18-24 October: Motoring Milestones

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

130 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 1991]. 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……110 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]. The assembly plant, located in an old Tram factory employed 60 people to make the Model T and the company was re-registered as Henry Ford & Son, Ltd. This was the first Ford factory outside North America…….100 years ago this week, John Boyd Dunlop (81), veterinary surgeon and inventor of the pneumatic tyre, died [23 October 1921]. In October 1887, John Boyd Dunlop developed the first practical pneumatic or inflatable tyre for his son’s tricycle and, using his knowledge and experience with rubber, in the yard of his home in Belfast fitted it to a wooden disc 96 centimetres across. The tyre was an inflated tube of sheet rubber. He then took his wheel and a metal wheel from his son’s tricycle and rolled both across the yard together. The metal wheel stopped rolling but the pneumatic continued until it hit a gatepost and rebounded. Dunlop then put pneumatics on both rear wheels of the tricycle. That too rolled better, and Dunlop moved on to larger tyres for a bicycle “with even more startling results.” He tested that in Cherryvale sports ground, South Belfast, and a patent was granted on 7 December 1888. Unknown to Dunlop another Scot, Robert William Thomson from Stonehaven, had patented a pneumatic tyre in 1847. Willie Hume demonstrated the supremacy of Dunlop’s tyres in 1889, winning the tyre’s first-ever races in Ireland and then England. The captain of the Belfast Cruisers Cycling Club, he became the first member of the public to purchase a bicycle fitted with pneumatic tyres, so Dunlop suggested he should use them in a race. On 18 May 1889 Hume won all four cycling events at the Queen’s College Sports in Belfast, and a short while later in Liverpool, won all but one of the cycling events. Among the losers were sons of the president of the Irish Cyclists’ Association, Harvey Du Cros. Seeing an opportunity, Du Cros built a personal association with J B Dunlop, and together they set up a company which acquired his rights to his patent. Two years after he was granted the patent, Dunlop was officially informed that it was invalid as Scottish inventor Robert William Thomson (1822–1873), had patented the idea in France in 1846 and in the US in 1847. see Tyres. To capitalise on pneumatic tyres for bicycles, Dunlop and Du Cros resuscitated a Dublin-listed company and renamed it Pneumatic Tyre and Booth’s Cycle Agency. Dunlop retired in 1895. In 1896 Du Cros sold their whole bicycle tyre business to British financier Terah Hooley for £3 million. Hooley arranged some new window-dressing, titled board members, etc., and re-sold the company to the public for £5 million. Du Cros remained head of the business until his death. Early in the 20th century it was renamed Dunlop Rubber. Though he did not participate after 1895, Dunlop’s pneumatic tyre did arrive at a crucial time in the development of road transport. His commercial production of cycle tyres began in late 1890 in Belfast, but the production of car tyres did not begin until 1900, well after his retirement. J B Dunlop did not make any great fortune by his invention. He was inducted into the Automotive Hall of Fame in 2005……..90 years ago this week, the first automobile race was held at the Oakland Speedway, California, US [18 October 1931]. It was a one-mile, banked dirt oval track built, which operated throughout the Great Depression and the postwar years. The track featured AAA-sanctioned National Championship races with Indy cars and drivers from 1931 until 1936. When the AAA pulled out of the West Coast the track featured racing by members of the Bay Cities Racing Association running roadsters and motorcycles, as well as Big Cars, stock cars, and midgets. It was known as the “fastest dirt track in the Nation”. After the grandstands burned down in 1942, the track had been abandoned, but after World War II, new stands were built and the track reopened as Oakland Stadium, until it closed in 1955 to make way for the Bay Fair Shopping Center, a $25 million development. Among legendary top race drivers who got their start at the Oakland Speedway was Bob Sweikert, the 1955 Indy 500 winner……. 70 years ago this week, the first DeSoto was produced with the Firedome V-8 engine [18 October 1951]……Michelin & Cie were issued with a French patent for its radial tyres [24 October 1951]……60 years ago this week, the Jaguar Mark X saloon – cover image – was unveiled at the London Motor Show, Britain’s biggest car so far with unitary body construction [18 October 1961]. Like the E-type, it was remarkable value for money at £2,256 undercutting its nearest rival, the similarly specified Lagonda Rapide by more than half. A convertible version of the Aston Martin DB4 was also presented for the first time……Gustav W Carlson (77), developer of the two-speed axle, died in Cleveland, Ohio, US [19 October 1961]……. Joe Weatherly surged to the front in the late stages to win the Southeastern 500, just the second race for NASCAR’s top series at Bristol Motor Speedway, Tennessee, US [22 October 1961]. Weatherly passed Rex White with 82 laps to go and leads the rest of the 500-lap race, holding off White by seven car-lengths at the finish. Nelson Stacy came home third as the only other car on the lead lap…..50 years ago this week, Jo Siffert (35) who won the 1971 Austrian Grand Prix, was killed in the non-championship World Championship Victory Race at Brands Hatch GB, the scene of his first and greatest victory in 1968 [24 October 1971]. The suspension of his BRM had been damaged in a lap 1 incident with Ronnie Peterson, and broke later. This was not admitted by BRM until much later when a BRM ex-mechanic accidentally divulged this fact……30 years ago this week, General Motors announced a 9 month loss of $2.2 billion [22 October 1991]……20 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 [22 October 2001].

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