18-24 March: Motoring Milestones

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

120 years ago this week, the 75 mile (120.7 km) Nice-Castellane-Nice road race was won by Albert Lemaître driving a Peugeot 20 hp, at an average speed of 26.02 mph (41.87 km/h) [21 March 1899]. He was driving the latest version of rear engined, 2 cylinder, (140 mm bore x 190 mm stroke) Peugeot, in which he also achieved a standing start mile in 1 minute 35 seconds……….The first of the legendary Nice Speed Trials were held [22 Match 1899] on the Promenade des Anglais, when cars were timed over 1 mile from a standing start. Lemaitre’s 20-hp Peugeot was the fastest with a time of 95.6 seconds (average speed 37.5 mph) – the first petrol car to win a sprint event. On the following day, Lemaitre also won the La Turbie Hillclimb at 25.4 mph…….Georges Lemaitre won the La Turbie Hillclimb in a Peugeot, the first time that a hill climb had been won by a gasoline-powered vehicle [24 March 1899]………110 years ago this week, Maybach-Motorenbau GmbH was founded by Wilhelm Maybach with his son Karl Maybach as director [23 March 1909]. The company was originally a subsidiary of Luftschiffbau Zeppelin/GmbH and was itself known as “Luftfahrzeug-Motorenbau GmbH” (literally Airship Engine Company) until 1918. Today, the brand is owned by Daimler AG and based in Stuttgart. Maybach has historic roots through the involvement of Wilhelm Maybach, who was the technical director of the Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft. The company originally developed and manufactured diesel and gas engines for Zeppelins, and then rail cars. The company first built an experimental car in 1919, with the first car with the first production model introduced two years later at the Berlin Motor Show. Between 1921 and 1940, the company produced various classic opulent vehicles. The company also continued to build heavy duty diesel engines for marine and rail purposes.Maybach contributed to the German war effort in World War II by producing the engines for the formidable Panther and Tiger tank. After the war, the factor performed some repair work, but automotive production was never restarted, and some 20 years later, its operations were merged into the Daimler AG mainline operations.In 1997, Mercedes-Benz presented at the Tokyo Motorshow an ultra-luxury concept car under the name Mercedes-Benz Maybach (V12, 5987 cc, 550 hp). The concept was quite successful and Mercedes-Benz decided to develop it. Mercedes, however, made the decision to market the car under the sole brand Maybach.Maybach was therefore revived as a brand in the early 2000s, with the production of the new model in two sizes — the Maybach 57 and the Maybach 62 (the numbers are equal to the lengths of the automobiles in decimetres; the longer 62 allows rear occupants to recline fully in their seats). The prices range from $335,500 to $426,000. In 2005, the new 57S was added, sporting a more powerful engine (6.0L V12 bi-turbo (which Mercedes calls the Kompressor)), producing 604 bhp (450 kW) and 737 ft·lbf (999 N·m) of torque) and cosmetic touches that provides a sporty image.When customers decide to order a Maybach they can go to Sindelfingen, the marque’s headquarters, (or meet over a video conference centre at a dealer in their own country) to specify every and any detail they desire. Many customers will personalise their cars with their initials or coats of arms. Maybach executives liken the experience to ordering a custom-built yacht or a personalized jet aircraft. Also, with a hand-crafted finish quality, and over two million equipment option combinations available, it is unlikely that two identical cars will ever leave the factory. The Maybach’s main competitor is the Rolls-Royce Phantom. Given that most Maybach owners are chauffeured, owners especially appreciate the Maybach’s highly adjustable rear seats with seat warmers, seat coolers, and massage features, none of which can be found in the Rolls Royce. Some have noted that Maybach’s superior focus on occupant comfort highlights the difference between their respective creators, BMW and Mercedes-Benz, with BMW being more driver-focused, and Mercedes being more comfort/luxury-focused……90 years ago this week, General Motors (GM) announced its plans to acquire Opel AG, one of Germany’s largest car companies [18 March 1929] When Alfred P. Sloan became president of GM in 1923, there was already a GM of Canada, but all other foreign markets were still being served through export. Throughout the 1920s the economic nationalism of European countries made international expansion difficult for the U.S. car companies. Ford attempted to crack foreign markets by setting up manufacturing subsidiaries in other countries. GM’s Sloan decided that purchasing existing companies in countries with desirable markets was a better policy. In 1925, GM purchased Vauxhall Motors of Great Britain. Sloan’s policies allowed GM to expand its market without attracting attention as a foreign company. On this day in 1929, GM announced its plans to buy the Adam Opel A.G. GM still runs Opel under the Opel name. Alfred Sloan is credited with turning GM from one of the most successful car companies in America into what was once one of the greatest industrial giants in the world……….50 years ago this week, contenders fell out of the Sebring 12 Hour World Sports Car Championship race one by one [22 March 1969]. The new Porsche 908 Spyders space frames broke up on the rough surface, the Penske Lola broke it’s suspension after leading 17 laps, two Alfas overheated and the third threw a wheel, and wreckage from another car caused overheating on the only Ferrari 312P. The only surviving John Wyer Ford GT40, driven by Jacky Ickx and Jackie Oliver, caught the crippled Chris Amon/Mario Andretti Ferrari just before the finish to take the win………40 years ago this week, Buddy Baker broke a long dry spell, winning the NASCAR Grand National ‘Atlanta 500’ in Harry Ranier’s Olds [18 March 1979]. It was Baker’s first GN win since May 2, 1976. Baker took the lead from a sputtering Bobby Allison with 24 laps left, taking the checkered 18 seconds ahead of Allison’s Bud Moore Ford that had lost a cylinder. The race was marred by the death of Dennis Wade, jackman for rookie Dave Watson. Wade died when struck on pit road by Watson’s out of control car. Watson was leading the race at the time of the accident. The Wisconsin short track ace withdrew immediately and never made another GN start……… 30 years ago this week, Richard Petty failed to qualify for the NASCAR race at Richmond. This ended his run of 513 consecutive starts which started in November 1971 [24 March 1989]………20 years ago this week, Ford established the Premier Auto Group consisting of Aston Martin, Jaguar and
Lincoln [Volvo would later be included in this group] [
19 March 1999]…….. Two days later [21 March 1999], John Force set a NHRA Funny Car speed record of 324.05 mph at Gainesville, Florida. At the same event, Tony Pendragon set an NHRA Funny Car quarter mile e.t. record of 4.779 seconds………The Volantor flying car, designed by Paul Moller of Davis, California, was introduced to the world [22 March 1999]. It was estimated to have range of 900 miles.’Volantor’ was a term coined by Moller meaning: a vertical takeoff and landing aircraft that’s capable of flying in a quick, nimble and agile manner. It had ducted fans powered by Wankel rotary engines. The fans allowed for vertical take-off and landing and, once the vehicle was aloft, it relied on the ground effect to create a cushion of air that the vehicle sits upon while flying. The vehicle had only two controls, one for speed and direction and the other for altitude. The driver did not need to know flying but only needed to know how to control speed, direction and altitude. Moller had predicted they would have Volantor M200G ready for sale by early 2008 with a goal of 250 units produced in the year, but this did not occur. Depending upon demand, the M200G could cost under US$100,000 according to the company. Moller International has a long record of making promises which are not fulfilled, which tends to generate skepticism about their claims. In a 2005 episode of the Discovery Channel television show MythBusters it was reported that more than US$200 million had gone into the development of flying cars. Moller has been claiming to be attempting to build a flying car since 1974, constantly promising delivery dates that are just “around the corner” but the closest Moller has come to producing a vehicle that flies is the
M200G Neuera, which has been demonstrated to hover outside of ground effect. He has not produced any evidence or figures to support the promised abilities, such as fuel economy equivalent to that of an automobile; indeed, each proposed model would use eight less fuel-efficient Wankel engines, each of which must maintain high RPMs even when idle. The only demonstration approaching flight was a “hover” test performed by a Skycar prototype that was tethered to a crane, which Moller claimed was “for insurance purposes”. Each time the deadline approaches, Moller has postponed it. For example, since 2003, when he started taking presale deposits for the flagship model M400, the date for FAA certification promised to investors and buyers has been moved forward one year each year, and lastly stood at December 31, 2008. In 2003, the Securities and Exchange Commission sued Moller for civil fraud (Securities And Exchange Commission v. Moller International, Inc., and Paul S. Moller, Defendants) in connection with the sale of unregistered stock, and for making unsubstantiated claims about the performance of the company’s flagship M400 Skycar. Moller settled this lawsuit by agreeing to a permanent injunction and paying $50,000. In the words of the SEC complaint, “As of late 2002, MI’s approximately 40 years’ of development has resulted in a prototype Skycar capable of hovering about fifteen feet [4.5 m] above the ground”………10 years ago this week, Madame Tussauds unveiled a waxwork of Lewis Hamilton in his Vodafone McLaren Mercedes race suit [18 March 2009]. This wax replica cost around £150,000 and took over six months to complete.
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