23-29 November: Motoring Milestones

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

130 years ago this week, the Daimler-Motoren-Geselschaft, a German engine and later automobile manufacturer, which operated until 1926, was founded by Gottlieb Daimler and Wilhelm Maybach. It was based first in Cannstatt (today Bad Cannstatt), a city district of Stuttgart) [28 November 1890]. Daimler died in 1900, and their business moved in 1903 to Stuttgart-Untertürkheim after the original factory was destroyed by fire, and again to Berlin in 1922. Other factories were located in Marienfelde (near Berlin) and Sindelfingen (next to Stuttgart). The enterprise was begun to produce petrol engines but after the success of a small number of race cars built on contract by Wilhelm Maybach for Emil Jellinek, it began to produce the Mercedes model of 1902. After this automobile production expanded to become DMG’s main product, and it built several models. Because of the post World War One German economic crisis, DMG merged in 1926 with Benz & Cie., becoming Daimler-Benz and adopting Mercedes-Benz as its automobile trademark. A further merger occurred in 1998 with Chrysler to become DaimlerChrysler. The name was finally changed to just Daimler AG in 2007 when Chrysler was sold……..120 years ago this week, the first car to be produced under the Mercedes name is taken for its inaugural drive in Cannstatt, Germany [23 November 1900]. The car was specially built for its buyer, Emil Jellinek, an entrepreneur with a passion for fast, flashy cars. Jellinek had commissioned the Mercedes car from the German company Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft: it was lighter and sleeker than any car the company had made before, and Jellinek was confident that it would win races so handily that besotted buyers would snap it up.

He was so confident that he bought 36 of them. In exchange for this extraordinary patronage, the company agreed to name its new machine after Jellinek’s 11-year-old daughter, Mercedes. In 1886, the German engineers Gottlieb Daimler and Wilhelm Maybach had built one of the world’s first “horseless carriages,” a four-wheeled carriage with an engine bolted to it. In 1889, the two men built the world’s first four-wheeled automobile to be powered by a four-stroke engine. They formed Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft the next year. In 1896, Emil Jellinek saw an ad for the D-M-G auto in a German magazine. Then, as the story goes, he traveled to D-M-G’s Cannstatt factory, charged onto the factory floor wearing a pith helmet, pince-nez and mutton-chop sideburns and demanded that the company sell him the most spectacular car it had. That car was sturdy, but it could only go 15 mph–not even close to fast enough for Jellinek. In 1898, he ordered two more cars, stipulating that they be able to go at least 10 miles per hour faster than the first one could. Daimler complied; the result was the 8-horsepower Phoenix. Jellinek was impressed enough with the Phoenix that he began to sell them to his friends: 10 in 1899, 29 in 1900. At the same time, he needed a racing car that could go even faster. Jellinek went back to D-M-G with a business proposition: if it would build him the world’s best speedster (and name it the Mercedes), he would buy 36 of them. The new Mercedes car was fast. It also introduced the aluminum crankcase, magnalium bearings, the pressed-steel frame, a new kind of coil-spring clutch and the honeycomb radiator (essentially the same one that today’s Mercedes use). It was longer, wider, and lower than the Phoenix and had better brakes. Also, a mechanic could convert the new Mercedes from a two-seat racer to a four-seat family car in just a few minutes. In 1902, the company legally registered the Mercedes brand name………The first gasoline-powered Pierce motor vehicle featuring a modified one-cylinder deDion 3 hp engine, was taken on a test drive through the streets of Buffalo, New York [24 November 1900]. The vehicle, christened the Pierce Motorette, and between 1901 and 1903 roughly 170 Pierce Motorettes were made. In 1903, Pierce began manufacturing its own engines, and later in the year, the Pierce Arrow was introduced, followed by the Pierce Great Arrow in 1904. By 1905, the George N. Pierce Company was producing some of the biggest and most expensive motor cars in America, with prices in excess of $5,000. In 1908, the Pierce-Arrow Motor Car Company was officially launched, and in 1909 US President William Howard Taft ordered two of the prestigious cars, a Brougham and a Landaulette, for use by the White House…….on the same day [24 November 1910], the founder of the Humber bicycle company in 1868 in Beeston, Nottinghamshire, Thomas Humber (68), died. By 1896 the company, under new management, ventured into Humber motor cars and became the first maker of series production cars in England……..110 years ago this week, Ernest E. Sirrine of Chicago patented what was the first iteration of a traffic light [28 November 1910]……..100 years ago this week, B F Tobin (54), founder and Chairman of the Continental Motors Corporation, died in Grosse, Pointe, Michigan, US [23 November 1920]……. Gaston Chevrolet, the younger brother of famous automobile designer and racer Louis Chevrolet, was killed during a race in Beverly Hills, California [25 November 1920]. He joined his brothers Louis and Andre in the establishment of a racing car design company: the Frontenac Motor Corporation. Frontenac replaced Louis’ earlier racing car design company, the Chevrolet Motor Company, which he sold to William C. Durant in 1915. After some initial success, the Chevrolet brothers were faced with obsolete vehicles after World War I, and not enough financial resources to make them competitive again. However, in 1920, the new management at the Monroe Motors Company asked Louis to run his racing team. The Chevrolets moved their operations to Indianapolis, and rapidly made the Monroe racers ready for the 1920 Indy 500, the first to be held since 1914. During the 1920s, the Indy 500 was the most important racing event in America, and Gaston Chevrolet, driving a Chevrolet-adapted Monroe, won the first post-war competition with an average race speed of 86.63mph. The Chevrolet brothers did not have long to enjoy their success, however, because just a few months later Gaston was killed along with his riding mechanic Lyall Jolls during the Beverly Hills race…….Racer Eddie O’Donnell (33) died in Beverly Hills, California from injuries suffered the previous day when his Duesenberg collided with the Frontenac driven by Gaston Chevrolet [26 November 1920]. Chevrolet was killed as well as O’Donnell’s mechanic Lyall Jolls, who died the next day. O’Donnell started his career as a riding mechanic for Duesenberg race car driver Eddie Rickenbacker. When Rickenbacker left the Duesenberg Team to join the Peugeot Team, O’Donnell took over as driver. O’Donnell served as Captain of the Duesenberg team. He was highly successful on the dirt tracks and Board Tracks around the United States, also having raced on the road circuits…….80 years ago this week, the Ford Motor Company delivered two jeep prototypes for testing at the US Army proving grounds at Camp Holabird, Maryland [23 November 1940]. They were the only vehicles among competing vendors to survive the army’s arduous truck test. Both units were built on the same chassis, one with a Ford built body and one with a body by the Budd Company, a Ford subcontractor and specialist in steel auto bodies. The Budd design, derived from the Bantam specifications, looked more like the Bantam BRC-60 than Ford’s body design which had some unique Ford inspirations. The Ford body was immediately preferred by the Army and the Budd unit was withdrawn. Of particular interest is the Ford Pygmy front end, with its flat grill and headlights in a protected position behind the grill, which was the model for all future jeeps. The Pygmy also originated the use of a double bow for the top canvas and the two piece opening, folding windshield. By the end of World War Two, Ford had built almost 280,000 of what Army-speak referred to as a ‘light reconnaissance and command quarter-ton 4X4’. That forerunner of today’s Sport Utility Vehicle was also known as a GP or GPW – shortened to ‘jeep’……..50 years ago this week, Suzuki licensed the Wankel engine [24 November 1970]. Three years later Suzuki engineers finally developed a single-rotor, water-cooled, 62hp, 497cc engine. Styling of the new machine was put in the hands of Giorgietto Guigiaro, the Italian automotive stylist (e.g. Maserati Spyder, Ferrari GG50) and advocate of the ‘wedge’ trend in cars. Guigiaro’s touch extended only to the cylindrical taillight and special instrument ‘binnacle’ for the RE5 (a cylindrical case with novel sliding cover, meant to echo the futuristic rotary engine) the rest of the bike looked nearly the same as Suzuki’s GT750 ‘Water Buffalo’. The modest power output of the engine, combined with the 550lb wet weight, meant performance wasn’t exciting, with a top speed of 110mph it’s no better than the two-stroke T500 series it was meant to displace, and far more complex, heavy, and expensive. Much to Suzuki’s chagrin, the release of the RE5 coincided with the Oil Crisis of ’73, and customers suddenly became wary of the rotary’s reputation for poor fuel economy. This combined with bikers distrust of anything too new, meant sales of the RE5 were far lower than needed to recoup their investment. With millions at stake in the project, Suzuki was determined to carry on production. Blaming Giugiaro’s binnacle, in 1975 the styling was more conventional, but sales didn’t improve, and by 1976 Suzuki had to swallow their losses, and cease production. Less than 7,000 were actually built……..40 years ago this week, Peter DePaolo, who won a dazzling victory at the 1925 Indy 500, died at the age of 82 [26 November 1980]. The nephew of racing legend Ralph DePalma, DePaolo first started racing for Duesenberg in the 1920s. For the 1925 Indy, racing car designer Harry Miller showed up with a dramatic new supercharged front-drive Miller Junior Eight, and Peter DePaolo, who was set to drive for Duesenberg, had his work cut out from him. However, DePaolo had set a promising 135mph record on the Culver City boards that same year, and as the race got underway, he took an early lead over racer Dave Lewis in the Miller Junior Eight. By the halfway point of the race, the blisters on DePaolo’s hands had become intolerable, and Fred Duesenberg replaced him with Norman Batten. When DePaolo returned from the track hospital, he learned with horror that Batten had fallen to fifth place, and Dave Lewis was leading in the Miller. DePaolo reentered the race, and slowly but surely, DePaolo fought his way to the front of the pack again. When the dust cleared on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Peter DePaolo had prevailed. It was a great victory for the Duesenberg team, made greater by DePaolo’s passing of the 100mph Indy speed barrier with an average speed of 101.13mph…….30 years ago this week, Juan-Manuel Bordeu (56) died in Buenos Aires from leukemia [24 November 1990]. A protege of Juan Manuel Fangio, Bordeu had a successful early career racing in Formula Junior. He was due to race in the French Grand Prix in 1961 but a testing accident left him unable to participate. He raced on in Turismo Carretera and the Temporada F2 series before retiring in 1973……..20 years ago this week, Richard Burns and Robert Reid won Great Britain Rally with a Subaru Impreza WRC [26 November 2000]…… Norway’s King Harald V opened the world’s longest tunnel (15.2 miles) between Aurland and Laerdal in the County of Sogn og Fjordane in western Norway [27 November 2000]. In some sections blue lights illuminate the roof and yellow lights the base, to give drivers the illusion of being outdoors. Three ‘caverns’ spaced along the route act as turning areas in case of fire blocking the road……..Bill France Jr. resigned as president of NASCAR and was replaced by Mike Helton [28 November 2000].

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