January 18th-24th | This Week in Automotive History

January 18th, 1919

Walter Owen (W.O.) Bentley founded his company in 1919 

Bentley Motors was established in London, England by W. O. Bentley and his brother H. M. Bentley. W.O. started dreaming about building his own cars bearing his name shortly after the brothers opened the UK agency for the French DFP (Doriot, Flandrin & Parant) cars in 1912. Soon, he fulfilled his dream and founded what would become one of the most desirable luxury car brands in the world. 

January 19th, 1904

Thomas Edison poses with his first electric car, the Edison Baker, and one of its batteries (1895).

Thomas A. Edison was granted a patent for an” Electrical Automobile” (US Patent No. 750,102) designed with a driving motor that could be used for the purpose of charging the batteries. A small steam engine was connected to the armature of an electric motor. By reversing the rotation of the motor-armature, the electric motor could be converted to a generator for charging the batteries. A clutch then was used to disconnect the motor from the driving wheels during charging (or, the wheels could be jacked up during the charging operation). In usual operation, the motor ran from storage batteries to power the carriage.

January 20th, 1909

The newly formed automaker General Motors (GM) bought into the Oakland Motor Car Corporation, which later became GM’s long-running Pontiac division. Oakland Motor Car was founded in 1907 in Pontiac, Michigan by Edward Murphy, a manufacturer of horse-drawn carriages. The following year, another former buggy company executive, William Durant, founded General Motors in Flint, Michigan, as a holding company for the Buick Motor Company. GM soon bought other automakers, including Oldsmobile and Cadillac. In 1909, Oakland became part of GM. The first Pontiac model made its debut as part of the Oakland line in the 1920’s. The car, which featured a six-cylinder engine, proved so popular that the Oakland name was eventually dropped and Pontiac became its own GM division by the early 1930s. On April 27, 2009, amid ongoing financial problems and restructuring efforts, GM announced it would discontinue the Pontiac brand by the end of 2010. The last Pontiacs were built in late 2009/early 2010, with the final dealer franchises expiring October 31, 2010.

January 21st, 1981

The first DeLorean 150-bhp DMC-12 rolled off the production line at the DMC factory in Dunmurry, Northern Ireland. About 9,000 DMC-12s, which could accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in 8.8 seconds, were made before production stopped in late 1982. Today, about 6,000 DeLoreans are believed to still exist.

January 22nd, 1950

Preston Tucker introducing the Tucker 48, commonly referred to as the Tucker Torpedo

Throughout the twentieth century, independent automobile manufacturers have fallen again and again before the industrial power of the “Big Three”–Ford, General Motors, and Chrysler. Most often, these independent firms are swallowed, bought up, like Nash, Austin, Studebaker, Hudson, Packard, and many others. The story of Preston Tucker is a little darker. Tucker was a Chicago businessman who built 50 extraordinary automobiles in 1947 and 1948. His cars had many modern amenities and remarkable horsepower. But he was indicted on 31 counts of fraud; and as he fought for his freedom in court, his company failed. On this day in 1950, Preston Tucker was cleared of all fraud charges against him. But it was too little, too late. The Tucker automobile was history. Many believe that the legal actions against Tucker were sponsored by the Big Three auto makers, who feared his competition.

January 24th, 1860

Belgian engineer Etienne Lenoir was issued a patent for the first successful internal-combustion engine. Lenoir’s engine was a converted steam engine that burned a mixture of coal gas and air. Its two-stroke action was simple but reliable–many of Lenoir’s engines were still working after 20 years of use. His first engines powered simple machines like pumps and bellows. However, in 1862, Lenoir built his first vehicle powered by an internal-combustion engine–a vehicle capable of making a six-mile trip in two to three hours. It wasn’t a practical vehicle, but it was the beginning of the automobile industry.

January 24th, 2006

James Bond’s legendary Aston Martin DB5 was auctioned for more than $1.6 million. The classic Bond car, which featured in Thunderball and Goldfinger, sold for $1,636,278. in Phoenix, Arizona. The car had last been sold in 1970 for $6900. A tuxedoed auctioneer drove the DB5 onto a dimmed stage before demonstrating the car’s gadgets, including bullet shield, tire slashers, oil-slick ejector and Browning machine guns.

This week in Automotive History is produced by Branding Roar