February 15th, 1935
BMW’s stylistically and technologically innovative flagship model, the 70 mph BMW 326, was launched at the 26th German International Motor Show Berlin. Available as a saloon, a two-door and four-door convertible, it was the first BMW to sport a streamlined body, a hydraulic braking system and a concealed spare wheel. The car featured a 2 liter 6 cylinder engine with two carburetors, whose power of 50 bhp was transmitted to the wheels in 1st and 2nd gear by a partially synchronized four-speed transmission with freewheel. Daimler-Benz presented the new car models 170 V (W 136) and 170 H (W 28) as well as the model 260 D (W 138), the world’s first series-produced diesel passenger car at the show.
February 16th, 1852
H & C Studebaker, a blacksmith and wagon building business, was founded by Henry and Clement Studebaker in South Bend, Indiana. They converted to car manufacturing, becoming one of the larger US independent car manufacturers. During World War II, Studebaker manufactured airplanes for the war effort and emphasized its patriotic role by releasing cars called “The President,” “The Champion,” and “The Commander.” Post World War II competition drove Studebaker to its limits, and the company merged with the Packard Corporation in 1954. Financial hardship continued however as they continued to lose money over the next several years. Studebaker rebounded in 1959 with the introduction of the compact Lark but it was short lived. The 1996 Cruiser marked the end of the Studebaker after 114 years.
February 17th, 1901
The first car named Mercedes, made by Daimler, debuted at the Circuit du Sud-Ouest, France. Maurice Farman recorded his first racing victory, winning in a 24-hp Panhard – his brother, Henri Farman, finished second in a 12-hp Darracq. It was run in three classes around the streets of Pau. Many anglophone sources wrongly list a race called the Pau Grand Prix in 1901. This may stem from a mistranslation of the contemporary French sources such as the magazine La France Auto of March 1901. The Grand Prix du Palais d’Hiver was the name of the prizes awarded for the lesser classes (‘Light cars’ and ‘Voiturettes’). The Grand Prix de Pau was the name of the prize awarded for the ‘Heavy’ (fastest) class. Thus Maurice Farman was awarded the ‘Grand Prix de Pau’ for his overall victory in the Circuit du Sud-Ouest.
February 18th, 2001
Seven-time Winston Cup champion Dale Earnhardt (49), died in a last-lap crash at the Daytona 500. His car, the famous black No. 3 Chevrolet, was hit from behind and spun out into the path of Ken Schrader’s car, before crashing head-on into the outside wall at 180 mph. Earnhardt was the 27th driver to die at Daytona since the track opened in 1959. Earnhardt, whose tough, aggressive driving style earned him the nickname ‘The Intimidator’, was involved in another crash at the Daytona 500 in 1997, when his car flipped upside down on the backstretch. He managed to escape serious injury. In 1998, he went on to win the Daytona 500, his first and only victory in that race after 20 years of trying. Earnhardt, a high-school dropout from humble beginnings in Kannapolis, North Carolina, said all he ever wanted to do in life was race cars. Indeed, he went on to become one of the sport’s most successful and respected drivers, with 76 career victories, including seven Winston Cup Series championships.
February 19th, 1901
Roy D Chapin quit college to join the Olds Motor Works, beginning an illustrious automotive career. Chapin headed the consortium of businessmen and engineers that founded the Hudson Motor Car Company in 1908. The company was named for Detroit merchant Joseph L. Hudson, who provided the majority of capital for the operation’s start-up. Chapin was also behind the 1918 formation of the Essex Motors Company, a subsidiary of Hudson. Essex is notable for developing the first affordable mass-produced enclosed automobile in 1922. Because of the success of the inexpensive enclosed Essex Coach line, the American automobile industry shifted away from open touring cars in order to meet consumer demand for all-weather passenger vehicles. In 1927 he replaced Clifton as the head of the National Automobile Chamber of Commerce. In addition to his corporate interests, Chapin spearheaded the drive to build the Lincoln Highway, along with Henry B. Joy of Packard Motors. While Chapin viewed a system of professionally designed and built roadways as the greatest way to grow the automobile industry, he also saw the modern roadways movement as a way to secure long range strength for the United States as a nation.
February 20th, 1954
The legendary Ford Thunderbird was launched at the Detroit Auto Show and went on sale in October as a 1955 model. The first production car came off the line on September 9, 1954, and went on sale on October 22, 1954 as a 1955 model, and sold briskly; 3,500 orders were placed in the first ten days of sale. While only 10,000 were planned, 16,155 were sold in 1955. As standard, the 1955 Ford Thunderbird included a removable fiberglass top; a fabric convertible top was an option, although commonly specified. The engine was a 292 Y-block V8, which got 18MPG. The car had fender skirts. The exhaust pipes exited through twin bumper guards, which are bolted to the rear bumper. Created to act as a retort to the Chevrolet Corvette, it was also the first mass-produced edition of all the Ford Thunderbird models. A total of 53,166 units were produced for the three model years 1955-1957. It was produced with a Fordomatic automatic or manual overdrive transmissions, and featured four-way powered seats and pushbutton interior door handles. Other unique features were a telescoping steering wheel and a tachometer. Equipped with a V8 engine, the Thunderbird could hit 110-120 mph. It was a smaller two-seat “personal luxury car”, compared to many other much larger cars that were on the road in the 1950s. It was designed to be a brisk luxury tourer, and not a sports car.
February 21st, 1948
The National Association for Stock Car Racing – NASCAR – was officially incorporated. NASCAR racing would become one of America’s most popular spectator sports, as well as a multi-billion-dollar industry. The driving force behind the establishment of NASCAR was William “Bill” France Sr. (1909-1992), a mechanic and auto-repair shop owner from Washington, D.C., who in the mid-1930s moved to Daytona Beach, Florida.
This week in Automotive History is produced by Branding Roar