This Month in Automotive History
1908 An American Legend Goes on Sale
Beginning in 1903, Henry Ford and his engineers struggled for five difficult years to produce a reliable, inexpensive car for the mass market. It wasn't until their twentieth attempt, christened the Model T after the twentieth letter in the alphabet, that the fledgling Ford Motor Company hit pay dirt. On this day, the Ford Model T was introduced to the American public, and Ford's affordable revolution had begun. Affectionately known as the "tin Lizzy," the Model T revolutionized the automotive industry by providing an affordable, reliable car for the average American. Ford was able to keep the price down by retaining control of all raw materials, and by employing revolutionary mass production methods. When it was first introduced, the "tin Lizzy" cost only $850 and seated two people, and by the time it was discontinued in 1927, nearly fifteen million Model Ts had been sold.
1940 The Original Superhighway Opens
The Pennsylvania Turnpike, America's first example of a toll superhighway, officially opened for service on this day. The year before, this new form of superhighway was featured at the 1939 New York City's World Fair, and was greeted by skepticism by many groups who doubted the merits of the extravagant project. Inspired by Germany's 100-mph autobahns, the Pennsylvania Turnpike was constructed at great expense to serve the needs of its users, leveling any terrain obstructions that hindered efficient travel along the limited-access superhighway. For a three-hour reduction of travel-time between Pittsburgh and Harrisburg, the turnpike asked travelers to pay tolls, creating revenues that helped cover the turnpike's high construction and maintenance costs. Despite worries about the $70 million price-tag of this unproven type of highway, the Pennsylvania Turnpike proved a huge success, hosting an average of over two million vehicles every year--a figure nearly twice the original estimate by its planners.
1947 Defining a Racing Revolution
On this day, the Federation Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA) formally established Formula One racing in Grand Prix competition for the first time. Technological leaps made during World War II had rendered prewar racing rules obsolete, so the Formula One guidelines were established in order to encompass the new type of racing--faster and more furious than anything the racing world had ever seen. Formula One was initiated for cars of 1,500 cc supercharged and 4,500 cc unsupercharged, and the minimum race distance was reduced from 500 km to 300 km, a change that allowed the famous Monaco Grand Prix to be reintroduced into official Grand Prix racing. In 1950, Giuseppe "Nino" Farina, driving an Alfa Romeo 158, won the first Formula One World Championship at the Silverstone British Grand Prix, and racing's most thrilling tradition was born.
1948 First Races at Watkins Glen, NY
On this day, law student Cameron Argetsinger's vision of bringing European style racing competition to the place where he spent his summer vacations became a reality. Under the guidance of Argetsinger and the Sports Car Club of America (SCCA), the village of Watkins Glen, located in the scenic New York Finger Lakes region, hosted its first automobile races along a challenging course that encompassed asphalt, cement, and dirt roads. It was the first post-World War II road race in the United States, and Frank Griswold, driving a 2.9 liter prewar Alfa Romeo, won both events offered, a 26.4-mile Junior Prix, and the 52.8-mile Grand Prix. Cameron Argetsinger competed as well, driving a MG-TC, but proved to be a better racing organizer than actual participant. The Watkins Glen Grand Prix went on to have a prestigious history as a racing venue, hosting a variety of premium racing events through the years.
1912 A Duesie of a Racing Legacy
In the first professional racing victory for a car fitted with a Duesenberg engine, race car driver Mortimer Roberts won the 220-mile Pabst Blue Ribbon Trophy Race, held in and around the village of Wauwatosa, Wisconsin. The engine was designed by Frederick and August Duesenberg, two brothers who had immigrated to Iowa from Germany in the late-19th century. After honing his mechanical talents by repairing early automobiles, Frederick Duesenberg became enthralled with the prospect of motor racing, and with his brother August opened an automobile shop. After establishing their reputation with engines and other racing parts, the Duesenberg brothers began construction of the first complete Duesenberg racing cars. The first great racing triumph of one of their cars came in 1921 when a Duesenberg was driven to victory in the twenty-four-hour event at Le Mans, France. The mid-1920s found the Duesenbergs in the racing world's spotlight, especially at the Indy 500, where their cars won the event outright in 1924, 1925, and 1927. But the Duesenberg's most significant contribution to automotive history came after automobile manufacturer E.L. Cord bought Duesenberg Motors in 1926, with the sole purpose of obtaining the design expertise of Fred Duesenberg. Cord wanted to produce the most luxurious car in the world, and in 1928, the Duesenberg-designed Model J was presented, widely considered to be one of the finest automobiles ever made.
1961 Ford Workers Strike Again
The United Auto Workers (UAW) called the first company-wide strike against Ford Motor Company since the Ford's first union contract was signed in 1941. During the late 1930s, Ford was the last of the Big Three auto firms still holding out against unionization, and it employed strong-arm tactics to suppress any union activity. In 1937, tension between Ford and its workers came to a head at the "Battle of the Overpass," an infamous event where Ford's dreaded security force beat union organizers attempting to pass out UAW leaflets along the Miller Road Overpass in Dearborn, Michigan. Several people were brutally beaten while many other union supporters, including eleven women, were injured in the melee that followed. It took four more years of struggle and a ten-day strike before Ford agreed to sign its first closed-shop contract with the UAW, covering 123,000 employees. The ascension of Henry Ford II, Henry Ford's grandson, to the Ford leadership position in 1945 brought a period of stability in Ford-UAW relations, especially after Henry Ford II fired the powerful personnel chief Harry Bennett, whose anti-union stance had made Ford notorious for its bad labor relations. But in 1961 negotiations between the Ford Motor Company and the UAW fell apart again, and it took seventeen days of striking before a tenuous three-year agreement was signed.
1983 The End of America's Speed Domination
After nearly twenty years of domination by Americans, Briton Richard Noble raced to a new one-mile land speed record in his jet-powered Thrust 2 vehicle. The Thrust 2, a 17,000-pound jet-powered Rolls-Royce Avon 302 designed by John Ackroyd, reached a record 633.468 mph over the one-mile course in Nevada's stark Black Rock Desert, breaking the 631.367 mph speed record achieved by Gary Gabelich's Blue Flame in 1970. Previous to Gary Gabelich there was Craig Breedlove, the American driver who recorded a series of astounding victories in jet-powered vehicles during the 1960s, breaking the 400 mph, 500 mph, and 600 mph barriers in 1963, 1964, and 1965, respectively. In 1997, Breedlove and Noble returned to Black Rock Desert again, this time in a race to break the elusive 700 mph barrier. On September 25, team leader Noble watched as British fighter pilot Andy Green set a new land speed record in their Thrust SSC vehicle, jet-powering to an impressive 714.144 mph over the one-mile course. But the greatest victory for the British team came on October 13 of that same year, when Andy Green roared across Black Rock Desert at 764.168 mph, or 1.007 percent above the speed of sound. Appropriately, the first shattering of the sound barrier by a land vehicle came on the eve of the fiftieth anniversary of the first supersonic flight, achieved by American pilot Chuck Yeager in 1947.
1919 Enzo Ferrari's Racing Debut
On this day, twenty-one year-old Enzo Ferrari made his racing debut, finishing eleventh in the Parmo-Poggia di Berceto hillclimb in a Costruzioni Meccaniche Nazionali (CMN) vehicle. Ferrari became a professional driver after World War I, and joined the CMN in Milan as a test and racing car driver in 1919. The following year, Ferrari moved to Alfa Romeo, establishing a relationship that lasted two decades and a career that took him from test driver to the director post of the Alfa Racing Division. In 1929, he founded the Scuderia Ferrari, an organization that began modestly as a racing club, but by 1933 had entirely taken over the engineering-racing division of Alfa Romeo. In 1940, Ferrari transformed the Scuderia into an independent manufacturing company, the Auto Avio Costruzioni Ferrari, but construction of the first Ferrari vehicle was delayed until the end of World War II. In 1947, the Ferrari 125S was introduced to the racing world, and it won the prestigious Coppa Enrico Faini in the same year. Thus began an impressive forty years of racing success under the leadership of Enzo Ferrari, a tradition that saw Ferrari vehicles earn twenty-five world titles, and win over 5,000 events at race tracks around the world.
1926 Cord's Dream of Grandeur
Automobile manufacturer E. L. Cord had a vision: his company was going to produce the finest and most luxurious automobile the world had ever seen. Already a financial success with his prestigious Auburn and Cord lines, Cord wanted to go one step further. In the early 1920's, two German-American engineers from Iowa, Frederick and August Duesenberg, had begun to command the automotive world's attention with their exquisitely constructed racing cars. In 1921, a Duesenberg car won the 24-hour race in Le Mans, France, and in 1924 and 1925 their cars won the Indy 500. In 1926, E. L. Cord offered to purchase the Duesenberg company, with the sole purpose of obtaining the design expertise of Fred Duesenberg - the one man he believed could construct the grand automobile he envisioned. On this day in 1926, Duesenberg was incorporated into the Auburn-Cord company, and the Duesenberg brothers began working toward Cord's dream. Two years later, Cord introduced the Duesenberg Model J to the American public. It was of typical Duesenberg design, but on a grander scale. No other automobile of the time could approach the sheer power of the Model J. The engine displaced 420-cubic inches and sported twin overhead camshafts that operated four valves per cylinders, all adding up to an impressive 165 hp. And in elegance it was incomparable - the chassis was huge and the bodies were custom built by the leading coach-builders of the day. At a price tag beginning around $17,000, the Model J was a true luxury car, and movie stars and millionaires soon vied for ownership of "Duesies." But Cord's Duesenberg line could not survive the difficulties of the Depression, and it folded along with the rest of Auburn-Cord in 1937. Yet, for a short time, Cord had accomplished his dream of grandeur, and the Duesenberg Model J is still widely regarded as one of the finest automobiles ever manufactured.
1866 Steaming around Connecticut
In the first use of a steam car to garner national attention, brothers Henry and James House transported a party of men in their House steam car from Bridgeport, Connecticut, to Stratford, Connecticut, on this day. With the assistance of his brother James, inventor Henry House had constructed the House Steamer, one of America's first steam cars, earlier in the year. After testing their invention in and around Bridgeport for several months, the brothers approved the first official journey for the House steam car - a six-mile trip to Stratford to watch a vessel launching.
1960 Television Gets Its Kicks on Route 66
Since its conception in 1926, Route 66 has permeated every aspect of American culture, from literature to music to gas station architecture. One of its most beloved manifestations, the television program Route 66, aired its first episode on this day, relating the roadside adventures of Buz and Tod as they cruised Route 66 in Tod's Corvette. Americans tuned into the popular program for four years, continuing their love affair with their nation's most celebrated Federal highway. Immortalized in John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath as the "Mother Road," Route 66 was a symbol of opportunity, serving as an escape route from the misery of the Depression-era Dust Bowl. Its two lanes wove in and out of Middle America, connecting hundreds of rural communities to the cities of Chicago and Los Angeles. And above all, it symbolized the open road and Americana, complete with autocamps, motels, and roadside attractions. By 1970, nearly all segments of the original Route 66 were replaced by modern four-lane interstates, and in 1985 it was officially decommissioned.
1904 Europe Races in America
The first Vanderbilt Cup automobile racing event was held in Hicksville, New York, on this day. An early example of world-class motor racing in America, the annual event was created to introduce Europe's best automotive drivers and manufacturers to the U.S. Named after the event's organizer, William K. Vanderbilt, Jr., the grand prize of the race was the elegant Vanderbilt Cup, crafted by Tiffany & Co., the famous American jewelers. Dozens of automotive pioneers traveled across the Atlantic to participate in the first major international racing competition held in the United States. The race, a ten mile-lap course over a thirty-mile circuit, had eighteen entrees: five Mercedes cars, three Panhards, two Pope-Toledos, two Fiats, and one each by Renault, Simplex, De Dietrich, Packard, Clement-Bayard, and Royal Tourist. George Heath, a Frenchman, won the first Vanderbilt Cup in a Panhard automobile, edging out his competition with a brisk average speed of 52.2 mph. The race was also the last official racing appearance of the Packard Gray Wolf, driven by Charles Schmidt to a fourth-place finish. French-built cars continued to dominate the Vanderbilt Cup until 1908, when daredevil George Robertson drove a 90 hp Locomobile, known as "Old 16," to victory in the fourth Vanderbilt Cup. It was the first major international racing victory for an American car, and served notice that the U.S. could compete in motor racing and automobile production. The annual Vanderbilt Cup event continued until 1916, when the demands of World War I put an end to the tradition.
1992 The Malibu and the Meteorite
On this day, thousands of people in the Eastern United States witnessed an above-average-size meteorite enter the Earth's atmosphere with a sonic boom, and burst into flames as it streaked across the sky over several states. Photographed and videotaped by over a dozen people, the fireball flew over an open football stadium before crashing into Peekskill, New York, a small city fifty miles north of New York City. The thirty pound, football-size meteorite struck a 1980 Chevy Malibu parked in a driveway, penetrating the trunk of the car and missing the gas tank by inches. The owner of the totaled automobile reportedly expressed wonder at the fact that an object in orbit around the sun for millions of years ended up in the trunk of his Chevy, but worried if his insurance would cover the damage.
1915 Racing to a New Speed Record
Racer Gil Anderson set a new auto speed record on the opening day of races at the Sheepshead Bay Speedway, located in Brooklyn, New York. Driving a Stutz automobile, Anderson achieved an average speed of 102.6 mph over a 350-mile course, breaking the 100-mph barrier while setting a new speed record for such a distance. Anderson was participating in the celebrated Vincent Astor Cup event, an annual auto race that attracted thousands of auto enthusiasts to Sheepshead Bay for several decades.
1901 Henry Ford's First and Last Race
In the early days of the automobile, it was not the practical uses of the new invention that attracted the most widespread attention, but rather the thrill of motor sports. The always entrepreneurial Henry Ford, who had been constructing automobiles since 1896, recognized the public's enthusiasm for the new sport, and so sought to establish his name as a racing manufacturer and driver. On this day, Henry Ford drove one of his automobiles for the first and last time in an automobile race. Sponsored by the Detroit Racing Club and held at the Grosse Point Race Track in Michigan, Ford puttered up to the starting line of the main ten-lap race in an automobile he had constructed earlier in the summer with engineer Oliver Barthel. Ford's competitors were the famed Alexander Winston and another driver who withdrew just before the start of the race because of a mechanical problem. The experienced Winston was clearly the superior driver, but fortune proved to be in Ford's favor as Winston's machine began leaving a trail of smoke after three laps, and he had to withdraw. Although Ford won the race and the kind of public acclaim he had hoped for, he found the experience so terrifying that he retired as a competitive driver, reportedly explaining that "once is enough." Nevertheless, Ford continued to construct automobiles for motor racing, and a year later Barney Oldfield drove into motor racing history in Ford's 999 racer, kicking off a legendary driving career and winning Ford his first major racing victory. With the prestige of racing under his belt, Ford went on to establish the Ford Motor Company in the following year, making a fortune as he pioneered the modern assembly-line manufacturing that put the automobile within the average American's reach. But motor racing still remained important to the Ford Motor Company, and today Ford is the only automaker that can lay claim to victory in the Indy 500, Daytona 500, twenty-four hours of LeMans and Daytona, twelve hours of Sebring, the Monte Carlo Rallye, and the Baja 1000.
1928 Birth of a Royal Racer
Spanish racer Don Alfonso Cabeza de Vaca y Leighton, Carvajal y Are, the seventeeth Marquis de Portago and thirteenth Conde de la Mejorada, was born on this day in London, England. Better known as Marquis Alfonso de Portago, the Spanish nobleman became interested in motor racing as a young man, soon finding his way into some of the world's most prestigious and dangerous racing events, owning more to his social standing than his racing skills. For a two year period beginning in 1956, the reckless Marquis Alfonso drove for the Lancia Ferrari team, managing to rack up four points in five Grand Prix starts, but failing to win any race. In 1957, Alfonso brought tragedy to the classic Mille Miglia event, a 1,600-kilometer race from Brescia to Rome and back, when he lost control of his Ferrari and plunged into a crowd of spectators. Alfonso, his co-driver Ed Nelson, and ten spectators died in the accident, bringing to an end the thirty-year tradition of the Mille Miglia. Twenty years after the Marquis's tragic run along the course, the event was revived, and to this day the Mille Miglia attracts thousands to the streets of Italy to watch a nostalgic run of classic racing cars.
1993 Toyota's One-Millionth Camry
The Camry was first introduced by the Toyota Motor Company in 1983 as a replacement for its Corona Sedan. Hoping to follow in the path of the popular Toyota flagship, the Cressida, the roomy and durable Camry immediately proved a bestseller, fairing well against the likes of the Honda Accord and domestic U.S. compacts. In the late eighties the Camry, now Toyota's most popular model, saw an upsized redesign, boasting a new twin-cam 2.0 liter 4-cylinder engine with 16 valves and a much greater horsepower potential than the previous model. In 1992 the Camry was again stylishly redesigned, approaching mid-size while maintaining its original efficiency. On this day, a decade after it was first introduced, the one-millionth Camry rolled off a Toyota assembly line. Four years later, in 1997, the Toyota Camry became the bestselling car in America.
1940 Death of a Silent Film Star
Tom Mix, the highest-paid actor in silent films during the 1920s, and unquestionably the best-known cowboy star of the era, perished in a car accident in Arizona. Driving at about 80 mph, Mix lost control of his car after hitting a dirt detour, and was instantly killed. Many took solace in the fact that Mix died in the Old West that he had depicted in film so many times, still wearing his cowboy costume from a performance the previous day.
1953 The Artmobile Hits the Road
The "Artmobile," a novel way of exposing fine art to the public, was conceived of and designed by the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts located in Richmond, Virginia. On this day the Artmobile, the world's first mobile art gallery, began touring Virginia with an exhibition of art objects, making its first stop in Fredericksburg. The Artmobile was an all-aluminum trailer, measuring over thirty feet in length with an interior height of nearly eight feet.
1997 Thrust Breaks the Sound Barrier
Less than three weeks after breaking the elusive 700 mph land speed barrier, British fighter pilot Andy Green set a new land speed record in the Thrust SuperSonic vehicle, jet-powering through the sound barrier along a one-mile course in Nevada's Black Rock Desert. Coached by previous land speed record-holder and Thrust team leader Richard Noble, Green roared across Black Rock Desert at 764.168 mph, or 1.007 percent above the speed of the sound. An hour later, Green flashed across the dusty desert floor again, moving 1.003 percent faster than the speed of sound. The second run was required before the feat could be officially entered into the record book, a requirement that may have prevented past records. In 1979, at Edwards Air Force Base, American Stan Barrett is reputed to have reached 739.666 mph, or Mach 1.0106, in a rocket-engined three-wheeled car called the Budweiser Rocket. But the speed was unsanctioned by the United States Air Force, and the official record remained unbroken until Green's historic run. Appropriately, the first official breaking of the sound barrier by a land vehicle came on the eve of the fiftieth anniversary of the first supersonic flight, achieved by American pilot Chuck Yeager in 1947.
1857 Birth of an Inventor
Automotive pioneer Elwood Haynes was born on this day in Portland, Indiana. After training as an engineer and a chemist at John Hopkins University, Haynes returned to his native Indiana and began experimenting on a carriage powered by an internal engine. In 1894, he completed construction on one of America's earliest automobiles, a one-horsepower, one-cylinder vehicle, and on Independence Day of that year drove it through the streets of Kokomo, Indiana, on its trial run. Today, this automobile is preserved in the Smithsonian Institution as the oldest U.S. automobile in existence. For the next few decades, Haynes continued to make improvements to the new science of automobile manufacturing, including a successful carburetor, the first use of aluminum in automobile engines, and the first muffler.
1899 A Miscalculated Prophesy
In the early days of the automobile, many doubted that owning a "horseless carriage" would ever be within the reach of an average citizen. Indeed, some critics of the noisy and expensive invention went so far as to prophesize its eventual demise once the wealthy got over the novelty of owing one. On this day the Literary Digest declared that "the ordinary horseless carriage is at present a luxury for the wealthy; and although its price will probably fall in the future, it will never, of course, come into common use as a bicycle." But what critics of the automobile failed to foresee were the types of revolutionary manufacturing techniques that would be developed by Henry Ford and others. Less than a decade after the Literary Digest predicted that the automobile would remain a luxury of the wealthy, Ford revolutionized the automotive industry with his affordable Model T built for the average American. Ford was able to keep the price down by retaining control of all raw materials, and by employing revolutionary mass production methods. When it was first introduced, the "tin Lizzy" cost only $850 and seated two people, and by the time it was discontinued in 1927, nearly fifteen million Model Ts had been sold.
1966 The Worst Driver in American History
On this day in McKinney, Texas, it was reported that a seventy-five-year-old male driver received ten traffic tickets, drove on the wrong side of the road four times, committed four hit-and-run offenses, and caused six accidents, all within twenty minutes. It is ironic that the record book's worst driver is a native Texan, because Texans, especially residents of Houston, are consistently ranked as the best drivers in the nation. On another record-breaking bad driver note, Mrs. Fannie Turner of Little Rock, Arkansas, finally overcame her driving demons this month in 1978 when she finally passed the written test for drivers--it was her 104th attempt.
1964 The Longest Skid Marks on Record
While trying to set a new one-mile land speed record, Craig Breedlove inadvertently set another kind of record after he lost control of the Spirit of America jet-powered car on the Bonneville Salt Flats testing area in Utah. The vehicle began a skid moments into the run, taking nearly six miles to decelerate from an initial speed of well over 400 mph. When the dust cleared, Breedlove emerged shaken from the vehicle as the not-so-proud record-holder for the longest skid marks ever recorded. Nevertheless, Breedlove, who already held the land-speed record, did manage to break the 500 mph speed barrier that year, just as he had broken the 400 mph barrier the year before, and just as he would surpass 600 mph in the year following.
1951 Hudson's Hornet Stings
In 1948, Hudson launched its new Monobuilt design, an innovation that is still found in most cars to this day. The Monobuilt design consisted of a chassis and frame that was combined in a unified passenger compartment, producing a strong, light-weight design, and a beneficial lower center of gravity that didn't effect road clearance. Hudson coined this innovation "step-down design" because, for the first time, passengers had to step down in order to get into a car. Most cars today are still based on the step-down premise. On this day in 1951, Hudson introduced the Hornet, and put some sting into their step-down design. The Hornet was built with a 308 cubic-inch flat head in a line six cylinder motor, producing generous torque and a substantial amount of horsepower. And it was with this popular model that Hudson first entered stock car racing in 1951. After ending their first season in a respectable third place, Hudson began a three-year domination of the racing event. In 1952 alone, Hudson won twenty-nine of the thirty-four events. A key factor in Hudson's racing success was the innovative step-down design of its cars. Because of their lower centers of gravity, Hornets would glide around corners with relative ease, leaving their clunky and unstable competitors in the dust.
1958 A Muscle Car for the Urban Cowboy
Chevrolet introduced the El Camino on this day, a sedan-pickup created to compete with Ford's popular Ranchero model. Built on the full-size Chevrolet challis, the big El Camino failed to steal the Ranchero's market and was discontinued after two years. But four years later, in 1964, the El Camino was given a second life as a derivative of the Chevelle series, a line of cars commonly termed "muscle cars." The Chevelles were stylish and powerful vehicles that reflected the youthful energy of the 1960s and early 1970s, and sold well. The Chevelle Malibu Super Sport was the archetypal muscle car, featuring a V-8 as large as 454 cubic inches, or 7.4 liters. Chevelles came in sedans, wagons, convertibles, and hardtops, and, with the reintroduction of the El Camino in 1964, as a truck. The station wagon-based El Camino sedan-pickup had a successful run during its second manifestation as a Chevelle, and proved an attractive conveyance for urban cowboys and the horsey set.
1973 Origins of a Fuel Revolution
On this day, eleven Arab oil producers increased oil prices and cut back production in response to the support of the United States and other nations for Israel in the Yom Kippur War. The same day, OPEC, (The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries), approved the oil embargo at a meeting in Tangiers, Morocco. Almost overnight, gasoline prices quadrupled, and the U.S. economy, especially its automakers, suffered greatly as a result. The U.S. car companies, who built automobiles that typically averaged less than fifteen miles per gallon, were unable to satisfy the sudden demand for small, fuel-efficient vehicles. The public turned to imports in droves, and suddenly Japan's modest, but sturdy, little compacts began popping up on highways all across America. Even after the oil embargo crisis was resolved, American consumers had learned an important lesson about the importance of fuel efficiency, and foreign auto manufacturers flourished in the large American market. It took years for the Big Three to bounce back from the blow; eventually they gained ground with the introduction of their own Japanese-inspired compacts in the 1980s.
1994 The Longest Taxi Ride
Taxicab driver Jeremy Levine returned to London, England, from a round-trip journey to Cape Town, South Africa, on this day. Passengers Mark Aylett and Carlos Aresse paid 40,000 pounds, or approximately $65,000, for the 21,691-mile trip, setting a world record for the longest known taxicab ride. The route, through Eastern Europe, Turkey, Syria, Jordan, and down into Africa, was recently adopted by the Historic Endurance Rallying Organization for their London to Cape Town Classic Reliability Trial. The race, held for the first time in 1998, is a competitive event for all types of classic and historic cars made before 1978. Divided into six age categories, from Vintage to Seventies, the event challenges racers to brave demanding terrain and conditions as they witness some of the most dramatic and breathtaking scenery in the world.
1919 Rolls-Royce America Established
In 1904, months after building his first motor car, engineer Henry Royce met with Charles Rolls, whose company sold quality cars in London. An agreement was reached between the two that Royce Limited, Henry's engineering company, would manufacture a line of cars to be sold exclusively by the C. S. Rolls & Co. car dealership. These luxury motor cars would bear the name Rolls-Royce. Initial success prompted the formal establishment of the Rolls-Royce company in 1906, and shortly after, the six-cylinder 40/50 hp Silver Ghost was launched to widespread acclaim. With the outbreak of World War I in 1914, Rolls-Royce responded to its nation's needs by producing its first aircraft engine--the Eagle. Royce's aero engines served Britain well during the war, providing almost half of the total horsepower used in the Allies air war. The Eagle also powered the first direct transatlantic flight and the first England-to-Australia flight. After the war, Rolls-Royce continued its work in aerospace technology, but also returned to the business that had first made it famous: the manufacturing of quality automobiles. On this day in 1919, Rolls-Royce America, Inc., was established, and their luxurious motor cars would prove a favorite means of transport for America's elite during the roaring 1920s.
1977 Daimler-Benz Executive Found Dead
On September 5, Hanns Martin Schleyer, a Daimler-Benz executive and head of the West German employers' association, was kidnapped in Cologne by the Red Army Faction during an assault in which his driver and three police were killed. The Red Army Faction was a group of ultra-left revolutionaries who terrorized Germany for three decades, assassinating at least thirty corporate, military, and government leaders in an effort to topple capitalism in their homeland. Six weeks after the kidnapping of Schleyer, Palestinian terrorists, who had close ties with the RAF, hijacked a Lufthansa airliner to Somalia, and demanded the release of eleven imprisoned RAF members. On October 17, after the pilot was killed, a German special forces team stormed the plane, releasing the captives and killing the hijackers. The RAF's imprisoned leaders responded by committing suicide in their jail cell in Stammheim, and Schleyer's murder was ordered. The next day, October 18, Hanns Martin Schleyer was found dead in Alsace, France.
1982 The Fall of an Automotive Star
John DeLorean began his automotive career with Packard in the 1950s, and was recruited to Pontiac in 1959. A rising star at Pontiac, DeLorean pioneered the successful GTO and Grand Prix, and by the late 1960s had risen to the top position in a company that was behind only Chevrolet and Ford in sales. In 1970, DeLorean was moved to manage the Chevrolet division, and by 1973 Chevy was selling a record three million cars and trucks, with DeLorean seeming a top candidate for General Motors' next presidency. But in late-1973 he walked away from his $650,000 job at GM, boasting he was "going to show them how to build cars." After raising nearly $200 million in financing, DeLorean formed the DeLorean Motor Company in 1974, and constructed a car factory in Northern Ireland. Interest in DeLorean's sleek and futuristic DMC-12 car was high, but by the early 1980s the company was in serious financial trouble. Failing to find additional investors, the proud DeLorean became involved in racketeering and drug trafficking in a desperate attempt to save his beleaguered company. On this day in 1982, after being caught on film during an FBI sting operation trying to broker a $24 million cocaine deal, DeLorean was arrested on charges of drug trafficking and money laundering. But two years later a federal jury ruled that he was a victim of entrapment, and DeLorean was acquitted of all charges. Nevertheless, the debacle ruined his credibility, and John DeLorean's fall from the top of the automotive industry was complete.
1958 Britain's First World Champion
Briton Mike Hawthorn, driving a Ferrari Dino 246, clinched the Formula One World Championship at the Moroccan Grand Prix at Ain-Diab near Casablanca on this day. But the triumph of Britain's first World Championship was marred by the death of British driver Stuart Lewis-Evans, who died a few days later from injuries sustained during an accident in the race, and by the tragic death of Hawthorn himself, who died in a road accident just two months later.
1965 End of an Era at Volvo
The Volvo PV544 was first introduced in 1958 as an updated version of its popular predecessor, the PV444. Like the PV444 with its laminated windscreen, the PV544 featured an important safety innovation--it was the first car to be equipped with safety belts as standard fitting. But the PV544 was also a powerful automobile, boasting a 4-speed manual transmission option and power up to 95 bhp. Shortly after its introduction, the 544 became one of the most successful rally cars, dominating rally racing into the 1960s. Yet, the PV544 was also affordably priced, and its first-year sales put Volvo over the 100,000-exported automobiles mark. The PV544 was successfully reintroduced every year until 1965, when it was decided by Volvo that production of the model would cease. On this day in 1965, the last 544 was driven off the Volvo assembly line at its Lundy plant in Sweden by longtime Volvo test driver Nils Wickstrom. Gustaf Larson, the engineer who had co-founded Volvo with businessman Assar Gabrielsson in 1927, was present at the ceremony. An impressive total of 440,000 Volvo PV544s had been produced during its eight-year run, over half of which had been exported.
1891 Birth of the Nashville Speedway
On this day, a one-mile dirt track opened for harness races at the site of the present-day Tennessee State Fairgrounds in Nashville. Harness racing proved a popular event at the annual Tennessee state fair, but it was nothing compared to the excitement generated by the fair's first automobile race, held at the Fairgrounds in 1904. For the next fifty years, motor racing events were the highlight of the annual state fair, drawing top American drivers to compete, and launching the careers of others. In 1956, the track was paved and lighted, and the tradition of weekly Saturday night racing at the Fairgrounds was born. And in 1958, NASCAR came to Nashville with the introduction of the NASCAR Winston Cup to be run on a brand-new half-mile oval. The legendary driver Joe Weatherly won the first Winston Cup, beating the likes of Fireball Turner, Lee Petty, and Curtis Turner in the 200-lap event. Between 1958 and 1984, the Fairgrounds hosted forty-two NASCAR Winston Cups, and Richard Petty and Darrell Waltrip were the overall leaders in victories, with nine and eight Winston Cups respectively. The last Winston Cup race to descend onto the Tennessee State Fairgrounds was a 420-lap event won by driver Geoff Bodine. But despite the departure of the Winston Cup, the Nashville Speedway continued to improve on its racetrack, and illustrious racing events such as the Busch Series are held on the historic track every year.
1936 First Tests of the People's Car
In 1934, German automaker Ferdinand Porsche submitted a design proposal to Adolf Hitler's new German Reich government, calling for the construction of a small, simple, and reliable car that would be affordable enough for the average German. Only about one in fifty Germans owned cars at the time, and the motor industry had only a minor significance in Germany's economy. Nazi propagandists immediately embraced the idea, coining "Volkswagen," which translates as "people's car," at an automobile show later in the year. Hitler himself hoped the "people's car" would achieve the kind of popularity in Germany as Ford's Model T had in the United States, and began calling the Volkswagen the "Strength Through Joy" car. Porsche received a development budget from the Reich's motor industry association, and began working on the Volkswagen immediately. Porsche completed the first prototype in secret in October of 1935. The simple, beetle-shaped automobile was sturdily constructed with a kind of utilitarian user-friendliness scarcely seen in an automobile before. On this day in 1936, the first test-drives of the Volkswagen vehicle began, and employees drove the VW 3-series model over 800 kilometers a day, making any necessary repairs at night. After three months of vigorous testing, Porsche and his engineers concluded, in their final test verdict, that the Volkswagen "demonstrated characteristics which warrant further development." In 1938, the first Volkswagen in its final form was unveiled, a 38-series model that the New York Times mockingly referred to as a "Beetle." However, the outbreak of World War II prevented mass-production of the automobile, and the newly constructed Volkswagen factory turned to war production, constructing various military vehicles for the duration of the conflict. After the war, the Allies approved the continuation of the original Volkswagen program, and, under the leadership of Heinrich Nordhoff in the late 1940s and 1950s, sales of the Volkswagen Beetle began to take off. In the 1960s and early 1970s, sales of the compact Volkswagen Beetle worried even America's largest automakers, as the Third Reich's simple people's car became a popular symbol of the growing American counterculture.
1987 Trans-Americas Drive Completed
Canadian Garry Sowerby and American Tim Cahill completed the first trans-Americas drive on this day, driving from Ushuaia, Tierra del Fuego, Argentina, to Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, in a total elapsed time of twenty-three days, twenty-two hours, and forty-three minutes. The pair drove the 14,739-mile distance in a 1988 GMC Sierra K3500 4-wheel-drive pickup truck powered by a 6.2-liter V-8 Detroit diesel engine. Only on one occasion did Sowerby and Cahill trust another form of transportation to their sturdy Sierra: the vehicle and team were surface-freighted from Cartagena, Colombia, to Balboa, Panama, so as to bypass the dangerous Darien Gap of Colombia and Panama.
1970 The Blue Flame Rockets into the Record Books
On this day at the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah, American Gary Gabelich attained a record 631.367 mph average speed in The Blue Flame, a rocket-powered four-wheeled vehicle. Momentarily achieving 650 mph, Gabelich's vehicle was powered by a liquid natural gas, hydrogen peroxide rocket engine that produced a thrust of up to 22,000 pounds. Gabelich's achievement ended the domination of Craig Breedlove, the American driver who set a series of astounding victories in jet-powered vehicles during the 1960s, breaking the 400 mph, 500 mph, and 600 mph barriers in 1963, 1964, and 1965, respectively. The Blue Flame's land-speed record stood until 1983, when Briton Richard Noble raced to a new record in his jet-powered Thrust 2 vehicle. The Thrust 2, a 17,000-pound jet-powered Rolls-Royce Avon 302 designed by John Ackroyd, reached a record 633.468 mph over the one-mile course in Nevada's stark Black Rock Desert.
1973 America Gives Toyota its Full Attention
Only five days after eleven Arab oil producers increased oil prices and cut back production in response to the support of the United States and other nations for Israel in the Yom Kippur War, Toyota U.S.A. holds its first national news conference in Los Angeles, California. Central on the agenda for the three-day conference was the discussion of the remarkable fuel efficiency of Toyota automobiles. In the days following the oil crisis, concerned American consumers suffered gasoline rationing, a quadrupling of prices, and huge lines at gas stations. The small percentage of Americans who owned a Toyota, a Honda, or a Nissan found themselves the envy of other domestic car owners, whose American automobiles typically averaged less than fifteen miles per gallon. Even after the oil embargo crisis was resolved, American consumers had learned an important lesson about the importance of fuel efficiency, and foreign auto manufacturers flourished in the large American market. The public turned to imports in droves, and suddenly Japan's modest but sturdy little compacts began popping up on highways all across America. The Big Three rushed to produce their own fuel-efficient compacts, but shoddily constructed models like the Chevy Vega and Ford Pinto could not compete with the overall quality of the Toyota Corollas and Honda Civics. It took years for the Big Three to bounce back from the blow, eventually winning back American consumers with their introduction during the 1980s of quality compacts like the Chevy Cavalier and Ford Escort, that proved on level with the quality of the foreign competition.
1908 Old 16 Defeats the World
On this day, the Locomobile Old 16, driven by George Robertson, became the first American-made car to beat the European competition when it raced to victory in the fourth annual Vanderbilt Cup held in Long Island, New York. The Vanderbilt Cup, an early example of world-class motor racing in America, was created in 1904 to introduce Europe's best automotive drivers and manufacturers to the U.S. George Heath won the first Vanderbilt Cup in a French-made Panhard automobile, beginning a French domination of the event that would last until Old 16's historic victory. Old 16 was first built in 1906 by the Connecticut-based Locomobile Company, and showed promise when it raced to a respectable finish in the second Vanderbilt Cup. With some modifications, Old 16 was ready to race again in 1908. Americans pinned their hopes on the state-of-the-art road racer to end the European domination of early motor racing. Designed simply for speed and power, Old 16 had an 1032 cc, 4-cylinder, 120 hp engine with a copper gas tank, and a couple of bucket seats atop a simple frame with four wooden-spoked wheels completed the design. At the fourth Vanderbilt Cup, Robertson pushed Old 16 to an average speed of 64.38 mph, dashing around the 297-mile course to the cheers of over 100,000 rowdy spectators, who lined the track dangerously close to the speeding motor cars. With a thrown tire in the last lap and a frantic fight to the finish against an Italian Isotta, America's first major racing victory was a hair-raising affair. Old 16 is one of the oldest American automobiles still in existence, and is currently on display at the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan.
1944 An Accused Collaborator Dies
French automaker and accused Nazi collaborator Louis Renault died on this day in a Paris military prison hospital of undetermined causes. Born in Paris, Renault built his first automobile, the Renault Type A, in 1898. Inspired by the DeDion quadricycle, the Type A had a 270 cc engine (1.75 hp), and could carry two people at about 30 mph. Later in the year, Renault and his brothers formed the Societe Renault Freres, a racing club that achieved its first major victory when an automobile with a Renault-built engine won the Paris-Vienna race of 1902. After Louis's brother, Marcel, died along with nine other drivers in the Paris-Madrid race of 1903, Renault turned away from racing and concentrated on mass production of vehicles. During World War I, Renault served his nation with the "Taxis de la Marne," a troop-transport vehicle, and in 1918, with the Renault tank. Between the wars, Renault continued to manufacture and sell successful automobiles, models that became famous for their sturdiness and longevity. With the German occupation of France during World War II, the industrialist who had served his country so well during the World War I mysteriously offered his Renault tank factory and his services to the Nazis, perhaps believing that the Allies' cause was hopeless. The liberation of France in 1944 saw the arrest of Louis Renault as a collaborator, and the Renault company was nationalized with Pierre Lefaucheux as the new director. The sixty-seven-year-old Renault, who likely suffered torture during his post-liberation detainment, died soon after his arrest.
1902 Oldfield and Ford Race into History
Racing was in Barney Oldfield's blood long before he ever had the opportunity to race an automobile. Born in Wauseon, Ohio, Oldfield's first love was bicycling, and in 1894 he began to compete professionally. In his first year of racing, the fearless competitor won numerous bicycling events and in 1896 was offered a coveted position on the Stearns bicycle factory's amateur team. Meanwhile in Dearborn, Michigan, the entrepreneurial inventor Henry Ford had completed his first working automobile and was searching for a way to establish his name in the burgeoning automobile industry. In the early days, it was not the practical uses of the automobile that attracted the most widespread attention, but rather the thrill of motor racing. Recognizing the public's enthusiasm for the new sport, Ford built a racer with Oliver Barthel in 1901. Ford himself even served as driver in their automobile's first race, held at the Grosse Point Race Track in Michigan later in the year. Although he won the race and the kind of public acclaim he had hoped for, Ford found the experience so terrifying that he retired as a competitive driver, reportedly explaining that "once is enough." In 1902 he joined forces with Tom Cooper, the foremost cyclist of his time, and built a much more aggressive racer, the 999, that was capable of up to 80 hp. On this day in 1902, the twenty-three-year-old Barney Oldfield made his racing debut in the 999's first race at the Manufacturer's Challenge Cup in Grosse Point. The race was the beginning of a legendary racing career for Oldfield, who soundly beat his competition, including the famed driver Alexander Winton. The cigar-chomping Oldfield went on to become the first truly great American race car driver, winning countless victories and breaking numerous speed and endurance records. But Oldfield's victory in the 999 was also Ford's first major automotive victory, and together they went on to become the most recognized figures in early American motoring--Ford as the builder and Oldfield as the driver.
1955 Birth of an Outlaw Racer
Sprint car racer and record-holder Sammy Swindell was born on this day. The second-winningest driver in Pennzoil World of Outlaws Series history, with 229 "A" Feature victories, Swindell holds the record for Chili Bowl midget championships, compiled the first clean sweep in Outlaws history in 1995, and is the only driver to win "A" features at two different tracks on the same day--at the New York State Fair Speedway and Rolling Wheels Raceway on October 12, 1991. In 1998, Sammy broke the single lap world record at the Springfield Mile when he ran a 24.719-second lap over a one-mile oval at 145.637 mph. Among the most thrilling forms of automotive racing, sprint car racing also features arguably the most unique type of racing vehicle. Nearly 800 horsepower of power, displacing 410 cubic inches, is crammed into a stripped-down frame where any part that doesn't contribute to the car's performance, including drivers' comforts, is left off. With a power-to-weight ratio comparable to a Formula 1 racer, the lightweight sprint cars are constructed for one of the toughest arenas in racing: tight 1/2-mile dirt or clay ovals that demand frantic steering and hair-raising sprints from the sport's daredevil drivers. But the most recognizable part of a sprint car is its five-foot square aluminum wing mounted above the roll cage. The wing provides negative lift that sticks the sprint car to the track, increasing its pace to perilous levels in excess of 100 mph. First developed in the 1960s, winged sprint cars were opposed by sanctioning bodies like the USAC, prompting the formation of the independent World of Outlaws tour in 1978. Sammy Swindell won his third World of Outlaws championship in 1997, his first since winning back-to-back titles in 1981 and 1982.
1945 Porsche and the Third Reich
Born in Bohemia in 1875, Dr. Ferdinand Porsche devoted himself to mechanical engineering early in life, providing electric light for his family at the age of fifteen after constructing everything from the necessary generator to the light bulb. Porsche soon became involved in automotive design, climbing the ranks at Daimler, the Auto Union, and Mercedes-Benz. Famous Porsche-designed cars of this period include the Prince Henry Austro-Daimler, the 38/250 Mercedes-Benz, and the P-Wagon Auto Union Grand Prix car. In 1930, Porsche established a successful auto engine design company of his own, and in 1934 submitted a design proposal to Adolf Hitler's new German Reich government, calling for the construction of a small, simple, and reliable car that would be affordable enough for the average German. Nazi propagandists immediately embraced the idea, coining the name "Volkswagen," or "people's car," at an automobile show later in the year. The first completed model was introduced in 1938, available for $400. The simple, beetle-shaped automobile was sturdily constructed with a kind of utilitarian user-friendliness scarcely seen in an automobile before. But the outbreak of World War II prevented mass-production of the automobile, and the newly constructed Volkswagen factory turned to war production, constructing military vehicles such as the "Kubelwagen," a jeep-type vehicle, the "Schwimmwagen," an amphibious car, and the lethal "Tiger" tank. After the Allied victory in the war, Porsche, like other German industrialists who participated in the German war effort, was investigated on war crime charges. On this day, Ferdinand Porsche was arrested by U.S. military officials for his pro-Nazi activities, and was sent to France where he was held for two years before being released. Meanwhile, the Allies approved the continuation of the original Volkswagen program, and Volkswagen went on to become a highly successful automobile company. As his brainchild Volkswagen grew, Porsche himself returned to sports car design and construction, completing the successful Porsche 356 in 1948 with his son Ferry Porsche. In 1951, Ferdinand Porsche suffered a stroke and died, but Ferry continued his father's impressive automotive legacy, achieving a sports car masterpiece with the introduction of the legendary Porsche 911 in 1963.
1918 The Origins of Tatra
The company later known as Tatra constructed its first automobile in 1897, a vehicle largely inspired by the design of an early Benz automobile. Based in the small Moravian town of Nesselsdorf in the Austro-Hungarian empire, Tatra began as Nesselsdorf Wagenbau, a carriage and railway company that entered automobile production after chief engineer Hugo von Roslerstamm learned of the exploits of Baron Theodor von Liebieg, an avid Austrian motorist who drove across Eastern Europe in a Benz automobile. The Baron himself took the Nesselsdorf Wagenbau's first automobile, christened the President, on a test drive from Nesselsdorf to Vienna. He was impressed with the design and pushed von Roslerstamm and Nesselsdorf Wagenbau to enter racing. The company put its faith in the talented young engineer Hans Ledwinka, and under his leadership the Rennzweier and the Type A racers were produced, demonstrating modest racing success and encouraging the beginning of large-scale production of the Type S in 1909. The company continued to grow until 1914, when, with the outbreak of World War I, it shifted to railroad car construction. On this day in 1918, just two weeks before the end of the war on the Western front, the Moravian town of Nesselsdorf in the old Austro-Hungarian empire became the city of Koprivnicka in the newly created country of Czechoslovakia, necessitating a name change for the Nesselsdorf Wagenbau. Soon after the war, Hans Ledwinka and the newly named Koprivnicka Wagenbau began construction of a new automobile under the marquee Tatra. The Tatra name came from the Tatra High Mountains, some of the highest mountains in the Carpathian mountain range. Ledwinka settled on Tatra in 1919 after an experimental model with 4-wheel brakes passed a sleigh on a dangerously icy road, prompting the surprised sleigh riders to reportedly exclaim: "This is a car for the Tatras." In 1923, the first official Tatra automobile, the Tatra T11, was completed, and Ledwinka's hope for an affordable "people's car" had come to fruition. The rugged and relatively small automobile gave many Czechoslovakians an opportunity to own an automobile for the first time, much as Ford's Model T had in the United States. In 1934, Tatra achieved an automotive first with the introduction of the Tatra 77, an innovative model that holds the distinction of being the world's first aerodynamically styled automobile powered by an air-cooled rear-mounted engine.
1954 The Last True Hudson
The Hudson Motor Car Company was founded in 1909 by Joseph L. Hudson, and by its second year ranked eleventh in the nation for automobile production. Although rarely a top-seller, Hudson was responsible for a number of important automotive innovations, including the placement of the steering wheel on the left side, the self-starter, and dual brakes. In 1919, the Hudson Essex was introduced, a sturdy automobile built on an all steel body that sold for pennies more than Ford's Model T. Hudson production peaked in 1929 with over 300,000 units, including a line of commercial vehicles. During the early 1930s, Hudson became increasingly involved in motor sports, and the Hudson Essex-Terraplane cars set records in hillclimbing, economy runs, and speed events. After World War II, the modest automobile company set its sights on stock racing, launching its new Monobuilt design in 1948. The Monobuilt design consisted of a chassis and frame that were combined in a unified passenger compartment, producing a strong, lightweight design, and a beneficial lower center of gravity that didn't effect road clearance. Hudson coined this innovation "step-down design" because, for the first time, passengers had to step down in order to get into a car. Most cars today are still based on the step-down premise. In 1951, Hudson introduced the powerful Hornet, a model that would dominate stock car racing from 1952 to 1954. In 1952 alone, Hudson won twenty-nine of the thirty-four events. A key factor in Hudson's racing success was the innovative step-down design of its cars. Because of their lower centers of gravity, Hornets would glide around corners with relative ease, leaving their clunky and unstable competitors in the dust. During this period, Hudson hoped that its stock racing success would help its lagging sales, but the public preferred watching the likes of Marshall Teague racing around in a Hornet to actually purchasing one. In 1954, the Hudson Motor Company and the Nash-Kelvinator Corporation merged to form the American Motors Corporation, and Hudson, which had been suffering severe financial problems, signed on as the weaker partner. Soon after, it was announced that all 1955 models would be made in Nash's facilities, and that most of Hudson's recent innovations would be discontinued. On this day, the last step-down Hudson was produced. Although the Hudson name would live on for another two years, the cars no longer possessed the innovative elegance and handling of models like the Hornet of the early 1950s.
1963 The First Lamborghini
Sports car maker Ferruccio Lamborghini was born in Renazzo di Cento, Italy, on April 28, 1916. After studying mechanical engineering in Bologna, Lamborghini served as a mechanic for the Italian Army's Central Vehicle Division in Rhodes during World War II. Upon his return to Italy, he worked on converting military vehicles into agricultural machines, and in 1948 began building and designing his own tractors. His well-designed agricultural machinery proved a success, and with this prosperity Lamborghini developed an addiction for luxury sports cars. In the early 1960s he purchased a Ferrari 250 GT, made just a few miles away in Enzo Ferrari's factory. After encountering problems with the car, Ferruccio reportedly paid Enzo a visit, complaining to him about his new Ferrari's noisy gearbox. Legend has it that the great racing car manufacturer Ferrari responded in a patronizing manner to the tractor-maker Lamborghini, inspiring the latter to begin development of his own line of luxury sports cars--automobiles that could out perform any mass-produced Ferrari. On this day in 1963, the Lamborghini 350GTV debuted at the Turin auto show. But Lamborghini had not completed the prototype in time for the deadline, and the 350GTV was presented with a crate of ceramic tiles in place of an engine. With or without the engine, Lamborghini's first car was not particularly well received, and only one GTV was ever completed. But the former tractor-maker was not discouraged, and in 1964 the drastically redesigned 350GT went into production, and Lamborghini managed to sell over a hundred of the expensive cars. The GT was a quiet and sophisticated high-performance vehicle, capable of achieving 155 mph with a maximum 320 hp. The elegant Lamborghini 350GT indeed provided a smoother ride than most of its Ferrari counterparts, and Ferruccio's old tractor factory, located just a few miles from the Ferrari factory, began constructing some of the most exotic cars the world had ever seen, such as the Miura, the Espada, and the legendary Countach.
1957 Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Founded
On this day, two months after a three-man Toyota team flew to Los Angeles to survey the U.S. market, Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., Inc. was founded in California with Shotaro Kamiya as the first president. Toyota's first American headquarters were located in an auto dealership in downtown Hollywood, California, and by the end of 1958, 287 Toyopet Crowns and one Land Cruiser had been sold. Over the next decade, Toyota quietly made progress into the Big Three-dominated U.S. car market, offering affordable, fuel-efficient vehicles like the Toyota Corolla as an alternative to the grand gas-guzzlers being produced in Detroit at the time. But the real watershed for Toyota and other Japanese automakers came during the 1970s, when, after enjoying three decades of domination, American automakers had lost their edge. On top of the severe quality that plagued domestic automobiles during the early 1970s, the Arab oil embargoes of 1973 and 1979 created a public demand for fuel-efficient vehicles that the Big Three were unprepared to meet. The public turned to imports in droves, and suddenly Japan's modest but sturdy little compacts began popping up on highways all across America. The Big Three rushed to produce their own fuel-efficient compacts, but shoddily constructed models like the Chevy Vega and Ford Pinto could not compete with the overall quality of the Toyota Corollas and Honda Civics. Domestic automakers eventually bounced back during the 1980s, but Japanese automakers retained a large portion of the market. In 1997, the Toyota Camry became the best-selling car in America, surpassing even Honda's popular Accord model.
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