March 15th, 1906
Rolls-Royce Ltd. was officially registered with Charles S. Rolls and F. Henry Royce as directors. The two men agreed that Royce Limited would manufacture a line of cars to be sold exclusively by C.S. Rolls & Co. Just after the company was organized, it released the six-cylinder 40/50 horsepower Silver Ghost. The car was enthusiastically heralded by the British press as “the best car in the world.”From its formation to the start of World War I in 1914, Rolls-Royce focused on one product–the Silver Ghost. The war forced new demands on the British economy, and Rolls-Royce shifted its manufacturing emphasis to airplane engines. Henry Royce’s designs are credited with having provided half of the total horsepower used in the Allies’ air war against Germany, and World War II transformed Rolls-Royce into a major force in aerospace engineering.
March 16th, 1934
The Chrysler Airflow was introduced at the Geneva Motor Show. Well ahead of its time, the Chrysler Airflow (also sold by DeSoto and Imperial with the same name), was a major engineering feat. In 1934, Chrysler brochures boasted, “It is the first ride-inside motor car… the first really spacious car…the first Floating Ride car…the first car ever to be built that literally ignores the kind of road it runs on… It is the first real motor car since the invention of the automobile.” Widely recognized as the first truly modern automobile, the 1934 Airflow was an “engineer’s” car, which was hardly surprising. What was curious is that normally canny Walter Chrysler approved its daring concept without much regard for whether the public would like it.
March 17th, 1949
The first car to carry the Porsche family name was introduced at the 19th International Automobile Show in Geneva, Switzerland. After serving a two-year prison sentence for his participation as an engineer in Hitler’s regime, Ferdinand Porsche and his son Ferry went to work on a car that would carry the Porsche name. The Porsche prototype, named the 356, was a sports-car version of the Volkswagen that Porsche had designed at Hitler’s request. Its rounded lines, rear engine, and open two-seater design set the standard for all Porsches to come. The classic design and the incomparable engineering of Porsche cars attracted loyal customers at a record pace. In 1950, Ferdinand Porsche celebrated his 75th birthday. He had risen to fame as an engineer for Mercedes; he had developed the Volkswagen; and he had finally put his name to his own automobile. One year later, Porsche suffered a stroke from which he would never recover. He died in January of 1952. Ferry Porsche, Ferdinand’s son, built the Porsche Company into the empire it is today.
March 18th, 1908
The Ford Model T was announced to dealers.
March 19th, 2005
John DeLorean, an innovative auto industry executive and founder of the DeLorean Motor Company, died in New Jersey at the age of 80. In the early 1980’s, his DeLorean Motor Company produced just one model, the DMC-12. It was a sleek sports car with gull-wing doors that opened upward. The company’s brief and turbulent history ended in receivership and bankruptcy in 1982. Near the end, in a desperate attempt to raise the funds his company needed to survive, John DeLorean was filmed appearing to accept money to take part in drug trafficking, but was subsequently acquitted of charges brought against him on the basis of entrapment. Approximately 9,000 DMC-12s in total were produced. The car later became a collector’s item and received a big publicity boost when it was featured as a time-travel machine in the “Back to the Future” movies starring Michael J. Fox.
March 20th, 1988
The last Pontiac Fiero was produced. The Fiero was designed by George Milidrag and Hulki Aldikacti as a sports car. The Fiero was the first two-seater Pontiac since the 1926 to 1938 coupes, and also the first and only mass-produced mid-engine sports car by a U.S. manufacturer. Many technologies incorporated in the Fiero design such as plastic body panels were radical for their time. Other features included hidden headlamps and, initially, integrated stereo speakers within the driver and passenger headrests. A total of 370,168 Fieros were produced over the relatively short production run of five years; by comparison, 163,000 Toyota MR2s were sold in their first five years. At the time, its reputation suffered from criticisms over performance, reliability and safety issues. The word fiero means “very proud” in Italian, and “wild”, “fierce”, or “ferocious” in Spanish. Alternative names considered for the car were Sprint (which ended up on a Chevrolet car instead), P3000, Pegasus, Fiamma, Sunfire (a name which would later be applied to another car), and Firebird XP. The Fiero 2M4 (two-seat, mid-engine, four-cylinder) was on Car and Driver magazine’s Ten Best list for 1984. The 1984 Fiero was the Official Pace Car of the Indianapolis 500 for 1984, beating out the new 1984 Chevrolet Corvette for the honor.
This week in Automotive History is produced by Branding Roar