February 1st-7th | This Week in Automotive History

February 1st, 1920

Rolls-Royce Armored Car 1920

The first commercial armored car was introduced.

February 2nd, 1960

1960 Mercury Comet that was sold through Lincoln-Mercury stores.

Production of the Mercury Comet began in Lorain, Ohio, US. The Comet was originally planned as an Edsel model. It was reassigned to Mercury dealerships after the demise of the Edsel marque, where it was marketed as a standalone product for 1960 and 1961 as the Comet.Developed concurrently with the Ford Falcon, early pre-production photographs of the sedan show a car remarkably close to the Comet that emerged, but with a split grille following the pattern established by Edsel models.

February 3rd, 1948

The first Cadillac with tailfins was produced, heralding the dawn of the tailfin era. General Motors design chief Harley Earl is generally credited for the automobile tailfin, introducing small fins on the 1948 Cadillac. Harley credited the look of World War II fighter aircraft for his inspiration, particularly the twin-tailed P-38 Lightning. Tailfins really captured the automotive buying public’s imagination as a result of Chrysler designer Virgil Exner’s Forward Look, which subsequently resulted in manufacturers scrambling to install larger and larger tailfins onto new models. As jet-powered aircraft, rockets, and space flight entered into public recognition, the automotive tailfin assemblies (including tail lights) were designed to resemble more and more the tailfin and engine sections of contemporary jet fighters and space rockets. Plymouth claimed that the tailfins were not fins, but “stabilizers” to place the “center of pressure” as far to the rear as possible and thus “reduce by 20% the needs for steering correction in a cross wind”,while Mercedes-Benz called its own tailfins “Peilstege” or “sight lines,” which ostensibly aided in backing up.

February 4th, 1922

Henry Ford and Henry Leland are seemingly looking over the shoulders of the next generation of Executives as they sign the documents for Ford’s purchase of the struggling Lincoln franchise.

The Ford Motor Company purchased the Lincoln Motor Company of Michigan for $8 million.The acquisition came at a time when Ford, founded in 1903, was losing market share to its competitor General Motors, which offered a range of automobiles while Ford continued to focus on its utilitarian Model T. Although the Model T, which first went into production in 1908, had become the world’s best-selling car and revolutionized the auto industry, it had undergone few major changes since its debut, and from 1914 to 1925 it was only available in one color: black. In May 1927, lack of demand for the Model T forced Ford to shut down the assembly lines on the iconic vehicle. Later that year, the company introduced the more comfortable and stylish Model A, a car whose sleeker look resembled that of a Lincoln automobile. In fact, the Model A was nicknamed “the baby Lincoln.”

February 6th, 1911

The ‘Spirit of Ecstasy’ Statuette

Rolls Royce appalled by mascots on owners cars, commissioned the ‘Spirit of Ecstasy’ statuette.The Spirit of Ecstasy, also called “Emily”, “Silver Lady” or “Flying Lady”, was designed by English sculptor Charles Robinson Sykes and carries with it a story about secret passion between John Walter Edward Douglas-Scott-Montagu, (second Baron Montagu of Beaulieu after 1905, a pioneer of the automobile movement, and editor of The Car Illustrated magazine from 1902) and the model for the emblem, Eleanor Velasco Thornton. Eleanor (also known as Thorn) was the secretary of John Walter, who fell in love with her in 1902 when she worked for him on the aforesaid motoring magazine. Their secret love was to remain hidden, limited to their circle of friends, for more than a decade. The reason for the secrecy was Eleanor’s impoverished social and economic status, which was an obstacle to their love. On the other hand, Montagu was married to Lady Cecil Victoria Constance Kerr since 1889. Eleanor died on 30 December 1915 when the SS Persia was torpedoed by a U-boat south of Crete. She had been accompanying Lord Montagu who had been directed to assume a command in India. He was thought to have been killed too, but survived and was saved after several days adrift in a life raft.

February 7th, 1875

Yataro Iwasaki, the founder of Mitsubishi

Yataro Iwasaki (50), the founder of Mitsubishi, died in Tokyo, Japan. The name Mitsubishi is a compound of mitsu (“three”) and hishi (literally, “water chestnut”, often used in Japanese to denote a diamond or rhombus). Its emblem was a combination of the Iwasaki family crest and the oak-leaf crest of the Yamanouchi family, who were leaders of the Tosa clan, which controlled the part of Shikoku where Yatarō was born. In 1874–1875, Iwasaki was contracted by the Japanese government to transport Japanese soldiers and war materials. The Japanese government purchased a number of ships for the Japanese Expedition of 1874 to Taiwan against Paiwan Aborigines in southeast Taiwan, and these ships were later given to Mitsubishi after the expedition was finished in 1875. This created strong links between Mitsubishi and the Japanese government that ensured the new company’s success. In return, Mitsubishi supported the new Japanese government and transported troops who defeated the Satsuma Rebellion in 1877. Thus the success of Mitsubishi became intertwined with the rise of the modern Japanese state. Subsequently he invested in mining, ship repair, and finance. In 1884 he took a lease on the Nagasaki Shipyard, which allowed the company to undertake shipbuilding on a large scale, and renamed it Nagasaki Shipyard & Machinery Works. Iwasaki Yatarō often gave dinners for dignitaries, spending a huge amount of money on these occasions, but he also made many friends who later helped him by doing favors. Iwasaki died of stomach cancer, and was succeeded as the head of the family business first by his brother, and later his son, Hisaya.

February 7th, 1959

The Daytona International Speedway formally opened. Thirteen cars were on hand for the first qualifying round, but 6 failed tech inspection. “Fireball” Roberts turned in a speed of 140.581 mph in a Pontiac to earn the pole for the inaugural 100 mile Grand National qualifying race. Marvin Panch ran 128.810 mph to pace the two convertibles that timed in. The track was built by NASCAR founder William “Bill” France, Sr. to host racing that was held at the former Daytona Beach Road Course. His banked design permitted higher speeds and gave fans a better view of the cars. Since opening it has been the home of the Daytona 500, the most prestigious race in NASCAR. In addition to NASCAR, the track also hosts races of ARCA, AMA Superbike, USCC, SCCA, and Motocross. The track features multiple layouts including the primary 2.5 miles high speed tri-oval, a 3.56 miles sports car course, a 2.95 miles motorcycle course, and a .25 miles karting and motorcycle flat-track. The track’s 180-acre infield includes the 29-acre Lake Lloyd, which has hosted powerboat racing. Lights were installed around the track in 1998, and today it is the third-largest single lit outdoor sports facility. The speedway has been renovated three times, with the infield renovated in 2004 and the track repaved in 1978 and 2010. The speedway is owned and operated by International Speedway Corporation.

This week in Automotive History is produced by Branding Roar