Motoring Milestones: 4-10 May

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

120 years ago this week, the first successful sprint meeting in Britain was held as part of the Thousand Miles Trial managed by the Automobile Club of Great Britain and Ireland [10 May 1900]. The flying-start mile course at Welpeck Park (Nottinghamshire), belonging to the Duke of Portland, was not quite level, so cars were timed in both directions. The winner was the Hon Charles Rolls, whose two-way average was 37.63 mph with a 12 hp Panhard. Herbert Austin was placed 9th with a mean of 2mins 37.80 secs for the Wolseley………100 years ago this week, American Harry Miller was granted a US patent for a race-car design that introduced many features incorporated into race cars in the following decades [4 May 1920]. Among Miller’s countless patented breakthroughs were aluminium pistons and engine blocks, off-beat carburettors, inter-cooled superchargers, and practical front-wheel drive. Born to German immigrants in Menomonie, Wisconsin, in 1876, Harry Miller shunned his father’s encouragement to become a painter and chose instead a career in engineering. He dropped out of high school at the age of 15 to work in a local machine shop. A gifted tinkerer, Miller invented for the joy of it. He built what is said to have been the first motorcycle ever made in the United States by hooking up a one-cylinder engine to his bicycle. In the mid-1890s, Miller built the country’s first outboard motor, a four-cylinder engine that he clamped to his rowboat. Miller never sought a patent for either invention. Miller left Wisconsin, in 1897, for Los Angeles, where he opened a machine shop. In 1905, he built his first car. His major breakthrough came in 1916, when he designed a race car for famed racer Barney Oldfield. His product, the Golden Submarine, was the fastest race car of its time. The Submarine made Oldfield the dominant force in the unregulated match races of the period. Having gained great recognition with the Golden Submarine, Miller directed his energy toward creating better race cars. He was the first man to concentrate exclusively on building race cars for sale. By the late 1920s, Miller was designing and building precision-tuned race cars and selling them for the exorbitant price of $15,000. Miller’s ultimate achievement was the Miller 91, which he built for the 1926 Indy 500. The Miller 91 produced a minimum of 230hp at 7,000rpm, and it could be boosted to 300hp at 8,500rpm. At 3.3hp per cubic inch, Miller’s car compares remarkably with today’s super-charged Indy cars, which produce 4.5hp per cubic inch. Take into account that Miller’s materials were limited–gaskets and lubricants were primitive, aluminum and chrom-moly steel rare, welding unreliable, and fuel capable of only meagre compression ratios–and you see just what kind of genius Harry Miller was. With the benefits of modern technology, Miller’s original 1926 racing engine would eventually produce over three times its original horsepower. His design remained competitive for nearly five decades. In 1992, one of Miller’s 1500 cc race cars was purchased by the Smithsonian Institution, which displays the car alongside the last century’s greatest engineering miracles……..90 years ago this week, the 21st Targa Florio received entries from the entire French Bugatti équipe, to fight against factory teams from Alfa Romeo, Maserati and Officine Mecchaniche, plus many independents, totaling 17 cars at the start [4 May 1930]. The race developed not only into a duel between Alfa Romeo and Bugatti but more into a gigantic

battle between two men: Varzi and Chiron. After almost seven tortuous hours through the mountainous Madonie, it ended with a narrow, well earned victory for Varzi, less than two minutes ahead of Chiron. When only 23 seconds behind on the last lap, Chiron broke two of his Bugatti’s wheels and had to cope with a very sick mechanic. In his awesome drive, Varzi had lost the single spare wheel of his Alfa Romeo, sprung a fuel leak, and near the end the back of his car caught fire. The Italian survived all these difficulties in probably his most outstanding drive ever. By breaking the existing records, he ended Bugatti’s 5-year string of victories. Conelli, Campari, Nuvolari, Divo, Williams and Morandi drove near the front but were clearly in a lesser rank than the two leading contenders. Maserati, D’Ippolito, Minoia, Borzacchini and Bittmann all survived the over seven-hour ordeal, while Maggi, Balestero, Arcangeli, Divo and Ruggeri retired…….. Charles Yale Knight, inventor of the sleeve-valve engine, died in Mendocino, California, US [4 May 1930]……..70 years ago this week, the first La Carrera Panamericana road race began. 132 cars entered the 5-day, 2,178-mile race running the length of Mexico from Juárez on the Texas border to El Ocotal on the border with Guatemala [5 May 1950]. At least one stage was run each day

for five consecutive days. The elevation changes were significant: from 328 feet (100 m) to 10,482 feet (3,195 m) above sea level, requiring amongst other modifications re-jetting of carburettors to cope with thinner air. Most the race was run between 5,000 feet (1,500 m) and 8,000 feet (2,400 m). American Hershel McGriff won in an Oldsmobile that cost $1,800, running on whitewall tyres he picked up for $12. His victory earned him $17,533 dollars, a huge sum in 1950. Sadly four people were killed in the race. A four-year-old Juan Altamirano was hit by the car of Jesús Valezzi and Adolfo Dueñas Costa in the first stage in Cd. Juárez before the start of the race. In the same stage near to finish line the Guatemalan Enrique Hachmeister lost the control of his Lincoln. The Peruvian co-driver Jesús Reyes Molina died in the fourth stage in León, Guanajuato when the Nash of Henry Charles Bradley crashed with a bridge in the Florida river. Reyes Molina was taken to León Hospital, where he died. The Nash Ambassador driven by the Americans Eddie Sollohub-Nicholeo Scott hit the crowd and killed a spectator in the fourth stage……… The first Heart Trophy Race was held at the Suffolk County (New York) Airport and was won by Brett Hannaway in an MG TC [7 May 1950]……… SEAT was founded with a total share capital of 600 million pesetas [9 May 1950]. The partners were the National Institute of Industry (INI) with 51% and six banks with 42%. FIAT held the remaining 7% and its manufacturing licence. Building of the factory started in Barcelona’s Zona Franca…….60 years ago this week, the sale of Volkswagenwerk AG stock to the public was authorised, ending 11 years of ownership by the West Germany government [9 May 1960]……… Erwin George “Cannonball” Baker (78), a motorcycle and automobile racing driver and organizer in the first half of the 20th century, died of a heart attack at Community Hospital in Indianapolis, Indiana [10 May 1960]. He is buried at Crown Hill Cemetery in Indianapolis. Baker set 143 driving records from the 1910s through the 1930s. His first was set in 1914, riding coast to coast on an Indian motorcycle in 11 days. He normally rode to sponsor manufacturers, guaranteeing them “no record, no money”. In 1915, Baker drove from Los Angeles to New York City in 11 days, 7 hours and fifteen minutes in a Stutz Bearcat, and the following year drove a Cadillac 8 roadster from Los Angeles to Times Square in seven days, eleven hours and fifty-two minutes while accompanied by an Indianapolis newspaper reporter. In 1924 he made his first midwinter transcontinental run in a stock Gardner sedan at a time of 4 days, 14 hours and 15 minutes. He was so impressed by the car, that he purchased one thereafter. In 1926 he drove a loaded two-ton truck from New York to San Francisco in a record five days, seventeen hours and thirty minutes, and in 1928, he beat the 20th Century Limited train from New York to Chicago. Also in 1928, he competed in the Mount Washington Hillclimb Auto Race, and set a record time of 14:49.6 seconds, driving a Franklin. His best-remembered drive was a 1933 New York City to Los Angeles trek in a Graham-Paige model 57 Blue Streak 8, setting a 53.5 hour record that stood for nearly 40 years. This drive inspired the later Cannonball Baker Sea-To-Shining-Sea Memorial Trophy Dash, better known as the “Cannonball Run”, which itself inspired at least five movies and a television series. In 1941, he drove a new Crosley Covered Wagon across the nation in a troublefree 6,517-mile (10,488 km) run to prove the economy and reliability characteristics of Crosley automobiles. Other record and near-record transcontinental trips were made in Model T Fords, Chrysler Imperials, Marmons, Falcon-Knights and Columbia Tigers, among others…….40 years ago this week, French driver Didier Pironi driving a Ligier JS11/15 won the Belgian Grand Prix at Zolder [4 May 1980]. It was Pironi’s debut World Championship victory and he was the fourth driver to win in the first five races of the season. Pironi won by 47 seconds over Australian driver and eventual 1980 champion, Alan Jones driving a Williams FW07B……. The southbound span (opened in 1971) of the Sunshine Skyway Bridge, Tampa, Florida was destroyed at 7:33 a.m., when the freighter MV Summit Venture collided with a pier (support column) during a blinding thunderstorm, sending over 1200 feet (366m) of the bridge plummeting into Tampa Bay [9 May 1980]. The collision caused six cars, a truck, and a Greyhound bus to fall 150 feet (46 m) into the water, killing 35 people.One man, Wesley MacIntire, survived the fall when his pickup truck landed on the deck of the Summit Venture before falling into the bay. He sued the company that owned the ship, and settled for $175,000 in 1984. The pilot of the ship, John Lerro, was cleared of wrongdoing by both a state grand jury and a Coast Guard investigation…….30 years ago this week, Phil Brachtvogel ran the first six second pass on a bike in the UK, 6.97 sec/193 mph at Santa Pod Raceways’ Springnationals [5 May 1990]. Jim Wheelan ran the lowest E.T. of the meet in his Top Fuel Ford Probe Funny Car at 6.021 sec /206 mph……….. After 19 years and 1997 cars produced, the Lamborghini Countach model went out of production giving way to the new Diablo model [7 May 1990]. Countach’s design pioneered and popularized the wedge-shaped, sharply angled look popular in many high-performance sports cars. It also popularized the “cab forward” design concept, which pushes the passenger compartment forward to accommodate a larger engine. In 2004, American car magazine Sports Car International named the car number three on the list of Top Sports Cars of the 1970s, and listed it number ten on their list of Top Sports Cars of the 1980s……20 years ago this week, Mika Häkkinen won the Spanish Grand Prix at Barcelona driving a McLaren-Mercedes MP4 [7 May 2000]……. Ford introduced the propane-powered, bi-fuel Super Duty F-Series chassis cab [8 May 2000]……… BMW sold the bulk of the Rover Group (the Rover and MG marques) to the Phoenix Consortium, while it retained the rights to the Mini marque, and sold Land Rover to Ford [9 May 2000]. MG Rover went into administration in 2005 and its key assets were purchased by Nanjing Automobile Group, with Nanjing restarting MG sports car and sports saloon production in 2007. During that year Nanjing merged with SAIC Motor (the largest vehicle manufacturer in China). During 2009 the UK Subsidiary was renamed MG Motor UK. The MG TF was manufactured at the former MG Rover Longbridge plant and sold within the UK from 2008 – 2010. In 2011 the first all new MG for 16 years (the MG 6) was launched in the UK (assembled at the Longbridge factory). During 2013 a super-mini was added to the line up (the MG 3), this went on to help MG Motor become the fastest growing car manufacturer within the UK in 2014. The Rover brand, which had been retained by BMW and licensed to MG Rover, was sold to Ford, which had bought Land Rover from BMW in 2000. The rights to the dormant Rover brand were sold by Ford, along with the Jaguar Cars and Land Rover businesses, to Tata Motors in 2008.

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