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June In Automotive History


The Nissan Motor Company is founded

In 1934, the Tokyo-based Jidosha-Seizo Kabushiki-Kaisha (Automobile Manufacturing Co., Ltd. in English) takes on a new name: Nissan Motor Company. Beginning in 1938 and lasting throughout World War II, Nissan converted entirely from producing small passenger cars to producing trucks and military vehicles. In 1960, Nissan became the first Japanese automaker to win the Deming Prize for engineering excellence. New Datsun models like the Bluebird (1959), the Cedric (1960) and the Sunny (1966) helped spur Nissan sales in Japan and abroad, and the company experienced phenomenal growth over the course of the 1960s.


Racer-Designer Bruce McLaren dies in crash

The 32-year-old race car driver Bruce McLaren dies in a crash while testing an experimental car of his own design at a track in Goodwood, England on this day in 1970. Born in Auckland, New Zealand, McLaren contracted a childhood hip disease that would keep him in hospitals for several years. By the age of 14, he had recovered fully. His father, a part-time mechanic with an interest in racing, helped young Bruce build his first car, and he entered his first competitive event, a hill climb, when he was 15. In 1959, McLaren at the age of 22 became the youngest-ever winner of a Formula One race, capturing the U.S. Grand Prix at Sebring. At the time of his death in June 1970, McLaren had been at the top of the international racing world for more than a decade.


Supreme Court rules against Du Pont in GM suit

1957, the U.S. Supreme Court rules that the chemical company E. I. Du Pont de Nemours & Co. must give up its large stock interest in the Detroit-based automobile company General Motors on the grounds that it constituted a monopoly, or a concentration of power that reduced competition or otherwise interfered with trade. Between 1917 and 1919 Du Pont invested $50 million in GM, becoming the automaker´s largest stockholder with a 23 percent share. The chemical company´s founder, Pierre S. Du Pont, served as GM´s president from 1920 to 1923 and as chairman of the company´s board from 1923 to 1929. By that time, GM had passed Ford Motor Company as the largest manufacturer of passenger cars in the United States, and had become one of the largest companies in the world, in any industry.


Henry Ford test-drives his “Quadricycle”

At approximately 4:00 a.m. on June 4, 1896, in the shed behind his home on Bagley Avenue in Detroit, Henry Ford unveils the “Quadricycle,” the first automobile he ever designed or drove. Ford was working as the chief engineer for the main plant of the Edison Illuminating Company when he began working on the Quadricycle. On call at all hours to ensure that Detroit had electrical service 24 hours a day, Ford was able to use his flexible working schedule to experiment with his pet project--building a horseless carriage with a gasoline-powered engine. His obsession with the gasoline engine had begun when he saw an article on the subject in a November 1895 issue of American Machinist magazine. The following March, another Detroit engineer named Charles King took his own hand-built vehicle--made of wood, it had a four-cylinder engine and could travel up to five miles per hour--out for a ride, fueling Ford´s desire to build a lighter and faster gasoline-powered model.


Autoworkers´ union calls strike at GM parts factory

3,400 members of the United Auto Workers (UAW) union 1998, walk out on their jobs at a General Motors (GM) metal-stamping factory in Flint, Michigan. This would begin a strike that lasted seven weeks and stall production at GM facilities nationwide. By the late 1990s, years of improved profits had helped the union gain back the ground it had lost with those concessions, and relations between labor and management had subsequently become more adversarial again. In the year leading up to the walkout in Flint, GM faced no fewer than seven strikes at factories across the country, mostly over issues of job security. The 1998 strike didn´t end GM´s problems with the UAW: In September 2007, the union launched a nationwide strike against GM, with 73,000 workers walking out and halting operations in 30 states for two days until a resolution was announced.


First drive-in movie theater opens

In 1933, eager motorists park their automobiles on the grounds of Park-In Theaters, the first-ever drive-in movie theater, located on Crescent Boulevard in Camden, New Jersey. Park-In Theaters--the term “drive-in” came to be widely used only later--was the brainchild of Richard Hollingshead, a movie fan and a sales manager at his father´s company, Whiz Auto Products, in Camden. Reportedly inspired by his mother´s struggle to sit comfortably in traditional movie theater seats, Hollingshead came up with the idea of an open-air theater where patrons watched movies in the comfort of their own automobiles. Advertising it as entertainment for the whole family, Hollingshead charged 25 cents per car and 25 cents per person, with no group paying more than one dollar. Today, fewer than 500 drive-in theaters survive in the United States.


Switzerland welcomes drive-through bank idea

This day in 1962, the banking institution Credit Suisse--then known as Schweizerische Kreditanstalt (SKA)--opens the first drive-through bank in Switzerland at St. Peter-Strasse 17, near Paradeplatz (Parade Square) in downtown Zurich. Like many developments in automotive culture--including drive-through restaurants and drive-in movies--drive-through banking has its origins in the United States. A California-based Wells Fargo Bank introduced the “TV Auto Banker Service,” where an image of the teller was broadcast to the customer in their car on a special closed-circuit television. Deposits, withdrawals and other transactions were completed using an underground pneumatic tube that whisked money and paperwork between the car and the teller station.


The first Porsche completed

1948, a hand-built aluminum prototype labeled “No. 1” becomes the first vehicle to bear the name of one of the world´s leading luxury car manufacturers: Porsche. Porsche left Daimler in 1931 and formed his own company. A few years later, Adolf Hitler called on the engineer to aid in the production of a small “people´s car” for the German masses. The 356 went into production during the winter of 1947-48, and the aluminum prototype, built entirely by hand, was completed on June 8, 1948. The Germans subsequently hired Porsche to consult on further development of the Volkswagen. With the proceeds, Porsche opened new offices in Stuttgart, with plans to build up to 500 of his company´s own cars per year.


The movie Cars by Pixar is released

It was 2006, when the animated feature film “Cars,” produced by Pixar Animation Studios, roars into theaters across the United States. For “Cars,” which won the first-ever Academy Award for Best Animated Feature, Pixar´s animators created an alternate America inhabited by vehicles instead of humans. The film´s hero is Lightning McQueen (voiced by Owen Wilson), a Corvette-like race car enjoying a sensational debut on the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR) circuit. In addition to the painstaking depictions of both classic and modern cars and their distinctive personalities, “Cars” features the voices of some of the leading figures in auto racing, beginning with the late Paul Newman, the legendary actor-turned-race car driver, as Doc Hudson. Racing legends Mario Andretti (as himself), Richard Petty (as The King) and Michael Schumacher (as a Ferrari) can also be heard, along with sports announcers Darrell Waltrip and Bob Costas.


Paul Newman finishes second in 24 Hours of Le Mans

Paul Newman, the blue-eyed movie star-turned-race car driver, accomplishes the greatest feat of his racing career on this day in 1979, roaring into second place in the 47th 24 Hours of Le Mans, the famous endurance race held annually in Le Mans, France. Newman´s high point at the track came in June 1979 at Le Mans, where he raced a Porsche 935 twin-turbo coupe on a three-man team with Dick Barbour and Rolf Stommelen. His team finished second; first place went to two brothers from Florida, Don and Bill Whittington, and their teammate, Klaus Ludwig. He also found success as a race car owner, forming a team with Carl Haas that became one of the most enduring in Indy car racing. Newman died in September 2008 at the age of 83.


John Wayne dies after decade long bout with cancer

In 1979, John Wayne, an iconic American film actor famous for starring in countless westerns, dies at age 72 after battling cancer for more than a decade.A football star at Glendale High School, he attended the University of Southern California on a scholarship but dropped out after two years. After finding work as a movie studio laborer, Wayne befriended director John Ford, then a rising talent.Wayne’s first starring role came in 1930 with The Big Trail, a film directed by his college buddy Raoul Walsh. It was during this time that Marion Morrison became “John Wayne,” when director Walsh didn’t think Marion was a good name for an actor playing a tough western hero. Off-screen, Wayne came to be known for his conservative political views. Wayne’s last film was The Shootist (1976), in which he played a legendary gunslinger dying of cancer. The role had particular meaning, as the actor was fighting the disease in real life.


Edsel Ford to manufacture R-Royce engines for war

1940, Edsel Ford telephones William Knudsen of the U.S. Office of Production Management (OPM) to confirm Ford Motor Company´s acceptance of Knudsen´s proposal to manufacture 9,000 Rolls-Royce-designed engines to be used in British and U.S. airplanes. Ford would produce 9,000 Rolls-Royce Merlin airplane engines (6,000 for the RAF and 3,000 for the U.S. Army).  However, as soon as the British press announced the deal, Henry Ford personally and publicly canceled it, telling a reporter: “We are not doing business with the British government or any other government.”


First auto race held from Paris-Bordeaux-Paris

On this day in 1895, Emile Levassor drives a Panhard et Levassor car with a two-cylinder, 750-rpm, four-horsepower Daimler Phoenix engine over the finish line in the world´s first real automobile race. Levassor completed the 732-mile course, from Paris to Bordeaux and back, in just under 49 hours, at a then-impressive speed of about 15 miles per hour. The Paris-Bordeaux-Paris race highlighted France´s superiority in automotive technology at the time, and established Panhard et Levassor as a major force in the fledgling industry. Its success spurred the creation of the Automobile Club de France in order to foster the development of the motor vehicle and regulate future motor sports events. Over the next century, these events would grow into the Grand Prix motor racing circuit, and eventually into its current incarnation: Formula One.


“The Bourne Identity” with chase scene, is released

In one of the most memorable scenes in the film “The Bourne Identity,” released on this day in 2002, the amnesiac assassin Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) drives a vintage Austin Mini Cooper through the traffic-heavy streets of Paris to evade his police and Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) pursuers. “The Bourne Identity” takes place in diverse locations all over Europe, including Marseille, Zurich, the Alps, the French countryside, the Greek island of Santorini and of course Paris, scene of the famous car chase. Producer Frank Marshall told USA Today that filmmakers used five different vintage Minis to make the film, and that only one of them was left when filming wrapped. The diminutive Mini Cooper, a British-made sports car first produced in 1959, was a fixture in spy films of the 1960s and 1970s, including the classic 1969 film “The Italian Job,” starring Michael Caine.


Richard Petty makes his 1,000th start

“The King” legendary racer Richard Petty made his 1,000th start in 1986 for (NASCAR) career, in the Miller American 400 in Brooklyn, Michigan. He became the first driver in NASCAR history to log 1,000 career starts. Petty grew up on the NASCAR circuit: His father was Hall of Fame driver Lee Petty, one of stock car racing´s pioneers and a three-time winner of the Grand National championship in the 1950s. At the age of 12, young Richard became his father´s crew chief, but he was not allowed to drive until 1958, when he turned 21. Dubbed “The King,” the enormously popular Petty retired in 1992, having racked up a dominant list of records including first all-time in wins (200).


Ford Motor Company incorporated

At 9:30 in the morning in 1903, Henry Ford and other prospective stockholders in the Ford Motor Company meet in Detroit to sign the official paperwork required to create a new corporation. Twelve stockholders were listed on the forms, which were signed, notarized and sent to the office of Michigan´s secretary of state.  The company was officially incorporated the following day, when the secretary of state´s office received the articles of association. In the early days of Ford, only a few cars were assembled per day, and they were built by hand by small groups of workers from parts made to order by other companies. Ford introduced the $5 daily wage for an eight-hour day for his workers (up from $2.34 for nine hours), setting a standard for the industry.


O.J. Simpson leads L.A. police on a high-speed chase

Viewers across the nation were glued to their television screens on this day in 1994, watching as a fleet of black-and-white police cars pursues a white Ford Bronco along Interstate-405 in Los Angeles, California. “O.J.” Simpson, a former professional football player, actor and sports commentator whom police suspected of involvement in the recent murders of his former wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend Ronald Goldman. Bloodstains matching Simpson´s blood type were found at the crime scene, and the star had become the focus of the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) investigation by the morning of June 17. When police arrived to arrest Simpson at the home of his friend and lawyer, Robert Kardashian, they found that Simpson had slipped out the back door with his former teammate Al Cowlings. The two men had then driven off in Cowlings´ white Ford Bronco. Though a jury acquitted Simpson of the murder charges in October 1995, a separate civil trial in 1997 found him liable for the deaths and ordered him to pay $33.5 million in damages to the Brown and Goldman families.


Checker Cab produces first taxi at Kalamazoo factory

1923, the first Checker Cab rolls off the line at the Checker Cab Manufacturing Company in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Morris Markin, founder of Checker Cab, was born in Smolensk, Russia, and began working when he was only 12 years old. At 19, he immigrated to the United States and moved to Chicago, where two uncles lived. By the end of 1922, Checker was producing more than 100 units per month in Joliet, and some 600 of the company´s cabs were on the streets of New York City. Over the course of the 1970s, economic conditions led taxi companies to convert smaller, more fuel-efficient standard passenger cars into cabs, the 4,000-pound gas-guzzling Checker came to seem more and more outdated. Markin had died in 1970, and in April 1982 his son David announced that Checker would halt production of its famous cab that summer.


Controversy at U.S. Grand Prix

After 14 Formula One race car drivers withdraw due to safety concerns over the Michelin-made tires on their vehicles, German driver Michael Schumacher wins a less-than-satisfying victory at the United States Grand Prix on this day in 2005. The race, held at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in Indianapolis, Indiana, will go down one of the most controversial Formula One racing events in history. Michelin, makers of Schumacher´s tires, determined that the tires they had supplied for the Grand Prix could not withstand the high speed on the turn, and asked the Federation Internationale de l´Automobile (FIA), the sanctioning body for Formula One races, for permission to send another batch of tires. The FIA refused, citing its mandate that only one set of tires be used in a weekend. The 2005 Grand Prix had drawn a crowd of some 100,000 fans--far less than that attracted by the Indianapolis 500 or a regular NASCAR Nextel Cup event.


Ford signs first contract with autoworkers´ union

After a long and bitter struggle on the part of Henry Ford against cooperation with organized labor unions, Ford Motor Company signs its first contract with the United Automobile Workers of America and Congress of Industrial Organizations (UAW-CIO) on this day in 1941. In 1935, President Franklin D. Roosevelt´s allies in Congress passed the landmark National Labor Relations Act--also known as the Wagner Act, after one of its authors, Senator Robert Wagner of New York--which established workers´ rights to collective bargaining and attempted to regulate unfair practices by employers, employees and unions.


Mille Miglia race is reborn after World War II

After an interim of seven years, during which World War II wreaked havoc across the European continent, the first post-war Mille Miglia auto race is held on this day in 1947 in Brescia, Italy. The first race, held on March 26 and 27, 1927, featured all of the leading Italian drivers; foreign participation was limited to three tiny French-made Peugeots in the lower-power Class H field. 


Movie “The Fast and the Furious” released

“The Fast and the Furious,” a crime drama based in the underground world of street racing in Southern California, debuts in theaters across the United States in 2001. The reigning “king of the streets,” in this movie dominates the competition with a powerful fire-engine red 1993 Mazda RX-7 Twin Turbo. Other scenes would feature a vintage 1969/1970 Dodge Charger. Street racing (an illegal practice that should not be confused with drag racing, which is a popular sport most commonly done on a track, along a straight “drag” strip) began in the early 1990s on the roads and highways of Southern California, mostly among young Asian Americans, but quickly spread. Despite mixed reviews from critics, “The Fast and the Furious” was an unexpected hit at the box office.


“Mercedes” registered as a brand name

German automaker Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft (DMG) first registers “Mercedes” as a brand name. Mechanical engineer Gottlieb Daimler sold his first luxury gasoline-powered automobile to the sultan of Morocco in 1899. The carmaker delivered a six-horsepower vehicle with a two-cylinder engine, but it was too slow for Jellinek; to replace it, he ordered two of a faster model--the four-cylinder Daimler Phoenix.


Senate passes landmark auto safety bill

In 1966, the United States Senate votes 76-0 for the passage of what would become the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act. Signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson the following September, the act created the nation´s first mandatory federal safety standards for motor vehicles. The origins of the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act can be traced back directly through the efforts of a young lawyer and consumer advocate Ralph Nader. Ralph in 1965 published the bestselling “Unsafe at Any Speed,” a sweeping critique of the American auto industry and its unsafe products. Nader´s book fueled the growing concern of Americans regarding the ever-increasing number of traffic accidents and fatalities on the nation´s roads.


Last Packard produced

The last Packard--the classic American luxury car with the famously enigmatic slogan “Ask the Man Who Owns One”--rolls off the production line at Packard´s plant in Detroit, Michigan on this day in 1956.Packard became one of the first American racing cars to be available for sale to the general public. With the 1916 release of the Twin Six, with its revolutionary V-12 engine, Packard established itself as the country´s leading luxury-car manufacturer. With sales dwindling by the 1950s, Packard merged with the much larger Studebaker Corporation in the hope of cutting its production costs. Though the company would continue to manufacture cars in South Bend, Indiana, until 1958, the final model produced on June 25, 1956, is considered the last true Packard.


Congress approves Federal Highway Act

The U.S. Congress approves the Federal Highway Act, which allocates more than $30 billion for the construction of some 41,000 miles of interstate highways; it will be the largest public construction project in U.S. history to that date 1956.Among the pressing questions involved in passing highway legislation were where exactly the highways should be built, and how much of the cost should be carried by the federal government versus the individual states.


Historical Route 66 gets decertified

After 59 years, the iconic Route 66 enters the realm of history on this day in 1985, when the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials decertifies the road and votes to remove all its highway signs. Measuring some 2,200 miles in its heyday, Route 66 stretched from Chicago, Illinois to Santa Monica, California, passing through eight states. According to a New York Times article about its decertification, most of Route 66 followed a path through the wilderness forged in 1857 by U.S. Navy Lieutenant Edward Beale at the head of a caravan of camels. Over the years, wagon trains and cattlemen eventually made way for trucks and passenger automobiles.


Daimler Chrysler announces Smart´s U.S. arrival

After a flurry of rumors, DaimlerChrysler chairman Dieter Zetsche announces on this day in 2006 that the company´s urban-focused Smart brand--already popular in Europe--will come to the United States in early 2008. Smart--an acronym for Swatch Mercedes ART--began as a joint venture between Swatch, the company known for its colorful and trendy plastic watches, and the German automaker Mercedes-Benz. The result of this collaboration was the Smart for two, which measured just over eight feet from bumper to bumper and was marketed as a safe, fuel-efficient car that could be maneuvered easily through narrow, crowded city streets.


Actress Jayne Mansfield dies in car crash

Blonde bombshell Jayne Mansfield is killed instantly on this day in 1967 when the car in which she is riding strikes the rear of a trailer truck on Interstate-90 east of New Orleans, Louisiana. Mansfield had been on her way to New Orleans from Biloxi, Mississippi, where she had been performing a standing engagement at a local nightclub; she had a television appearance scheduled the following day. Ronald B. Harrison, a driver for the Gus Stevens Dinner Club, was driving Mansfield and her lawyer and companion, Samuel S. Brody, along with three of Mansfield´s children with her ex-husband Mickey Hargitay, in Stevens´ 1966 Buick Electra. On a dark stretch of road, just as the truck was approaching a machine emitting a thick white fog used to spray mosquitoes which may have obscured it from Harrison´s view, the Electra hit the trailer-truck from behind. Mansfield, Harrison and Brody were all killed in the accident.


The first Corvette is built

On this day in 1953, the first production Corvette is built at the General Motors facility in Flint, Michigan. Tony Kleiber, a worker on the assembly line, is given the privilege of driving the now-historic car off the line. Harley J. Earl, the man behind the Corvette, got his start in his father´s business, Earl Automobile Works, designing custom auto bodies for Hollywood movie stars such as Fatty Arbuckle. By 1961, the Corvette had cemented its reputation as America´s favorite sports car. Today, it continues to rank among the world´s elite sports cars in acceleration time, top speed and overall muscle.

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