Discover the momentous motoring events that took place this week in history …………
100 years ago this week, Marmon successfully met a challenge to lap the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in a stock, fully equipped sedan at a mile a minute, as the Model 34 sedan recorded a lap at 63.2 mph [12 March 1920]……..90 years ago this week, Cliff Woodbury drove a front-drive Miller 91 to a 180.90 mph record over a measured mile at Daytona Beach, Florida [15 March 1930]…….80 years ago this week, “Rapid” Roy Hall, a known moonshine runner, won a 150 mile race on a tiny dirt track in Salisbury, North Carolina, US. Bill France finished second [10 March 1940]…….60 years ago this week, Gordon Keeble introduced the Gordon GT at the Geneva Motor Show [10 March 1960]. The car came about when John Gordon, formerly of the struggling Peerless company, and Jim Keeble got together in 1959 to make the Gordon GT car, initially by fitting a Chevrolet Corvette V8 engine, into a chassis by Peerless, for a USAF pilot named Nielsen. Impressed with the concept, a 4.6 litre Chevrolet (283 c.i.) V8 was fitted into a specially designed square-tube steel spaceframe chassis, with independent front suspension and all-round disc brakes. The complete chassis was then taken to Turin, Italy, where a body made of steel panels designed by Giorgetto Giugiaro was built by Bertone. The car’s four five-inch headlights were in the rare, slightly angled “Chinese eye” arrangement also used by a few other European marques, generally for high-speed cars such as Lagonda Rapide, Lancia Flaminia and Triumphs, as well as Rolls-Royce. The interior had an old luxury jet feel, with white on black gauges, toggle switches, and quilted aircraft PVC. This British company produced 100 cars between 1964 and 1967. The marque’s badge was unusual in featuring a tortoise after a pet tortoise walked into the frame of an inaugural photo-shoot, taken in the grounds of the makers. Because of the irony (the slowness of tortoises) the animal was chosen as the emblem………50 years ago this week, the Mercedes C111, the first of
a series of experimental cars, made its public debut at the Geneva Motor Show [11 March 1970]. The original 1969 model used a mid-mounted three rotor Wankel rotary engine in a streamlined fibreglass body that produced a drag co-efficient of just 0.191. The following year it reappeared with a four-rotor, 350bhp Wankel engine and was reportedly capable of 180mph. Mercedes decided against rotary technology and the third iteration of the C111 used a 230 bhp straight-5 turbodiesel. With it Mercedes beat numerous diesel records, achieving 200mph at the Nardo high-speed bowl in Italy in 1978. Mercedes revived the name in 1991 for a road going supercar, the C112 but after taking 700 orders decided to kill the project…….. The first production Triumph Stag rolled off the assembly line [13 March 1970]. Envisioned as a luxury sports car, the Triumph Stag was designed to compete directly with the Mercedes-Benz SL class models. All Stags were four-seater convertible coupés, but for structural rigidity – and to meet new American rollover standards of the time – the Stag required a B-pillar “roll bar” hoop connected to the windscreen frame by a T-bar. A removable hardtop was a popular factory option for the early Stags, and was later supplied as a standard fitment. The car started as a styling experiment cut and shaped from a 1963–64 Triumph 2000 pre-production saloon, which had also been styled by Michelotti, and loaned to him by Harry Webster, Director of Engineering at Triumph. Their agreement was that if Webster liked the design, Triumph could use the prototype as the basis of a new Triumph model. Harry Webster, who was a long time friend of Giovanni Michelotti, whom he called “Micho”, loved the design and took the prototype back to England. The end result, a two-door
drop head (convertible), had little in common with the styling of its progenitor 2000, but retained the suspension and drive line. Triumph liked the Michelotti design so much that they propagated the styling lines of the Stag into the new T2000/T2500 saloon and estate model lines of the 1970s. The initial Stag design was based around the saloon’s 2.5-litre six cylinder engine, but Harry Webster intended the Stag, large saloons and estate cars to use a new Triumph-designed overhead cam (OHC) 2.5-litre fuel injected (PI) V8. Under the direction of Harry Webster’s successor, Spen King in 1968, the new Triumph OHC 2.5 PI V8 was enlarged to 2997 cc (3.0 litres) to increase torque. To meet emission standards in the USA, a key target market, the troublesome mechanical fuel injection was dropped in favour of dual Zenith-Stromberg 175 CDSE carburettors. A key aim of Triumph’s engineering strategy at the time was to create a family of engines of different size around a common crankshaft. This would enable the production of power plants of capacity between 1.5 and 4 litres, sharing many parts, and hence offering economies of manufacturing scale and of mechanic training. A number of iterations of this design went into production, notably a slant four-cylinder engine used in the later Triumph Dolomite and Triumph TR7, and a variant manufactured by StanPart that was initially used in the Saab 99. The Stag’s V8 was the first of these engines into production. Sometimes described as two four-cylinder engines Siamesed together, it is more correct to say that the later four-cylinder versions were half a Stag engine (the left half). It has sometimes been alleged that Triumph were instructed to use the proven all-aluminium Rover V8, originally designed by Buick, but claimed that it would not fit. Although there was a factory attempt by Triumph to fit a Rover engine, which was pronounced unsuccessful, the decision to go with the Triumph V8 was probably driven more by the wider engineering strategy and by the fact that the Buick’s different weight and torque characteristics would have entailed substantial re-engineering of the Stag when it was almost ready to go on sale. Furthermore Rover, also owned by British Leyland, could not necessarily have supplied the numbers of V8 engines to match the anticipated production of the Stag anyway. As in the Triumph 2000 model line, unitary construction was employed, as was fully independent suspension – MacPherson struts in front, semi-trailing arms at the rear. Braking was by front disc and rear drum brakes, while steering was power-assisted rack and pinion. The car was launched to a warm welcome at the various international auto shows. The Stag rapidly acquired a reputation for mechanical unreliability, usually in the form of overheating. These problems arose from a variety of causes. First, the late changes to the engine gave rise to design features that were questionable from an engineering perspective. For example, the water pump was set above the engine. If the engine became hot in traffic, coolant escaped from system via the expansion bottle and the overall fluid level then fell below the level of the pump. As well as preventing coolant from circulating, this also caused rapid failure of the pump. Even when the system was topped up again, the failed water pump would not circulate coolant and further overheating ensued. Water pump failures also occurred due to poorly hardened drive gears, which wore out prematurely and stopped the water pump. A second cause of engine trouble was the choice of materials. The block was made from iron and the heads from aluminium, a mixture that required the use of corrosion-inhibiting antifreeze all year round. This point was not widely appreciated either by owners or by the dealer network supporting them. Consequently the engines were affected by electrolytic corrosion, so that corroded alloy debris came loose and was distributed around inside the engine. A third cause of trouble was the engine’s use of long, simplex roller link chains, which would first stretch and then often fail inside fewer than 25,000 miles (40,200 km), resulting in expensive damage. Even before failing, a stretched timing chain would skip links and cause valves to lift and fall in the wrong sequence, so that valves hit pistons and damaged both. Another problem with the cylinder heads was the arrangement of cylinder head fixing studs, half of which were vertical and the other half at an angle. The angled studs when heated and cooled, expanded and contracted at a different rate to the alloy heads, causing sideways forces which caused premature failure of the cylinder head gaskets. Anecdotally this arrangement was to reduce production costs as the cylinder head mounting studs and bolt were all accessible with the rocker covers fitted. This allowed the factory to completely assemble the cylinder head assembly before fitting to the engine. However this was not possible in the end due to the cam chain fitting and setting of the cam timing requiring the removal of the rocker covers. Finally, although pre-production engines cast by an outside foundry performed well, those fitted to production cars were made very poorly in house by a plant troubled with industrial unrest and poor quality control. Poor manufacturing standards also gave rise to head warpage, and head gaskets that restricted coolant flow, which also led to overheating. This combination of design, manufacturing and maintenance flaws caused a large number of engine failures. Time magazine rated the Triumph Stag as one of the 50 worst cars ever made. At the time, British Leyland never provided a budget sufficient to correct the few design shortcomings of the Triumph 3.0 litre OHC V8. Another problem was that the Stag was always a relatively rare car. British Leyland had around 2,500 UK dealers when the Stag was on sale and a total of around 19,000 were sold in the UK. Thus the average dealer sold only seven or eight Stags during the car’s whole production run, or roughly one car per year. This meant that few dealers saw defective Stags often enough to recognise and diagnose the cause of the various problems. The last production Stag (BOL88V) is kept at the Heritage Motor Centre…….40 years ago this week, Cale Yarborough won the NASCAR Grand National ‘Carolina 500’ at North Carolina Motor Speedway [9 March 1980]. Yarborough was driving his back-up Olds after crashing his Junior Johnson Chevy. Yarborough led the final 118 laps after an ill-timed yellow put five other contenders down a lap. Richard Petty’s Chevy finished second, 3 seconds behind. The race had been snowed out on March 2nd…….. A jury in Winamac, Indiana, found the Ford Motor Company innocent of reckless homicide in the fiery deaths of three young women riding in a Ford Pinto [13 March 1980]…….30 years ago this week, the first round of the 1990 season took place in Phoenix, Arizona and was won by Ayrton Senna driving a McLaren Honda [11 March 1990]. However, he didn’t have it easy, rain during qualifying shook up the order and Jean Alesi, just in his second season of F1 racing, took an early lead in the Tyrrell. Senna, who started in fifth, closed the gap and sat behind Alesi, expecting the Tyrrell’s Pirelli tyres to wear at a faster rate than his Goodyears. However, when it became clear that the Pirellis would hold up Senna made his move. The world champion expected it to be a cut and shut job, but Alesi held his line and retook the lead at the next corner. Senna was in no mood to mess around and on the next lap took a more ruthless approach to ensure he gained the lead. The move stuck, but Alesi held on for an impressive second-place finish, over 45 seconds ahead of third-placed Thierry Boutsen and just eight seconds off Senna…….. The Mazda MX-5 went on sale in the UK, priced at £14,249 [14 March 1990]. Powered by a 1.6-litre inline four cylinder engine putting out 114 bhp at 6500 rpm, enabling a 0-
60 mph dash in 9.1sec and topping out at 114 mph, the MX-5 was never about searing pace, as Autocar wrote,“If you’re expecting a Mazda MX-5 to set you alight, you’re in for a disappointment. But as with everything the MX-5 does, it’s not the result but the participation that puts a smile on your face. This is the two-seat roadster that car enthusiasts have been screaming for since the demise of the old Lotus Elan. It also has the two ingredients essential in any sports car powerplant: instant throttle response and an invigorating exhaust note.” The model debuted in 1989 at the Chicago Auto Show and was conceived as a small roadster – with light weight and minimal mechanical complexity limited only by legal and safety requirements, while being technologically modern and reliable. The MX-5 is conceptually the evolution and spiritual successor of the British sports cars of the 1950s & ’60s. The second generation MX-5 (NB) was launched in 1998 (for the 1999 model year), the third generation (NC) model was launched in 2005 (for the 2006 model year), and a fourth generation (ND) was released in 2015 (for the 2016 model year). It continues to be the best-selling two-seat convertible sports car in history and by April 2016, over one million MX-5s had been built and sold around the world. Production of the MX-5 had fallen by 2013 to below 14,000 units, due to the world finance crisis in 2008, and the pre-announcement in 2012 of the coming ND model. Since the launch of the third generation, Mazda has consolidated worldwide marketing using the MX-5 name with the exception of the United States where it is marketed as the MX-5 Miata. The name Miata derives from Old High German for reward……..20 years ago this week, Major Ivan Hirst (83), the British Army officer and engineer who was instrumental in reviving Volkswagen from a single factory in Wolfsburg, Germany, into a major postwar automotive manufacturer, died [10 March 2000]……the following day [11 March 2000], Jenson Button walked away from a massive 160mph accident during Saturday practice for his debut grand prix. He had been running fifth fastest when he hit a kerb and smashed into the retaining wall, ripping off two of the car’s wheels. Driving the spare car in qualifying, he was caught out by yellow and red flags and ended up qualifying in 21st. He ended up retiring from sixth place with engine failure in the race…….. Dale Earnhardt and Bobby Labonte engaged in a terrific late-race duel at Atlanta Motor Speedway (US) [12 March 2000]. Earnhardt led the final 20 laps and beat Labonte at the finish line by a bumper to score his 75th career NASCAR Winston Cup victory……….. Filming of a new motoring show hosted by Jeremy Clarkson was abandoned after a member of the production team crashed a £140,000 Lamborghini Diablo [13 March 2000]. The man lost control of the car after driving it out of an underground car park in Park Lane, in London’s West End. It careered across two lanes of traffic before crashing, leaving its driver shaken but unhurt.