20-26 April: Motoring Milestones

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

120 years ago this week, Carlo Biscaretti drove a Phenix to victory in the first Italian hillclimb, the 5 km Madonna Del Pilone-Pino Toerinese [21 April 1900]…….. The Turin-Pinerolo-Saluzzo-Cuneo-Turin road race was won by L Gastè driving a Perfecta 6 hp tricycle, who completed the 131 km at an average speed of 64.5 km/h [22 April 1900]……. The following day [23 April 1900], the Thousand Mile Trial began, the most ambitious motoring event ever staged in Great Britain during the reign of Queen Victoria. Organised by the RAC, with aims of letting people up and down the country motor cars, and proving that these devices could travel great distances without breaking down too often. The event started in London with a static exhibition from 14th-21st April, and on this day sixty five vehicles started for Edinburgh via Bristol, Birmingham, Manchester and Carlisle on the outward leg and Newcastle, Leeds, Sheffield and Nottingham on the way back, with static displays, hillclimbs and a speed contest in Welbeck Park en route. Twenty three cars finished the course, and although many of the entries were said to be all-British, most were disguised importations or native copies of continental designs. Only Lancaster and Wolseley were wholly of British design……..A Fiat made its first competition appearance in the Turin-Pinerolo-Cuneo-Turin race [23 April 1900]…….90 years ago this week, Clessie L Cummins, driving a diesel-powered Packard roadster at Daytona Beach, Florida, reached 80.398 mph to establish a land speed record for this type of vehicle [20 April 1930]………on the same day [20 April 1930], Achille Varzi driving a Alfa Romeo P2 won the Brordino Circuit race held at the Alessandria circuit near Torino, Italy……..C Benitah in an Amilcar won the Moroccan Grand Prix held at the new Anfa Circuit. It claimed the life of driver Count Bruno d’Harcourt during a practice run [21 April 1930]…….80 years ago this week, the last Duesenberg J automobile was completed and delivered to artist Rudolf Bauer [25 April 1940]. The straight eight model J motor was based on the company’s successful racing engines of the 1920s and though designed by

Duesenberg they were manufactured by Lycoming, another company owned by Cord. In normally aspirated form, it produced 265 horsepower (198 kW) from dual overhead camshafts and four valves per cylinder. It was capable of a top speed of 119 mph (192 km/h), and 94 mph (151 km/h) in 2nd gear. Other cars featured a bigger engine but none of them surpassed its power. It was also both the fastest and most expensive American automobile on the market. As was common practice among the luxury car brands, only the chassis and engine were displayed, the body and interior trim of the car would be custom-made by a third-party coachbuilder to the owner’s specifications. The chassis on most model Js were the same, as was the styling of such elements as fenders, headlamps, radiator, hood and instrument panel. Bodywork for these Duesenbergs came from both the US and Europe, and the finished cars were some of the largest, grandest, most beautiful, and most elegant cars ever created. About half the model Js built by Duesenberg had coachworks devised by the company’s chief body designer, Gordon Buehrig, the rest were designed and made by independent coachbuilders from the US such as Derham, Holbrook, Judkins, Le Baron, Murphy, Rollston (later renamed Rollson), Walker, Weymann, and Willoughby, to name a few; and from Europe: Fernandez et Darrin, Franay, Gurney Nutting, Saoutchik, etc. However, other coachworks were made by Duesenberg branches in Chicago, New York City, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Florida and Denver, as well as by smaller dealers. For the in-house bodies Duesenberg used the name of La Grande. The chassis cost $8,500 ($9,500 after 1932); the cost for most completed vehicles was between $13,000 and $19,000 (two of the American-bodied J’s reached $25,000), at a time when the average U.S. physician earned less than $3,000 a year. Figures are not available as to the prices charged by deluxe coachbuilders in Europe, but it is reasonable to assume that the final selling price of the products mounted on the costly imported chassis were considerably higher than their all-American-built counterparts. The J was generally available with one of two wheelbases; the short chassis had a 142.5 in (3.62 m) wheelbase while the long chassis had a 153.5 in (3.90 m)) wheelbase. There were also other special sizes; including the two SSJs with a wheelbase shortened to 125 in (3.18 m) and a few cars with the wheelbase extended to 4 m (160 in) and over. The dash included lights that reminded the driver when the oil needed changing and the battery should be inspected; each triggered by a mechanical timing mechanism. A series of minor modifications were carried out during the production life, but most of the design remained the same up until the factory closed in 1937. First to go was the four-speed gearbox, which proved unable to handle the engine’s power. It was replaced by an unsynchronised three-speed gearbox, which was fitted to all subsequent Duesenbergs. Unlike almost all-American manufacturers, Duesenberg did not switch to a fully synchronised gearbox in the mid-1930s, which made the Model J difficult to drive and outdated. By 1937 the chassis and gearbox were ancient compared to the competition. Regarding this model, it is necessary to emphasize that most of them (engine and chassis) were made in 1929 and 1930, but due to the Depression, high price, etc., were sold throughout subsequent years. The year for a given Model J is usually in reference to the year the vehicle was first bodied, even though the chassis were made in 1929, 1930, etc………60 years ago this week, Leyland Motors’ £18 million offer for Standard Triumph was accepted by the majority of the car company’s shareholder [23 April 1960]……. Ned Jarrett outran a pair of Pettys to win the Greenville 200 at Greenville-Pickens Speedway in South Carolina, US [23 April 1960]. Jarrett snagged the lead in the 140th lap and led the rest of the way in the 200-lap main event on the half-mile dirt track. Lee Petty finished second, five seconds behind the winner, with his son, Richard, in third. The race was also noteworthy for an eighth-place effort by rookie David Pearson, marking his first top-10 finish in NASCAR’s top series…….Drag racing’s first reported 200 mph speed was set by Chris “The Golden Greek” Karamesines with a 204.54 mph run at the Alton Dragway in Alton, Illinois [24 April 1960]. Chris Karamesines is an American drag racer and one of NHRA’s early pioneers and nicknamed “The Golden Greek”. In 2009, he became the first driver in NHRA history to compete and become the fastest driver at over 78 years old at the final event of the 2009 season at Pomona driving in the Top Fuel category. But he would lose in the first round against Brandon Bernstein. The following year, he made an attempt at Firebird International Raceway in Arizona and made the field, but again lost in the first round.  On June 19, 2011, Karamesines defeated Doug Kalitta in the first round of final eliminations at the NHRA event at Thunder Valley. It was Karamesines’ first round win since 1990. Chris has never won an NHRA National Event but has come close several times. His last final round appearance came in 1990 in Seattle, Washington. Karamesines also reached the final round at Le Grandnational Molson in Quebec Canada that same year. On June 15, 2014 at Bristol, Karamesines the qualifier knocked out qualifier Brittany Force in the first round then lost to Antron Brown in the second round. At the 2016 Charlotte 4-wide nationals, Karamesines’ granddaughter, Krista Baldwin, was entered alongside her grandpa……. On the same day [24 April 1960], Lee Petty captured his 50th career NASCAR GN win by having his Plymouth in front when the race at Asheville-Weaverville Speedway in North Carolina was halted after 167 of 200 laps, due to deteriorating track conditions. Earlier, the race had been stopped for an hour as track workers swept broken up asphalt into holes in the surface of the 1/2 mile paved oval…….50 years ago this week, the first Earth Day was held in communities all across the US [22 April 1970]. Earth Day was the creation of Senator Gaylord Nelson. As he describes it, a number of senators were concerned about the state of the country’s environment in the early 1960s. In a move intended to bring national visibility to the issue of environmental deterioration, the Senators persuaded President Kennedy to take on a nationwide conservation tour, “spelling out in dramatic language the serious and deteriorating condition of our environment.” The tour was a failure. Senators Hubert Humphrey, Gene McCarthy, Joe Clark, and Nelson himself accompanied Kennedy on the first leg of his trip to Pennsylvania, Minnesota, and Wisconsin. Though the tour failed to rouse interest of any significant level in the environment as a political issue, Nelson credits the mission with being the seed from which Earth Day would eventually flower. The idea for a grassroots effort gestated in Nelson’s head until July of 1969, when, according to Nelson, the anti-war teach-ins of the Vietnam era inspired him to conceive of a nationwide environmental “teach-in.” Nelson returned to Washington and began to raise funds for the event. In addition, he and his staff sent letters to 50 governors, and to the mayors of all major cities requesting them to make Earth Day proclamations. In a speech in Seattle in September of 1969, Nelson formally announced that a nationwide environmental teach-in would take place in the spring of the coming year. All of the major wire services ran the story, and the response was dramatic. From that point on, says Nelson, Earth Day was the product of the populace. By December, the response of inquiries had so overwhelmed Nelson’s Senate office that an Earth Day Clearing House was set up in Washington to plan for the event. In the end, an estimated 20 million people participated in Earth Day events of some kind. Ten thousand grade schools and high schools, 2,000 thousand colleges, and 1,000 thousand communities across the country held official events. Earth Day is responsible for establishing the efficacy of grassroots environmental advocacy. A by-product of Earth Day that directly affected the automobile industry was the public’s heightened awareness of the environmental dangers of gasoline exhaust emissions……… Derek Bell drove his Brabham BT30 to a flag to flag victory in the F2 ‘Barcelona Grand Prix’ around the scenic Montjuich Park circuit [26 April 1970]. Bell crossed the line 22 seconds ahead of Henri Pescarolo, also in a Brabham BT30. Emerson Fittipaldi finished a lap back in 3rd in a Lotus 69……… on the same day [26 April 1970], Lloyd Ruby out-dueled Mario Andretti and Al Unser to win the 200 mile USAC Championship race on the 1.5 mile peanut shaped Trenton Speedway, New Jersey, US. At the start, pole winner Al Unser took the lead followed by Ruby. Local favorite Wally Dallenbach got by Ruby for 2nd on lap 7 and took the lead at the line on lap 34. Dallenbach closely led A. Unser until lap 59, when Dallenbach lost it and spun into the wall while lapping A.J. Foyt. Foyt spun to avoid and A. Unser’s Lola-Ford managed to slip by after just clipping Dallenbach’s Eagle-Offy. The yellow flew and the leaders pitted. Andretti’s crew got him out first and Bobby Unser fell from contention when his crew had trouble removing the right rear wheel. Andretti and A. Unser swapped the lead 2 more times before Ruby made his winning pass low into the right hand backstretch dogleg on the 104th of 134 laps. A yellow 2 laps later bunched the field, but Ruby pulled out a slight gap on the restart. Ruby kept his turbocharged Drake-Offy powered Mongoose out front, with Andretti closing to 1.4 seconds at the checkered. A. Unser finished 3rd, 3.6 seconds behind Ruby. A. Unser said nicking Dallenbach’s car threw the handling off. It was the 7th, and final, Indy Car win for the 42 year old driver from Wichita Falls, Texas, who had only finished one prior start at Trenton………40 years ago this week, Joe Thompson (92), Ford stylist involved with the Ford Model A and the Lincoln-Zephyr, died in Glendale, California, US. Thompson is credited with developing the clay modelling technique for automobile styling [21 April 1980]……..30 years ago this week, Brett Bodine drove Kenny Bernstein’s Buick to his first career NASCAR Winston Cup win in the First Union 400 at North Wilkesboro, North Carolina (US) [22 April 1980]……20 years ago this week, Lexus announced that it would introduce its first convertible, the SC 430 (cover image) based on the Lexus Sport Coupe Concept car, which debuted at the 1999 Tokyo Motor Show [20 April 2000]…… The 55th British Grand Prix was held at the Silverstone [23 April 2000]. The race held over 60 laps of the 5.1-kilometre circuit was won by David Coulthard in front of his home crowd driving a McLaren MP4/15. The win was Coulthard’s and McLaren’s first win of the season and the first race not won by eventual 2000 world champion Michael Schumacher.

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