April 19th, 1892
Charles Duryea claimed that on this day he first drove the first gasoline-powered US-built motor car in Springfield, Massachusetts. Duryea’s brother, Frank, who witnessed Charles’ first drive, later set the date at September 20, 1893. Frank’s claim was supported by newspaper accounts of the day. Charles’ selective memory may have been the result of the competition to claim the title of America’s first car builder. Duryea wrote an article entitled “It Doesn’t Pay to Pioneer,” in which he claimed to have “designed and built the first gasoline automobile to actually run in America, sold the first car on this side, did the first automobile advertising, and won the first two American races.” None of these claims is absolutely true, but Duryea’s influence as an automotive pioneer is indisputable.
April 20th, 1897
Ernest Estcourt took delivery of the first ‘production’ car from the Daimler Motor Company, Coventry, and drove it home to Hampstead in London. His journey took 10.5 hours, including stops for meals, water, and fuel. The 1897 Daimlers were Panhard-type with front-mounted vertical-twin engines, automatic inlet valves, a sliding gearbox with four forward speeds and a reverse chain drive.
April 21st, 1976
A Cadillac convertible, the ‘last’ American-made soft-top car, rolled off the assembly line at GM’s Cadillac production facility in Detroit, ending a tradition that began in 1916. However, just a few years later, Chrysler Corporation, under chairman Lee Iacocca, began production once again of soft-top cars. Then Ford brought back the convertible Mustang and GM responded with the convertible Pontiac Sunbird and a new, smaller Cadillac version.
April 22nd, 1951
Marshall Teague drove his “Teaguemobile” Hudson Hornet to victory in the 150 mile NASCAR Grand National race on the Arizona State Fairgrounds 1 mile dirt oval. On lap 72, Teague hooked bumpers with the lapped car of Al King, sending King’s Ford flipping. Teague stopped, got out of his car and checked to make sure King was OK before continuing in the race. Six former, current, or future Indy 500 drivers were in the 30 car field.
April 23rd, 1946
The Vespa scooter was granted a patent for a “motorcycle of a rational complexity of organs and elements combined with a frame with mudguards and a casing covering the whole mechanical part”, which started the line of iconic Vespa scooters into production, starting with the Vespa 98. The basic patented design allowed a series of features to be deployed on the spar-frame that would later allow quick development of new models. The original Vespa featured a rear pillion seat for a passenger, or optionally a storage compartment. The original front protection “shield” was a flat piece of aero metal; later, this developed into a twin skin to allow additional storage behind the front shield, similar to the glove compartment in a car. The fuel cap was located underneath the (hinged) seat, which saved the cost of an additional lock on the fuel cap or the need for additional metal work on the smooth skin. The scooter had rigid rear suspension and small 8-inch (200 mm) wheels that allowed a compact design and plenty of room for the rider’s legs. The Vespa’s enclosed, horizontally mounted 98 cc two-stroke engine acted directly on the rear drive wheel through a three-speed transmission. The twistgrip-controlled gear change involved a system of rods. The early engine had no forced-air cooling, but fan blades were soon attached to the magneto-flywheel (which houses the points and generates electricity for accessories and for the engine’s spark) to push air over the cylinder’s cooling fins. The modern Vespa engine is still cooled this way.
April 25th, 1931
Dr. Ferdinand Porsche founded Porsche KG, a company of “designers and consultants for land, sea, and air vehicles”. One of the first assignments was from the German government to design a car for the people, that is a “Volkswagen”. This resulted in the Volkswagen Beetle, one of the most successful car designs of all time. The Porsche 64 was developed in 1939 using many components from the Beetle.
This week in Automotive History is produced by Branding Roar