2-8 July: Motoring Milestones

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

120 years ago this week, the Paris-Amsterdam race organised by the Automobile Club de France began and was the first occasion when a major motor race crossed an international border [7 July 1898]. Held over 7 days and covering 890 miles, the race was won by Frenchman Fernand Charron driving a Panhard et Levassor for 33 hours at an average speed of 26.82 mph over unsurfaced roads……… 110 years ago this week, the world’s largest electric sign, ‘CITROEN”. debuted on the sides of the Eiffel Tower in Paris [4 July 1908]. A total of 250,000 light bulbs and 600 kilometres of electric cable were used to make the 30 metre high letters. It was recorded in the Guinness Book of Records as the world’s largest advertisement. The illuminations were so bright that Charles Lindbergh used the tower as a beacon when coming into land after his solo flight across the Atlantic. The sign remained in place until the company went bankrupt in 1934 (perhaps because of its high electricity bills). The company was saved a month later by Michelin at the request of the French government – Michelin was Citroën’s biggest creditor. Pierre Michelin replaced André Citroën as Chairman. More recently, to celebrate Citroën’s 90th anniversary and 120 years of the Eiffel Tower, Citroën created a special 12 minute light show as a display of ‘Créative Technologie’. Citroën streamed live footage of the event from webcams mounted in 10 new Citroën C3s, which were positioned at key vantage points around the tower itself. Cleverly, they used the event to market the C3’s new ‘Zenith windscreen’, which, according to them, provided “unprecedented levels of visibility – perfect for admiring the full height of the Eiffel Tower and the new light show in all its glory”……… on the same day [4 July 1908], the first woman’s motor car race held at Brooklands………The first fatal accident at a Grand Prix occurred during the French Grand Prix at Dippe, when Ciassac and his riding mechanic Schaube were killed after their Panhard crashed after a front tyre blew [7 July 1908]. “Pits” entered motoring terminology at this Grand Prix when a divided trench with a counter just above ground level was provided for team crews, although inappropriate in that structures above ground-level were subsequently used, the term has stuck. The race was won by Christian Lautenschlager in a Mercedes……….90 years ago this week, Chrysler Corporation acquired Dodge Brothers, Inc. and established the Dodge Brothers Corporation as a subsidiary [2 July 1928]…....The Chrysler Plymouth made its debut at the Madison Square Garden, New York City,  with Amelia Earhart (who had just become the first woman to make a solo flight across the Atlantic) behind the wheel [7 July 1928]. It was billed as ‘A New Zenith of Low Priced Car-Luxury and Performance.’ The name Plymouth was chosen as a symbol of ‘the endurance and strength, the rugged honesty, enterprise and determination of achievement and freedom from old limitations of the Pilgrim band who were the first American colonists,’ at Plymouth Rock, MA. It was Chrysler Corporation’s first entry in the low-priced field, which at the time was already dominated by Chevrolet and Ford. Plymouths were actually priced slightly higher than their competition, with a  base price of $670, but featured such expensive-car features as 4-wheel hydraulic brakes, full-pressure engine lubrication, aluminum alloy pistons and an independent hand brake that the competition did not. Plymouths were originally sold exclusively through Chrysler dealerships, offering a low-cost alternative to the upscale Chrysler-brand cars. The logo featured a rear view of the ship Mayflower which landed at Plymouth Rock in Plymouth, Massachusetts. However, the inspiration for the Plymouth brand name came from Plymouth binder twine, produced by the Plymouth Cordage Company, also of Plymouth. The name was chosen by Joe Frazer due to the popularity of the twine among farmers……..on the same day [7 July 1928], the Chrysler Corporation held a private showing for the new DeSoto marque, at the time existing as only a single prototype. time existing as only a single prototype. Chrysler’s unveiling immediately attracted 500 dealers……..80 years ago this week, Geoffrey Taylor, driving a 2-litre Ala Romeo, set a 1/2-mile record of 80.18 mph at the Brighton Speed Trials [2 July 1938]……. 70 years ago this week, despite racing for nearly two hours, at the finishing line of the Swiss Grand Prix, Frenchman Jean-Pierre Wimille was only 0.2 seconds behind the race winner, the Italian driver Carlo Felice Trossi. Trossi’s compatriot Luigi Villoresi finished over two and a half minutes behind the pair, in third place [4 July 1948]. Pre-WWII star driver Achille Varzi was killed when he crashed during practice, and the wealthy Swiss privateer Christian Kautz died in an accident during the race………60 years ago this week, Fireball Roberts continued his winning spree by taking first place in the 250-mile race at Raleigh Speed­way, North Carolina, US [4 July 1958]. The Daytona Beach driver outrun a 55-car field on the one-mile banked oval………Luigi Musso (33) was fatally injured in an accident during the 1958 French Grand Prix at Reims, France when his Ferrari hurtled off the course on the 10th lap of the 50 lap race [6 July 1958]. Running wide at the tricky Muizone Curve while chasing the leader, fellow Ferrari driver Mike Hawthorn, Musso’s Ferrari struck a ditch and somersaulted. Hawthorn won the race. Musso was airlifted to hospital with critical head injuries where he died………Joseph F. Merkel, designer/manufacturer of the 1905-1907 Merkel automobile and the Flying Merkel motorcycle, died in Rochester, New York, US [7 July 1958]. In 1897, Merkel accepted a draftsman position at E.P. Allis Co. (later to become Allis-Chalmers Co.) in Milwaukee. By the turn of the century, Merkel had opened his own business that manufactured bicycle parts. By 1901, Merkel was attaching small motors to bicycles and the Merkel Motorcycle was born. A motor-powered tricycle Merkel had built in 1900 was thought to be one of the first self-propelled vehic
les built in Wisconsin. Merkel didn’t stop at motorcycles. In 1906, his company built 150 automobiles featuring a powerful 30-horsepower engine. In 1908, Merkel merged his company with the Light Motor Co. and the new Merkel-Light Motor Co. moved activities to Pottstown, Pennsylvania. Flying Merkels were known for having one of the finest rides in all of motorcycling and also as one of the most reliable motorcycles on the road. Merkel also helped design a unique front and rear suspension system on his motorcycles. The rear suspension was a mono-shock design that proved to be decades ahead of its time. Yamaha would later make a similar single rear shock design popular again on racing machines of the 1970s and beyond. Even more impressive than the rear suspension was the front fork of the Flying Merkels. The fork was so good (telescopic in principle, using dual coil springs, yet looking like an unsprung trussed fork) that many other manufacturers put Merkel forks on their factory racing machines even through the 1920s, years after Merkel had ceased production……..
50 years ago this week, the driving test fee in the UK was increased to £1 and 15 shillings (£1.75p)[ 2 July 1968]…….Jo Schlesser (40) died during the French Grand Prix after only two laps, after his car slid wide at the Six Frères corner and crashed sideways into a bank [7 July 1968]. The magnesium-bodied Honda and 58 laps worth of fuel ignited instantly, leaving Schlesser with no chance of survival. As a result, Honda withdrew from Formula One at the end of the 1968 season after Surtees again refused to drive the car at the Italian Grand Prix…….40 years ago this week, Ernest R. Breech (81), chairman of the Ford Motor Company from 1955-1960, died in Royal Oak, Michigan, US [3 July 1978]. Breech had been at the top of the accounting world when Henry Ford II had personally pleaded with him to join the ailing Ford Motor Company and take a chance at reviving one of America’s historic corporations. Although he is best remembered for his work in revitalizing Ford Motor Company in the years following World War II, he served similar roles at Trans World Airlines and other companies. Breech was drafted by the St. Louis Browns but opted to attend Drury College (Drury University) instead…….30 years ago this week, Alain Prost drove a McLaren-Honda MP4/4 to victory at the French Grand Prix held at the Paul Ricard Circuit  [3 July 1988]………Joe Schwarzkopf-Bowers drove a complete circuit of London’s (UK) orbital motorway, M25 (117 miles)nonstop in a modified battery-powered Bond Equipe on a single charge, at an average speed of 40 mph [5 July 1988]…….20 years ago this week, the World Record for Most Persons in a Car Mercedes Benz MBO 405G bus (normal capacity: 144 persons) – 438 students was established at Temasek Polytechnic in Singapore [3 July 1998]……..the following day [4 July 1998] Peter Monteverdi (64), the Swiss automaker and creator of the automobile brand Monteverdi, died. Peter Monteverdi was born
in Binningen, in the northern Swiss canton of Basel-Landschaft. He engaged in the construction of Formula One cars from the late 1950s to the early 1960s. In 1961, he built the first Swiss Formula One car, which bore the name MBM (Monteverdi Basel Motoren). He made a single Formula One appearance at the 1961 Solitude Grand Prix, where he retired after two laps, and subsequently withdrew his entry for the German Grand Prix having been injured in a prior race. He subsequently retired from race driving. In 1989 Monteverdi bought the Onyx Formula One team after its original backer ran into financial difficulties. The team’s best result was when Stefan Johansson finished in third place at the 1989 Portuguese Grand Prix. However, the involvement proved unsustainable and was terminated during the following season. A legacy was the Monteverdi Hai 650 F1 sportscar, of which supposedly six copies were sold until 1994. Monteverdi died from cancer in his apartment directly above his own car-assembly workshop.

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