8-14 February: Motoring Milestones

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

130 years ago this week, Frederick Simms, founder of the RAC and Daimler wrote a letter containing the first recorded use of the term “motor car” [8 February 1891]. In 1889, the 26-year-old Simms met and became firm friends with Gottlieb Daimler, from whom in 1890 he purchased the rights for the use and manufacture of Daimler’s high-speed petrol engine and other patents, in the British Empire – ‘England and the colonies’ (excluding Canada).They were first used in motor launches but soon paved the way for the start-up of the British motor industry. In May 1890 his mechanic Johann van Toll was sent ahead to look after their borrowed launch at Putney and van Toll obtained premises in the new Billiter Buildings at 49 Leadenhall Street, London for Simms & Co Consulting Engineers. There had been no purpose in Simms bringing a car with him because of the restrictions in Britain. In May 1891, Simms demonstrated the motor launch on the Thames, and in May 1893 formed The Daimler Motor Syndicate Limited to fit petrol engines into boats becoming, possibly, the UK’s first motor company……..110 years ago this week, Charles F Kettering installed his reduced size starter-generator in a Cadillac and conducted the first successful tests on the system [8 February 1911]……. Mercer recorded its first major racing victory as Charles Bigelow in a Type 35R raceabout won the Panama Pacici Light Car Race in San Francisco, California [9 February 1911]……..80 years ago this week, the first highway post office service was established along the route between Washington, D.C., and Harrisonburg, Virginia, US, a distance of 149 miles [10 February 1941]. The first post office bus, built by the White Motor Company of Cleveland, Ohio, is now part of the National Postal Museum collection. After the bus was decommissioned in the 1960s, a postal worker hid it in a succession of Post Office Department garages to keep it from being discarded as surplus. It was finally “discovered” and sold by the government. In 1961, it was purchased by the members of the United Federation of Postal Clerks (which later became the American Postal Workers Union), who donated it to the Smithsonian Institution and agreed to underwrite the cost of restoring the bus to its proper condition. The bus is currently on loan to the Crawford Museum of Transportation and Industry, Western Reserve Historical Society in Cleveland, Ohio. The interiors of Highway Post Offices were largely indistinguishable from the Railway Post Offices they replaced. On the left side were the letter cases and the letter distributing table. On the right side of the bus was the paper distributing table and holders for mail sacks. Windows were barred on the outside in addition to being screened on the inside to provide security. Electric ceiling lights provided illumination for the clerks. The rear section of the bus had an average of 640 cubic feet of space which could hold an average of 150 mail sacks. The expansion of the Highway Post Office system was postponed during World War II. A second route was not established until 1946. For roughly the next decade, as railway mail service shrank, highway mail service grew. In the period from 1960-1963 the railway mail service was replacing an average of 20 trains a month. Highway Post Office routes were organized on round trips which averaged about 150 miles each way. There was a very good reason for this, as the bus generally could only hold enough gas for about one 150 mile trip, and fuel stops meant losing valuable time. Furthermore, if a trip was too long, garages to service the vehicles had to be set up at both ends of the trip, doubling that cost. Highway mail routes generally served an average of 25 post offices directly and many others indirectly through Star Route and railway mail connections. The end of the Highway Post Office system was signaled by a major reorganization within the Post Office Department—the adoption of the sectional center concept. Under this reorganization, mail handling was divided into sections of the country. Mail was sent to a central location, where it was processed by high-speed sorting machines. On June 30, 1974, 33 years after the first experimental trip, the last Highway Post Office made its final run over the Cincinnati-Cleveland, Ohio route. Ironically, although Highway Post Offices were introduced to replace railway mail trains, Railway Mail Service outlasted Highway Post Office Service by three years……..70 years ago this week, Marshall Teague  (cover image) drove a Hudson Hornet to victory on the beach oval of the 160-mile Daytona Grand National at Daytona Beach, Florida, beginning Hudson’s extraordinary run on the NASCAR circuit [11 February 1951]. In 1948, Hudson introduced the revolutionary “step-down” chassis design that is still used in most cars today.

Until Hudson’s innovation all car drivers had stepped up into the driver’s seats. The “step-down” design gave the Hornet a lower centre of gravity and, consequently, better handling. Fitted with a bigger engine in 1951, the Hudson Hornet became a dominant force on the NASCAR circuit. For the first time a car not manufactured by the Big Three was winning big. Excited by the publicity generated by their success on the track, Hudson executives began directly backing their racing teams, providing the team cars with everything they needed to make their cars faster. The Big Three, fearing that losses on the track would translate into losses on the salesroom floor, hurried to back their own cars. Thus was born the system of industry-backed racing that has become such a prominent marketing tool today. The Hudson Hornet would contend for nearly every NASCAR race between 1951 and 1955, when rule changes led to an emphasis on horsepower over handling………the following day [12 February 1951], Bill France Sr. called Tom Rhodes, Public Relations Director for Hudson, informing him of Marshall Teague’s Daytona win in an attempt to get Hudson directly involved in NASCAR racing…….60 years ago this week, Moto Kitano rode a Honda to victory in the FIM 250cc motorcycle GP at Daytona, Florida, Mike Hailwood was second on a Mondial [12 February 1961]…….and Dan Gurney won the Formula Libre race on the airfield at Ballarat, Australia, driving a BRM P48 F1 car. Graham Hill’s second place made it a BRM 1-2 finish…… Enzo Ferrari introduced the mid-engined Ferrari Dino 156 Formula 1 car (cover image), to comply with then-new Formula One regulations that reduced engine displacement from 2.5 to 1.5 litres, similar to the pre-1961 Formula Two class for which Ferrari had developed a mid-engined car also called 156 [13 February 1961]. The 1961 version was affectionately dubbed “sharknose” due to its characteristic air intake “nostrils”. A similar intake duct styling was applied over forty years later to the Ferrari 360. Ferrari started the 1961 F1 season with a 65 degrees Dino engine, then replaced by a new engine with the V-angle increased to 120 degrees and designed by Carlo Chiti. This increased the power by 10 hp (7 kW). Bore and stroke were 73.0 x 58.8 mm (2.3 in) with a displacement of 1,476.60 cc and a claimed 190 hp (142 kW) at 9,500 rpm. For 1962 a 24-valve version was planned with 200 hp (149 kW) at 10,000 rpm, but never appeared. In 1963 the 12-valve version fitted with Bosch direct-fuel injection instead of carburetors achieved that power level. The last victory for the Ferrari 156 was achieved by Italian Lorenzo Bandini in the 1964 Austrian Grand Prix. A V-6 engine with 120 degree bank is smoother at producing power because every 120 degree rotation of engine crankshaft produces a power pulse. Phil Hill won the 1961 World Championship of Drivers and Ferrari secured the 1961 International Cup for F1 Manufacturers, both victories achieved with the 156. Sadly on September 10, 1961, after a collision with Jim Clark’s Lotus on the second lap of the Italian Grand Prix, the 156 of Wolfgang von Trips (Hill’s teammate) became airborne and crashed into a side barrier, fatally throwing him from the car and killing fifteen spectators…….50 years ago this week, Pete Hamilton and David Pearson won the twin 125-mile NASCAR Grand National qualifying races at Daytona International Speedway [11 February 1971]. Hamilton beat A.J. Foyt by 3 feet to win the first race. Hamilton made the winning pass when Foyt eased off the throttle for Ron Keselowski’s flipping car, allowing Hamilton to close and pass. It was Hamilton’s first start in Cotton Owens’ Plymouth. Pearson drove his Holman-Moody Mercury by Buddy Baker’s Petty Dodge with 6 laps to go to take the second race……Richard Petty led teammate Buddy Baker across the line in the Daytona 500 [14 February 1971]. It was Petty’s 3rd Daytona 500 win. Petty’s Plymouth finished 10 seconds ahead of Baker’s Petty Enterprises Dodge with

A.J. Foyt third in the Wood Brothers Mercury. Foyt was leading with 39 laps to go when he ran out of gas, losing a lap in the process. Foyt unlapped himself in the final 20 laps, but couldn’t catch the Petty team. Donnie Allison was leading at the time of the last yellow, but he was eliminated after his Mercury darted into the wall during the last caution lap. Petty averaged 144.462 mph……..30 years ago this week, Mercury showed the Mystique concept minivan, Chrysler displayed a Neon with a two-stroke engine, and Pontiac’s ProtoSport 4 “idea car” suggested the possibility of a four-door Firebird. Chevrolet’s Monte Carlo predicted the next-generation Lumina, at Chicago Auto Show [9 February 1991]. People got an early peek at the 1992 Ford Crown Victoria and Mercury Grand Marquis, as well as the Buick LeSabre, Pontiac Bonneville, and Oldsmobile Eighty-Eight. A brand new, “breaking the mould” model debuted for 1991, the Saturn, a division of General Motors but maintaining a separate identity. Eight years in development, Saturn sold for “no-haggle” prices and soon became known for a customer-friendly buying experience…….20 years ago this week, automotive concept vehicles exhibited at the 100th Chicago Auto Show included the Buick Bengal convertible, Ford Forty Nine dream car, Cadillac Vizon crossover, Jeep Willys, Chevy Borrego and Hyundai HCD6 Roadster [9 February 2001]…….. Nigel Mansell announced his plans to make yet another return as an F1 driver, albeit in a two-seater Minardi [14 February 2001]. The news quashed fanciful rumours that he would be making a full return with the team and partner Fernando Alonso all season. The deal was in fact to perform demonstration runs at certain events as part of a corporate entertainment package being run by team-boss Paul Stoddart.

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