7-13 December Motoring Milestones

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

100 years ago this week, Horace E Dodge (52) died in Palm Beach, Florida, US [10 December 1920]. With his brother John Francis Dodge American brothers, he invented one of the first all-steel cars in America. Bicycles were the first vehicles produced by the Dodge brothers. In 1901 they opened a machine shop in Detroit, making stove parts and, later, auto parts. The Dodge Brothers Company in 1910 established a large auto-parts plant in Hamtramck, Michigan. There the brothers made engines and other auto parts for the Ford Motor Company and for Olds Motor Works. In 1913 they began producing their own automobiles, and the first Dodge automobile appeared on November 14, 1914. Horace Dodge was responsible for a number of manufacturing innovations, including an oven that could bake enamel onto steel auto bodies. By 1920, the year in which both brothers died, Dodge was one of the industry’s largest companies. The Dodge concern was purchased by Chrysler Corporation in 1928 and remains a division of Chrysler……..70 years ago this week, Swiss-born Ernest Henry, the man who gave the world the double overhead camshaft, died alone in Paris [9 December 1950]. He developed auto racing engines, and is especially well known for his work for Peugeot and Ballot, who ruled most of the major auto racing from 1912 to 1921. His design directly influenced Sunbeam Racing cars as early as 1914; the 1921 Grand Prix Sunbeams owe much to his work with Ballot and the 1922 Grand Prix Sunbeams were designed by him. His engine operational architecture was the precursor of modern engines. One biographer called him “perhaps the most brilliant engine designer ever”; another described one of his designs as “so technically advanced it could have landed from outer space”. Henry’s “theory, design and execution” of twin-cam engines was to guide engine development in Europe and then around the world for the next century……60 years ago this week, Jim Hall, driving a Maserati Tipo 61, won the feature race at Las Vegas, Nevada, US [11 December 1960]……. Berkeley Car’s poor cash flow forced the company into liquidation [12 December 1960]. The company of Biggleswade, Bedfordshire in England produced economical sporting microcars with motorcycle-derived engines from 322 cc to 692 cc and front wheel drive, between 1956 and 1960. The Berkeley automobile was a collaboration between designer Lawrence “Lawrie” Bond and the Berkeley Coachworks factory owned by Charles Panter, which at the time was one of the largest manufacturers of caravans in Europe. It was an ideal project for Berkeley, who had developed considerable skills in the use of Glass-reinforced plastic (GRP), and were looking for something to fill the gaps in the very seasonal caravan market. What Panter and Bond wanted to achieve was “something good enough to win World 750cc races… but cheap, safe, easily repairable and pretty.” The early cars were an immediate success on the home market, and several derivative models were spawned over the four years of car production. Export markets, most notably the United States, were exploited and the cars earned a reputation for fun, if fragile, sports motoring on a budget. Recognising the threat posed by the newly introduced Mini and Austin-Healey Sprite in the late fifties, the company started to develop are a more conventional model with the support of Ford. The caravan market collapsed towards the end of 1960, and Berkeley’s poor cash flow forced the company into liquidation, taking its car manufacturing activities with it. After having produced about 4100 cars of various types, the workforce was laid off shortly before Christmas that year. An attempted sale of the company to Sharp’s Commercials Ltd (manufacturer of the Bond Minicar) came to nothing, and the company’s assets were liquidated in 1961……..50 years ago this week, Lee Iacocca became president of Ford Motor Company [10 December 1970]. Iacocca joined Ford as an engineer in the 1940s, but quickly moved into marketing, where he gained influence quickly as a supporter of the Ford Mustang. Iacocca was eventually ousted from Ford in 1978. He went on to become president of the struggling Chrysler Corporation, which was saddled with an inventory of gas-guzzling road-yachts, just as the fuel shortage began. Iacocca made history by talking the government into offering Chrysler $1.5 billion in loans. The bailout worked, with the help of Iacocca’s streamlining measures. Chrysler recorded record profits in 1984……..30 years ago this week, Ninety-nine vehicles were involved in an accident caused by fog on Interstate 75 in Calhoun, Tennessee, between Chattanooga and Knoxville near the Hiwassee River [11 December 1990]. Even the exact cause of the foggy pileup, the worst such crash in Tennessee history, remains unclear. Police, drivers and others had warned for years about the dangers of the heavy fog that persistently hung over the five-mile stretch of highway near the Hiwassee River. Witnesses later compared the fog bank that December day to “throwing a blanket over your windshield.” The wreckage that resulted from the 99-car pileup that day made determining who crashed first almost impossible. Drivers who instantly lost visibility instinctively hit their brakes and slammed into each other willy-nilly in a matter of minutes. That number included tractor-trailers, cars, vans and pickups ? some hauling Christmas trees and presents. Gas tanks caught fire. Vehicles crumpled like tin cans. Survivors and first responders compared the scene to a war zone. “I started hearing bangs and booms from everywhere,” said Ralph Fisher, a traveling salesman who pulled off the road in time to avoid the pileup. Authorities set up a makeshift morgue along the median to hold the bodies, some burned past recognition. Estimates of the death toll varied. A review by the National Transportation Safety Board later placed the body count at 12, with 42 injured. The dead included Richard Platt, 60, of Farragut, who never got home for his 12-year-old daughter’s Christmas program. “I knew something was wrong (the day of the crash) when he didn’t come home for dinner,” said his widow, Marie. A string of lawsuits followed. Some targeted the state for failing to take stronger measures after a foggy pileup in the 1970s and repeated warnings. Others targeted paper manufacturer Bowater, claiming nearby holding ponds contributed to the fog. The NTSB’s findings pointed no fingers, offered no easy answers and satisfied few critics.The Tennessee Department of Transportation installed a $4.4 million system of fog detectors, gates and warning signs along the fog zone in 1993. No such wrecks have happened there since…..20 years ago this week, Vauxhall announced that its Luton car plant would close in 2002, with the final vehicle being made in March 2002, but production would still continue at the plant in Ellesmere Port [12 December 2000]. Manufacture of vans (sold under the Vauxhall, Opel and in some cases Renault badges throughout Europe) continued at the IBC Vehicles plant in Luton.

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