January 25th-31st | This Week in Automotive History

January 25th, 1952

General Motors unveiled the Autronic Eye, the first automatic headlight-dimming system. When the phototube, mounted on the dashboard, detected approaching headlights, it automatically switched the car’s beams to low until the other lane was clear. It was offered on Oldsmobile and Cadillac cars. Unfortunately minute light fluctuations caused the automatic headlights to flicker erratically. By 1959, General Motors had solved the problem with a new gadget: ‘With a twist of the dial Autronic Eye lets you control the automatic dimming of your lights.’ Thus the driver could manually control an automatic device designed to eliminate the need for manual control.

January 26th, 1979

The Dukes of Hazzard, a prime-time CBS television action/comedy show, was aired for the first time. The show starred John Schneider and Tom Wopat as cousins Bo and Luke Duke, who tangled with the crooked law-enforcement officers of Hazzard County with a little help from their cousin Daisy and Uncle Jesse. However, the real star of the show was their car, The General Lee, a 1969 Dodge Charger with a bright orange paint job and a Confederate flag on its roof.

January 27th, 1904

William K. Vanderbilt Jr. driving his record breaking 90 HP Mercedes

William K Vanderbilt Jr. reached 92.3 mph in his new 90 HP Mercedes at the Daytona Beach Road Course at Ormond Beach, Florida, surpassing the land speed record established earlier in the month by Henry Ford.

January 28th, 1911

Henri Rougier and the victorious 45Hp Turcat-Méry before the inaugural Monte Carlo rally

The first Monte Carlo Rally ended with Frenchman Henri Rougier, in a Turcat-Mery, declared the winner. The event, officially the Rallye Monte Carlo, was organized at the behest of Prince Albert I (great-grandfather of current Prince Albert II and grandfather of Prince Rainier III, who married American actress Grace Kelly). Like many motoring contests of the time, it was seen primarily as a way for auto manufacturers to test new cars and new technologies, much like the Indy 500 and the 24 Hours of Le Mans.Results of the hybrid event depended not on driving time alone, but on judges’ assessment of the automobiles’ design and passenger comfort, as well as what condition the vehicles were in after covering 1,000 kilometers of roads not really made for the horseless carriage. 

January 29th, 2005

Volkswagen Touareg

A standard-engined, 3.2-liter, V6 Volkswagen Touareg set a new world altitude record for a motor vehicle of 19,948 feet (6,080 meters). The Touareg expedition team battled against icy winds and a lack of oxygen through the lunar landscape of the Ojos del Salado (on the Argentina-Chile border), the world’s highest volcano. This is supposedly the highest point on the surface of the earth that a vehicle can reach and safely return from.

January 30th, 1920

The birth of the Mazda name came in 1931 with Toyo’s first motorised vehicle, a three-wheeled truck called the Mazda-Go Type-DA

The Toyo Kogyo Company, later known as Mazda, was founded in Hiroshima, Japan. The company’s initial business, the manufacture of synthetic cork products, soon fell on hard times and in early 1921, its creditors appointed a new president, 45-year-old Jujiro Matsuda, who had previously founded his own firearms company, Matsuda Works. Matsuda took Toyo Cork Kogyo in new directions, including the manufacture of machine tools and a brief stint at building motorcycles. In 1931, Toyo Kogyo introduced its first successful motor vehicle: the Mazda-GO DA Type truck, a three-wheeled, cargo-carrying motorcycle, powered by a 500 cc engine.

January 31st, 2007

Knight Rider Pontiac Trans Am Kitt Car

Cars.com named its top 10 most memorable TV cars; a 1982 Pontiac Trans Am named KITT from the show “Knight Rider” topped the list. The second-place vehicle on the Cars.com list was the the General Lee, a souped-up 1969 Dodge Charger featured on “The Dukes of Hazzard.” Third place on went to the mythical Mystery Machine, a multicolored van from the cartoon “Scooby-Doo.” Coming in fourth was the Ferrari 308 GTS from “Magnum, P.I.” Fifth on the list was the Batmobile, a modified 1955 Lincoln Futura concept car that was featured on the show “Batman.” Rounding out the second half of the list were the 1975 Ford Gran Torino from “Starsky and Hutch,” the 1973 Chevrolet El Camino from “My Name is Earl,” the 1983 GMC G-Series from “The A-Team,” the Mach 5 from the animated show “Speed Racer” and the 2005 Maserati Quattroporte seen on “Entourage.”

This week in Automotive History is produced by Branding Roar