5-11 April: Motoring Milestones

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

120 years ago this week, the first formal automobile race in Great Britain was staged at the Crystal Palace in London and won by Charles Jarrott driving an 8-hp Panhard et Levassor [8 April 1901]……… Frederick W. Ball was issued a United States patent for his planetary transmission [9 April 1901]…….100 years ago this week, Ralph DePalma won the 24th and final race of his Champ Car career in Beverly Hills, California setting a career record for wins that would not be topped until 1963 [10 April 1921]……. on the same day [10 April 1921] Jimmy Murphy drove his Duesenberg to victory in a 50 mile AAA Championship race at Los Angeles Motor Speedway. Duesenberg drivers Murphy, Joe Thomas and Eddie Pullen won earlier 25 milers as did Ralph DePalma in a Ballot. It was the last AAA wins for both Pullen & DePalma…….90 years ago this week, the first production Marmon Sixteen was completed [7 April 1931]. The vehicles produced by Colonel. Howard C.

Marmon were not your customary American automobiles. In engineering terms, the Marmon was always a superior car. In aesthetics, they were always modern and tasteful, and in quality, few could compare. Conceived over many years, the crowning achievement of this firm was a grand automobile that carried a magnificent 491 cubic inch, all-alloy 16-cylinder engine – the Marmon Sixteen, first introduced in 1930. Although the engineering and build quality were the work of Marmon, Walter Dorwin Teague and, to a large extent, his son, WD Jr. was responsible for the modern, almost architectural bodies that were mounted atop the magnificent chassis. Their designs were realized almost exclusively by LeBaron and made extensive use of alloy panels and fittings, techniques that were in keeping with the brilliantly engineered Sixteen. Despite its incomparable performance and cutting-edge designs, the Great Depression ensured that the Sixteen, which typically cost at least $5,000, sold slowly and less than 400 were constructed. Today, owning a Sixteen is a sign of good taste, mechanical appreciation and wise judgment……..70 years ago this week, Marshall Teague won the first NASCAR Grand National event on the US West Coast [8 April 1951]. Driving his Hudson Hornet, Teague led all 200 laps at Carrell Speedway in Gardena, California. Frank Mundy drove a rental car to an 11th-place finish, winning $25. Mundy waited until after dark to return the car so the attendant wouldn’t notice the bald tires……. Frank Gardner passed Brian Redman with 2 laps to go and went on to win the European Formula 5000 series race on the Snetterton circuit, England [9 April 1951]. Gardner hung a few car lengths back of Redman until making the pass down the long Norwich Straight on the 23rd of 25 laps. Gardner took his works Lola T192 across the line 4 tenths of a second ahead of Redman’s McLaren M18. Only 13 cars entered and just 11 managed to start in the wake of crashes at the opening race at Mallory Park and test/practice mishaps. Opening round winner Mike Hailwood was absent after wrecking his car in a Goodwood test while Gordon Spice and Graham McRae crashed in private practice the day before…….60 years ago this week, the Brussels Grand Prix was held at Heizel [9 April 1961]. The race was run in three “heats” of 22 laps each and the times were aggregated. The race was won by Australian driver Jack Brabham in a Cooper T53., England……50 years ago this week, Richard Petty won the Columbia 200 at Columbia Speedway after passing Benny Parsons in the closing laps of the race [8 April 1951]. Petty finished the season with 21 wins, 41 top 10s and 38 top fives, which helped him claim the 1971 NASCAR Cup Series championship…….on the same day [8 April 1951], Fritz von Opel (72), automobile manufacturer and rocketry enthusiast died. He was the grandson of Adam Opel, the founder of the Opel car company. Opel was born in Rüsselsheim and educated at the technical university of Darmstadt. After graduation, he was made director of testing for the Opel company and also put in charge of publicity. In the 1920s, he became interested in using rockets in publicity stunts for the company and sought advice from Max Valier of the newly formed Verein für Raumschiffahrt (VfR – “Spaceflight Society”) and Friedrich Sander, a pyrotechnics manufacturer from Bremerhaven. On 15 March 1928 Opel tested his first rocket-powered car, the RAK.1, and achieved a top speed of 75 km/h (47 mph) in it, proving the feasibility of the concept of rocket propulsion. Less than two months later, he reached a speed of 230 km/h (143 mph) in the RAK.2, driven by 24 solid-fuel rockets. Later that same year, he purchased a sailplane named the “Lippisch Ente” (Ente is “duck” in German) from Alexander Lippisch and attached rocket motors to it, creating the world’s first rocket plane on 11 June. The aircraft exploded on its second test flight, before Opel had had a chance to pilot it himself, so he commissioned a new aircraft, also called the RAK.1, from Julius Hatry, and flew it at Frankfurt-am-Main on 30 September 1929. In the meantime, another mishap had claimed the RAK.3, a rocket-powered railway car powered by 30 solid-fuel rockets which had reached a speed of 254 km/h (157 mph). Also in 1928, Opel built and test ran a rocket-powered motorcycle called the Monster.[1On 25 April 1940 Fritz von Opel was taken off the Italian liner Conte di Savoia by the British authorities at Gibraltar. After being detained at Gibraltar for sixteen days, he was allowed to proceed to the United States. In 1947 Opel married Emita Herrán Olózaga (1913–1967) and became the father of Formula One driver Rikky von Opel (Frederick von Opel), born later the same year. He died at Samedan in Switzerland in 1971…….. At the Easter meet at Santa Pod Raceway, Clive Skilton debuted his new dragster ‘Second Revolution’ and became the first to run 200 mph in the UK and set a new UK low E.T. with a 7.39/203 straight off the trailer! [11 April 1971]……..40 years ago this week, Richard Petty captured his 15th win at North Wilkesboro Speedway in the Northwestern Bank 400 [5 April 1981]. The victory was his 194th of his 200 career NASCAR Cup Series wins……. Henry Ford II rejected Chrysler Corporation’s offer to merge [10 April 1981]…….30 years ago this week, Dale Jarrett won the NASCAR Xfinity (Busch Grand National) Series 1991 Pontiac Pacesetters 200 at Darlington Raceway [6 April 1991]. Jarrett passed Bobby Labonte on a restart with 14 laps to go and was out front when a Lap 145 caution ended the race. It was Jarrett’s seventh of 11 series wins…….. Ricky Rudd captured his only win at Darlington Raceway, and of the season, in the TranSouth 500 after the No. 5 team had the right pit strategy [7 April 1991]. Rudd took the lead from Davey Allison, who pitted for gas and fresh tires, with 37 laps to go and went on to take the checkered flag by a commanding 11 seconds over Davey Allison…….20 years ago this week, Perry Wacker, a Dutch lorry driver, was jailed for 14 years for the manslaughter of 58 Chinese illegal immigrants who were found suffocated in his lorry at Dover (England) ferry port in June 2000 [5 April 2001]…….. Scott Riggs took the lead on Lap 143 and never lost it, holding off rookie Travis Kvapil to win the Advance Auto Parts 250 at Martinsville Speedway for his first career NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors (Craftsman) Truck Series triumph [7 April 2001]. Riggs gave Ultra Motorsports its third consecutive victory that season. Teammate Ted Musgrave had won the previous two events at Homestead-Miami Speedway and Mesa Marin Raceway.

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