Cars, people and events in this week’s Motoring Milestones include: Lancia, Schumacher, BMW, Uniontown Board Speedway and VW Passat R36.
130 years ago this week, work on the first underwater highway tunnel in the United States began in Chicago, Illinois [30 November 1886]. Over a three-year period, workers and engineers tunnelled underneath the Chicago River, finally completing the 1,605-foot tunnel at a cost of over $500,000. The tunnel had two roadways, each 11-feet tall and 13-feet wide, and a separate footway 10-feet wide and 10-feet tall. This Washington Street tunnel opened on January 1, 1869, and was invaluable during the evacuation during the Chicago fire in 1871…….110 years ago this week, Vincenzo Lancia together with the former Fiat test driver, Claudio Fogolin, founded his own company called Lancia & C. Fabbrica Automobili [29 November 1906]. The first Lancia automobile the “Tipo 51” or 12 HP (later called Alfa) was produced in 1907-1908. It had a small four-cylinder engine with a power of 28 hp. Vincenzo Lancia continued driving for Fiat until 1910……100 years ago this week, the Uniontown (Pennsylvania) Board Speedway staged its first event, a 112.5 mile race was won by Louis Chevrolet driving a Frontenac [2 December 1916]. Hughie Hughes was sadly killed during the race. Motorsport was extremely dangerous in the days of the board tracks, but the inaugural race at Uniontown was an especially bloody event, even for the standards of the day. Two were killed (a driver and his riding mechanic) during practice a few days prior, and five (two spectators and three participants) died during the race…… 90 years ago this week, The Gazzetta dello Sport newspaper announced the first Mille Miglia road race in Italy. It was established by the young count Aymo Maggi and Franco Mazzotti, apparently in response to the Italian Grand Prix being moved from their home town of Brescia to Monza [4 December 1926]. Together with a group of wealthy associates, they chose a race from Brescia to Rome and back, a figure-eight-shaped course of roughly a thousand Roman miles. Later races followed 12 different routes with varying total lengths, and the open-road endurance race took place 24 times between 1927 and 1957…… 80 years ago this week, the General Motors Truck & Coach Division of the Yellow Truck & Coach Manufacturing Company was formed to handle sales of GMC trucks [30 November 1936]…… 60 years ago this week, Pontiac announced plans to produce a limited edition model with fuel injection [2 December 1956]…… 50 years ago this week, John Surtees, the 1964 world champion, signed a 12-month contract to race for Honda [28 November 1966]. He had won his title with Ferrari, but walked out on the team midway through 1966 after a dispute, switching to Cooper and winning the Mexican Grand Prix in the last race of the year. The relationship, in which Surtees played a major part in assisting the team develop its F1 challenge, lasted two years and provided one win, in the 1967 Italian Grand Prix…… 30 years ago this week, the Passat R36 made its public debut at the Essen Motorshow,
joining the Golf R32 and only the second model in the Volkswagen line-up to carry the ‘R’ badge. Not only the fastest Passat but also the fastest estate car Volkswagen had ever produced, the R36 powered by the new 3.6-litre FSI V6 engine developing 300PS, with a 0 to 62 mph time of just 5.6 seconds. The estate version which, like the saloon, was fitted with 4MOTION all-wheel drive returned a time of 5.8 seconds. Both were electronically limited to maximum of 155 mph…… 25 years ago this week, seventeen people were killed in a 164-vehicle pileup during a dust storm on Interstate 5 near Coalinga, California (29 November 1991). Over 250 vehicles were involved and over 100 were injured…… 20 years ago this week, Volkswagen executive Jose Ignacio Lopez resigned under charges of industrial espionage from General Motors (GM), his former employer [29 November 1996]. As part of a major lawsuit against Volkswagen, GM charged that Lopez, its former worldwide chief of purchasing, had stolen trade secrets from the company in 1993 when he defected to Volkswagen along with three other GM managers. Lopez’s resignation was likely a result of pressure from the German carmaker, which sought to reach a settlement before the scheduled lawsuit began under U.S. jurisdiction. In January 1997, VW and GM announced a settlement in which Volkswagen would pay General Motors $100 million and agree to buy at least $1 billion in parts from GM. VW also confirmed that the three other former GM managers accused of industrial espionage had all either resigned or were due to take administrative leave. In return, GM agreed to drop all legal action…… Motor Racing journalist and the 1950 World Sidecar Champion (as passenger), Denis Sargent Jenkinson (76), died in Aldershot, UK [29 November 1996]. Originally an engineer, Jenks became a legend among motoring journalists. Aside actively racing Porsches himself, he famously acted as a navigator to Stirling Moss when the pairing won the 1955 Mille Miglia…… 15 years ago this week, Citroën set a new world record for distance travelled in 24 hours by an electric-only car, when two Saxo Electriques covered 1,064 miles on a closed circuit in France [28 November 2001]…… A spat inside the Williams camp became public with boss Patrick Head’s attack on Ralf Schumacher over the German’s approach to testing [29 November 2001]. “He hasn’t got much patience to check data with the engineers, to study the next day’s programme or to discuss things he doesn’t like in the car. Juan [Pablo Montoya] does all that and has a better understanding for the car.” Head’s comments came after Schumacher went on record as saying: “I don’t know exactly why but Frank Williams and Montoya are closer. Frank loves Juan.” Schumacher finished fourth in the 2001 and 2002 drivers’ championship and remained with Williams until the end of 2004…… Bernie Ecclestone hit out at rumours of a rival F1 championship being launched, warning it would drive sponsors away from the sport. Paolo Cantarella, chief executive of Fiat, had met F1 teams to propose a rival competition offering them a bigger income [1 December 2001]. “The manufacturers came in because it was a shop window for them, so why do they want to destroy it?” said Ecclestone. “I have told them to wait and see what happens. They became involved because they liked the stability of F1 and knew that things were done properly. Once these companies leave it is hard to get them back.”….. 10 years ago this week, the limited-production BMW
Hydrogen 7, the world’s first hydrogen-powered luxury saloon car, made its first public appearance at the Los Angeles Motor Show [28 November 2006]….. The start of Lewis Hamilton‘s F1 career came on the test track in Barcelona but lasted two laps before his McLaren broke down [28 November 2006]. Testing alongside David Coulthard and Anthony Davidson, Hamilton was given some words of warning by Coulthard who said he needed a season of testing before being thrown into the fray. “I value David’s opinion,” Hamilton countered. “He is extremely experienced and I have always looked up to him. In some ways he could be right, but I’ve done all I need to do to get to F1. I have got plenty of time to do the testing pre-season and so we will have to wait and see. I am young, fresh and extremely determined to do well in this sport. I want to win.” As it was, he came within one race of winning the title in his first season…… Aston Martin unveiled one of the most eagerly anticipated convertibles of the year, the V8 Vantage Roadster at the 2006 Los Angeles Auto Show [29 November 2006]…… National Midget Racing Hall of Fame racer Len Sutton (81) passed away after losing his battle with cancer [4 December 2006]. Sutton started his racing career at Portland Speedway in 1946 shortly after getting out of the Navy and was soon a winner in track roadsters, midgets and stock cars on tracks throughout Northwest US. He won four midget races at the Hollywood Bowl in Salem, countless more track roadster races at the track and numerous championships until he left the Northwest in 1956 to race in the big time. Among the championships he won were the 1950, ’54 and ’55 Oregon Midget Racing Association titles and 1954 and 55 Northwest midget championships. Sutton first made the Indy 500 field in 1958 and would race five times, including a runner-up finish to teammate Roger Ward in the 1962 Indy 500.He had three wins in AAA and USAC champ car races in 76 career starts. Sutton retired from driving and became a member of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Radio Network for many years.