9-15 August: Motoring Milestones

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

120 years ago this week, the first rally race in Ireland, sponsored by the Irish Automobile Club, was held as 12 cars attempted an organised journey from Dublin to Waterford [9 August 1901]. The rally took place over a specified public route with a driver and navigator straining to maintain a breakneck pace from checkpoint to checkpoint. The course was generally kept secret until the race began. Rally racing became extremely popular after World War II, and weekend rallies became common worldwide. The longest rally took place in 1977, over 19,239 miles from London to Sydney…… Charles A. Yont and W.B. Felker driving an 1899 Locomobile steamer, completed the first ascent to the summit of Pikes Peak by an automobile, Colorado [12 August 1901]. Climbing 14,110 feet to the top was quite a feat for the little 2-cylinder steamer. The trip took just over nine hours and was accomplished by pushing as well as driving the motorcar. Peak is well known because of its commanding location and easy accessibility, and the view from the summit is said to have inspired the song “America the Beautiful.” Today, an ascent to the top is made easy by a graded toll road……100 years ago this week, the first race was held at the Cotati Speedway in Santa Rosa, California, US [14 August 1921]. Eddie Hearne in a Duesenberg-Distil won the 150-mile event. It was a mile-and-a-quarter around with 38 degree banked corners, built of 2,000,000 feet of lumber……..90 years ago this week, Ferdinand Porsche applied for a German patent for his torsion-bar suspension system [11 August 1931]…..80 years ago this week, the “Soybean Car”, a plastic-bodied car, was unveiled by Henry Ford at Dearborn Days, an annual community festival [13 August 1941].

The frame, made of tubular steel, had 14 plastic panels attached to it. The car weighed 2000 lbs, 1000 lbs. lighter than a steel car. The exact ingredients of the plastic panels are unknown because no record of the formula exists today. One source claimed the car panels were a complex blend of soybeans, wheat, hemp, flax and ramie, but those who worked on the project have stated that they were a blend of soybean fiber, phenolic resin and formaldehyde, which would make them similar in architecture (if not materials) to the Duroplast panels later used on the East German Trabant (composed of cotton fibers and phenol resin). It was designed to run on hemp fuel. The Henry Ford Museum gives three reasons for Ford’s decision to make a plastic automobile, the plastic car made from soybeans – 1. Ford was looking to integrate industry with agriculture; 2. Ford claimed that his plastic made these cars safer than normal metal cars; 3. Ford wished to make his new plastic material a replacement for the metals used in normal cars. A side benefit would have been easing of the shortage of metal during World War II. Because of World War II all US automobile production was curtailed considerably, and the plastic car experiment basically came to a halt. By the end of the war the plastic car idea went into oblivion……70 years ago this week, newcomer Tommy Thompson outlasted Curtis Turner in an epic slugfest to win the Motor City 250 at Detroit, US [12 August 1951]. Driving a Chrysler, Thompson survived a motorized rubdown with roughneck Turner, taking the lead with 18 laps remaining, and collecting $5,000 for the victory…….60 years ago this week, Junior Johnson posted a wire-to-wire victory at Asheville-Weaverville Speedway in the Western North Carolina 500 (US), an event stopped after 258 of a scheduled 500 laps and punctuated by a post-race riot by angry fans [13 August 1961]. Johnson started second and jumped to a lead he would never relinquish, which left him to survive a track surface that crumbled under the weight of 38 cars in searing summer heat. Despite having his windshield blasted by a piece of loose asphalt, Johnson still finished three laps ahead of runner-up Joe Weatherly……..50 years ago this week, Walter Owen Bentley (82) – cover image, MBE, English engineer who designed engines for cars and aircraft, raced cars and motorcycles, and founded Bentley Motors Limited in Cricklewood near London, died [13 August 1971]…….. German car manufacturer, Georg von Opel (59), died [14 August 1971]…… Jo Siffert took pole and the win for BRM at the Austrian Grand Prix [15 August 1971]. On lap 36, Stewart’s race ended with a violent accident – his left rear driveshaft broke and the wheel was torn off. He emerged unhurt to be greeted as World Champion following Ickx’s retirement……on the same day [15 August 1971], Bobby Allison took the lead from Richard Petty with three laps left to win the Yankee 400 at Michigan International Speedway (US). Allison swapped the lead 14 times with Petty over the last half of the race and ultimately led 155 of the 197 laps. Petty wound up second, three seconds behind, with Buddy Baker third, one lap down. 30 years ago this week, Ernie Irvan led most of the way to win the 218.52-mile race at Watkins Glen, New York (US) a tragic affair that claimed the life of veteran campaigner J.D. McDuffie [11 August 1991]. The 52-year-old McDuffie died instantly when he slid off the track and hit a steel retaining barrier……. On the same day [11 August 1991] Ayrton Senna won the Hungarian Grand Prix for McLaren, leading home the William’s pairing of Nigel Mansell and Riccardo Patrese……..20 years ago this week, the Hungarian Grand Prix saw Michael Schumacher win his fourth World Championship and equal Alain Prost’s record of 51 Grand Prix victories [13 August 2001]. Rubens Barrichello in the other Ferrari finished second and McLaren driver David Coulthard finished third…….10 years ago this week, the record for longest distance riding a motorcycle in 24 hours of 3,249.9 km (2,019.4 miles) was achieved by L. Russell “Rusty” Vaughn (USA) at the Continental Tire Test Track, Uvalde, Texas, USA [10 August 2011]. Mr. Vaughn used his own personal 2010 Harley-Davidson FLHTK Electra-Glide Limited for the attempt and completed 238 laps of the test track.

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