March 29th – April 4th | This Week In Automotive History

March 29th, 1927

Major Segrave & his record breaking Sunbeam

Major Henry O’Neil de Hane Segrave became the first man to break the 200 mph barrier. Driving a 1,000 horsepower Mystery Sunbeam, Segrave averaged 203.79 mph on the course at Daytona Beach, Florida. Segrave and his contemporary, British racer Malcolm Campbell, battled for land-speed supremacy throughout the 1920s. Segrave won the most historic victory in the long-standing competition when he broke the 200mph barrier and went on to set many more land-speed records. Between his efforts and Campbell’s, Great Britain dominated the land-speed record books until jet engines usurped supremacy from internal combustion engines. Segrave died in 1930, attempting to set a new water speed record.

March 30th, 1947

Preston Tucker announced his concept for a new automobile to be named “the Tucker”. Having built a reputation as an engineer during WWII when he served as general manager of his company, Ypsilanti Machine & Tool Company, Tucker looked to capitalize on the high demand for cars that post-war conditions offered. No new car model had been released since 1942, and so the end of the war would bring four years’ worth of car-buyers back to the market. Tucker intended to meet the demand with a revolutionary automobile design. His 1945 plans called for an automobile that would be equipped with a rear-mounted engine as powerful as an aircraft engine, a hydraulic torque converter that would eliminate the necessity of a transmission, two revolving headlights at either side of the car’s fender, one stationary “cyclops” headlight in the middle, and a steering wheel placed in the center of the car and flanked by two passenger seats. However, a series of financial difficulties forced Tucker to tone down his own expectations for the cars. Production costs rose above his projections and investors became more cautious as the Big Three continued their astounding post-war success. To raise money for his project, Tucker sold franchises to individual car dealers who put up $50 in cash for every car they expected to sell during their first two years as a Tucker agent. The deposit was to be applied to the purchase price of the car upon delivery. The SEC objected to Tucker›s strategy on the grounds that he was selling unapproved securities. It was just one intervention in a continuous battle between Tucker and federal regulatory bodies. Tucker loyalists espouse the theory that Tucker was the victim of a conspiracy planned by the Big Three to sabotage independent manufacturers. More likely, though, Tucker was the victim of an unfriendly market and his own recklessness. Unfortunately for his investors, the SEC indicted Tucker before he could begin mass production of his cars. He was acquitted on all counts, but his business was ruined. In the end, only fifty-one Tuckers were produced and none of them were equipped with the technological breakthroughs he promised. Still, the Tucker was a remarkable car for its price tag. Whether as an innovator silenced by the complacent authorities or a charlatan better fit to build visions than cars, Preston Tucker made a personal impact in a post-war industry dominated by faceless goliaths.

March 31st, 1900

The first car advertisement to run in a national magazine appeared in the Saturday Evening Post. The W.E. Roach Company of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania ran an advertisement featuring its jingle, “Automobiles That Give Satisfaction.”

April 1st, 1960

The Amphicar, the first mass-produced amphibious automobile for sale to the public, was introduced in New York. The German vehicle was designed by Hanns Trippel and manufactured by the Quandt Group at Lübeck and at Berlin-Borsigwalde. Its name is a portmanteau of “amphibious” and “car”. Compared to most boats or cars, its performance was modest, and only 4000 were produced by 1965. Nevertheless, it is still among the most successful amphibious civilian autos of all time, and still often prized and preserved as novelty collectible automobiles today.

April 2nd, 1872

George B. Brayton of Boston, Massachusetts. received a US patent for a gasoline-powered engine (No. 125,166). Its principle of continuous ignition later became the basis for the turbine engine. A pressurized air-fuel mixture from a reservoir was ignited upon entering a water-cooled cylinder. The Brayton engine was tried in watercraft, one of John Holland’s submarines and one for a few months installed in a carriage (1872-3).

April 3rd, 1885

The four-stroke engine developed by Gottlieb Daimler and Wilhelm Maybach, nicknamed Grandfather Clock. The first unit ran successfully in 1884.

Gottlieb Daimler was granted a German patent for his one cylinder water-cooled engine design. Cool water circulated around the engine block, preventing the engine from overheating. Today’s engines still employ Daimler’s basic idea. Before the water-cooled engine, cars were practical impossibilities, as the parts on which the engine was mounted could not sustain the heat generated by the engine itself. Daimler built his first whole automobile towards the end of 1896.

This week in Automotive History is produced by Branding Roar