A Plus Auto Care
THIS DAY IN AUTOMOTIVE HISTORY
FEBRUARY 22, 1959
Lee Petty wins first Daytona 500
On this day in 1959, Lee Petty defeats Johnny Beauchamp in a photo finish at the just-opened Daytona International Speedway in Florida to win the first-ever Daytona 500. The race was so close that Beauchamp was initially named the winner by William France, the owner of the track and head of the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR). However, Petty, who was driving a hardtop Oldsmobile 88, challenged the results and three days later, with the assistance of news photographs, he was officially named the champ. There was speculation that France declared Beauchamp the winner in order to intentionally stir up controversy and generate publicity for his new race track.
Today, the 200-lap, 500-mile Daytona 500 is one of auto racing's premiere events and the first race of the NASCAR season. France, a gas station owner and racing promoter, officially co-founded NASCAR in Daytona Beach in 1948. The following year, Lee Petty, a mechanic from North Carolina, began his racing career at the age of 35. He went on to win more than 50 races on NASCAR's Grand National circuit (subsequently known as the Winston Cup from 1971 to 2003, the NEXTEL Cup from 2004 to 2007 and the Sprint Cup from 2008 onward) and three championships before being seriously injured in a crash during a qualifying event at Daytona in 1961. Following the crash, Petty drove in a handful of races before retiring from competition in 1964. He went on to found Petty Enterprises, which became NASCAR's oldest and most successful racing team. In January 2009, Petty Enterprises merged with Gillett Evernham Motorsports and became Richard Petty Motorsports.
Petty's son, Richard (1937- ) became one of the greatest drivers in NASCAR history, winning the Daytona 500 a record seven times between 1964 and 1981. Richard Petty's sixth victory at Daytona, in 1979, also marked the first time the race was shown live, flag-to-flag, on television. Due to a snowstorm on the East Coast, a larger-than-anticipated TV audience tuned in to the race, which included a memorable fistfight between drivers Cale Yarborough and brothers Donnie and Bobby Allison, and the broadcast was a key moment in NASCAR's rise to become one of America's most popular spectator sports.
The Petty racing dynasty also includes Richard's son, Kyle Petty, and Adam Petty, Kyle's son, who died at the age of 19 in a crash at the New Hampshire International Speedway on May 12, 2000. Adam's great-grandfather, Lee Petty, had died less than a month earlier, on April 5, at the age of 86.
JANUARY 17, 1953
Corvette unveiled at GM Motorama
On this day in 1953, a prototype Chevrolet Corvette sports car makes its debut at General Motors' (GM) Motorama auto show at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City. The Corvette, named for a fast type of naval warship, would eventually become an iconic American muscle car and remains in production today.
In the early 1950s, Harley Earl (1893-1969), the influential head designer for GM, then the world's largest automaker, became interested in developing a two-seat sports car. At the time, European automakers dominated the sports car market. Following the debut of the Corvette prototype at the Motorama show in January 1953, the first production Corvette was completed at a Flint, Michigan, plant on June 30, 1953. The car featured an all-fiberglass body, a white exterior and red interior, a relatively unremarkable 150-horsepower engine and a starting price tag of around $3,500 (not including taxes or an optional AM radio and heater). In an effort to give the Corvette an air of exclusivity, GM initially marketed the car to invitation-only VIP customers. This plan met with less-than-desirable results, as only a portion of the 300 Corvettes built that first year were sold. GM dropped the VIP policy the following year; however, Corvette sales continued to disappoint. In 1954, GM built around 3,600 of the 10,000 Corvettes it had planned, with almost a third of those cars remaining unsold by the start of 1955.
There was talk within GM of discontinuing the Corvette; however, GM rival Ford launched the sporty two-seat Thunderbird convertible in 1955 and the car quickly became a hit. GM didn't want to discontinue the Corvette and look like a failure next to its Big Three competitor, so the car remained in production and performance enhancements were made. That same year, a Belgian-born, Russian-raised designer named Zora Arkus-Duntov became head engineer for Corvette and put the car on a course that would transform it into a legend. Duntov had applied to work at GM after seeing the Corvette prototype at the 1953 Motorama show. According to The New York Times: “Once hired, he pushed through the decision to turn the Corvette into a high-performance sports car with a succession of more powerful engines. Chevrolet offered a 195-horsepower engine on the 1955 Corvette, a 240-horsepower engine on the 1956 Corvette and a 283-horsepower engine on the 1957 model.” During the second half of the 1950s, Corvettes began setting speed records on the racing circuit. The car also got a publicity boost when it was featured on the TV show “Route 66,” which launched in 1960 and followed the story of two young men driving around America in a Corvette, looking for adventure.
In 1977, the 500,000th Corvette was built. Two years later, according to the Times, yearly Corvette production peaked at 53,807. In 1992, the 1-milllionth Corvette came off the assembly line in Bowling Green, Kentucky; the 1.5-millionth Corvette followed in 2009.
NOVEMBER 30, 1965
Unsafe at Any Speed hits bookstores
On this day in 1965, 32-year-old lawyer Ralph Nader publishes the muckraking book Unsafe at Any Speed: The Designed-In Dangers of the American Automobile. The book became a best-seller right away. It also prompted the passage of the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 1966, seat-belt laws in 49 states (all but New Hampshire) and a number of other road-safety initiatives. Today, Nader is perhaps best known for his role in national politics—and in particular for the controversial role he played in the 2000 presidential election—but Unsafe at Any Speed was the book that made him famous and lent credibility to his work as a consumer advocate.
“For over half a century,” Nader's book began, “the automobile has brought death, injury, and the most inestimable sorrow and deprivation to millions of people.” Technology existed that could make cars much safer, he argued, but automakers had little incentive to use them: On the contrary, “the gigantic costs of the highway carnage in this country support a service industry”—doctors, lawyers, police officers, morticians—and “there is little in the dynamics of the automobile accident industry that works for its reduction.”
Nader's book popularized some harsh truths about cars and car companies that auto-safety advocates had known for some time. In 1956, at a series of Congressional hearings on traffic safety, doctors and other experts lamented the “wholesale slaughter” on American highways. (That year, nearly 40,000 people were killed in cars, and the number kept creeping upward.) Safety-conscious car buyers could seek out—and pay extra for—a Ford with seatbelts and a padded dashboard, but very few did: only 2 percent of Ford buyers took the $27 seatbelt option.
In Unsafe at Any Speed, Nader railed in particular against the Chevy Corvair, a sporty car with a swing axle and rear–mounted engine that was introduced in 1959. Nader argued that the car epitomized the triumph of “stylistic pornography over engineering integrity.” (Its swing axle made the back end unstable, he said, causing it to “tuck under during turns and skid or roll over much more frequently than other cars did.) As it turned out, a 1972 government study vindicated the Corvair, finding that it was just as safe as any other car (Nader called that study “rigged”) but the damage was done. The Corvair became an icon of dangerous, even deadly design, and the last one rolled off the assembly line in 1969.
Whether or not its particular examples were sound, Unsafe at Any Speedmobilized a mass movement, in which ordinary consumers banded together to demand safer cars and better laws. Today, seat belts, air bags, anti-lock brakes and other innovations are standard features in almost every new car.
Nader went on to advocate for a number of consumer causes and has run for president four times.
OCTOBER 31, 1957
Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A. opens in Hollywood
On October 31, 1957, the Japanese car company Toyota establishes its U.S. headquarters in an old Rambler dealership in Hollywood, California. Toyota executives hoped to saturate the American second-car market with their small and relatively inexpensive Toyopet Crown sedans. Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A. sold its first Toyopet at the beginning of 1958; by the end of the year, it had sold 286 more, along with one behemoth Land Cruiser. Toyota cars were slow to catch on in the United States—it took until the mid-1960s for the company to gain a respectable chunk of the American market—but when they did, they did so with a bang. In 1972, thanks in large part to its success in the United States, Toyota sold its 1 millionth car, and three years later Toyota became the best-selling import brand in the United States.
In the mid-1950s, there were very few small cars on the road in America. People had plenty of disposable income for the first time in decades; gas was cheap; and American car companies were churning out enormous, elaborately be-finned models like the Ford Thunderbird and the Plymouth Fury. But those cars were not that easy to drive or park (especially, some people believed, for women, many of whom were learning to drive for the first time) and buying more than one tended to be too expensive for an ordinary middle-class family. As a result, foreign small-car manufacturers saw an opportunity. Volkswagen, for instance, exported more than 100,000 of its small, efficient Beetles to the United States in 1956 and the next year Toyota brought the Toyopet to Hollywood.
Though the car had been an overnight sensation in Japan, particularly among taxi drivers, it was a flop in the United States: It could barely meet California's standards for roadworthiness, it guzzled extraordinary amounts of gas and oil and when it traveled on the freeway, it tended to shake violently, overheat and stall without much warning. Meanwhile, most Americans were simply too big to fit comfortably in its tiny cabin.
In 1961, Toyota dealers stopped selling the car in the United States. Four years later, the company introduced the Corona, a sedan designed especially for American drivers that was even more affordable than the Toyopet but featured luxuries like air-conditioning, automatic transmissions, carpeting, sun visors, arm rests, tinted windows and glove compartments. The Corona was a huge hit and it set the stage for another Toyota home run: the Corolla, introduced in 1968. The Corolla went on to become the best-selling passenger car in history.
OCTOBER 27, 1945
PORSCHE IS ARRESTED FOR HIS PRO-NAZI ACTIVITIES IN THE U.S.
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 15 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.
OCTOBER 20, 1965
Last Volvo PV rolls off the assembly line
At 3 p.m. on October 20, 1965, the very last PV-series Volvo drives off the assembly line in Lundby, Sweden. The car, a zippy black Sport PV544 with red interior trim, went straight to the Volvo Museum in Gothenburg. PV-series Volvos had been in production, first as the PV444 and then as the PV544, since 1947 and 440,000 sold in all. By the end of its run, the PV was old-fashioned–looking—the company had made very few cosmetic changes in the two decades the car had been on the market—but it remained a good, solid automobile. “Above all,” Road & Track magazine said in 1963, “the Volvo PV544 is such a practical car. Volvo's most attractive appeal lies in its solidity and its quality in every single respect. There is nothing slapdash or under-dimensioned about any part of the car and that is more than enough to compensate for any perceived lack of glamour.”
Volvo (the company's name is Latin for “I roll) was founded in Gothenburg, Sweden in 1927 and quickly won a reputation for building sturdy, safe cars. After World War II, the company unveiled the PV444—between 1947 and 1958 it sold more than 200,000 of the diminutive cars—and it introduced the PV544 in August 1958. The two cars were virtually identical—both were slightly humpbacked and dowdy—except that the PV544 had a one-piece windshield in place of the PV444's divided one, a larger rear window and a bigger flip-out side windows, all of which brightened up the car's interior considerably. Neither model ever had four doors, right-hand drive or an interior clock.
Despite the cars' anachronistic appearance, people loved them. A PV Volvo might have looked stodgy, but it did not drive it: it could go from zero to 60 mph in 13 seconds, could cruise comfortably at 70 mph and got 27 miles per gallon on the highway. The PVs were great family cars but they were also powerful, sturdy racers: In 1965, for example, Kenyan brothers Joginder and Jaswant Singh won one of the toughest road races in the world, the 3,000-mile East African Safari rally, in their 1964 PV544. (Among other things, drivers in the safari had to negotiate falling boulders, mud puddles, errant herds of buffalo and giraffes blocking the road.)
Of the 440,000 PVs built, 280,000 stayed in Sweden. Most of the rest were exported to other European countries. In 1966, in place of the PV-series cars, the company introduced the 144 sedan, the car that is the ancestor of the boxy Volvos seen today.
OCTOBER 17, 1973
OPEC STATES DECLARE OIL EMBARGO
The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) implements what it calls “oil diplomacy” on this day in 1973: It prohibits any nation that had supported Israel in its “Yom Kippur War” with Egypt, Syria and Jordan from buying any of the oil it sells. The ensuing energy crisis marked the end of the era of cheap gasoline and caused the share value of the New York Stock Exchange to drop by $97 billion. This, in turn, ushered in one of the worst recessions the United States had ever seen.
In the middle of 1973, even before the OPEC embargo, an American oil crisis was on the horizon: Domestic reserves were low (about 52 billion barrels, a 10-year supply); the United States was importing about 27 percent of the crude petroleum it needed every year; and gasoline prices were rising. The 1973 war with Israel made things even worse. OPEC announced that it would punish Israel's allies by implementing production cuts of 5 percent a month until that nation withdrew from the occupied territories and restored the rights of the Palestinians. It also declared that the true “enemies” of the Arab cause (in practice, this turned out to mean the United States and the Netherlands) would be subject to an indefinite “total embargo.” Traditionally, per-barrel prices had been set by the oil companies themselves, but in December, OPEC announced that from then on, its members would set their own prices on the petroleum they exported. As a result, the price of a barrel of oil went up to $11.65, 130 percent higher than it had been in October and 387 percent higher than it had been the year before.
Domestic oil prices increased too, but shortages persisted. People waited for hours in long lines at gas stations—at some New Jersey pumps, lines were four miles long!–and by the time the embargo ended in March 1974, the average retail price of gas had climbed to 84 cents per gallon from 38 cents per gallon. Sales of smaller, more fuel-efficient cars skyrocketed. At the same time, declining demand for the big, heavy gas-guzzlers that most American car companies were producing spelled disaster for the domestic auto industry.
JULY 13, 1978
Henry Ford II fires Lee Iacocca
On this day in 1978, Ford Motor Company chairman Henry Ford II fires Lee Iacocca as Ford's president, ending years of tension between the two men.
Born to an immigrant family in Pennsylvania in 1924, Iacocca was hired by Ford as an engineer in 1946 but soon switched to sales, at which he clearly excelled. By 1960, Iaccoca had become a vice president and general manager of the Ford division, the company's largest marketing arm. He successfully championed the design and development of the sporty, affordable Ford Mustang, an achievement that landed him on the covers of Time and Newsweek magazines in the same week in 1964.
In December 1970, Henry Ford II named Iacocca president of Ford, but his brash, unorthodox style soon brought him into conflict with his boss. According to Douglas Brinkley's history of Ford “Wheels for the World,” Henry authorized $1.5 million in company funds for an investigation of Iacocca's business and private life in 1975. Suffering from a heart condition and aware that the time for his retirement was approaching, Ford made it clear that he eventually wanted to turn the company over to his son Edsel, then just 28. In early 1978, Iacocca was told he would report to another Ford executive, Philip Caldwell, who was named deputy chief executive officer. In his increasingly public struggle with Ford, Iacocca made an attempt to find support among the company's board of directors, giving Ford the excuse he needed to fire him. As Iacocca later wrote in his bestselling autobiography, Ford called Iacocca into his office shortly before 3 pm on July 13, 1978 and let him go, telling him “Sometimes you just don't like somebody.”
News of the firing shocked the industry, but it turned into a boon for Iacocca. The following year, he was hired as president of the Chrysler Corporation, which at the time was facing bankruptcy. Iacocca went to the federal government for aid, banking on his belief that the government would not let Chrysler fail for fear of weakening an already slumping economy. The gamble paid off, with Congress agreeing to bail out Chrysler to the tune of $1.5 billion. Iacocca streamlined the company's operations, focused on producing more fuel-efficient cars and pursued an aggressive marketing strategy based on his own powerful personality. After showing a small profit in 1981, Chrysler posted record profits of more than $2.4 billion in 1984. By then a national celebrity, Iacocca retired as chief executive of Chrysler in 1992.
JULY 11, 1916
President Woodrow Wilson signs Federal Aid Road Act
On this day in 1916, in a ceremony at the White House, President Woodrow Wilson signs the Federal Aid Road Act. The law established a national policy of federal aid for highways.
From the mid-19th century, the building and maintenance of roads had been seen as a state and local responsibility. As a result, America's roads were generally in poor condition, especially in rural areas. As the so-called Progressive Era dawned near the turn of the 20th century, attitudes began to change, and people began to look towards government to provide better roads, among other infrastructure improvements. The first federal aid bill was submitted to Congress in 1902, proposing the creation of a Bureau of Public Roads. With the rise of the automobile–especially after Henry Ford introduced the affordable Model T in 1908, putting more Americans on the road than ever before–Congress was pushed to go even further.
In the 1907 case Wilson v. Shaw, the U.S. Supreme Court officially gave Congress the power “to construct interstate highways” under its constitutional right to regulate interstate commerce. In 1912, Congress enacted the Post Office Department Appropriations Bill, which set aside $500,000 for an experimental program to improve the nation's post roads (roads over which mail is carried). The program proved too small to make significant improvements, but it taught Congress that federal aid for roads needed to go to the states instead of local counties in order to be effective.
Serious consideration of a federal road program began in early 1916. There were two competing interest groups at stake: Farmers wanted sturdy, all-weather post roads to transport their goods, and urban motorists wanted paved long-distance highways. The bill that both houses of Congress eventually approved on June 27, 1916, and that Wilson signed into law that July 11, leaned in the favor of the rural populations by appropriating $75 million for the improvement of post roads. It included the stipulation that all states have a highway agency staffed by professional engineers who would administer the federal funds and ensure that all roads were constructed properly.
In addition to enabling rural Americans to participate more efficiently in the national economy, the Federal Aid Road Act was a precursor to the Federal Highway Act of 1921, which provided federal aid to the states for the building of an interconnected interstate highway system. The interstate highway issue would not be fully addressed until much later, when the Federal Highway Act of 1956 allocated more than $30 billion for the construction of some 41,000 miles of interstate highways.
JULY 10, 1962
U.S. Patent issued for three-point seatbelt
The United States Patent Office issues the Swedish engineer Nils Bohlin a patent for his three-point automobile safety belt “for use in vehicles, especially road vehicles” on this day in 1962.
Four years earlier, Sweden's Volvo Car Corporation had hired Bohlin, who had previously worked in the Swedish aviation industry, as the company's first chief safety engineer. At the time, safety-belt use in automobiles was limited mostly to race car drivers; the traditional two-point belt, which fastened in a buckle over the abdomen, had been known to cause severe internal injuries in the event of a high-speed crash. Bohlin designed his three-point system in less than a year, and Volvo introduced it on its cars in 1959. Consisting of two straps that joined at the hip level and fastened into a single anchor point, the three-point belt significantly reduced injuries by effectively holding both the upper and lower body and reducing the impact of the swift deceleration that occurred in a crash.
On August 17, 1959, Bohlin filed for a patent in the United States for his safety belt design. The U.S. Patent Office issued Patent No. 3,043,625 to “Nils Ivar Bohlin, Goteborg, Sweden, assignor to Aktiebolaget Volvo” on July 10, 1962. In the patent, Bohlin explained his invention: “The object… is to provide a safety belt which independently of the strength of the seat and its connection with the vehicle in an effective and physiologically favorable manner retains the upper as well as the lower part of the body of the strapped person against the action of substantially forwardly directed forces and which is easy to fasten and unfasten and even in other respects satisfies rigid requirements.”
Volvo released the new seat belt design to other car manufacturers, and it quickly became standard worldwide. The National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 1966 made seat belts a required feature on all new American vehicles from the 1968 model year onward. Though engineers have improved on seat belt design over the years, the basic structure is still Bohlin's.
The use of seat belts has been estimated to reduce the risk of fatalities and serious injuries from collisions by about 50 percent. In 2008, an all-time high 83 percent of front-seat occupants in the United States buckled their seat belts.
JUNE 28, 1953
Workers assemble first Corvette in Flint, Michigan
On this day in 1953, workers at a Chevrolet plant in Flint, Michigan, assemble the first Corvette, a two-seater sports car that would become an American icon. The first completed production car rolled off the assembly line two days later, one of just 300 Corvettes made that year.
The idea for the Corvette originated with General Motors' pioneering designer Harley J. Earl, who in 1951 began developing plans for a low-cost American sports car that could compete with Europe's MGs, Jaguars and Ferraris. The project was eventually code-named “Opel.” In January 1953, GM debuted the Corvette concept car at its Motorama auto show at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City. It featured a fiberglass body and a six-cylinder engine and according to GM, was named for the “trim, fleet naval vessel that performed heroic escort and patrol duties during World War II.” The Corvette was a big hit with the public at Motorama and GM soon put the roadster into production.
JUNE 27, 1985
Route 66 decertified
After 59 years, the iconic Route 66 enters the realm of history on this day in 1985, when the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials decertifies the road and votes to remove all its highway signs.
JUNE 26, 1956
Congress approves Federal Highway Act
On this day in 1956, the U.S. Congress approves the Federal Highway Act, which allocates more than $30 billion for the construction of some 41,000 miles of interstate highways; it will be the largest public construction project in U.S. history to that date.
The blockbuster hit movie “The Fast and the Furious” was released.
Ford signs first contract with autoworkers' union.
After a long and bitter struggle on the part of Henry Ford against cooperation with organized labor unions, Ford Motor Company signs its first contract with the United Automobile Workers of America and Congress of Industrial Organizations (UAW-CIO) on this day in 1941.
In 1935, President Franklin D. Roosevelt's allies in Congress passed the landmark National Labor Relations Act–also known as the Wagner Act, after one of its authors, Senator Robert Wagner of New York–which established workers' rights to collective bargaining and attempted to regulate unfair practices by employers, employees and unions. By 1937, after successful sit-down strikes (during which the workers remained inside the factory so that strikebreakers were unable to enter) both General Motors and Chrysler had made deals with the fledgling UAW, and Ford was the lone holdout against the unionization of the auto industry.
Edsel Ford, president of Ford Motor, recognized that the Wagner Act had made unionization inevitable, and tried to reason with his father. The elder Ford, who despised labor unions, instead put his trust in Harry Bennett, head of Ford's Service Department, who promised to keep the unions at bay. In the much-publicized “Battle of the Overpass” on May 26, 1937, Ford henchmen brutally beat several UAW organizers (including Walter Reuther and Richard Frankensteen) attempting to hand out leaflets at Ford's River Rouge plant. In the aftermath of this incident, Ford Motor Company was found guilty of violating the Wagner Act, and in early 1941 the National Labor Relations Board ordered the company to stop interfering with the union's attempts to organize.
On April 1, 1941, a walkout by Ford workers protesting the firing of several union members closed down the River Rouge plant. The strike inflamed racial tensions, as many African-American Ford employees returned to work before their white colleagues, breaking the strike. Though Henry Ford had initially threatened to shut down his plants rather than sign with the UAW-CIO, he changed his position and signed a contract with the union that June 20. Ford's change of heart was reportedly due to the urging of his wife, Clara, who feared that more riots and bloodshed would result from her husband's refusal to work with the unions and threatened to leave him if he did not sign the contract.
Paradoxically, Ford gave its workers more generous terms than had either GM or Chrysler: In addition to paying back wages to more than 4,000 workers who had been wrongfully discharged, the company agreed to match the highest wage rates in the industry and to deduct union dues from workers' pay.
JUNE 16, 1903
Ford Motor Company incorporated
At 9:30 in the morning on this day in 1903, Henry Ford and other prospective stockholders in the Ford Motor Company meet in Detroit to sign the official paperwork required to create a new corporation. Twelve stockholders were listed on the forms, which were signed, notarized and sent to the office of Michigan's secretary of state. The company was officially incorporated the following day, when the secretary of state's office received the articles of association.
Ford had built his first gasoline-powered vehicle–which he called the Quadricycle–in a workshop behind his home in 1896, while he was working as the chief engineer for the main plant of the Edison Illuminating Company in Detroit. He made two unsuccessful attempts to start a company to manufacture automobiles before 1903. A month after the Ford Motor Company was established, the first Ford car was assembled at a plant on Mack Avenue in Detroit.
In the early days of Ford, only a few cars were assembled per day, and they were built by hand by small groups of workers from parts made to order by other companies. With the introduction of the Model T in 1908, Ford succeeded in his mission to produce an affordable, efficient and reliable automobile for everyone: within a decade, nearly half the cars in America were Model Ts. The sensational demand for the “Tin Lizzie” led Ford to develop mass-production methods, including large production plants, the use of standardized, interchangeable parts and, in 1913, the world's first moving assembly line for cars. In 1914, to further improve productivity, Ford introduced the $5 daily wage for an eight-hour day for his workers (up from $2.34 for nine hours), setting a standard for the industry.
JUNE 12, 1940
Edsel Ford agrees to manufacture Rolls-Royce engines for war effort
June 10, 1947
Saab Builds First Car: Saab, a Swedish aerospace and defense company, introduces its first car, the two-stroke, three-cylinder Model 92, which looks more like an airplane without wings than it does a car, which surely contributed to its low 0.30 coeficient of drag.
JUNE 8, 1948
JUNE 6, 1932
Congress Levies Gasoline Tax: As part of the Revenue Act of 1932, a tax of 1 cent
is added to the cost of every gallon of gasoline sold in the United States.
JUNE 1, 1934
On this day in 1934, the Tokyo-based Jidosha-Seizo Kabushiki-Kaisha (Automobile Manufacturing Co., Ltd. in English) takes on a new name: Nissan Motor Company. Jidosha-Seizo Kabushiki-Kaisha had been established in December 1933. The company's new name, adopted in June 1934, was an abbreviation for Nippon Sangyo, a “zaibatsu” (or holding company) belonging to Tobata's founder, Yoshisuke Aikawa. Nissan produced its first Datsun (a descendant of the Dat Car, a small, boxy passenger vehicle designed by Japanese automotive pioneer Masujiro Hashimoto that was first produced in 1914) at its Yokohama plant in April 1935. The company began exporting cars to Australia that same year. Beginning in 1938 and lasting throughout World War II, Nissan converted entirely from producing small passenger cars to producing trucks and military vehicles. Allied occupation forces seized much of Nissan's production operations in 1945 and didn't return full control to Nissan until a decade later.
May 27, 1927
Last Model T Ford built: After an astonishing production run that began in 1908 and produced a record 15,007,033 units built, the last Tin Lizzie rolls out of the factory so it can be converted for production of the Model A.
MAY 21, 1901
On this day in 1901 Connecticut became the first state in the United States to pass a speed limit law strictly for motor vehicles. The law stated that on city streets automobiles could travel no faster than 12 miles per hour and on country roads the speed limit was set at 15 miles per hour.
Speed limits in the United States had been passed into law as early as 1652 for animal drawn wagons. The colony of New Amsterdam, now New York, had a regiment that stated, “[N]o wagons, carts or sleighs shall be run, rode or driven at a gallop.” Drivers who disobeyed this law could be fined “two pounds Flemish,” about $150 USD in 2017.
May 12, 1957
Race car driver A.J. Foyt gets first pro victory: On this day in 1957, race car driver A.J. Foyt scores his first professional victory, in a U.S. Automobile Club (USAC) midget car race in Kansas City, Missouri.
Dec. 14, 1947
NASCAR Founded: Big Bill France establishes the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing in Daytona Beach, Fla.
Bye-Bye, Baby Bird: The last of the two-seat Thunderbirds is completed as production gives way to the larger four-seat “Square Birds.”
Dec 10, 2000
Exit Olds: General Motors announces that its Oldsmobile Division will cease operations.
Dec. 9, 1963
A Sad Day in South Bend: The last U.S.-built Studebaker rolls out of the company's Indiana plant as production moves north to Canada.
Dec. 8, 1981
Mitsu Comes to Market: Although it had been building cars for the Chrysler Corporation to market under its own nameplates for years, for the first time Mitsubishi Motors begins selling cars in the U.S. under its own name.
Dec. 7, 1965
Chevrolet Sets New Production Record: For the first time ever, Chevrolet builds 3,000,000 cars in one year.
Nov. 29, 1910
Street Traffic System Patented: Ernest E. Sirrine of Chicago patents what would be the first iteration of a traffic light.
Nov. 23, 1897
Olds Receives Patent: Ransome E. Olds receives a patent for a “Motor-Carriage” to be powered by a gasoline engine.
Nov. 22, 1893
Harley Earl Born: The future GM Styling chief is born in California. He ultimately shaped the role of design in the modern automobile company.
Nov. 21, 1970
A New Boss Comes to Town: Ford Motor Company introduces the Boss 351 at the Detroit Auto Show.
Nov. 18, 1960
Desoto to be Discontinued: Chrysler Corporation announces that it will drop the DeSoto nameplate from its lineup.
Nov. 17, 1998
Daimler-Chrysler listed on NYSE: For the first time, the newly created company is traded on the New York Stock Exchange.
Nov. 16, 1929
Scuderia Ferrari Founded: Racing driver and automobile dealer Enzo Ferrari establishes his private racing team, which eventually grew to run the Alfa Romeo factory racing efforts and served as the root of his postwar automobile companies.
Nov. 15, 1895
Ford Sets Production Record: The 100,000,000th Ford to be built in America rolls off of the assembly line at Ford's Mahwah, N.J., plant.
Nov. 14, 1945
Indianapolis Motor Speedway Sold: Tony Hulman buys the IMS from World War I Ace Captain Eddie Rickenbacker.
Nov. 11, 1967
Gil de Ferran is Born: The Brazilian driver, who ended his career as a team owner, starts his CART career with Jim Hall's Pennzoil -sponsored team. He ultimately won two Champ Car titles and the Indy 500 driving for Penske Racing.
Nov. 10, 1885
Paul Daimler Becomes First Motorcyclist: On a two-wheeled machine built by his father, Gottlieb, Paul Daimler becomes the world's first “Biker.”
Nov. 9, 1960
Robert McNamara Named President of Ford: The motoring giant's new president is one of a group of bright executives known as the “Whiz Kids.” He would ultimately leave Ford to become Secretary of Defense for John F. Kennedy and, later, Lyndon B. Johnson.
Nov. 8, 1895
Daimler Returns to Company He Founded: After an absence of two years, Gottlieb Daimler returns to Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft as chief engineer.
Nov. 7, 1840
Galloping Gertie Collapses: During construction of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge workers noted the obvious flexing of the deck in windy conditions and gave the span its nickname. It ultimately collapses on this date during unusually high winds that caused excessive movement in the deck and supporting structure.
Nov. 4, 1965
Lee Breedlove Sets Land Speed Record: Almost everyone has heard of land speed record ace Craig Breedlove, but few people know that his wife, Lee, set the land speed record for females at 308.56 mph on the Salt Lakes
Nov. 2, 1893
Battista “Pinin” Farina B orn: The scion of the great Italian design house founded his company in 1930, and in the early 1960s the family name was changed to Pininfarina.
Nov. 1, 1957
World's Longest Suspension Bridge Opens: The Mackinac Bay Bridge connects the Upper Peninsula with the rest of Michigan, spanning the Mackinac Straight that divides Lake Michigan and Lake Huron.
Oct. 31, 1913
Lincoln Highway Dedicate d: America's first coast-to-coast highway officially opens.
Oct. 27, 1948
London Motor Show Opens: Postwar high-performance motoring is really born at the London Motor Show with the introduction of the fabulous new Jaguar XK 120.
Oct. 25, 1910
Oldfield Outraces Johnson: Pioneer American racing driver Barney Oldfield defeats boxer Jack Johnson in a match race at the Sheepshead Bay track in Brooklyn, N.Y.
Oct. 24, 1973
65-Car Pileup on NJ Turnpike: Heavy smog on the NJ Turnpike results in a massive 65-car collision in which 9 people die near Kearny. The accident began late at night and continued into the next day.
Oct. 21, 1921
Edison Institute Dedicated: To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the incandescent light bulb, Henry Ford dedicates the Edison Institute in Detroit.
Oct. 20, 1965
Last PV544 built: The last Volvo PV544 is driven off of the Volvo assembly line at the Lundy plant in Sweden.
Oct. 19, 1980
John Z. Delorean Arrested: Veteran auto engineer and executive John Z. DeLorean is arrested in a Los Angeles hotel room, complete with a briefcase containing $24 million worth of cocaine.
Oct. 17, 1968
“Bullit” Released: The new Steve McQueen movie is released, featuring one of film's all-time greatest car chases between a 1968 Mustang and 1968 Dodge Charger R/T.
Oct. 14, 1899
Magazine Doubts the Automobile: Literary Digest declares that "the ordinary horseless carriage
is at present a luxury for the wealthy” and will "never come into common use."
Oct. 13, 1911
Mack Trademark First Used: The MACK Truck trademark is used for the first time, although
the International Motor Company doesn't actually register it until January 1921.
Oct. 12, 1940
Actor Tom Mix Dies: Veteran cowboy actor Tom Mix dies when he loses control of his 1937 Cord 812 phaeton.
Oct. 11, 2008
Blind Driver Sets Record: Belgian Luc Costermans drives a Lamborghini Gallardo to 192 mph along a
straight stretch of road near Marseille, France.
Oct. 10, 1991
Greyhound Regains Solvency: On this day in 1991, Greyhound Bus emerges from bankruptcy.
Oct. 6, 1888
Daimler Licenses U.S. Rights: William Steinway, a member of the piano-making family, acquires
the rights to build Daimler cars in the United States.
Oct. 5, 1962
Michael Andretti Born: The 1991 CART champion is born to Indy Car and Formula 1 champion, Mario Andretti. His 1993 foray into Formula 1 with McLaren was not successful.
Oct. 4, 1964
Autostrada del Sol Opens: A stretch of superhighway (Autostrada) opens between Milan and Naples, Italy.
Oct. 3, 1961
Ford's UAW Workers Walk Out: For the first time since they unionized in 1941, UAW workers stage a full company-wide strike.
Sept. 30, 1901
France gets Mandatory Vehicle Registration: All vehicles capable of traveling at more than 18 miles an hour must be registered as of this date in 1901.
Sept. 29, 1987
Hank the Duece dies: Although he had retired from formal office at Ford in 1982, as the senior family member and a member of the board, Henry Ford II still wielded considerable clout until his death.
Car & Driver Editor Don Sherman set a Class E record at the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah on this day, driving the Mazda RX7, the standard-bearer for the rotary engine in the U.S. market, and reaching 183.904mph. The RX7's unique rotary engine doesn't have the standard pistons, instead, two rounded "rotors" spin to turn the engine's flywheel. Although the rotary engine was not a new concept, the Mazda RX7 was one of the first to conquer the reliability issues faced by earlier rotary engines. Light and fun to drive, with 105hp from its 1.1 liter rotary engine, the RX7 was extremely popular.
September 27, 1967
“My Mother the Car”: One of the worst TV shows ever, "My Mother the Car," failed in the U.S. after its single 1965-1966 season, but on this day it was exported to France. The extraordinarily thin premise is that attorney David Crabtree's mother is reincarnated as a 1928 “Porter” automobile.
Sept. 26, 1909
Billy Durant loses GM for the first time: Many men built great companies and many of those high fliers lost control of their firms and dreams. William. C. Durant was unique in that he built GM, lost it, regained it and then lost it again.
Sept. 23, 1933
Saudi Arabian Oil Fields Targeted: Standard oil geologists arrive in Saudi Arabia, having secured the concession to explore the country's massive oil fields.
Sept. 22, 1953
World's First Four-Level Highway Interchange Opens: Southern California becomes the home of the first four-level highway interchange, connecting the Hollywood, Harbor, Santa Ana and Arroyo Seco freeways.
Sept. 21, 1894
Duryea established as America's first Auto Producer: Charles and Frank Duryea establish the Peoria, Ill.-based Duryea Motor Wagon Company to produce their horseless carriages, with production beginning in 1895
Sept. 20, 1960
No Land Speed Record for Mickey Thompson: On Sept. 9, Mickey Thompson was timed at more than 403 mph at Bonneville, but his car failed before he could make the mandatory return run. In his Sept. 20 attempt he could do no better than 378 mph, which meant that John Cobb's 394 mph record from 1947 still held.
Ferry Porsche Born:The man indelibly associated with the Porsche 356 and 911 cars, longtime company chief Ferdinand Anton Ernest Porsche, better known as Ferry, is born to noted German auto engineer Ferdinand Porsche.
Sept. 15, 1909
Henry Ford Loses Selden Patent Case: A New York judge rules that Henry Ford infringed on George Selden's 1895 patent for a "Road Engine." In subsequent court battles, this ruling would be overturned and the patent declared invalid.
Sept. 14, 1982
Princess Grace of Monaco Dies: After suffering a stroke — which caused her to drive her Rover P6 3500 off of a cliff the previous day — Princess Grace of Monaco, formerly known as actress Grace Kelly, dies in the hospital.
Sept. 13, 1899
First Pedestrian Fatality: Henry Bliss becomes the first pedestrian known to be killed by an automobile
after motorist Arthur Smith strikes him at the corner of Central Park West and 74th Street in NYC
Sept. 12, 1912
Lincoln Highway Announced: Carl G. Fisher, president of Prest-o-lite and co-founder of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, announces plans for the Lincoln Highway, America's first coast-to-coast highway.
Sept. 2, 1959
Ford Falcon Introduced: Acknowledging demand for smaller less-expensive cars, Ford introduces its new compact Falcon, which would be a mainstay of the company's new car line until it was discontinued in 1970.
Sept. 1, 1950
Porsche Returns to Zuffenhausen: Porsche relocates production of its 356 sports car from Gmünd, Austria, to Zuffenhausen Germany, where it remains today.
Aug. 31, 1899
First Automobile Climbs Mt. Washington: Driving a steam-powered Locomobile, F.O. Stanley and his wife Flora climb Mt. Washington in 2 hours and 10 minutes. The Ascent to the Clouds hill climb would first run in 1904
Aug. 29, 1876
Denis Papin, inventor of the piston steam engine, was born in Blois, France. This British physicist, who also invented the pressure cooker, got the first seedlings of an idea when he noticed the enclosed steam in the cooker raising the lid. Why couldn´t one use steam to drive a piston? Though he never actually constructed an engine, nor had a practical design, his sketches were improved on by others and led to the development of the steam engine.
Aug. 19, 1934
First Soap Box Derby: The first All-American Soap Box Derby is held in Dayton, Ohio, for boys and girls ages 9-16.
Aug. 18, 1940
Chrysler Founder Dies: Walter P. Chrysler dies after an illustrious career in the U.S. auto industry, including time at Buick, Willys-Overland, Maxwell and his own Chrysler Corporation.
Aug. 17, 1939
Beverly Rae Kimes Born: Beverly Rae Kimes, an automotive author, historian and former editor of Automobile Quarterly, is born.
Aug. 16, 1984
DeLorean Found Not Guilty: DeLorean Motor Company founder John Z. DeLorean is cleared of drug trafficking charges by a Los Angeles jury. He defended himself successfully, contending that the FBI had entrapped him.
Aug. 15, 1899
Henry Ford Pursues New Career: Henry Ford resigns from his position with the Edison Illuminating Company to build his own car.
Aug. 9, 1918
Auto Production Halted: The U.S. Government orders a halt to all civilian automobile production by Jan. 1, 1919.
Aug. 5, 1914
First Electric Traffic Lights: The first electric traffic signals are introduced in Cleveland, Ohio.
Aug. 4, 1956
First Motorcycle to Top 200 mph: A streamlined NSU becomes the first motorcycle to top 200 mph when Wilhelm Herz hits 210 mph at the Bonneville Salt Flats.
Aug. 3, 2006
Saab Cuts Off Arms Sales to Venezuela: Saab, the Swedish arms company, announces it will no longer sell arms to Venezuela after a U.S. embargo is imposed against the country.
Aug. 1, 1941
Jeep Introduced to U.S. Army: The Willys Corporation introduces the Jeep to the U.S. Army, which was in need of a nimble and relatively swift all-terrain vehicle.
July 29, 1909
Buick Acquires Cadillac: Buick motor Company acquires Cadillac on behalf of GM for $4.5 million.
July 28, 1935
July 27, 1888
July 26, 1903
First Continental Crossing by Car: Horatio Nelson Jackson, a physician and automobile pioneer, and Sewall H. Crocker arrive in New York, successfully completing the first continental crossing by car, a journey prompted by a $50 bet to determine whether a car could successfully be driven across the U.S.
July 25, 1945
Kaiser-Frazer Partnership Announced: Henry Kaiser and Joseph Frazer announce plans to form corporation to manufacturer automobiles. Kaiser-Frazer was the only new U.S. automaker to achieve success immediately following WWII, though only for a few years.
July 14, 1955
Karmann-Ghia Introduced: VW introduces the Karmann-Ghia for the 1956 model year at the Kasino Hotel in Westfalia, Germany.
July 13, 1995
Chrysler in Vietnam: Chrysler Corporation opens a dealership in Hanoi, Vietnam.
July 12, 1895
First Long Motoring Trip in UK: The first motorcar journey of any length undertaken in Britain lasts for 56 miles.
July 11, 1916
Federal Road Act Signed: President Woodrow Wilson signed Federal Road Act to help foster the building of better roads.
July 8, 1907
July 7, 1928
Plymouth Debuts: The Plymouth brand debuted at the Chicago Coliseum on this day with famed aviatrix Amelia Earhart behind the wheel.
July 6, 1903
Your politicians at work in 1956: Highway Revenue Act (HRA) goes into effect. This was your politicians at work in an effort to put taxation together to support the construction of over 42,500 miles of Interstate Highways.
June 23, 1903
Mercedes Trademark first registered: The company founded by Gottlieb Daimle, Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft, registers the Mercedes name for use on its vehicles, following the success of the high-powered models prompted by Austrian businessman Emil Jellinek, who promoted the use of his young daughter's name.
June 22, 1979
Louis Chiron Dies: Pre-war racing legend Louis Chiron was born in Monaco, won the famous race there and also died in his native country on this day.
June 17, 1907
Brooklands Opens: When it opened, the 2.75-mile motor racing circuit was the first purpose-built motor racing track in the world. It later became Britain's aviation center. It closed in 1939 and never reopened.
June 16, 1903
Ford Motor Company Founded: Articles of association are filed, establishing the Ford Motor Company. Henry Ford and Alexander Malcomson are the most significant stock holders, with 25.5 percent each.
June 15, 1937
Retractable Headlamps Patented: Auburn-Cord-Duesenberg President Harold Ames is granted a patent for the retractable headlamps first seen on the Gordon Buehrig-designed Cord 810.
June 14, 1900
First Gordon-Bennet Race Held: Representing France, Fernand Charron wins the first truly international race in a Panhard over a route between Paris and Lyon in France.
June 13, 1895
Levassor Wins Paris-Bordeaux-Paris Race: Driving a Panhard et Lavassor car with a two-cylinder Daimler Phoenix engine, Emile Levassor wins the Paris-Bordeaux-Paris race.
1948, a hand-built aluminum prototype labeled “No. 1” becomes the first vehicle to bear the name of one of the world´s leading luxury car manufacturers: Porsche. Porsche left Daimler in 1931 and formed his own company. A few years later, Adolf Hitler called on the engineer to aid in the production of a small “people´s car” for the German masses. The 356 went into production during the winter of 1947-48, and the aluminum prototype, built entirely by hand, was completed on June 8, 1948. The Germans subsequently hired Porsche to consult on further development of the Volkswagen. With the proceeds, Porsche opened new offices in Stuttgart, with plans to build up to 500 of his company´s own cars per year.
June 7, 1962
First Drive-in Bank Opens: Credit Suisse — at the time known as Schweizerische Kreditanstalt — opens the first drive-in bank in Zurich, Switzerland.
June 6, 1932
Congress Levies Gasoline Tax: As part of the Revenue Act of 1932, a tax of 1 cent
is added to the cost of every gallon of gasoline sold in the United States.
June 1, 1917
Henry Leland resigns from Cadillac: The man who was responsible for the products and engineering that led Cadillac to its lofty position in the American automobile market leaves the GM-owned company to start Lincoln with son Wilfred.
Los Angeles, California, is the first stop on a cross-country road show launched on this day in 2007 by Smart USA to promote the attractions of its “ForTwo” microcar, which it had scheduled for release in the United States in 2008. In the early 1990s, Nicholas Hayek of Swatch, the company famous for its wide range of colorful and trendy plastic watches, went to German automaker Mercedes-Benz with his idea for an “ultra-urban” car. The result of their joint venture was the diminutive Smart (an acronym for Swatch Mercedes ART) ForTwo, which debuted at the Frankfurt Motor Show in 1997 and went on sale in nine European countries over the next year. Measuring just over eight feet from bumper to bumper, the original ForTwo was marketed as a safe, fuel-efficient car that could be maneuvered easily through narrow, crowded city streets. Despite its popularity among urban Europeans, Smart posted significant losses, and Swatch soon pulled out of the joint venture.
In Monaco, France, Team Lotus makes its Formula One debut in the Monaco Grand Prix, the opening event of the year´s European racing season. Over the next four decades, Team Lotus would go on to become one of the most successful teams in Formula One history. Team Lotus was the motor sport wing of the Lotus Engineering Company, founded six years earlier by the British engineer and race car driver Anthony Colin Bruce Chapman. Chapman built his first car, a modified 1930 Austin Seven, while still a university student. His success building trial cars led to the completion of the first Lotus production model, the Mark 6, in 1952; 100 were produced by 1955, establishing Chapman´s reputation as a innovator in the design of top-performing race cars.
Toyota Motor Company announced its plans to produce a gasoline-electric hybrid version of its bestselling Camry sedan. Built at the company´s Georgetown, Kentucky, plant, the Camry became Toyota´s first hybrid model to be manufactured in the United States. Toyota introduced the Camry--the name is a phonetic transcription of the Japanese word for “crown”--in the Japanese market in 1980; it began selling in the United States the following year. By the late 1980s and early 1990s, the success of the Camry and its Japanese competitor, the Honda Accord, had allowed Toyota and Honda to seize control of the midsize sedan market in the United States. By then, Toyota had adapted the Camry more to American tastes, increasing its size and replacing its original boxy design with a smoother, more rounded style.
On this day in 1956, executives from the Detroit-based automotive giant General Motors (GM) dedicate the new GM Technical Center in Warren, Michigan. Costing around $100 million--or about half a billion in today´s dollars--to develop and staffed by around 4,000 scientists, engineers, designers and other personnel, the GM Technical Center was one of the largest industrial research centers in the world. There is not another facility like it in the world. A $1 billion dollar renovation of the GM Technical Center was completed in 2003.
Stockholders vote to appoint Douglas Fraser, president of the United Automobile Workers (UAW), to one of 20 seats on Chrysler´s board of directors. The vote made Fraser the first union representative ever to sit on the board of a major U.S. corporation. Born in 1916 in Glasgow, Scotland, to a strongly unionist father, Fraser was brought to the United States at the age of six. After dropping out of high school, he was fired from his first two factory jobs for trying to organize his fellow workers. Fraser then got a job at a Chrysler-owned DeSoto plant in Detroit that was organized by the UAW. Quickly promoted through union ranks, Fraser caught the eye of UAW president Walter Reuther. He worked as Reuther´s administrative assistant during the 1950s, a groundbreaking period during which the UAW solidified policies on retirement pensions and medical and dental care for its members. In 1979-80, Fraser played a key role in getting Chrysler a $1.5 billion bailout from the U.S. government, negotiating a deal that called for hourly workers at Chrysler to accept wage cuts of $3 per hour (to $17) and giving the company permission to shed nearly 50,000 of its U.S. jobs.
19-year-old Adam Petty, son of Winston Cup driver Kyle Petty and grandson of NASCAR legend Richard Petty, is killed after crashing into a wall during practice for a Grand National race at Loudon, New Hampshire. The young Petty was the first fourth-generation driver in NASCAR history. His great-grandfather, Lee Petty, a pioneer of NASCAR racing, died in April 2000; Adam Petty competed in his first Winston Cup three days before his great-grandfather´s death, finishing 40th. The young Petty was in his second season in the Busch Series and was planning to move to the Winston Cup circuit full time the following year. In his 29 starts during 1999, he posted three top-five and four top-10 finishes; his best was fourth place in the AutoClub 300 at California Speedway (which in 2008 was renamed the Auto Club Speedway of Southern California). According to an NBC News report, his car crashed head-on into a wall while traveling at 130 miles per hour. Petty was airlifted to Concord Hospital, where he was pronounced dead of head trauma.
On this day in 1947, the B.F. Goodrich Company of Akron, Ohio, announces it has developed a tubeless tire, a technological innovation that would make automobiles safer and more efficient.
In 1869, the presidents of the Union Pacific and Central Pacific railroads meet in Promontory, Utah, and drive a ceremonial last spike into a rail line that connects their railroads. This made transcontinental railroad travel possible for the first time in U.S. history. No longer would western-bound travelers need to take the long and dangerous journey by wagon train. One year into the Civil War, a Republican-controlled Congress passed the Pacific Railroad Act (1862), guaranteeing public land grants and loans to the two railroads it chose to build the transcontinental line, the Union Pacific and the Central Pacific. With these in hand, the railroads began work in 1866 from Omaha and Sacramento, forging a northern route across the country. For all the adversity they suffered, the Union Pacific and Central Pacific workers were able to finish the railroad--laying nearly 2,000 miles of track--by 1869, ahead of schedule and under budget. Journeys that had taken months by wagon train or weeks by boat now took only days.
“Speed Racer”, the big-budget live-action film version of the 1960s
Japanese comic book and television series “MachGoGoGo”, makes its
debut in U.S. movie theaters. Warner Brothers, the studio behind “Speed
Racer”, brought on Larry and Andy Wachowski, the brothers who created
the blockbuster science-fiction hit “The Matrix” and its two sequels, to write
and direct the long-awaited movie. Emile Hirsch starred in the title role of
Speed, an 18-year-old driver whose family´s business is building race
cars. Christina Ricci, John Goodman, Susan Sarandon and Matthew Fox
co-starred in “Speed Racer” alongside Hirsch. Another key cast member
was not an actor but an automobile: the mighty Mach 5, a race car
designed and built by Speed´s father, Pops Racer. As in the American
version of the comic, the sleek Mach 5 used in the film is white with red
accents, bears similarities to an early Ferrari Testarossa and is outfitted
with an array of special features.
1991, the 51-year-old race car driver Harry Gant racks up his 12th
National Association of Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR) Winston Cup
career victory in the Winston 500 in Talladega, Alabama. In doing so, Gant
bettered his own record as the oldest man ever to win a NASCAR event. A
native of Taylorsville, North Carolina, Gant quit the family carpentry
business in 1978 and raced his first full Winston Cup season in 1979, at
the relatively advanced age of 39. He was a candidate for Rookie of the
Year, but lost to Dale Earnhardt.
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May 27, 1927
Last Model T Ford built: After an astonishing production run that began in 1908 and produced a record 15,007,033 units built, the last Tin Lizzie rolls out of the factory so it can be converted for production of the Model A.
After 59 years, the iconic Route 66 enters the realm of history on this day in 1985, when the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials decertifies the road and votes to remove all its highway signs.
Measuring some 2,200 miles in its heyday, Route 66 stretched from Chicago, Illinois to Santa Monica, California, passing through eight states. According to a New York Times article about its decertification, most of Route 66 followed a path through the wilderness forged in 1857 by U.S. Navy Lieutenant Edward Beale at the head of a caravan of camels. Over the years, wagon trains and cattlemen eventually made way for trucks and passenger automobiles.
The idea of building a highway along this route surfaced in Oklahoma in the mid-1920s as a way to link the state to cities like Chicago and Los Angeles. Highway Commissioner Cyrus S. Avery touted it as a way of diverting traffic from Kansas City, Missouri and Denver. In 1926, the highway earned its official designation as Route 66. The diagonal course of Route 66 linked hundreds of mostly rural communities to the cities along its route, allowing farmers to more easily transport grain and other types of produce for distribution. The highway was also a lifeline for the long-distance trucking industry, which by 1930 was competing with the railroad for dominance in the shipping market.
Route 66 was the scene of a mass westward migration during the 1930s, when more than 200,000 people traveled from the poverty-stricken Dust Bowl to California. John Steinbeck immortalized the highway, which he called the “Mother Road,” in his classic 1939 novel “The Grapes of Wrath.”
Beginning in the 1950s, the building of a massive system of interstate highways made older roads increasingly obsolete, and by 1970, modern four-lane highways had bypassed nearly all sections of Route 66. In October 1984, Interstate-40 bypassed the last original stretch of Route 66 at Williams, Arizona, and the following year the road was decertified. According to the National Historic Route 66 Federation, drivers can still use 85 percent of the road, and Route 66 has become a destination for tourists from all over the world.
Often called the “Main Street of America,” Route 66 became a pop culture mainstay over the years, inspiring its own song (written in 1947 by Bobby Troup, “Route 66″ was later recorded by artists as varied as Nat “King” Cole, Chuck Berry and the Rolling Stones) as well as a 1960s television series. More recently, the historic highway was featured prominently in the hit animated film “Cars” (2006).
On June 30, 1953, the first Corvette came off the production line in Flint. It was hand-assembled and featured a Polo White exterior and red interior, two-speed Powerglide automatic transmission, a wraparound windshield, whitewall tires and detachable plastic curtains instead of side windows. The earliest Corvettes were designed to be opened from the inside and lacked exterior door handles. Other components included a clock, cigarette lighter and red warning light that activated when the parking brake was applied–a new feature at the time. The car carried an initial price tag of $3,490 and could go from zero to 60 miles per hour in 11 or 12 seconds, then considered a fairly average speed.
In 1954, the Corvette went into mass production at a Chevy plant in St. Louis, Missouri. Sales were lackluster in the beginning and GM considered discontinuing the line. However, rival company Ford had introduced the two-seater Thunderbird around the same time and GM did not want to be seen bowing to the competition. Another critical development in the Corvette's survival came in 1955, when it was equipped with the more powerful V-8 engine. Its performance and appeal steadily improved after that and it went on to earn the nickname “America's sports car” and become ingrained in pop culture through multiple references in movies, television and music.
“Back to the Future” released, features 1981 DeLorean DMC-12
On this day in 1985, the blockbuster action-comedy “Back to the Future”–in which John DeLorean's iconic concept car is memorably transformed into a time-travel device–is released in theaters across the United States.
“Back to the Future,” directed by Robert Zemeckis, starred Michael J. Fox as Marty McFly, a teenager who travels back 30 years using a time machine built by the zany scientist Doc Brown (Christopher Lloyd). Doc's mind-blowing creation consists of a DeLorean DMC-12 sports car outfitted with a nuclear reactor. Once the car reaches a speed of 88 miles per hour, the plutonium-powered reactor achieves the “1.21 gigawatts” of power necessary to travel through time. Marty arrives in 1955 only to stumble in the way of his own parents (Crispin Glover and Lea Thompson) and keep them from meeting for the first time, thus putting his own life in jeopardy.
A veteran of the Packard Motor Company and General Motors, John DeLorean founded the DeLorean Motor Company in Detroit in 1975 to pursue his vision of a futuristic sports car. DeLorean eventually set up a factory in Dunmurry, near Belfast in Northern Ireland. There, he built his iconic concept car: the DMC-12, known simply as the DeLorean. An angular vehicle with gull-wing doors, the DeLorean had an unpainted stainless-steel body and a rear-mounted engine. To accommodate taller drivers (like its designer, who was over six feet tall), the car had a roomy interior compared to most sports cars.
Although it was built in Northern Ireland, the DeLorean was intended predominantly for an American audience, so it was built with the driver's seat on the left-hand side. The company built about 9,000 of the cars before it ran out of money and halted production in 1982; only 6,500 of those are still in existence. Despite its short lifespan, the DeLorean remains an object of great interest to car collectors and enthusiasts, no doubt largely due to the smashing success of “Back to the Future” and its two sequels, released in 1989 and 1990. John DeLorean died in March of 2005, at the age of 80.