26 August -1 September: Motoring Milestones

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

160 years ago today, Edwin Drake struck oil at a depth of 69 feet near Titusville, Pennsylvania, the world’s first successful oil well [27 August 1859]. This source of crude oil opened up a new inexpensive source of power and quickly replaced whale oil in lamps. The importance of the Drake Well at Titusville was that it prompted the first great wave of investment and additional drilling that established petroleum as a major industry……..120 years ago this week, a handicap race

between walkers, cycles, motorcycles and cars was staged from Paris to Trouville (104 miles) [27 August 1899]. Horses were allowed 14 hours, and finished first and second; cars allowed 3 hours, were third and fourth. ‘Antony’ won the contest in a Mors 16 hp………A Stanley Steamer, driven by F.O. Stanley, became the first car to reach the summit of Mount Washington (6,288 ft), New Hampshire. F.O [31 August 1899]. Stanley was one of the Stanley twins, founders of the Stanley Motor Company, which specialised in steam-driven vehicles. The steamers not only climbed mountains, but often beat larger, petrol-powered cars in races. In 1906, a Stanley Steamer broke the world record for the fastest mile when it reached 127mph…….The Paris-Ostend race ended in a dead heat between Girardot (Mors) and Levegh (Panhard), when both completed the 203 miles in 6 hours 11 minutes (32.5 mph) – there was no possibility of a time keeping error as this was one of the few early races with a mass start (9 cars), and Girardot and Levegh crossed the line at Ostend racecourse wheel-to-wheel [1 September 1899]………110 years ago this week, the Houpt-Rockwell made its debut in the 24-hour race at Brighton Beach, New York, but the car driven by George Robertson failed to finish [26 August 1909]……….90 years ago this week, the first Rolls-Royce Phantom II Continental was completed [26 August 1929]. Designated 26EX, the car had a tuned engine, five-leaf springs

that were stiffer than standard Phantom and a Barker four-seat lightweight close-coupled saloon body painted with an artificial pearl lacquer made from ground herring scales. The sales department initially showed no interest in 26EX but, when Evernden returned to the office from the 1930 Biarritz Grand Concours d’Elegance, where 26EX had won the Grand Prix d’Honneur, he found that the sales department had already announced the new “Phantom II Continental Saloon”, prepared a brochure for it, and costed it. According to the car’s designer, Ivan Evernden, neither he, Royce, nor the Rolls-Royce sales department had written specifications for the “Continental” model, although he and Royce had a clear specification in mind. Based on Evernden’s writings and examination of company records, historian Ray Gentile determined that the common specifications of the Continental chassis were the short wheelbase and stiffer, five-leaf springs. By this definition, two hundred and eighty-one Continental Phantom II’s were produced, including 125 left-hand drive versions. Regarded as the two most important P-II Continentals are 20MS and 2SK, the only two P-II Continental Roadsters ever built. 20MS has been in a private Mid-Atlantic collection since 1989, 2SK, the Thrupp and Maberly Roadster once owned by Tyrone Power, was in the Fred Buess collection since 1958 but was sold at auction in 2010……..80 years ago this week, the last pre-war racing event was held at Crystal Palace and the area was requisitioned by the military [26 August 1939]. For its first decade of use from 1927 the track was typical for the time: tarmac on the bends, but just hard-packed gravel on the straights. A popular motorcycle speedway on the layout’s interior attracted crowds of up to 70,000 in the 1920s and also hosted car races – the modern athletics stadium sits on top of where the speedway was. In 1935, plans were laid down for a fully-tarred course of two miles in length, using the original twisting layout around the park’s pathways, and two years later work began – just three days after a huge fire that destroyed the Palace itself. It was described as a miniature Nürburgring at the time, and even the Silver Arrows drove the track: a 645bhp Mercedes Benz W125 was demonstrated in 1937. When racing in the UK coughed back into life in the 1950s, Crystal Palace once again reverberated to the sound of engines. However, a much-shortened, 1.39 mile layout was chosen, utilising just the outer perimeter of the original circuit. The first race in 1953 attracted 40,000 spectators – and so racing was back on the menu for another twenty years. The only major change happened in 1960, when the new national athletics complex and stadium were built: the start-line was moved to the top Terrace Straight, and the writing was on the wall that motor-racing at Crystal Palace was being challenged. Meetings continued to attract huge crowds: one year 100,000 fans turned out to watch a non-championship F1 race! The final international meeting took place in 1972, a Formula 2 race with Surtees, Lauda, Watson and Hill all on the grid. Small club events continued to take place every so often, but cars were becoming too fast for the track’s rudimentary safety provisions and the Greater London Council announced the closure of the track at the end of the year……..60 years ago this week, British Motor Corporation (BMC) launched its newest car, the small affordable Mark I Mini [26 August 1959]. The diminutive Mini went on to become one of the best-selling British cars in history. Ford reportedly purchased a Mini
and, after dismantling it, determined that BMC must have been losing around £30 per car, so decided to produce a larger car – the Cortina, launched in 1962 – as the Mini’s competitor in the budget market. The story behind the Mini began in August 1956, when President Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt nationalized the Suez Canal in response to the American and British decision to withdraw funding for a new dam’s construction due to Egypt’s Communist ties. The international crisis that followed led to fuel shortages and gasoline rationing across Europe. Sir Leonard Lord, head of BMC–formed by the merger of automakers Austin and Morris in 1952–wanted to produce a British alternative to the tiny, fuel-efficient German cars that were cornering the market after the Suez Crisis. He turned to Alec Issigonis, a Turkish immigrant who as chief engineer at Morris Motors had produced the Morris Minor, a teapot-shaped cult favorite that had nonetheless never seriously competed with the Volkswagen “Beetle” or Fiat’s 500 or Cinquecento. Mini development began in 1957 and took place under a veil of secrecy; the project was known only as ADO (for Austin Drawing Office) 15. After about two and a half years–a relatively short design period–the new car was ready for the approval of Lord, who immediately signed off on its production. The new front-wheel-drive car was priced at around £600 and marketed under two names: Austin Seven and Morris Mini-Minor – one revived the famous Austin Se7en name and the other called on some Cowley plant history to be called the Morris Mini Minor. The two vehicles were the same except for each had a different radiator grille, and by 1962 both were known simply as the Mini. Issigonis’ design, including an engine mounted sideways to take up less space, had created a surprising amount of space for a small-bodied car: The proposed engine size was originally 950 cc. However, Leonard Lord, chairman of BMC thought that the 90 mph (140 km/h) top speed was excessive and thus reduced the engine size to 848 cc to gain a more manageable speed (for the time) of 72 mph (116 km/h). Issigonis’ suspension featured the use of rubber cones as springs: the spring rate of rubber changes with compression, allowing the suspension to adapt to passenger load variations (a full passenger load could actually double the tiny vehicle’s gross weight). A conventional suspension would have required an increase in height to the design. This unique design was adapted from Issigonis’s home-built racer and built for the Mini by Alex Moulton. Although only 10 feet long, the Mini was a genuine four seater. This was possible within such a small bodyshell because the engine was mounted transversely, driving the front wheels via a gearbox which was uniquely incorporated into the sump of the engine. Engine and gearbox thus shared the same oil, which was a significant piece of design in response to the 1956 Suez crisis and the fears of future oil shortages. The overall width of the vehicle was reduced, because there was no need to accommodate a separate gearbox across the width of the car and because there was no transmission tunnel in the floorplan of the Mini, there was more space that could be used to accommodate the passengers thus compensating for the reduced width. Overall length was minimized because of the Mini’s two-box design, comprising only a passenger compartment and the engine compartment. There was no third box providing a separate luggage compartment (i.e. a boot) and that inevitably compromised luggage space. To offset that problem, large bins beside each of the four seats provided some useful interior storage and a centrally located instrument binnacle allowed the dashboard to be opened up for storage too. The requirement for storage bins in the front doors effectively determined that the Mini should have sliding windows rather than wind-up windows. The tiny 10-inch (250 mm) wheels helped to reduce the intrusion of wheel arches into the interior of the vehicle and allowed a modest amount of additional luggage space in a “boot” area behind the rear seats. Overall the Mini represents some very clever packaging which has often been imitated but has never been bettered An Austin de luxe saloon was tested by the British magazine The Motor in 1959. It had a top speed of 72.4 mph (116.5 km/h) and could accelerate from 0–60 mph (97 km/h) in 27.1 seconds. A fuel consumption of 43.5 miles per imperial gallon (6.49 L/100 km; 36.2 mpg-US) was recorded. The test car cost £537 including taxes of £158. With its low starting price, the Mini was truly a “people’s car,” but its popularity transcended class, and it was also used by affluent Londoners as a second car to easily maneuver in city traffic. By the time production was halted in 2000, 5.3 million Minis had been produced. Around that same time, a panel of 130 international journalists voted the Mini “European Car of the Century.” A high-performance version of the Mini engineered by the race car builder John Cooper had first been released in 1961; known as the Mini Cooper, it became one of the favorites of Mini enthusiasts worldwide. In 2003, the Mini Cooper was updated for a new generation of buyers by the German automaker BMW………An unofficial strike at BMC halted production of the new Mini [1 September 1959]……..50 years ago this week, Oliver E Barthel (91), a pioneer designer with King, Ford, Oldsmobile and Cadillac, the designer of the Ford 999 race car, the holder of 35 patents relating to the automobile, and the inventor of the taper frame allowing more streamlined bodies, died in Detroit, Michigan, US [28 August 1969]………..Bruce McLaren and Denny Hulme finished 1-2 in their Team McLaren M8B-Chevrolets in the Can-Am race at Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin, USA [31 August 1969]…….40 years ago this week, Gilles Villeneuve cemented his cult-hero status at the Dutch Grand Prix when he refused to retire with a puncture, and instead drove a lap of the circuit on three wheels with sparks flying from the rear of his Ferrari [26 August 1979]. Villeneuve had been leading the race after a brave move on Alan Jones at Tarzan corner and looked set for victory until a spin on lap 47 dropped him to second. Villeneuve rejoined but two laps later he spun again, this time the rear-left tyre exploded and left the Ferrari strewn across the middle of the track. However, he didn’t give up and raced back to the pits on three wheels, pulling wheelies along the way and making good time. When he returned to the pits, however, the suspension was too badly damaged to carry on and he was forced to retire. Jones went on to win the race ahead of Villeneuve’s team-mate Jody Scheckter……….30 years ago this week, the first seven second Pro Mod run was recorded at the Santa Pod Raceway Summernationals, Northamptonshire, England [27 August 1989]. Geoff Hauser broke into the seven second barrier for Pro Mod cars in his Fo
rd Sierra. He ran 7.84, 7.85, 7.87 and then 7.88 in the final against Tim Cook, who had earlier also dipped into the sevens with a 7.97…….The US federal government passed new car safety legislation, requiring all newly manufactured cars to install an air bag on the driver’s side [
1 September 1989]………The first Lexus was sold, launching Toyota’s new luxury division [1 September 1989]. However, Lexus’ story had begun six years earlier in a top secret meeting of Toyota’s elite. Surrounded by the company’s top-level management, Chairman Eiji Toyota proposed the company’s next challenge – a luxury car that could compete with the world’s best. Lexus originated from a clandestine flagship sedan
project, code-named “F1” (F for “flagship,” and the numeral 1 recalling the high performance of Formula 1 race cars) which began in 1983 and culminated in the launch of the original Lexus LS in 1989. Subsequently, the division added sedan, coupé, convertible, and SUV models. Until 2005 Lexus did not exist as a brand in its home market and all vehicles marketed internationally as Lexus from 1989-2005 were released in Japan under the Toyota marque and an equivalent model name. In 2005, a hybrid version of the RX crossover debuted, and additional hybrid models later joined the division’s lineup. In 2007, Lexus launched its own F marque performance division with the debut of the IS F sport sedan, followed by the LFA supercar in 2009……….20 years ago this week, a memorial service for the victims of the Tauern Road Tunnel fire was held in the town of Flachau before the tunnel – one of the primary north-south routes through the Alps – was officially reopened [28 August 1999]……David Coulthard won the Belgian Grand Prix after clashing with team-mate Mika Hakkinen into the first corner [29 August 1999]. Hakkinen had qualified on pole but was slower off the line, allowing Coulthard to pull alongside. The pair then touched into the first corner as Coulthard muscled his way past on the inside. Hakkinen’s second place allowed him to overtake Eddie Irvine by a single point at the top of the drivers’ standings.

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