4-10 December: Motoring Milestones

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

120 years ago this week, the London Electric Cab Company began regular service using cars designed by Walter Bersey [6 December 1897] . With a top speed of 9-12 mph, Walter Bersey’s taxis, which used a 40-cell battery and 3-bhp electric motor and could be driven 50

miles between charges, were the first self-propelled vehicles for hire on London’s roads. Cars on London’s roads got off to a slow start in Britain thanks to the “Red Flag Act” which stated that any vehicle other than a horse drawn must be preceded by a man carting a red flag as a warning to passers-by. Once repealed in November 1896, vehicles began to make their mark in Britain. The origins of the now annual London to Brighton road race have their roots in celebrating the repeal of the law. Walter Bersey shared the ideas that there were great hopes for electricity. He said: “There is no apparent limit to the hopes and expectations of the electric artisans…..in short [it] is the natural power which shall be the most intimate and effective of all man’s assets.” Rates were the same as horse drawn cabs. The cab could take two passengers and was fitted with electric lighting both inside and out. Electric illumination was not welcomed by all “for the comfort of people of a bashful disposition……[who felt] as conspicuous as if they were on the stage with the limelight.” The then Prince of Wales was said to have taken a taxi ride in a Bersey. Each taxiwas licensed by Scotland Yard under four conditions: 1. each vehicle was accompanied by a driver 2. drivers were capable of stopping the carriage on demand 3.the taxi could turn in a small space 4. be able to climb the steepest hill in London, Savoy Hill The Bersey was known as the “Hummingbird” from the sound of the taxi and the yellow and black livery. Batteries were replaced using a hydraulic lifting system that took 2-3 minutes at the sole re-charging station in London. Electricity was expensive to generate so the company started producing their own at great expense. However, after 6 months of use, the noise and vibration escalated. Vibrations damaged the delicate glass plates, the tyres wore out incredibly quickly given the 2 tonne weight of the cab. Breakdowns were frequent. Horse drawn cabs were often faster as well. Two years after their debut the Bersey taxis disappeared from the roads. Taxis were not only vehicles Walter Bersey designed. He designed a range of private electric vehicles but none are known to have survived……. 100 years ago this week, BMW’s Trademark, a circular blue and white BMW, called a “roundel”, was submitted for registration at the Imperial Patent Office, Germany The trade mark was intended for the following goods: “Land, air and seagoing vehicles, automobiles, bicycles, accessories for automobiles and bicycles, vehicle components, stationary engines for solid, liquid and gaseous fuels and their components and accessories” [10 December 1917]…….90 years ago this week, the Hon Mrs Victor Bruce and her husband, assisted by J.A. Joyce, started a 10-day endurance record in fog at Montlhéry, driving an AC Six fitted with a racing screen but minus roof, mudguards and lights [9 December 1927]. The average speed was 68 mph (109 km/h) over about 15,000 miles (24,140 km)……75 years ago this week, at the age of 73, the architect and engineer Albert Kahn, known as “the man who built Detroit”, died at his home there [8 December 1942]. Kahn and his assistants built more than 2,000 buildings in all, mostly for Ford and General Motors. According to his obituary in The New York Times, Kahn “revolutionized the concept of what a great factory should be: his designs made possible the marvels of modern mass production, and his buildings changed the faces of a thousand cities and towns from Detroit to Novosibirsk.” While building factories for Packard, the young Kahn found that using reinforced concrete instead of wood or masonry sped up the construction of manufacturing plants, made them sturdier and less combustible, and that they needed fewer load-bearing walls. This freed up floor space for massive the industrial equipment. Kahn’s first concrete factory, Packard Shop No. 10, still stands today on East Grand Boulevard in Detroit, although it has deteriorated drastically since Packard abandoned the complex, and may need to be razed. Kahn’s buildings were sleek, flexible, and extremely functional. Besides the concrete, they incorporated huge metal-framed windows and garage doors and acres of uninterrupted floor space for the

assembly line equipment. Kahn’s first Ford factory, the 1909 Highland Park plant for the Model T, used elevators and dumbwaiters to spread the assembly line over several floors, but most of his subsequent factories were huge single-story spaces. These included Ford’s River Rouge plant (1916), the massive Goodyear Airdock in Akron (1929), the Glenn Martin aeronautics factory in Maryland, and the half mile long Willow Run “Arsenal of Democracy,” the home of Ford’s B-29 bomber in Ypsilanti. Although Kahn designed a number of non-factory buildings, including the Ford and GM office towers in downtown Detroit, he is best known for building factories that reflected the needs of the industrial age……. 60 years ago this week, the first Sunday newspaper section devoted entirely to automobile advertising appeared in the US, featuring the 1958 Packard, Studebaker and Mercedes-Benz lines [8 DEcember 1957]…….50 years ago this week, Adolf Rosenberger (66), who in 1931 founded Porsche GmbH together with Ferdinand Porsche and Dr. Anton Piëch, died [6 December 1967]. Rosenberger was also instrumental in the creation of the Auto Union concern, being credited with influencing Porsche’s choice of a mid-engined design for the Auto Union racing cars. Despite Rosenberger’s contribution to the development of German automobiles and German auto racing when Hitler came to power in Germany Adolf Rosenberger, a Jew, was arrested for “Rassenschande” (racial crimes), and imprisoned at KZ Schloss Kislau near Karlsruhe. He was released, supposedly due to unconfirmed efforts on his behalf by Dr. Porsche, and emigrated to France……40 years ago this week, at Indianapolis, Tom Sneva drove his famed Norton Spirit McLaren M24/Cosworth racer for car owner Roger Penske, and became the first driver to qualify for the Indianapolis 500 at a speed of 200 mph (321.9 km/h) or more. He set a one-lap track record of 200.535 mph (322.7 km/h) [4 December 1977]……. The following day [5 December 1977] The Plymouth Horizon was introduced, the first American-made small car with front-wheel drive. Technical advances in drive technology had reduced the size and cost of front-wheel drive systems……Dr Peter Carl Goldmark (71), inventor of the long-playing microgroove record in 1945 was killed in a car crash in New York [7 December 1977]. Goldmark joined the Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS) Laboratories in 1936. There he began work on a colour-television system that was first demonstrated in 1940. Based on the use of a rotating, three-colour disk, his field-sequential system was improved after World War II and approved for commercial use by the Federal Communications Commission in 1950. Although soon replaced by all-electronic colour systems that were compatible with black-and-white transmission, his system has found wide application in closed-circuit

television for industry, medical institutions, and schools because his colour camera is much smaller, lighter, and easier to maintain and operate than cameras used in commercial television. In 1948 Goldmark and his team at CBS Laboratories introduced the LP record. Utilizing a groove width of only 0.003 inch (0.076 millimetre), as compared with 0.01 inch for the old 78-rpm records, the equivalent of six 78-rpm records could be compressed into one 33 1/3 LP. After Goldmark became a vice president of CBS in 1950, he developed the scanning system that allowed the U.S. Lunar Orbiter spacecraft (launched in 1966) to relay photographs 238,000 miles (380,000 kilometres) from the Moon to the Earth. Goldmark also developed an electronic video recording system, utilizing unperforated plastic film to record the picture in monochrome and to carry the colour information in coded form. In cartridges, the film could be played through any standard television receiver in either colour or black and white…….20 years ago this week, Nigel Mansell was stopped by police doing 92mph on a 70mph road in Somerset (England), weeks after he had taken delivery of his new 170mph £233,000 Bentley [4 December 1997]. His lawyer subsequently told the court that Mansell was “a highly experienced driver who has an unblemished record as far as accidents are concerned. He is meticulous about road safety,” adding that the car was “well-insulated against noise and crept up over 70mph without him knowing.” The magistrates were unimpressed, banning Mansell for six months and fining him £400……The Toyota Prius went on sale in Japan.[10 December 1997]……10 years ago this week, McLaren was forced into an embarrassing climb-down for falsifying information on the eve of an FIA World Motor Sport Council meeting in Monte Carlo, which was about to decide if Renault was guilty of using McLaren secrets [5 December 2007]. McLaren had claimed that former engineer Steve Mackereth took 780 technical drawings with him when he joined Renault the previous year, but admitted there were only 18 drawings and that nine employees, rather than the implied 18, had seen the sensitive data. Asked if what had become known as Spygate II had harmed damaged the sport, FIA president Max Mosley said: ” “I don’t think it’s done any damage. In fact, it has raised the public awareness. That is the paradox. What is important is that people believe the spying has stopped and will continue to be stopped.”

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