22-28 March: Motoring Milestones

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

160 years ago this week, the appositely named George Francis Train began operating his trams along the Bayswater Road in London, from Notting Hill to Marble Arch [23 March 1861].The tram proved a commercial success, because of the smooth and even rails needing just two horses to pull a nominal 32 passengers, though it is seems more like 50 could crowd on the vehicles. This gave them an advantage over horse drawn omnibuses bumping over cobbles and potholes, and thus able to carry only half the number. The bus operators joined soon with the cabbies also hit by the innovation, and the well-to-do residents along the route who objected to the grinding noise of metal wheel on iron track spoiling their peace and quiet. Add to those problems the design quirk that made the rails stand slightly proud of the road, with resultant problems for other users, and the experiment as it stood was doomed. Train opened two more lines in 1861, one from Westminster Bridge to Kennington Park, the other along the Victoria Road, but before the year was out he was arrested for ‘breaking and injuring’ the public highway and his business folded…….120 years ago this week, the Mercedes was introduced by Gottlieb Daimler at the five-day “Week of Nice” in Nice, France [25 March 1901]. Driven by Willhelm Werner, the car dominated the events at the competition. Mercedes cars were conceived at the same venue in Nice two years earlier. After seeing a Daimler car win a race there, businessman Emile Jellinek approached Gottlieb Daimler with an offer. Jellinek suggested that if Daimler could produce a new car model with an even bigger engine then he would buy 30 of them. Jellinek also requested that the cars be named after his daughter, Mercedes. Daimler died before the Mercedes was released. In 1904, a Mercedes clocked 97mph over a one-kilometer stretch, an astonishing feat in its day. Mercedes cars dominated the racing world for half a decade before Karl Benz’s car company could catch up…….. Lorraine Barrow set a standing-start one-mile record of 72.6 seconds in a 35 hp Mercedes during the Nice, France, “Week of Speed” [28 March 1901]. Also at the Nice event, a Daimler driven by S. Knapp won the 82 mile “Tourist Race”………110 years ago this week, Chicago’s first official auto show opened. Under the auspices of Motor Age magazine, the eight-day event took place inside the Coliseum exposition hall, situated 15th Street and 16th Wabash Avenue [23 March 1911]. Prices for exhibit space on the main floor, which measured 300 feet long by 170 feet wide, ranged from $1.00 to $1.50 per square foot. Opening night was “invite only” for the “top 20,000 families” in Chicago. General admission for the public was 50 cents per ticket, and spectators could walk among the auto displays on the first floor. Parts suppliers/manufacturers and ample seating to watch the show filled the second level gallery……90 years ago this week, the millionth Ford to be built in Canada left the assembly line, just 3 weeks before the twenty millionth Ford left the Rouge plant in Detroit [25 March 1931]……. Lord Howe driving a Delage set the all time Brooklands record for Class F (under 1500 cc) of 127.05 mph [25 March 1931]……80 years ago this week, construction of Ford’s Willow Run Plant, near Ypsilanti, Michigan, began [28 March 1941]. Due both to his admiration of the German people and his philosophical alignment as a pacifist, Henry Ford was reluctant to

convert all of his production facilities to war manufacturing. But with the U.S. declaration of war in 1941, Ford had no choice but to participate. By the end of 1942, Willow Run had only produced 56 B-24 bombers, and the plant had been saddled with the nickname “Willit Run?” The government considered taking over the operations at Willow Run. Just when it seemed that Sorensen’s project would fail, Willow Run began rolling out B-24’s at a remarkable rate. The plant produced 190 bombers in June of 1943, 365 in December. By the middle of 1944, Willow Run churned out a plane every 63 minutes. “Willow Run looked like a city with a roof on it,” remembered Esther Earthlene, one of the many women who worked there during the war. Willow Run was the largest factory of its day. Its workers built planes around the clock, rotating three eight-hour shifts. They were provided with housing and entertainment. Willow Run had a 24-hour movie theater. By the end of the war, Willow Run had produced more than 8,500 bombers, and had become a symbol of the American economy’s successful response to war. Ford built the factory and sold it to the government, then leased it back for the duration of the war. When Ford declined to purchase the facility after the war, Kaiser-Frazer Corporation gained ownership, and in 1953 Ford’s rival General Motors took ownership and operated the factory as Willow Run Transmission until 2010. Willow Run Assembly operated from 1959 to 1992 on a parcel to the south of the airport. The Fisher Body division also operated at Willow Run Assembly until its operations were assumed by the GM Assembly Division in the 1970s. In 2009 General Motors announced that it would shut down all operations at the GM Powertrain plant and engineering centre in the coming year. Since the 2010 closure of Willow Run Transmission, the factory complex has been managed by the RACER Trust, which controls the properties of the former General Motors. In 2011 A.E. Equities Group Holdings offered to buy the former Powertrain plant from the RACER Trust. In April 2013 a redevelopment manager for the RACER Trust confirmed that, whether or not the Yankee Air Museum relocates to the original bomber plant at a future date, unused portions of the powertrain plant would likely be razed as a step toward redeveloping the property…….60 years ago this week, Bob Burdick raced to the only victory in his brief career in NASCAR’s top series, prevailing in the Atlanta 500 at Atlanta International Raceway, Georgia, US [26 March 1961]. Rex White finished second under caution with Ralph Earnhardt third. Only 13 of 46 cars were running at the finish…….on the same day [26 March 1961], Jack Brabham driving a Cooper-Climax T53 won the Lombank Trophy held at Snetterton……Powel Crossley Jr. (74), founder and namesake of the Crossley automobile, Crossley radios, and longtime owner of the Cincinnati Reds baseball team, died in Cincinnati, Ohio, US [28 March 1961]……..50 years ago this week, The Questor Grand Prix held at the Ontario Speedway, was won by Mario Andretti in Ferrari 312B [28 March 1971].……40 years ago this week, Nine time world champion motorcyclist Mike Hailwood (42)  cover image – died along with his young daughter Michelle in a car crash [24 March 1981]. Hailwood was en route with his two children – his son David survived – to pick up fish and chips for the family’s dinner when a lorry turned suddenly into the car’s path. The lorry driver was to be fined £100. Hailwood was world champion at 250cc three times, at 350 twice, and four years in a row at 500, immediately before Giacomo Agostini began his long reign. Only Ago and Valentino Rossi rival him for all-round brilliance on a bike. In a relatively short career (1959-67), Hailwood won 76 Grands Prix. If he hadn’t left the sport when he was only 27, Agostini might not hold all the records. And even Ago didn’t win 14 TT races on the Isle of Man or the TT world title when he was 38. At his funeral Hailwood’s pall bearers included James Hunt, John Surtees and Giacomo Agostini. His abilities on his bike can be measured in titles, 12 times a winner in the Isle of Man – “the scariest race in the world” – and nine times the Grand Prix Motor Cycling champion, as well as the less quantifiable but no less obvious esteem in which he was held by the sport. Hailwood revelled in the “here today, gone tomorrow” attitude that pervaded motorsport in the 1950s and 1960s. It was a dangerous game, and it was treated as a game. “He was a little bit wild,” said his wife, Pauline. Walker put it another way: “He was a party animal.” Legend has it Hailwood taught Hunt how to party. For a time Hailwood swapped two wheels for four. He drove in Formula One, competing in 50 Grands Prix. He finished on the podium twice, as he did once at Le Mans, making a decent fist of driving for lesser teams, believed Jackie Stewart. It was a sport Hailwood never felt at ease in, thinking the other drivers looked down on this scruffy bike rider – Stewart said Hailwood felt more comfortable with the mechanics than the drivers – but in Formula One came the moment that stripped away the “playboy” exterior to reveal the man beneath via an act of selfless, unthinking heroism. It happened in 1973 at the South African Grand Prix at Kyalami. On the second lap, Hailwood and Clay Regazzoni collided. Regazzoni was knocked unconscious and his car caught fire. Hailwood rushed to Regazzoni’s car and tried to pull him out only for his own clothing to be set alight – footage of the incident shows Hailwood frantically waving his flaming hands around. A race marshal aimed a fire extinguisher at Hailwood, whereupon he went straight back to Regazzoni, whose car remained engulfed in flames. This time he managed to pull the Italian out.Hailwood’s actions saved Regazzoni’s life and what is astonishing in watching the footage is his return for a second go – many acts of bravery happen when there is time only to act and not think……..Nigel Mansell saved Peter Collins from drowning in the ocean off Rio De Janeiro, Brazil [24 March 1981]…….. The Jeep Scrambler CJ-8 was introduced as a mid year model [25 March 1981]……..30 years ago this week, the Brazilian Grand Prix at Interlagos was won by Ayrton Senna driving a McLaren-Honda MP4/6 by a mere 2.9 seconds from Riccardo Patrese, who had to be lifted bodily from the car due to exhaustion and driven to the podium in the medical car [24 March 1991]……. Volkswagenwerk AG agreed to purchase a 70% controlling interest in Skoda from the Czech government [28 March 1991].

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