April In Automotive History
The "Polish Prince" killed in plane crash
Race car driver and owner Alan Kulwicki, who won the 1992 National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR) Winston Cup championship by one of the tightest margins in series history, is killed in a plane crash near Bristol, Tennessee, where he was scheduled to compete in a race the following day. The 38-year-old Kulwicki had been the first owner-driver to collect the championship since Richard Petty did so in 1979, as well as the first NASCAR champ to hold a college degree.
Walter Chrysler born
Walter Percy Chrysler, the founder of the Chrysler Corporation, which for years was one of America´s Big Three automakers along with General Motors (GM) and Ford, is born on April 2, 1875, in Wamego, Kansas.Chrysler, the son of a railroad engineer, worked his way up in the railroad industry--from sweeper to machinist to plant manager of American Locomotive Company--before making his mark on the auto industry.
"Fast & Furious" is top opening-day car movie
"Fast & Furious," the fourth film in an action-movie franchise centered around the world of illegal street racing, debuts in U.S. theaters on April 3, 2009, kicking off a record-breaking $72.5 million opening weekend at the box office. "Fast & Furious," starring Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Jordana Brewster and Michelle Rodriguez, recorded the all-time highest-grossing opening of any car-themed film, besting the 2006 animated feature Cars.
Dr. King is assassinated
Just after 6 p.m. on April 4, 1968, Martin Luther King Jr. is fatally shot while standing on the balcony outside his second-story room at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee. The civil rights leader was in Memphis to support a sanitation workers' strike and was on his way to dinner when a bullet struck him in the jaw and severed his spinal cord. King was pronounced dead after his arrival at a Memphis hospital. He was 39 years old.
NASCAR legend Lee Petty dies
On April 5, 2000, Lee Petty, an early star of the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR) and the patriarch of a racing dynasty that includes his son, NASCAR legend Richard Petty, dies at the age 86 in Greensboro, North Carolina. Lee Petty won more than 50 races during his career, including three NASCAR championships, the first driver to rack up that many championship titles. He also won the first-ever Daytona 500, held in 1959. Lee Arnold Petty was born March 14, 1914, in North Carolina.
Emil Jellinek-Mercedes born
Emil Jellinek, an entrepreneur who commissioned engineer Wilhelm Maybach to design the first Mercedes automobile, named after Jellinek´s daughter, is born in Leipzig, Germany, on this day in 1853.
Auto pioneer Henry Ford dies
On this day in 1947, Henry Ford, the founder of Ford Motor Company, which developed the first affordable, mass-produced car--the Model T--and also helped pioneer assembly-line manufacturing, dies at his estate in Dearborn, Michigan, at the age of 83.
Waltrip beats Petty in last-lap thriller
On this day in 1979, in the Rebel 500 event at Darlington Raceway in South Carolina, drivers Darrell Waltrip and Richard Petty swap the lead four times in a last-lap battle before Waltrip finally wins the race.The race also featured a pit stop mishap in which driver David Pearson, following a miscommunication with his crew, drove away with only two of his four tires properly changed. Pearson´s car flipped over and had to be removed from the race.
Honda wins World Green Car award
On this day in 2009, the Honda FCX Clarity, a four-door sedan billed as the planet´s first hydrogen-powered fuel-cell vehicle intended for mass production, wins the World Green Car award at the New York Auto Show.The first FCX Clarity cars came off the assembly line at a Honda plant in Takanezawa, Japan, in June 2008. As The New York Times reported at the time: "Fuel-cell vehicles have been a sort of holy grail of the auto industry, offering the promise of driving without emitting air-polluting exhaust. Fuel cells work by combining hydrogen and oxygen from ordinary air to make electricity, in a process whose only byproducts are water and heat."
Hertz rental car founder born
On this day in 1879, Sandor Herz--the future John Hertz, the man behind what will one day be the world´s largest car-rental company--is born in present-day Slovakia.Hertz immigrated to America with his family as a child and grew up in Chicago. In 1915, he founded the Yellow Cab Company in Chicago as a means of providing affordable transportation to average citizens. Yellow Cab franchises soon opened across the country. In 1923, Hertz bought a rental-car company from Walter Jacobs, who had founded the Chicago-based business in 1918 with a fleet of Ford Model Ts. Hertz renamed the business Hertz Drive-Ur-Self Corporation, and in 1926, it was acquired by General Motors (GM). John Hertz became a member of the board of directors of GM, which in the 1920s overtook Ford to become the world´s biggest automaker.
Henry Ford marries
On this day in 1888, 24-year-old Henry Ford marries Clara Jane Bryant on her 22nd birthday at her parent´s home in Greenfield Township, Michigan. Clara Ford would prove to be a big supporter of her husband´s business ideas: Fifty years later, Henry Ford--who by then had founded the Ford Motor Company, invented the top-selling Model T car and revolutionized the auto industry with his mass-production technology--was quoted in a 1938 New York Times Magazine article as saying, "The greatest day of my life is when I married Mrs. Ford."
Founder of classic British sports car company is born
On this day in 1888, Cecil Kimber, founder of the British sports car company MG, is born in England.In 1921, Kimber went to work for British auto tycoon William Morris. A year later, he was made general manager of Morris Garages, the Oxford, England-based distributor of Morris autos. Kimber soon began selling customized Morris cars, lowering the chassis and fitting sportier bodywork, and by 1924, these small, high-performance sports cars bore the now-famous octagonal MG logo.
Truck accident claims life of former MLB all-star
Former Major League Baseball all-star pitcher Mark "The Bird" Fidrych is found dead at the age of 54 following an accident at his Massachusetts farm involving a Mack truck he was working on. Fidrych, the 1976 American League Rookie of the Year, suffocated when his clothes got tangled in the truck´s power takeoff shaft.On the afternoon of April 13, 2009, Fidrych´s body was discovered by a friend beneath a Mack truck (brothers Jack and Augustus Mack began making motorized vehicles in 1900; in 1905, they started producing trucks in Allentown, Pennsylvania, where the company is located today) at the former baseball player´s farm in Northborough, Massachusetts. According to the AP, the friend reported that it appeared as if Fidrych had been doing maintenance work on the truck at the time of his death.
Anglo-Persian Oil Company forms in London
On 14 April 1909, the Anglo-Persian Oil Company (APOC) was incorporated to exploit this. In 1923, the company secretly gave £5,000 -- the equivalent of perhaps millions in today's money -- to future Prime Minister Winston Churchill to lobby the British government to allow them to monopolize Persian oil resources. In 1935, it became the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (AIOC)
Titanic shipwreck claims life of race car driver
Washington Augustus Roebling II, a 31-year-old race car engineer and driver, dies in the sinking of the RMS Titanic in the icy waters of the North Atlantic. Roebling was named after his uncle, a civil engineer who helped build the Brooklyn Bridge.After studying engineering in school, he went to work in the burgeoning American auto industry. He eventually developed a race car, known as the Roebling-Planche, which took second place in the Vanderbilt Cup Race in 1910 in Savannah, Georgia.
Arthur Chevrolet commits suicide
Arthur Chevrolet, an auto racer and the brother of Chevrolet auto namesake Louis Chevrolet, commits suicide in Slidell, Louisiana.By the early 1900s, Louis and Arthur, along with their younger brother Gaston, had left Europe and moved to America, where they became involved in auto racing. In 1905, Louis defeated racing legend Barney Oldfield at an event in New York. Louis Chevrolet´s racing prowess eventually caught the attention of William C. Durant, who in 1908, founded General Motors (GM).
Ford Mustang debuts at World´s Fair
Henry Ford II officially unveils the two-seat Mustang in Flushing Meadows, New York. That same day, the new car also debuted in Ford showrooms across America and almost 22,000 Mustangs were immediately snapped up by buyers. Named after a World War II fighter plane, the Mustang was the first of a type of vehicle that came to be known as a "pony car." Ford sold more than 400,000 Mustangs within its first year of production, far exceeding sales expectations.The Mustang was conceived as a "working man´s Thunderbird," according to Ford.
Mark Martin wins another NASCAR race, at age 50
Mark Martin wins the Subway Fresh Fit 500 at the Phoenix International Speedway in Avondale, Arizona. Mark would become the first 50-year-old to claim victory at a National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR) Sprint Cup race since Morgan Shepherd in Atlanta 1993. Besides Martin and Shepherd, only two other drivers over the age of 50 have won a Sprint Cup event.
Mario Andretti competes in his first Indy car event
Mario Andretti competes in his inaugural Indy car race, in Trenton, New Jersey, finishing in 11th place. The following year, Andretti won the first of his four Indy car championships (also referred to as the U.S. National Championship) and was named Rookie of the Year at the prestigious Indianapolis 500, where he came in third. Andretti went on to become an icon in the world of motorsports. He is the only man to win the Formula One World Championship, the U.S. National Championship (1965, 1966, 1969, 1984), the Indianapolis 500, the Daytona 500, the 24 Hours of Daytona, the 12 Hours of Sebring (1967, 1970, 1972) and the Pikes Peak International Hill Club.
Danica Patrick becomes first woman to win Indy race
The 26-year-old Danica Patrick won the Indy Japan 300 at Twin Ring Montegi in Montegi, Japan, making her the first female winner in IndyCar racing history.She became involved in racing as a young girl and as a teenager moved to England in pursuit of better training opportunities. In 2002, after returning to the United States, she began driving for the Rahal Letterman Racing team, owned by 1986 Indianapolis 500 champ Bobby Rahal and late-night talk-show host David Letterman. In 2005, Patrick started competing in IndyCar events, which include the famed Indianapolis 500 race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in Indiana.
GM celebrates 100 million vehicles made in the US
At the time, GM was the world´s largest automaker.In 2008, GM, hard hit by the global economic crisis, lost its title as the world´s top-selling automaker; that year, GM sold 8.356 million cars and trucks compared with Toyota´s 8.972 million vehicles. On June 1, 2009, GM filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. It was a move once considered unthinkable for the company that became a giant of the U.S. economy in the 20th century.
Founder of Rolls Royce dead after plane crash
Frederick Henry Royce, who with Charles Stewart Rolls founded the luxury British automaker Rolls-Royce, dies on this day in 1933 at the age of 70 in England.Royce met British automotive dealer Charles Rolls, who agreed to sell Royce´s cars; the two men later formed a company, Rolls-Royce Limited. Royce, who was known for his attention to detail and perfectionism, served as head engineer. The six-cylinder Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost, which debuted in 1906, was dubbed by the British press the world´s "best car."
Chrysler buys automaker Lamborghini
Although the terms of the deal were not disclosed, the media reported that Chrysler paid $25 million for Lamborghini, which at the time was experiencing financial difficulties.Lamborghini was established in 1963 by Ferruccio Lamborghini (1916-1993), a wealthy Italian industrialist who made his fortune building tractors and air-conditioning systems, among other ventures. Lamborghini owned a variety of sports cars, including Ferraris. According to legend, after experiencing mechanical problems with his Ferraris, he tried to meet with Enzo Ferrari, the carmaker´s founder. When Enzo Ferrari turned him down, Ferruccio Lamborghini decided to build cars that would be even better than Ferrari´s. Lamborghini´s first car, the 350 GTV, a two-seat coupe with a V12 engine, launched in 1963.
German endurance driver killed in crash
On this day in 1983, Rolf Stommelen, a four-time 24 Hours of Daytona champ as well as a Formula One driver, is killed at the age of 39 in a crash at California´s Riverside International Raceway.After his first win, Stommelen went on to triumph in the 24 Hours of Daytona in 1978, 1980 and 1982.
Italian Formula 1 driver dies in crash
44-year-old Italian race car driver Michele Alboreto is killed on a track in Germany during a test drive. Alboreto collected five Grand Prix wins on the Formula One (F1) circuit, where he competed during the 1980s and early 1990s, and also claimed victory at the 24 Hours of Le Mans endurance race in 1997.He made his F1 debut in 1981 and took home his first victory at the Caesars Palace Grand Prix Las Vegas in 1982. From 1984 to 1988, Alboreto drove for the Ferrari team, the first Italian to do so in more than a decade.
Chrysler and the autoworkers´ union agree to deal
As part of the deal, the UAW agreed to let Chrysler reduce the amount of money it would pay toward healthcare costs of its retired workers. The month before the deal was announced, President Barack Obama issued an ultimatum to Chrysler that it must undergo a fundamental restructuring and shrink its costs in order to receive future government aid. A tentative deal that met government requirements for the struggling auto manufacturer to receive more federal funding was needed.
Pontiac lovers are struck with news of phase out
Struggling American auto giant General Motors (GM) says it plans to discontinue production of its more than 80-year-old Pontiac brand.Pontiac was initially known for making sedans; however, by the 1960s it had gained acclaim for its fast, sporty "muscle cars," including the GTO, the Firebird and the Trans Am. The GTO, which was developed by auto industry maverick John DeLorean, was named after a Ferarri coupe, the Gran Turismo Omologato. According to The New York Times: "More than any other G.M. brand, Pontiac stood for performance, speed and sex appeal."
Ferruccio Lamborghini born today
Ferruccio Lamborghini, the founder of the company that bears his name and is known for stylish, high-performance cars, is born in Italy. After World War II, Lamborghini founded a business making tractors from reconfigured surplus military machines, near Bologna, Italy.The company´s logo featured a bull, a reference to Ferruccio Lamborghini´s zodiac sign, Taurus the bull.
Oldsmobile would be no longer
In 1897, Ransom E. Olds (1864-1950), an Ohio-born engine maker, founded the Olds Motor Vehicle Company in Lansing. In 1901, the company, then known as Olds Motor Works, debuted the Curved Dash Oldsmobile, a gas-powered, open-carriage vehicle named for its curved front footboard. More than 400 of these vehicles were sold during the first year, at a price of $650 each (around $17,000 in today´s dollars).The last Oldsmobile came off the assembly line at the Lansing Car Assembly plant in Michigan, signaling the end of the 106-year-old automotive brand, America´s oldest.
Founder of classic British sports car company is born
The Land Rover, a British-made all-terrain vehicle, debut at an auto show in Amsterdam on April 30, 1948.Maurice Wilks used an old American-made Willys-Overland Jeep to do work at his farm in England. However, the Jeep was plagued by mechanical problems and Wilks decided to design a more reliable vehicle. He intended it to be used for farm work and be more versatile than a tractor. The resulting Land Rover, known as the Series 1, had a boxy, utilitarian design, four-wheel drive and a canvas roof.