Cars, people and events in this week’s Motoring Milestones include: Elvis Presley, power steering, Ford Cortina, TVR , Formula 1 and Jaguar XJ5.
125 years ago this week, a one-mile dirt track opened for harness races at the site of the present-day Tennessee State Fairgrounds in Nashville, US [21 October 1891]. Harness racing proved a popular event at the annual Tennessee state fair, but it was nothing compared to the excitement generated by the fair’s first automobile race, held at the Fairgrounds in 1904. For the next fifty years, motor racing events were the highlight of the annual state fair, drawing top American drivers to compete, and launching the careers of others. In 1956, the track was paved and lighted, and the tradition of weekly Saturday night racing at the Fairgrounds was born. And in 1958, NASCAR came to Nashville with the introduction of the NASCAR Winston Cup to be run on a brand-new half-mile oval. The legendary driver Joe Weatherly won the first Winston Cup, beating the likes of Fireball Turner, Lee Petty, and Curtis Turner in the 200-lap event. Between 1958 and 1984, the Fairgrounds hosted forty-two NASCAR Winston Cups, and Richard Petty and Darrell Waltrip were the overall leaders in victories, with nine and eight Winston Cups respectively. The last Winston Cup race to descend onto the Tennessee State Fairgrounds was a 420-lap event won by driver Geoff Bodine. But despite the departure of the Winston Cup, the Nashville Speedway continued to improve on its racetrack, and illustrious racing events such as the Busch Series are held on the historic track every year…… 120 years ago this week, William Jennings Bryan, riding in a Mueller-Benz provided by local dealer and manufacturer Henry Mueller, became the first US presidential candidate to campaign in an automobile during a stop in Decatur, Illinois, US [23 October 1896]……105 years ago this week, the first Ford car to
be made in Britain, a Model T, was produced at the Ford Motor Company (England) plant at Trafford Park in Manchester [23 October 1911]…… 90 years ago this week, Francis W. Davis publicly demonstrated power steering in Detroit, Michigan, US [20 October 1926]…… Middleweight boxing champ Harry Greb (30), known as The Human Windmill, died on the operating table during surgery to repair a fractured nose sustained during an automobile accident [22 October 1926]. He fought a recorded 298 times in his 13 year-career, against the best opposition the talent-rich 1910s & 20s could provide him, frequently squaring off against light heavyweights and even heavyweights.Widely considered one of the best fighters of all time, Greb was named the 7th greatest fighter of the past 80 years by The Ring Magazine, the 5th greatest fighter of all-time by historian Bert Sugar and ranked as the #1 middleweight and the #2 pound-for-pound fighter of all-time by the International Boxing Research Organization……80 years ago this week, the first test-drives of the Volkswagen vehicle began, and employees drove the VW 3-series model over 800 kilometers a day, making any necessary repairs at night [22 October 1936]. After three months of vigorous testing, Porsche and his engineers concluded, in their final test verdict, that the Volkswagen “demonstrated characteristics which warrant further development.” In 1938, the first Volkswagen in its final form was unveiled, a 38-series model that The New York Times mockingly referred to as a “Beetle”. The ‘Beetle’ would serve as an instrument of Nazi propaganda to help a shattered nation’s economic recovery and would later be a symbol of 1960s counter-culture…… 60 years ago this week, the Opperman Unicar Model T, was the cheapest car (£400) shown at the 1956 London Motor Show [17 October 1956]. Designed by Lawrie Bond the ‘T’ looked like a miniature two door saloon with 2+2 seating. Powered by a 328 cc Excelsior twin-cylinder, air-cooled, two-stroke engine giving 18 bhp, it had a top speed of 45 mph (72 km/h). The fibreglass body was mounted on a steel tube chassis, with the engine was placed in the middle of the rear seating area giving two small seats on either side of the engine. There was no bonnet or boot lid. Since it had no differential for the rear wheels they were placed close together. About 200 were made…… the following day [18 October 1956] Elvis Presley (21) pulled into a Memphis gas station where he started to attract a small crowd of autograph seekers. After repeatedly asking Elvis to move on so he could resume normal business, station manager Ed Hopper slapped Presley on the head and found himself on the receiving end of a punch in the face from Elvis. Station employee Aubrey Brown tried to help his boss, but was no match for Presley. The were police called; Hopper and Brown were charged with assault and fined $25 and $15 respectively….. The driving test fee in Britain was doubled from 10 shillings to £1 [19 October 1956]……50 years ago this week, The London Motor Show opened with each end of the motoring spectrum exhibited [19 October 1966]. The best of British luxury car manufacturing was represented by the 6 cylinder Jaguar 420 (£1,930), 420G (£2,238) and their sister model the Daimler Sovereign (£2,121). The Jensen Interceptor (£3,743) was launched to replace the C-V8; the first Jensen to use steel, rather than fibreglass, panels, but again used a Chrysler 6.2-litre V8. Reliant stayed with fibreglass, however, with its revised Scimitar, a more affordable £1,516 despite a new Ford-sourced 3.0-litre V6. Cheaper yet was the Triumph GT6 (£985), a Spitfire-based coupe and the Vitesse’s six-cylinder, 95bhp 2.0-litre engine. More practical family cars were also present, too. The Mk 2 Ford Cortina was set to emulate the
runaway success of its predecessor and visitors were impressed by the German Taunus engined Ford Zephyr V4, costing just £949. This engine also made its debut in a quirky Swedish import – the Saab 96 V4, Saab’s first four-stroke car (£801). With prices from just over £800, the Hillman Hunter, launched to replace the old Super Minx and a sister model to the latest Singer Vogue, promising 90mph and 30mpg, also on display. The twin-carburettor version of the 2000, the Rover 2000TC, previously only made for export, perhaps stole the show. This £1,415, 114bhp sports saloon was capable of 112mph and 0-60mph in 11.5 seconds….. The Mexican Grand Prix held at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez was won by British driver John Surtees driving a Cooper T81, his first such victory since leaving Scuderia Ferrari to join Cooper Car Company [23 October 1966]. Surtees led home the newly crowned world champion Australian owner-driver Jack Brabham, driving a Brabham BT20 by eight seconds. A lap down in third place, also driving a Brabham BT20 was Brabham’s team mate New Zealander Denny Hulme…… 30 years ago this week, pride of place at the British International Motor Show held at NEC went to Jaguar’s new XJ6, which had enjoyed enormous publicity even before this, its international launch [18 October 1986]. Appearing in Britain for the first time, Suzuki’s
stunning little RS1 concept car, a mid-engined two-seater packing a 1300cc twin-cam – a modern Midget in spirit. Bertone’s four-seater Zabrus was based on Citroen BX running gear. Long doors opened vertically, the front seats rotated to aid access, and the rear hatch was extended well into the roof….. General Motors cancelled its plastic car project [19 October 1986]…… 15 years ago this week, Darren Manning (UK) reached a record speed of 102.58 mph going backwards in a Caterham 7 Fireblade at Kemble Airfield, Gloucester, UK [22 October 2001]…… 10 years ago this week, TVR, the independent car manufacturer founded in Blackpool in 1947, announced that it would be quitting the town for good and moving production abroad [18 October 2006]…. Toyota announced details of the Auris. Designed and built in Europe, it joined Yaris and Avensis in spearheading the company’s progress towards its newly-announced target of 1.2 million annual sales in Europe by 2008 [23 October 2006].