January 11th-17th | This Week in Automotive History

January 11th, 1913

Hudson Model 54 (1914)

The world’s first ‘closed’ production car was introduced, the Hudson Motor Car Company’s Model 54 saloon. Earlier cars had been open to the elements or at best had convertible roofs.


January 12th, 1904

Henry Ford, standing, and Barney Oldfield in 1902, with the “999” racing automobile.

Henry Ford established a new world land-speed record of 91.37 mph on the winter ice of Lake St Clair, Michigan in a 4-cylinder, 15.7-litre, 72-bhp Ford 999 Arrow he built himself.


January 13th, 1942

Henry Ford was granted the first US patent for construction of a plastic car. The Soybean (or ‘Hemp body’, as it was also known) was the first car to have a body entirely made of plastic. It was 30 per cent lighter than a regular metal car and the panels were said to be only a quarter of an inch (6 mm) thick. Because of World War II all US automobile production was curtailed considerably, and the plastic car experiment basically came to a halt and the prototype car was destroyed.


January 15th, 1909

Earliest known photograph of a motorized hearse thought to belong to Ludlow of Chicago

A motorized hearse was used for the first time in the US in a Chicago funeral procession by funeral director H. D. Ludlow & Pearce Undertaking, 659 47th Street. The service was in honor of the late Wilfrid A. Pruyn. Ludlow had commissioned the vehicle to be fabricated from the coach body of a horse-drawn hearse mounted upon an omnibus chassis and powered by a gasoline fueled internal combustion engine. This marked a sharp break from tradition, as stately horse-drawn hearses had been in use for centuries.


January 15th, 1950

1950 GM Motorama in New York City

General Motors opened its “Mid-Century Motorama” at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City, featuring the Cadillac Debutante convertible with leopard skin upholstery and gold plated interior hardware.


January 16th, 1950

Saab 92 – 1950

Saab delivered its first cars, the Saab 92, to waiting customers. The engine was a transversely-mounted, water-cooled two-cylinder, two-stroke 764 cc, 25 hp (19 kW) thermosiphon engine based on a DKW design, giving a top speed of 105 km/h (65 mph). The transmission had three gears, the first unsynchronized. In order to overcome the problems of oil starvation during overrun (engine braking) for the two-stroke engine, a freewheel device was fitted. The suspension was by torsion bars. All early Saab 92s were painted in a dark green color similar to British racing green. According to some sources, Saab had a surplus of green paint from wartime production of airplanes.


January 17th, 1949

Ben Pon with the first Beetle to arrive in America in 1949.

The first Volkswagen Beetle, designed by Ferdinand Porsche at the request of Adolf Hitler, arrived in the US from Germany. The idea had been for a small saloon that could carry a German family of five flat-out at 100kph along the country’s new autobahns. It was to have cost 990 Reich Marks, which represented 31 weeks’ pay for the average German worker in 1936,

This week in Automotive History is produced by Branding Roar