30 April – 6 May: Motoring Milestones

120 years ago this week, the first recorded fatality in a motor race occurred. The Marquis de Montignac and two riding mechanics were killed at a race in Périgueux, France [1 May 1898]…… 100 years ago this week, the General Motors Corporation (GM) acquired the Chevrolet Motor Company of Delaware, US [2 May 1918] The deal was effectively a merger engineered by William Durant. The original founder of GM, Durant had been forced out of the company by stockholders who had disapproved of Durant’s increasingly reckless expansionist policies a few years earlier. Durant started Chevrolet with Swiss racer Louis Chevrolet and managed to make the company a successful competitor in the economy car market in a relatively short period of time. Still the owner of a considerable portion of GM stock, Durant began to purchase more stock in GM as his profits from Chevrolet allowed. In a final move to regain control of the company he founded, Durant offered GM stockholders five shares of Chevrolet stock for every one share of GM stock. Though GM stock prices were exorbitantly high, the market interest in Chevrolet made the five-for-one trade irresistible to GM shareholders. With the sale, Durant regained control of GM……. 90 years ago this week, the first Algerian Grand Prix was first held over a road course in Staouéli, west of the capital Algiers [6 May 1928]. The race had a small grid made up mostly of Grand Prix Bugattis and Amilcar cyclecars. Local racing driver Marcel Lehoux won the 350 km race, lapping the field as the only Grand Prix car to finish in good order with Guy Cloître finishing second in the first of the Amilcars…..meanwhile, on the same day [6 May 1928], Chrysler introduced the DeSoto as the corporation’s new brand. The Detroit Free Press reported: “Probably no development of the past five years has created so profound a stir in the automobile industry as the current announcement that the new De Soto Six, which will be presented to the public in the next three months, is to be built by Chrysler.” With hardly any more information than this, over 500 dealers signed for franchises. Production for the 1929 model began in July, 1928, and official announcement was made at the January, 1929, New York Automobile Show. With the

unveiling of De Soto at a price of $845, Walter P. Chrysler felt that he had closed a marketing gap between Dodge and Chrysler. During the first twelve months, DeSoto production set a record 81,065 cars. DeSoto built more cars during its first year than had Chrysler, Pontiac, or Graham-Paige. The record stood for nearly thirty years. The car name honored Hernando de Soto, the 16th century Spaniard who discovered the Mississippi River and had covered more North American territory than any other early explorer. As Chrysler introduced the new DeSoto, the company purchased the Dodge Brothers which gave Chrysler two mid-priced lines. With the DeSoto priced below Dodge, the two-make approach to the mid-priced market niche worked. In 1933, Chrysler reversed the position of DeSoto and Dodge in the hopes of increasing Dodge sales. This meant that DeSoto was now priced higher than Dodge. Chrysler began wind tunnel testing in 1927 and the quest for the ideal aerodynamic body which would save gasoline and increase speed. The result was the Airflow body. In 1934, the DeSoto used Chrysler’s streamlined Airflow bodies. The streamlined Airflow was originally designed for the Chrysler. However, the DeSoto wheelbase was shorter and the design was unpopular. While Chrysler offered both Airflow and standard models, the DeSoto was available only in an Airflow design.In Europe, the DeSoto Airflow was a major hit and European carmakers such as Volvo, Renault, and Peugeot began to copy the look. In the U.S., DeSoto sales dropped by 47%. In 1935, DeSoto returned to conventional styling and sales doubled. Like all automakers, DeSoto production stopped during World War II. Following the war, DeSoto reissued the 1941 model as the 1946 model. DeSoto went on to build its most-exciting cars in the ’50s, only to die in late 1960 after a flash recession and sibling rivalry obliterated its narrow, well-defined price niche……. 80 years ago this week, the 5,000,000th Ford V-8 was produced [5 May 1938]. The Ford flathead V8 (often called simply the Ford flathead, flathead Ford, or flatty when the context is implicit, such as in hot-rodding) is a V8 engine of the valve-in-block type designed by the Ford Motor Company and built by Ford and various licensees. During the engine’s first decade (1932-1953) of production, when overhead-valve engines were rare, it was usually known simply as the Ford V‑8, and the first car model in which it was installed, the Model 18, was (and still is) often called simply the “Ford V‑8”, after its new engine. Although the V8 configuration was not new when the Ford V8 was introduced in 1932, the latter was a market first in the respect that it made an 8-cylinder affordable and a V engine affordable to the emerging mass market consumer for the first time. It was the first independently designed and built V8 engine produced by Ford for mass production, and it ranks as one of the company’s most important developments. A fascination with ever-more-powerful engines was perhaps the most salient aspect of the American car and truck market for a half century, from 1923 until 1973. The Ford flathead V8 was perfectly in tune with the cultural moment of its introduction, leading the way into a future of which the Ford company was a principal architect. Thus it became a phenomenal success. The engine design, with various changes but no major ones, was installed in Ford passenger cars and trucks until 1953, making the engine’s 21-year production run for the U.S. consumer market longer than the 19-year run of the Ford Model T engine for that market. The engine was on Ward’s list of the 10 best engines of the 20th century. It was a staple of hot rodders in the 1950s, and it remains famous in the classic car hobbies even today, despite the huge variety of other popular V8s that followed……. 70 years ago this week, the Land Rover was officially launched at the Amsterdam

Motor Show [30 April 1948]. Brothers Maurice and Spencer Wilks, developed the vehicle as a result of a conversation about Maurice’s American 4×4. Realising the gap in the British market for such a vehicle, they quickly produced a prototype out of aluminium and steel, metals that were still rationed in England at the time. They used interior components from their Rover saloon cars. Featuring four-wheel drive and a 1.6 litre engine from the Rover P3 60 saloon, it was shown with a canvas top and optional doors. Doors eventually became standard, as did a system where two and four-wheel drive could be selected in the high range with permanent four-wheel drive in the low range. The original 1948 Land Rover was ingeniously designed and engineered for extreme capability and strength. With extremely robust construction and characteristics such as short front and rear overhangs, it drove off the production line ready to take on some of the world’s toughest terrain. Today these qualities are as significant a part of what makes a Land Rover vehicle unique as they were 60 years ago. The Land Rover was the product of continuous evolution and refinement throughout the 1950s and 1960s with improved stability and a tighter turning circle. It was a period in which Land Rover took the lead in the emerging market for four-wheel drive vehicles. As a tough, reliable mobility platform, countless organisations came to depend on Land Rover vehicles to get personnel and equipment into the most challenging situations…and then safely out again. From organisations such as Born Free Foundation to The Royal Geographical Society and Biosphere Expeditions – we enter the second decade of the 21st century with them still relying on Land Rover In keeping with the forward-thinking philosophy that founded Land Rover, a radical, entirely new product was introduced in 1970 and created its very own vehicle category. This overnight sensation was the original Range Rover. It had all the capability of a Land Rover with the comfort and performance of an on-road car. This culture of innovation has developed ever since with both Land Rover and Range Rover vehicles: new models, more refinement, more innovative technology, more efficiency and fewer emissions. And it continues with initiatives such as e_Terrain Technologies (which improves the environmental performance of vehicles by reducing CO2 emissions), Sustainable Manufacturing and CO2 Offsetting. Land Rover will remain at the forefront of advanced design – the new small Range Rover is a testament to the vision that takes the company forward and keeps it at the cutting edge of technology and engineering…….the second Grand Prix des Nations run over 44 laps of the 1.8 mile urban race track located between the lake (Geneva) and the Nations square was won by Giuseppe Farina in a Maserati 4CLT, at an average speed of 64.6 mph (103.9 km/h) [2 May 1948]….. On the same day [2 May 1978], Wilhelm von Opel (76) died in Wiesbaden, Germany. Known as Wilhelm Opel before being granted nobility in 1917, he was one of the founding figures of the German automobile manufacturer Opel. He may be best know for introducing the assembly line to the German automobile industry. His father Adam Opel had founded the Opel firm as a manufacturer of sewing machines and later expanded into bicycle manufacturing. Upon Adam’s death control of the company passed to his five sons. In 1898, Wilhelm and his brother Fritz brought Opel into the automobile industry with the purchase of the small Lutzmann automobile factory…….60 years ago this week, the Land Rover Series II was officially released to coincide with the tenth anniversary of the Land Rover launch date [30 April 1958]. It came in 88 in (2,200 mm) and 109 in (2,800 mm) wheelbases (normally referred to as the ‘SWB’ and ‘LWB’). This was the first Land Rover to receive the attention of Rover’s styling department- Chief Stylist David Bache produced the familiar ‘barrel side’ waistline to cover the vehicle’s wider track and the improved design of the truck cab variant, introducing the curved side windows and rounded roof still used on current Land Rovers. The Series II was the first vehicle to use the well-known 2.25-litre petrol engine, although the first 1,500 or so short wheelbase (SWB) models retained the 52 hp (39 kW) 2.0-litre petrol engine from the Series I. This larger petrol engine produced 72 hp (54 kW) and was closely related to the 2.0-litre diesel unit still in use. This engine

became the standard Land Rover unit until the mid-1980s when diesel engines became more popular. The regular model with a 2-litre petrol engine cost £640…… 50 years ago this week, the International R series truck line was discontinued after 18 years of production [1 May 1968]. Also deleted from the lineup was the V series that had been introduced in 1956 with the marque’s first gasoline V-8 engines…….. 40 years ago this week, the Mazda RX7, featuring a 1,146 cc twin-rotor Wankel rotary engine and a front-midship rear-wheel drive layout, made its US debut [30 April 1978]…… on the same day [30 April 1978] The Mercedes-Benz C-111/3 research car sets nine world records for diesel-engined cars, including 2,345 miles in 12 hours (an average of 195.39 mph)…… The Arena Essex Raceway, a quarter mile stock car and speedway racing track located near Purfleet, Essex (UK), built in the remains of an old cement works overspill site, opened [1 May 1978]. The first stock car race meeting was infamously ruined by a heavy downpour. The track originally had a post and rope fence, which caused some colossal crashes and wrecks in the banger formula, and caught a few of the hot rods out. In the late 90’s the track swapped the post and rope for an Armco barrier, catchfences were also put in place to protect spectators. Every September, the track hosts the oldest National World Final Championship. It’s been running for over 40 years. Just over 40 cars, plus qualifiers from the wild card race, compete in the world final. 125 to 175 cars compete in the race meeting. The winner from the previous year starts the final in last place……. 30 years ago this week, Ayrton Senna won the San Marino Grand Prix at Imola [1 May 1988]. Senna and his teammate, Alain Prost, in their McLarens were the class of the field. Senna won in a time of 1:32:41 followed by fastest lap man, Prost 2.32 seconds later. They were the only cars to complete 64 laps. Nelson Piquet was third 1 lap down. they started like they had finished, 1-2-3. Thierry Boutsen had a good drive to come from eighth on the grid to finish 4th, also 1 lap down……20 years ago this week, Jaguar unveiled its

fastest-accelerating production car, the XKR. The £60,000 supercharged version of the XK8 is capable of accelerating from 0 to 60 mph in 5.2 seconds and has a top speed of 155 mph [5 May 1998]…… 10 years ago this week, the speed limit in the Hsuehshan Tunnel, Taiwan, located on the Taipei-Yilan Freeway (Taiwan National Highway No. 5) was raised to 80 km/h (50 mph) with a 10 km/h (6 mph) tolerance [1 May 2008]. At this speed a trip through the 12.9 km tunnel takes 8.6 minutes. The tunnel broadcasts a dedicated radio station on two FM channels inside the tunnel. Drivers can tune to either of the two FM stations to hear announcements regarding the Heushshan Tunnel, rules for driving inside the tunnel, and music.

365 Days Of Motoring

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