4-10 January: Motoring Milestones

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

120 years ago this week, a 100-foot drilling derrick named at Spindletop near the town of Beaumont, Texas produced a roaring gusher of black crude oil – the first major oil discovery in the United States [10 January 1901]. The oil strike took place at 10:30 a.m., coating the landscape for hundreds of feet around in sticky oil. The drillers congratulated themselves and waited for the column of thick, black and green

crude to subside. It didn’t. The well continued to flow, almost 100,000 barrels a day, forcing the men to come up with some creative solutions. They erected earthen dikes to form vast ponds for the oil, putting up new barriers further away each time the advancing crude overran its banks. After nine days, they finally managed to put a lid on Spindletop. First they hauled a heavy sled of timber and railroad rails over the gusher. Then they installed the petroleum industry’s first “Christmas tree,” a short series of pipes with progressively smaller valves they closed to choke the well’s flow. Spindletop became the focus of frenzied drilling; oil production from the field peaked in 1902 at 17,400,000 barrels (2,770,000 m3), but by 1905 production had declined 90% from the peak. Prices of petroleum-based fuels fell, and gasoline became an increasingly practical power source. Without Spindletop, internal combustion might never have replaced steam and battery power as the automobile power plant of choice, and the American automobile industry might not have changed the face of America with such staggering speed. Four decades after the landmark event, the Beaumont city fathers placed a pink granite monument at the historic site. An inscription on the 58-foot tall obelisk reads: “On this spot on the tenth day of the twentieth century a new era in civilization began”………110 years ago this week, the US Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the Ford Motor Company was not infringing George Selden’s patent [19 January 1911]. This landmark decision ended one of the longest and costliest and bitterest lawsuits in US legal history. Selden had been issued with the first US patent for an internal-combustion car in 1903, although he hadn’t actually produced a working model. The Association of Licensed Automobile Manufacturers (ALAM) was founded to collect royalties on the Selden patent from all car manufacturers. Soon, every major car producer was paying royalties to ALAM and George Selden, except for Henry Ford who refused to pay. ALAM launched a series of lawsuits against Ford that took 8 years and at least $1 million to resolve. It has been estimated that royalties paid before the patent was held invalid amounted to about $5,800,000…….100 years ago this week, Mack Brothers Company registered the ‘MACK’ bulldog trademark (4 January 1921).

A Mack truck with a gold-plated bulldog indicates that the truck was made with Mack Produced Engine, Transmission and Drive Axles. Trucks made with any other manufacturers drivetrain came with a chrome bulldog. Mack trucks earned this nickname in 1917, during World War I, when the British government purchased the Mack AC model to supply its front lines with troops, food and equipment. British soldiers dubbed the truck the “Bulldog Mack”, because they said it had “the tenacity of a bulldog.” Its pugnacious, blunt-nosed hood, coupled with its incredible durability, reminded the soldiers of the tenacious qualities of their country’s mascot, the British Bulldog. The logo was first used in 1921 for the AB chain drive models and made the official corporate logo in 1922……..Rolls Royce Ltd Board of Directors approved production plans for the ‘Goshawk’, which would be marketed as the 20HP [7 January 1921]…….50 years ago this week, organisers of the Mexican Grand Prix paid for the chaotic scenes at the previous year’s race after the GP was stripped of its inclusion in the world championship [4 January 1971]. FIA boss Henri Treu referred to “scandalous events” which “created an extremely dangerous situation for the racers who had to go full speed between two rows of spectators”……..Italian driver Ignazio Giunti died competing in the Buenos Aires 1000km race [10 January 1971]. Unsighted by another car, Giunti’s Ferrari crashed into the back of the Matra of Jean-Piere Beltoise which the driver was trying push along the track to the pits – it was only later that year this was banned. Giunti’s vehicle was thrown into the air, hitting the track 200 yards ahead and bursting into flames. Team-mate Arturo Merzario sprinted 500 yards from the pits and, just as he would do at the Nürburgring in 1976, pulled the driver from the blazing inferno. However, Giunti was already dead although some claimed he died shortly after being dragged from his car. Remarkably, Beltoise escaped unharmed as the impact was on one side of his stricken vehicle while he was pushing at the other…….40 years ago this week, majority interest in Aston Martin Lagonda Ltd was acquired by Pace Petroleum and CH Industries, with Victor Gauntlett and Tim Hearley named as Joint Chairmen [5 January 1981]…….20 years ago this week, ever on the lookout for yet another novel new way to promote his interests, Eddie Jordan announced that Jordan were entering the Honda Formula 4-stroke power boat race series [4 January 2001]. “Not only does it give us a great opportunity to work with Honda [the teams engine suppliers] outside Formula One,” he said “but it also provides a fast, fun and exciting environment in which to promote the Jordan name.” The boat raced by a different journalist at each event- this raised a few eyebrows after TV Presenter Mike Brewer and Jamie Theakston had some hairy moments………North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) in Detroit opened to the public with more than 40 automakers exhibiting over 700 cars and trucks [7 January 2001]. In fact, more than two dozen new production vehicles were introduced and nearly three dozen concept cars were presented. … the following day [8 January 2001], the 2002 Ford Thunderbird  (cover image) debuted at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, with Ford announcing the start of public sale and a suggested retail price starting at US$35,495. Promoted under the banner of “Living Legends” – the all-new Thunderbird went on sale following a no-expenses spared launch in Detroit (where a kitted-up Sports Roadster concept was also revealed). J Mays, Ford’s Vice President for Design, described the car as a “modern interpretation of the classic roadsters” and said “the 2002 Thunderbird was designed to point to the future while recapturing some of the magic of the original. From the 1955 roadster to the 1999 concept, seldom in automotive history has a car created such an emotional attachment. With the launch of the new roadster, Thunderbird continues to be a true American icon”…… The Ford Expedition became the only SUV to earn top US government crash ratings, earning a double five star rating in front crash testing [9 January 2001].

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