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May In Automotive History

05-01-1926

Ford factory workers offered 40-hour weeks

On this day in 1926, Ford Motor Company becomes one of the first companies in America to adopt a five-day, 40-hour week for workers in its automotive factories. The policy would be extended to Ford´s office workers the following August. Ford announced that it would pay its male factory workers a minimum wage of $5 per eight-hour day, upped from a previous rate of $2.34 for nine hours (the policy was adopted for female workers in 1916). The news shocked many in the industry--at the time, $5 per day was nearly double what the average auto worker made--but turned out to be a stroke of brilliance, immediately boosting productivity along the assembly line and building a sense of company loyalty and pride among Ford´s workers.

05-02-1918

GM buys Chevrolet

General Motors Corporation (GM), which would become the world´s largest automotive firm, acquires Chevrolet Motor Company. GM had been founded a decade earlier by William C. "Billy" Durant, a former carriage maker from Flint, Michigan, whose Durant-Dort Carriage Company had taken control of the ailing Buick Motor Company. On September 16, 1908, Durant incorporated Buick into a new entity, General Motors, which by the end of that decade had welcomed other leading auto manufacturers--including Oldsmobile, Cadillac and Oakland--into its fold. In 1910, with GM struggling financially, stockholders blamed Durant´s aggressive expansionism and forced him out of the company he founded. In November 1911, he launched Chevrolet Motor Company, named for his partner, the Swiss race car driver Louis Chevrolet.

05-03-1980

MADD founder´s daughter killed by drunk driver

On this day in 1980, 13-year-old Cari Lightner of Fair Oaks, California, is walking along a quiet road on her way to a church carnival when a car swerves out of control, striking and killing her. Cari´s tragic death compelled her mother, Candy Lightner, to found the organization Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), which would grow into one of the country´s most influential non-profit organizations. When police arrested Clarence Busch, the driver who hit Cari, they found that he had a record of arrests for intoxication, and had in fact been arrested on another hit-and-run drunk-driving charge less than a week earlier.

05-04-1984

Bruce Springsteen releases "Pink Cadillac"

The New Jersey rocker Bruce Springsteen releases "Pink Cadillac" as a B-side to "Dancing in the Dark," which will become the first and biggest hit single off "Born in the U.S.A.," the best-selling album of his career. "Pink Cadillac" was Springsteen´s second song to reference the classic car brand created in the first years of the 20th century by Henry Leland. (The first, "Cadillac Ranch," was included on "The River.") Elvis Presley, whom Springsteen (and countless other rockers) looked to as an early inspiration, famously bought a blue Cadillac Fleetwood in 1955 and had it painted a special shade of pink dubbed "Elvis Rose."

05-05-1944

Driving pioneer Bertha Benz dies

Bertha Benz, the wife of inventor Karl Benz and the first person to drive an automobile over a long distance, dies on this day in 1944, in Ladenburg, Germany. Born Bertha Ringer, she married Karl Benz around 1870. Karl Benz received a patent for his horseless carriage, called the Motorwagen, in January 1886. The wooden vehicle had two wheels in the back, one in the front, and a handle-like contraption as a steering wheel. Powered by a single-cylinder, 2.5-horsepower engine, it could reach speeds of up to 25 miles per hour. Benz was having trouble selling the Motorwagen, however: Early press reports were not altogether positive, and customers were reluctant to take a chance on a vehicle that had so far only been tested over short distances.

05-06-1991

Harry Gant is oldest NASCAR winner – again

1991, the 51-year-old race car driver Harry Gant racks up his 12th National Association of Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR) Winston Cup career victory in the Winston 500 in Talladega, Alabama. In doing so, Gant bettered his own record as the oldest man ever to win a NASCAR event. A native of Taylorsville, North Carolina, Gant quit the family carpentry business in 1978 and raced his first full Winston Cup season in 1979, at the relatively advanced age of 39. He was a candidate for Rookie of the Year, but lost to Dale Earnhardt.

05-07-1998

Daimler-Benz announces purchase of Chrysler Corp.

The German automobile company Daimler-Benz--maker of the world-famous luxury car brand Mercedes-Benz--announces a $36 billion merger with the United States-based Chrysler Corporation. The purchase of Chrysler, America´s third-largest car company, by the Stuttgart-based Daimler-Benz marked the biggest acquisition by a foreign buyer of any U.S. company in history. Though marketed to investors as an equal pairing, it soon emerged that Daimler would be the dominant partner, with its stockholders owning the majority of the new company´s shares. After a near-collapse and a government bailout in 1979 that saved it from bankruptcy, the company surged back in the 1980s under the leadership of the former Ford executive Lee Iacocca, in a revival spurred in part by the tremendous success of its trendsetting minivan.

05-08-1956

Henry Ford II leaves post at Ford Foundation

Henry Ford II, the namesake and grandson of the legendary automobile pioneer, resigns as chairman of his family´s charitable organization, the Ford Foundation. Henry II´s father, Edsel Ford, created the Ford Foundation in 1936 as a legal way for the family to escape the so-called "soak the rich" taxes imposed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt´s administration on estates worth more than $50 million. The foundation would receive the bulk of the elder Henry Ford´s estate, as well as an endowment from Edsel´s, resulting in a 95 percent (non-voting) stake in Ford Motor Company valued at almost $493 million. This guaranteed $25 million of dividends per year, making the Ford Foundation by far the richest charity in the country.

05-09-2009

“Speed Racer” movie is released

“Speed Racer”, the big-budget live-action film version of the 1960s Japanese comic book and television series “MachGoGoGo”, makes its debut in U.S. movie theaters. Warner Brothers, the studio behind “Speed Racer”, brought on Larry and Andy Wachowski, the brothers who created the blockbuster science-fiction hit “The Matrix” and its two sequels, to write and direct the long-awaited movie. Emile Hirsch starred in the title role of Speed, an 18-year-old driver whose family´s business is building race cars. Christina Ricci, John Goodman, Susan Sarandon and Matthew Fox co-starred in “Speed Racer” alongside Hirsch. Another key cast member was not an actor but an automobile: the mighty Mach 5, a race car designed and built by Speed´s father, Pops Racer. As in the American version of the comic, the sleek Mach 5 used in the film is white with red accents, bears similarities to an early Ferrari Testarossa and is outfitted with an array of special features.

05-10-1869

Transcontinental railroad completed

In 1869, the presidents of the Union Pacific and Central Pacific railroads meet in Promontory, Utah, and drive a ceremonial last spike into a rail line that connects their railroads. This made transcontinental railroad travel possible for the first time in U.S. history. No longer would western-bound travelers need to take the long and dangerous journey by wagon train. One year into the Civil War, a Republican-controlled Congress passed the Pacific Railroad Act (1862), guaranteeing public land grants and loans to the two railroads it chose to build the transcontinental line, the Union Pacific and the Central Pacific. With these in hand, the railroads began work in 1866 from Omaha and Sacramento, forging a northern route across the country. For all the adversity they suffered, the Union Pacific and Central Pacific workers were able to finish the railroad--laying nearly 2,000 miles of track--by 1869, ahead of schedule and under budget. Journeys that had taken months by wagon train or weeks by boat now took only days.

05-11-1947

B.F. Goodrich develops the tubeless tire

1947, the B.F. Goodrich Company of Akron, Ohio, announces it had developed a tubeless tire, a technological innovation that would make automobiles safer and more efficient. Pneumatic tires--or tires filled with pressurized air--were used on motor vehicles beginning in the late 1800s, when the French rubber manufacturer Michelin & Cie became the first company to develop them. The culmination of more than three years of engineering, Goodrich´s tubeless tire effectively eliminated the inner tube, trapping the pressurized air within the tire walls themselves. While Goodrich awaited approval from the U.S. Patent Office, the tubeless tires underwent high-speed road testing, were put in service on a fleet of taxis and were used by Ohio state police cars and a number of privately owned passenger cars. The testing proved successful, and in 1952, Goodrich won patents for the tire´s various features. Within three years, the tubeless tire came standard on most new automobiles.

05-12-2000

NASCAR racer Adam Petty dies in crash

19-year-old Adam Petty, son of Winston Cup driver Kyle Petty and grandson of NASCAR legend Richard Petty, is killed after crashing into a wall during practice for a Grand National race at Loudon, New Hampshire. The young Petty was the first fourth-generation driver in NASCAR history. His great-grandfather, Lee Petty, a pioneer of NASCAR racing, died in April 2000; Adam Petty competed in his first Winston Cup three days before his great-grandfather´s death, finishing 40th. The young Petty was in his second season in the Busch Series and was planning to move to the Winston Cup circuit full time the following year. In his 29 starts during 1999, he posted three top-five and four top-10 finishes; his best was fourth place in the AutoClub 300 at California Speedway (which in 2008 was renamed the Auto Club Speedway of Southern California). According to an NBC News report, his car crashed head-on into a wall while traveling at 130 miles per hour. Petty was airlifted to Concord Hospital, where he was pronounced dead of head trauma.

05-13-1980

Autoworkers union head joins Chrysler board

Stockholders vote to appoint Douglas Fraser, president of the United Automobile Workers (UAW), to one of 20 seats on Chrysler´s board of directors. The vote made Fraser the first union representative ever to sit on the board of a major U.S. corporation. Born in 1916 in Glasgow, Scotland, to a strongly unionist father, Fraser was brought to the United States at the age of six. After dropping out of high school, he was fired from his first two factory jobs for trying to organize his fellow workers. Fraser then got a job at a Chrysler-owned DeSoto plant in Detroit that was organized by the UAW. Quickly promoted through union ranks, Fraser caught the eye of UAW president Walter Reuther. He worked as Reuther´s administrative assistant during the 1950s, a groundbreaking period during which the UAW solidified policies on retirement pensions and medical and dental care for its members. In 1979-80, Fraser played a key role in getting Chrysler a $1.5 billion bailout from the U.S. government, negotiating a deal that called for hourly workers at Chrysler to accept wage cuts of $3 per hour (to $17) and giving the company permission to shed nearly 50,000 of its U.S. jobs.

05-14-1804

Lewis and Clark depart on their expedition

One year after the United States doubled its territory with the Louisiana Purchase, the Lewis and Clark expedition leaves St. Louis, Missouri, on a mission to explore the Northwest from the Mississippi River to the Pacific Ocean. The expedition traveled up the Missouri River in a 55-foot long keelboat and two smaller boats. In November, Toussaint Charbonneau, a French-Canadian fur trader accompanied by his young Native American wife Sacagawea, joined the expedition as an interpreter. The group wintered in present-day North Dakota before crossing into present-day Montana, where they first saw the Rocky Mountains. On the other side of the Continental Divide, they were met by Sacagawea´s tribe, the Shoshone Indians, who sold them horses for their journey down through the Bitterroot Mountains. On September 23, 1806, after almost two and a half years, the expedition returned to the city, bringing back a wealth of information about the largely unexplored region, as well as valuable U.S. claims to Oregon Territory.

05-15-1942

Seventeen states put gasoline rationing into effect

In 1942, gasoline rationing began in 17 Eastern states as an attempt to help the American war effort during World War II. By the end of the year, President Franklin D. Roosevelt had ensured that mandatory gasoline rationing was in effect in all 50 states. Rubber was the first commodity to be rationed, after the Japanese invasion of the Dutch East Indies cut off the U.S. supply; the shortage of rubber affected the availability of products such as tires. Rationing gasoline, it was reasoned, would conserve rubber by reducing the number of miles Americans drove. Ration stamps for gasoline were issued by local boards and pasted to the windshield of a family or individual´s automobile. The type of stamp determined the gasoline allotment for that automobile. Black stamps, for example, signified non-essential travel and mandated no more than three gallons per week, while red stamps were for workers who needed more gas, including policemen and mail carriers. In a separate attempt to reduce gas consumption, the government passed a mandatory wartime speed limit of 35 mph, known as the “Victory Speed”.

05-16-1956

GM dedicates new technical center

On this day in 1956, executives from the Detroit-based automotive giant General Motors (GM) dedicate the new GM Technical Center in Warren, Michigan. Costing around $100 million--or about half a billion in today´s dollars--to develop and staffed by around 4,000 scientists, engineers, designers and other personnel, the GM Technical Center was one of the largest industrial research centers in the world. There is not another facility like it in the world. A $1 billion dollar renovation of the GM Technical Center was completed in 2003.

05-17-2005

Toyota announces plans for hybrid Camry

Toyota Motor Company announced its plans to produce a gasoline-electric hybrid version of its bestselling Camry sedan. Built at the company´s Georgetown, Kentucky, plant, the Camry became Toyota´s first hybrid model to be manufactured in the United States. Toyota introduced the Camry--the name is a phonetic transcription of the Japanese word for “crown”--in the Japanese market in 1980; it began selling in the United States the following year. By the late 1980s and early 1990s, the success of the Camry and its Japanese competitor, the Honda Accord, had allowed Toyota and Honda to seize control of the midsize sedan market in the United States. By then, Toyota had adapted the Camry more to American tastes, increasing its size and replacing its original boxy design with a smoother, more rounded style.

05-18-1958

Lotus makes Formula One debut

In Monaco, France, Team Lotus makes its Formula One debut in the Monaco Grand Prix, the opening event of the year´s European racing season. Over the next four decades, Team Lotus would go on to become one of the most successful teams in Formula One history. Team Lotus was the motor sport wing of the Lotus Engineering Company, founded six years earlier by the British engineer and race car driver Anthony Colin Bruce Chapman. Chapman built his first car, a modified 1930 Austin Seven, while still a university student. His success building trial cars led to the completion of the first Lotus production model, the Mark 6, in 1952; 100 were produced by 1955, establishing Chapman´s reputation as a innovator in the design of top-performing race cars.

05-19-2007

Smart introduces its microcar

Los Angeles, California, is the first stop on a cross-country road show launched on this day in 2007 by Smart USA to promote the attractions of its “ForTwo” microcar, which it had scheduled for release in the United States in 2008. In the early 1990s, Nicholas Hayek of Swatch, the company famous for its wide range of colorful and trendy plastic watches, went to German automaker Mercedes-Benz with his idea for an “ultra-urban” car. The result of their joint venture was the diminutive Smart (an acronym for Swatch Mercedes ART) ForTwo, which debuted at the Frankfurt Motor Show in 1997 and went on sale in nine European countries over the next year. Measuring just over eight feet from bumper to bumper, the original ForTwo was marketed as a safe, fuel-efficient car that could be maneuvered easily through narrow, crowded city streets. Despite its popularity among urban Europeans, Smart posted significant losses, and Swatch soon pulled out of the joint venture.

05-20-1995

Street in front of the White House closed to traffic

President Bill Clinton permanently closes the two-block stretch of Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House to all non-pedestrian traffic as a security measure. The road´s closure had long been a desire of the Secret Service, who saw it as necessary in order to guard against the risk of a possible car- or truck-bomb attack. President Clinton, like other residents of the White House before him, had been reluctant to accede to the request, but finally bowed to the recommendations of a panel of security experts including representatives of the Secret Service. The panel had begun a security study of the White House in the fall of 1994, after a drunken pilot crashed his light plane onto the South Lawn in September. That October, a man fired a semiautomatic rifle at the White House from Pennsylvania Avenue; a passing tourist then tackled him. While a vehicle-free Pennsylvania Avenue would not have prevented either of these incidents, attacks at the World Trade Center in 1993 and in Oklahoma City in April 1995 had highlighted the potential threat of a truck bomb.

05-21-1901

Connecticut enacts first speed-limit law

On this day in 1901, Connecticut becomes the first state to pass a law regulating motor vehicles, limiting their speed to 12 mph in cities and 15 mph on country roads. The path to Connecticut´s 1901 speed limit legislation began when Representative Robert Woodruff submitted a bill to the State General Assembly proposing a motor-vehicles speed limit of 8 mph within city limits and 12 mph outside. The law passed in May 1901 specified higher speed limits but required drivers to slow down upon approaching or passing horse-drawn vehicles, and come to a complete stop if necessary to avoid scaring the animals. On the heels of this landmark legislation, New York City introduced the world´s first comprehensive traffic code in 1903. As late as 1930, a dozen states had no speed limit, while 28 states did not even require a driver´s license to operate a motor vehicle.

05-22-1969

“Winning” stars Paul Newman as a race car driver

In “Winning”, Newman played Frank Capua, a struggling race car driver who must turn around his fortunes by winning the biggest race of them all--the Indianapolis 500--and in the process avoid losing his wife (played by Newman´s real-life spouse, Joanne Woodward) to his biggest rival, Luther Erding (Robert Wagner). Newman and Wagner attended racing school to prepare for their action scenes, and Newman reportedly performed many of the racing scenes himself, without a stunt driver. Three years after making the film, Newman launched a racing career of his own, driving a Lotus Elan in his first Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) race in 1972. In the mid-1970s, he joined a racing team, and they finished in fifth place in the 24 Hours of Daytona in 1977. Newman´s personal best finish was second place in the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1979; he drove a Porsche 935. Newman co-founded a racing team (now known as Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing) that would compile a record of more than 100 wins on the Indy racing circuit from 1983 to 2008. Newman remained an active competitor in endurance racing, making his last start in 2006 in the Rolex 24 at Daytona International Speedway. He died in September 2008, at the age of 83, after a battle with cancer.

05-23-1934

Outlaws Bonnie and Clyde shot to death in stolen Ford

Texas and Louisiana state police officers shot Bonnie and Clyde as they attempted to escape apprehension in a stolen 1934 Ford Deluxe near Bienville Parish, Louisiana. The only charge the Bureau could chase them on was a violation of the National Motor Vehicle Act, which gave federal agents the authority to pursue suspects accused of interstate transportation of a stolen automobile. The car in question was a Ford, stolen in Illinois and found abandoned in Pawhuska, Oklahoma. Inside, agents discovered a prescription bottle later traced to the Texas home of Clyde Barrow´s aunt. When Parker and Barrow were spotted, going some 85 mph in the stolen Ford Deluxe with a V-8 engine, the officers let loose with a hail of bullets, leaving the couple no chance of survival. The bullet-ridden Deluxe, originally owned by Ruth Warren of Topeka, Kansas, was later exhibited at carnivals and fairs then sold as a collector´s item; in 1988, the Primm Valley Resort and Casino in Las Vegas purchased it for some $250,000. Barrow´s enthusiasm for cars was evident in a letter he wrote earlier in the spring of 1934, addressed to Henry Ford himself: “While I still have got breath in my lungs I will tell you what a dandy car you make. I have drove Fords exclusively when I could get away with one. For sustained speed and freedom from trouble the Ford has got every other car skinned and even if my business hasn´t been strictly legal it don´t hurt anything to tell you what a fine car you got in the V-8”.

05-24-1991

“Thelma and Louise” features a 1966 Ford Thunderbird

The critically acclaimed road movie “Thelma and Louise” debuts in theaters, stunning audiences with a climactic scene in which its two heroines drive off a cliff into the Grand Canyon, in a vintage 1966 green Ford Thunderbird convertible. The iconic Thunderbird, first produced in 1955, was Ford´s attempt to create a sports car that would also provide an element of luxury. From the beginning, T-Birds became highly collectible cars, and new and limited edition models were introduced each year to keep up with the growing competition. 1966 was in fact the final year in which Ford manufactured T-Bird convertibles; sales were slow, and their marketing department decided the line´s luxury image was intact without the drop-top model.

05-25-1994

Pennsylvania man buried with his beloved Corvette

The ashes of 71-year-old George Swanson are buried (according to Swanson´s request) in the driver´s seat of his 1984 white Corvette in Hempfield County, Pennsylvania. Swanson, a beer distributor and former U.S. Army sergeant during World War II, died the previous March 31 at the age of 71. He had reportedly been planning his automobile burial for some time, buying 12 burial plots at Brush Creek Cemetery, located 25 miles east of Pittsburgh, in order to ensure that his beloved Corvette would fit in his grave with him. After his death, however, the cemetery balked, amid concerns of vandalism and worries that other clients would be offended by the outlandish nature of the burial. “George wanted to go out in style, and, indeed, now he will,” commented Swanson´s lawyer in a report from The Associated Press. “We agree that this is rather elaborate, but really it´s no different than being buried in a diamond-studded or gold coffin.” According to the AP, Swanson´s widow, Caroline, transported her husband´s ashes to the cemetery on the seat of her own white 1993 Corvette. The ashes were then placed on the driver´s seat of his 10-year-old car, which had only 27,000 miles on the odometer. The license plate read “HI-PAL,” which was Swanson´s go-to greeting when he didn´t remember a name. As 50 mourners looked on, a crane lowered the Corvette into a 7-by-7-by-16-foot hole. “George always said he lived a fabulous life, and he went out in a fabulous style,” Caroline Swanson said later. “You have a lot of people saying they want to take it with them. He took it with him.”

05-26-1927

Last day of Model T production at Ford

Henry Ford and his son Edsel drive the 15 millionth Model T Ford out of their factory, marking the famous automobile´s official last day of production. More than any other vehicle, the relatively affordable and efficient Model T was responsible for accelerating the automobile´s introduction into American society. Introduced in October 1908, the Model T--also known as the “Tin Lizzie”-- weighed some 1,200 pounds, with a 20-horsepower, four-cylinder engine. It got about 13 to 21 miles per gallon of gasoline and could travel up to 45 mph. Initially selling for around $850 (around $20,000 in today´s dollars), the Model T would later sell for as little as $260 (around $6,000 today) for the basic no-extras model. After production officially ended the following day, Ford factories shut down in early June, and some 60,000 workers were laid off. The company sold fewer than 500,000 cars in 1927, less than half of Chevrolet´s sales.

05-27-1937

The Golden Gate Bridge opens

The Golden Gate Bridge, connecting San Francisco with Marin County, California, officially opens amid citywide celebration. Named for the narrow strait that marks the entrance to the San Francisco Bay from the Pacific Ocean, the Golden Gate Bridge was constructed from January 1933 to May 1937. At the time, it was the longest suspension bridge in the world, at 4,200 feet. From the beginning, the bridge´s location posed challenges for its construction, not least because of its proximity to the mighty San Andreas Fault, which passes from north to south through the San Francisco Bay area. In addition, the tumultuous waters of the strait posed grave dangers for the underwater construction work necessary to build the bridge. Still, the engineer Joseph Strauss waged a tireless 16-year campaign to convince skeptical city officials and other opponents of the controversial project. On the bridge´s opening day, he triumphantly exclaimed: “The bridge which could not and should not be built, which the War Department would not permit, which the rocky foundation of the pier base would not support, which would have no traffic to justify it, which would ruin the beauty of the Golden Gate, which could not be completed within my costs estimate of $27,165,000, stands before you in all its majestic splendor, in complete refutation of every attack made upon it.”

05-28-1937

Volkswagen is founded

The government of Germany--then under the control of Adolf Hitler of the National Socialist (Nazi) Party--forms a new state-owned automobile company, then known as Gesellschaft zur Vorbereitung des Deutschen Volkswagens mbH. Later that year, it was renamed simply Volkswagenwerk, or “The People´s Car Company.” Originally operated by the German Labor Front, a Nazi organization, Volkswagen was headquartered in Wolfsburg, Germany. In addition to his ambitious campaign to build a network of autobahns and limited access highways across Germany, Hitler´s pet project was the development and mass production of an affordable yet still speedy vehicle that could sell for less than 1,000 Reich marks (about $140 at the time). To provide the design for this “people´s car,” Hitler called in the Austrian automotive engineer Ferdinand Porsche. Volkswagen sales in the United States were initially slower than in other parts of the world, due to the car´s historic Nazi connections as well as its small size and unusual rounded shape. Twelve years later, the Beetle surpassed the longstanding worldwide production record of 15 million vehicles, set by Ford Motor Company´s legendary Model T between 1908 and 1927.

05-29-2005

Danica becomes the first woman to lead Indy 500

On this day in 2005, 23-year-old Danica Patrick becomes the first female driver to take the lead in the storied Indianapolis 500. Having previously distinguished herself in the Toyota Atlantic series, Patrick had qualified fourth--another best for a woman--for the 89th Indianapolis 500, only her fifth Indy Racing League event. Patrick entered the Indy 500 in a car co-owned by Bobby Rahal, winner of the Indy 500 in 1986, and David Letterman, the late-night talk show host. Her stellar performance earned her Rookie of the Year honors and a place in the history books alongside Janet Guthrie, who exactly 28 years before--on May 29, 1977--had become the first woman to drive in the Indy 500.

05-30-1911

First Indianapolis 500 was held

In 1911, Ray Harroun drives his single-seater Marmon Wasp to victory in the inaugural Indianapolis 500, now one of the world´s most famous motor racing competitions. The Indiana automobile dealer Carl Fisher first proposed building a private auto testing facility in 1906, in order to address car manufacturers´ inability to test potential top speeds of new cars due to the poorly developed state of the public roadways. The result was the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, built on 328 acres of farmland five miles northwest of downtown Indianapolis. On May 30, 1911, 40 cars lined up at the starting line for the first Indy 500. A multi-car accident occurred 13 laps into the race, and the ensuing chaos temporarily disrupted scoring, throwing the finish into dispute when the eventual runner-up, Ralph Mulford, argued that he was the rightful winner. It was Ray Harroun, however, who took home the $14,250 purse, clocking an average speed of 74.59 mph and a total time of 6 hours and 42 minutes. The Wasp was the first car with a rear-view mirror, which Harroun had installed in order to compensate for not having a mechanic in the seat next to him to warn of other cars passing. The best cars were equipped with four-wheel hydraulic brakes and inline 3.0-liter V-8 engines made of aluminum.

05-31-1929

Ford signs agreement with Soviet Union

Ford Motor Company signs a landmark agreement to produce cars in the Soviet Union on this day in 1929. The Soviet Union, which in 1928 had only 20,000 cars and a single truck factory, was eager to join the ranks of automotive production, and Ford, with its focus on engineering and manufacturing methods, was a natural choice to help. The always independent-minded Henry Ford was strongly in favor of his free-market company doing business with Communist countries. Signed in Dearborn, Michigan, on May 31, 1929, the contract stipulated that Ford would oversee construction of a production plant at Nizhni Novgorod, located on the banks of the Volga River, to manufacture Model A cars. An assembly plant would also start operating immediately within Moscow city limits. In return, the USSR agreed to buy 72,000 unassembled Ford cars and trucks and all spare parts to be required over the following nine years, a total of some $30 million worth of Ford products.

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