wins his first FIM 50cc World Championship. After a falling out in 1980, Tormo would leave the factory team and would prove to them it was their loss, not his, when, in 1981, he once again is crowned 50cc World Champion but, this time saddling a privately backed Bultaco. He was also a three-time 50cc Spanish National Champion and a four-time 125cc Spanish National Champion. After a divorce from Bultaco, in 1983, together with Jorge “Aspar” Martinez, Tormo signed with the Derbi factory to compete for the 1984 World Championship in the new 80cc category. At the first race of the year at Misano, Tormo’s Derbi suddenly throws a rod putting an end to his Derbi debut. The motorcycle press raise their collective eyebrow, should he have signed with Derbi? The second race of the season was to be held at Spain’s Jarama Circuit. At that time, there were only two official circuits in Spain, one in Jarama and the other in the beautiful Calafat. The team planned test rides before the race, but both circuits were already booked, forcing them to practice in Martorelles. This region of Barcelona was an industrial park just outside of the Derbi factory. The team occasionally had test runs in this area, blocking off the roads to ensure that no cars would interfere with the racers. During a practice prior to the Spanish Grand Prix, a vehicle gained access to the area from one of the team’s assistants who was supposed to have blocked off all of the roads. Tragically, Tormo, who was testing a new racing suit, hit the car and shattered his right leg, ending the career of one of Spain’s greatest Grand Prix racers. In 1994, Tormo received Valencia’s highest honor when he was given the Valencian Community’s High Distinction award. In collaboration with the journalist Paco Desamparados, an autobiography was published, entitled “Yo Ricardo. Una vida por y para la moto” (I am Ricardo. A life by and for motorcycles). In his honor, Valencia’s racetrack was renamed the Circuit de la Comunitat Valenciana Ricardo Tormo…….10 years ago this week, citing danger to the national economy, the Bush administration approved an emergency bailout of the US auto industry, offering $17.4 billion in rescue loans in exchange for deep concessions from the desperately troubled carmakers and their workers [19 December 2008]…….

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