May 3rd – 9th | This Week In Automotive History


May 3rd, 1971

The first Cannonball Baker

The first Cannonball Baker, more popularly known as the Cannonball Run, began in New York City. It was an unofficial, if not outlawed, motor race from New York City to Los Angeles. Conceived by car-magazine writer and racer Brock Yates and fellow Car and Driver editor Steve Smith, the run was not a real competitive race with high risks, but intended both as a celebration of the United States Interstate Highway system and a protest against strict traffic laws that were coming into effect at the time. The first running was accomplished in a 1971 Dodge Custom Sportsman van, called the “Moon Trash II”. The race was run four more times, on November 15, 1971; November 13, 1972; April 23, 1975; and April 1, 1979. Jack May and Rick Cline drove a Ferrari Dino (05984) from the Red Ball Garage in New York City in a world’s record time of 35 hours and 53 minutes, on April 23–25, 1975, averaging 83 mph (134 km/h). The most remarkable effort certainly was by American racing legend Dan Gurney (winner of the 1967 24 hours of Le Mans), who won the second run in a Ferrari Daytona. Dan himself put it best, saying: “At no time did we exceed 175 mph.” With Brock Yates as co-driver, it took them 35 hours and 54 minutes to travel 2,863 miles (4,608 km) at an average of approximately 80 mph (130 km/h), while collecting one fine. Snow in the Rockies slowed them down considerably. The record for official Cannonballs is 32 hours and 51 minutes (about 87 mph), set in the final run by Dave Heinz and Dave Yarborough in a Jaguar XJS in April 1979. This New York to Los Angeles record was broken in 2007 by Alex Roy & David Maher, setting a time of 31 hours 4 minutes, as documented in the film 32 Hours 7 minutes. After the original Cannonball races were halted, Car and Driver began to sponsor a legitimate closed-course tour, the One Lap of America. Outlaw successors in the United States, Europe, and Australia continue to use the Cannonball name without Yates’ approval.


May 4th, 1904

Charles Rolls (left) and Henry Royce (right)

The Honorable Charles Rolls and Henry Royce met for the first time at the Midland Hotel in Manchester, UK. The two men quickly decided they should join forces to produce and market high-class cars – and set the seal on their agreement with a simple handshake. It was more than seven months until the contracts were signed on 23 December 1904, marking the official start of business for Rolls-Royce Ltd. Since the company’s earliest days, the Rolls-Royce name has stood for unbeatable standards of technology and craftsmanship, as well as reliability and style. The maxim of company founder Henry Royce sums it up: “Strive for perfection in everything you do. Take the best that exists and make it better. When it does not exist, design it.” The BMW Group acquired the naming rights for Rolls-Royce Motor Cars in 1998 with the aim of adding another level to the top end of the BMW Group’s successful premium strategy. Based in Goodwood, southern England, since 2003, Rolls-Royce Motor Cars combines the ultimate in craftsmanship with state-of-the-art manufacturing processes and innovative technologies. All in keeping with Henry Royce’s belief in striving for perfection.


May 5th, 1950

1950 Olds, La Carrera Panamericana Oaxaca – Puebla

The first La Carrera Panamericana road race began. 132 cars entered the 5-day, 2,178-mile race running the length of Mexico from Juárez on the Texas border to El Ocotal on the border with Guatemala. At least one stage was run each day for five consecutive days. The elevation changes were significant: from 328 feet (100 m) to 10,482 feet (3,195 m) above sea level, requiring amongst other modifications re-jetting of carburetors to cope with thinner air. Most of the race was run between 5,000 feet (1,500 m) and 8,000 feet (2,400 m). American Hershel McGriff won in an Oldsmobile that cost $1,800, running on whitewall tires he picked up for $12. His victory earned him $17,533 dollars, a huge sum in 1950. Sadly four people were killed in the race. A four-year-old Juan Altamirano was hit by the car of Jesús Valezzi and Adolfo Dueñas Costa in the first stage in Cd. Juárez before the start of the race. In the same stage near to finish line, the Guatemalan Enrique Hachmeister lost control of his Lincoln. The Peruvian co-driver Jesús Reyes Molina died in the fourth stage in León, Guanajuato when the Nash of Henry Charles Bradley crashed with a bridge in the Florida river. Reyes Molina was taken to León Hospital, where he died. The Nash Ambassador driven by the Americans Eddie Sollohub-Nicholeo Scott hit the crowd and killed a spectator in the fourth stage.


May 7th, 1927

The first DKW production automobile was completed. The company and brand is one of the ancestor companies of the modern-day Audi company as one of the four companies that formed Auto-Union. In 1916, Danish engineer Jørgen Skafte Rasmussen founded a factory in Zschopau, Saxony, Germany, to produce steam fittings. That year he attempted to produce a steam-driven car, called the DKW. Although unsuccessful, he made a two-stroke toy engine in 1919, called Des Knaben Wunsch – “the boy’s wish”. He put a slightly modified version of this engine into a motorcycle and called it Das Kleine Wunder – “the little wonder” the initials from this becoming the DKW brand: by the late 1920s, DKW was the world’s largest motorcycle manufacturer. In 1932, DKW merged with Audi, Horch, and Wanderer to form Auto Union. After World War II, DKW moved to West Germany, with the original factory becoming MZ. Auto Union came under Daimler-Benz ownership in 1957 and was purchased by the Volkswagen Group in 1964. The last German-built DKW car was the F102, which ceased production in 1966. Its successor, the four-stroke F103, was marketed under the Audi brand, another Auto Union marque. DKW-badged cars continued to be built under license in Brazil and Argentina until 1967 and 1969 respectively. The DKW trademark is currently owned by Auto Union GmbH, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Audi AG which also owns the rights to other historical trademarks and intellectual property of the Auto Union combine.


May 8th, 1879

George B Selden driving automobile in 1905

George Baldwin Selden of Rochester, New York filed the first US patent for an automobile. It was issued almost two decades later on 5 November 1898 for a unique combination of an internal combustion engine and a road vehicle. Shortly thereafter the fledgling American auto industry began its first efforts and George Selden, despite never having gone into production with a working model of an automobile, had a credible claim to have patented an automobile in 1895. In 1899 he sold his patent rights to William C. Whitney, who proposed manufacturing electric-powered taxicabs as the Electric Vehicle Company, EVC, for a royalty of US$15 per car with a minimum annual payment of US$5,000. Whitney and Selden then worked together to collect royalties from other budding automobile manufacturers. He was initially successful, negotiating a 0.75% royalty on all cars sold by the Association of Licensed Automobile Manufacturers, and began his own car company in Rochester under the name Selden Motor Vehicle Company. However, Henry Ford, owner of the Ford Motor Company, founded in Detroit, Michigan in 1903, and four other car makers resolved to contest the patent infringement suit filed by Selden and EVC. The legal fight lasted eight years, generating a case record of 14,000 pages. Ford’s testimony included the comment, “It is perfectly safe to say that George Selden has never advanced the automobile industry in a single particular…and it would perhaps be further advanced than it is now if he had never been born.” The case was heavily publicized in the newspapers of the day, and ended in a victory for Selden. In his decision, the judge wrote that the patent covered any automobile propelled by an engine powered by gasoline vapor. Posting a bond of US$350,000, Ford appealed, and on January 10, 1911, won his case based on an argument that the engine used in automobiles was not based on George Brayton’s engine, the Brayton engine which Selden had improved, but on the Otto engine. This stunning defeat, with only one year left to run on the patent, destroyed Selden’s income stream. He focused production of his car company on trucks, renaming his company the Selden Truck Sales Corporation. It survived in that form until 1930 when it was purchased by the Bethlehem Truck Company. Selden suffered a stroke in late 1921 and died aged 75 on January 17, 1922. He was buried in Mount Hope Cemetery in Rochester. It is estimated he received several hundred thousand dollars in royalties.


May 8th, 1957

The 2,996th and final Lincoln Continental Mark II was produced. The Mark II sold for $10,400, the equivalent of a new Rolls-Royce or two Cadillacs (at least until the $13,074 Cadillac Eldorado Brougham out-priced it in 1957). In spite of this, Ford estimated they still lost over a thousand dollars per car on the 3,000 that were built. About 1,300 were sold in the last quarter of 1955 after the car’s October debut at the Paris Motor Show; another 1,300 or so in 1956; and 444 in 1957, some with factory-installed air conditioning. Initially, Ford accepted losses on the Mark II in return for the prestige with which it endowed its entire product line; but after going public, tolerance for such losses fell. Famous owners included Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra, Elizabeth Taylor, the Shah of Iran, and a cross-section of the richest men in America. Taylor’s car was a gift from Warner Bros. studio and was painted a custom color to match her distinctive eyes. The car was featured in the 1956 film High Society, starring Sinatra, Bing Crosby, Grace Kelly, and Louis Armstrong.


This week in Automotive History is produced by Branding Roar