June 7th – 13th | This Week In Automotive History

June 7th, 1928

The Plymouth automobile was introduced at Madison Square Garden. It was Chrysler Corporation’s first entry in the low-priced field previously dominated by Chevrolet and Ford. Plymouths were initially priced higher than the competition, but offered standard features such as internal expanding hydraulic brakes that Ford and Chevrolet did not provide. Plymouths were originally sold exclusively through Chrysler dealerships, offering a low-cost alternative to the upscale Chrysler-brand cars, listing the 4-door 5-passenger Touring sedan at $695.

The logo featured a rear view of the ship Mayflower which landed at Plymouth Rock in Plymouth, Massachusetts. However, the inspiration for the Plymouth brand name came from Plymouth binder twine, produced by the Plymouth Cordage Company, also of Plymouth. The name was chosen by Joe Frazer due to the popularity of the twine among farmers. The origins of Plymouth can be traced back to the Maxwell automobile. When Walter P. Chrysler took over control of the troubled Maxwell-Chalmers car company in the early 1920s, he inherited the Maxwell as part of the package. After he used the company’s facilities to help create and launch the six-cylinder Chrysler automobile in 1924, he decided to create a lower-priced companion car, using lessons learned when he was running Buick under William Durant at GM. So for 1926, the Maxwell was reworked and rebadged as the low-end four-cylinder Chrysler “52” model. In 1928, the “52” was once again redesigned to create the Chrysler-Plymouth Model Q. The “Chrysler” portion of the nameplate was dropped with the introduction of the Plymouth Model U in 1929.

June 7th, 1954

The Ford Motor Company formed a styling team to design an entirely new car that would later be named the Edsel. The car was a disaster losing $250 million. To this day, the Edsel remains the biggest failure in American car history, “a monumental disaster created for tomorrow’s markets created by yesterday’s statistical inputs.” History has treated the Edsel more kindly, as its looks are now considered to be an attractive example of 1950s flair.

Like its namesake, Edsel Ford, the Edsel has come to be known as an unfair victim of circumstance.

June 8th, 1938

President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1938, which called for a report on the feasibility of a system of transcontinental toll roads. The “Toll Roads and Free Roads” report was the first official step toward the creation of the Interstate Highway System in the United States.

June 8th, 1948

Dr Ferdinand “Ferry” Porsche test-drove the hand-built aluminium prototype two-seater Porsche roadster, proudly bearing the chassis number 356-001, in Gmünd, Austria. In the spring of 1947 Ferry Porsche first expressed his idea to build a sports car using Volkswagen components which, initially code-named the “VW-Sports”, received the construction number 356.

The vision of the Porsche Junior Director was to “build the kind of sports car I liked myself”. Ferry Porsche’s engineers, at any rate, were fascinated by the idea of building such a sports car, completing a road-going chassis in February 1948 destined to take up a roadster body made of aluminum. The flat-four power unit, together with the gearbox, suspension, springs, and steering, all came from Volkswagen. Weighing just 585 kg or 1,290 lb, this 35-bhp mid-engined roadster had a top speed of 135 km/h or 84 mph. Production of the first “regular” Porsche Type 356/2 coupés and cabriolets started in Gmünd in the second half of 1948 – and like Porsche 356 No 1, Type 356/2 also featured an aluminum body designed and constructed by Erwin Komenda, the Director of Body Development at Porsche. But unlike the No 1 mid-engine prototype, the horizontally-opposed power unit in Type 356/2 was fitted at the back in order to provide luggage space behind the front seats. When an investor in Zurich, Rupprecht von Senger, advanced money for a small production series and received a contract as the importer for Switzerland in return, Porsche once again had access to the VW parts and body panels the company needed so urgently.

The contract Ferry Porsche concluded with the Managing Director of Volkswagenwerk on 17 September 1948 on the supply of VW parts and the use of VW’s distribution network clearly shows that Ferry Porsche was not only an outstanding engineer but also a far-sighted businessman and entrepreneur: Ferry Porsche and Nordhoff agreed that VW was to pay a license fee to Porsche for every Beetle built, since, after all, the car had been developed by Porsche before the war.

The second important decision was the foundation of Porsche-Salzburg Ges.m.b.H. as a central office for the management of Volkswagen imports, sales, and customer service in Austria. These agreements with Volkswagenwerk, already a major manufacturer at the time, gave Porsche the security the young company needed, particularly in financial terms. And it set the foundation for the ongoing development of Porsche KG as a manufacturer of sports cars.

June 3rd, 1921

Alice Huyler Ramsey (22), housewife and mother from Hackensack, New Jersey began a 3,800 mile journey from Hell’s Gate in Manhattan, New York to San Francisco, California in a green Maxwell 30. On her fifty-nine day trek she was accompanied by two older sisters-in-law and another female friend, none of whom could drive a car. They arrived amid great fanfare on August 7 1909.

The drive was originally meant as a publicity stunt for Maxwell-Briscoe, the carmaker. At that time, women were not encouraged to drive cars. The group of women used maps from the American Automobile Association to make the journey. Only 152 of the 3,600 miles the group traveled were paved. Over the course of the drive, Ramsey changed 11 tires, cleaned the spark plugs, repaired a broken brake pedal, and had to sleep in the car when it was stuck in the mud. The women mostly navigated by using telephone poles, following the poles with more wires in hopes that they would lead to a town. Along the way, Ramsey received a case of bedbugs from a Wyoming hotel, and in Nevada, they were surrounded by a Native American hunting party with bows and arrows drawn.

Ramsey was named the “Woman Motorist of the Century” by AAA in 1960. In later years, she lived in West Covina, California, where in 1961 she wrote and published the story of her journey, “Veil, Duster, and Tire Iron”.

June 9th, 2010

The Nissan Juke was launched in Japan. Orders totaled 10,943 units in its first month, surpassing Nissan’s monthly target of 1,300. By October 2010, Japanese sales had increased to 20,000 while European and US figures also exceeded expectations with orders for 30,000 and 17,500 cars taken for the respective markets.

June 10th, 1947

Saab introduced its first car, the model 92 prototype. Saab had been primarily a supplier of military aircraft before and during World War II. With the end of the war, company executives realized the need to diversify the company’s production capabilities. After an exhaustive planning campaign that at one point led to the suggestion that Saab manufacture toasters, company executives decided to start building motor cars.

Saab director Sven Otterbeck placed aircraft engineer Gunnar Ljungstrom in charge of creating the company’s first car. Ljungstrom sketched his ideas for an aerodynamic, light-framed, safe automobile and then enlisted the skills of noted industrial designer Sixten Sason to translate the sketches into an automobile ready for production. In search of a name for their new car, Saab executives elected to stay with their existing numbering system. As numbers one through 89 were taken up by military aviation projects, and 90 and 91 by commercial aircraft projects, the first Saab car became the Model 92. Saab ran a series of prototype 92s with German-engineered DKW engines until the Saab engine was ready in the summer of 1947. Not surprisingly, the car received rave reviews from the Swedish press after its unveiling. The first 92s didn’t hit Swedish showrooms until December of 1949.

The 92 came equipped with a two-cylinder, two-stroke engine that provided 25hp and propelled the car at a top speed of 62mph. All Saab 92s came in the standard color of aircraft green. Only a month into production, Saab began its distinguished history of rally-car racing by entering the 92 in the Monte Carlo Rally. Between 1950 and 1980, Saab cars were a force in the world of rally car racing, due in large part to their durability, handling, and mid-range acceleration. Saab re-entered rally racing in 1996, after a 16-year hiatus from the circuit. Rally races are held on long, arduous off-road courses, and they test the stamina of both car and driver.

June 10th, 1949

Hailed as a visionary by some and a con artist by others, Preston Tucker (1903-1956) was the man behind an innovative, futuristic-looking car that debuted amid great fanfare during the summer of 1948, was indicted for fraud. As envisioned by Tucker himself, the “Tucker Torpedo” (as the concept vehicle was known) represented quite a departure from the standard fare offered by the Big Three automakers.

June 11th, 1895

The first US patent for a gasoline-driven automobile by a US inventor was issued to Charles E. Duryea. Early in 1896, the Duryea Motor Wagon Co. set up shop in Springfield, Mass. to manufacture multiple units of a gasoline-powered vehicle that he built with his brother, Frank. The company’s assembly of 13 identical machines that year is considered to be the first instance of serial production of American cars. The only surviving ’96 Duryea is on exhibit at the Henry Ford Museum.

As this is the first U.S. automobile company, and the first to produce any quantity, the Duryea brothers are considered “Fathers of the American Automobile Industry”.

June 11th, 1928

The first Plymouth automobile came off the production line. By the time the year was out, 58,000 Plymouths had been shipped. Demand became so great that a new Plymouth plant was begun on 40 acres of Detroit real estate in October, 1928, to be completed in record time, ready for occupancy in 1929.

June 13th, 2003

The Ford GT was officially ‘reborn. It was produced in model years 2005 and 2006, with the first customers taking delivery in August 2004. The GT began assembly at Mayflower Vehicle Systems in Norwalk, Ohio, and was painted by Saleen in their Saleen Special Vehicles facility in Troy, Michigan. The GT is powered by an engine built at Ford’s Romeo Engine Plant in Romeo, Michigan. Installation of the engine and manual transmission along with interior finishing was handled in the SVT building at Ford’s Wixom, Michigan plant.

Of the 4,500 GTs originally planned, approximately 100 were to be exported to Europe, starting in late 2005. An additional 200 were destined for sale in Canada. Production ended in 2006 without reaching the planned lot.

This week in Automotive History is produced by Branding Roar