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December In Automotive History


The Steam-powered car was announced

The Detroit Steam Motors Corporation announced the Trask steam car, a favorite project of automobile distributor O.C. Trask. A steam-driven automobile had reached the world-record speed of 127.66mph in 1906, causing a steam-car craze that lasted through the 1920s. The last steam-powered cars in the U.S. were made in 1926.


The V-8 engine design gets patented

The first working V-8 engine was patented in France by French engine designer Leon-Marie-Joseph-Clement Levavasseur. The engine block was the first to arrange eight pistons in the V-formation that allowed a crankshaft with only four throws to be turned by eight pistons. Today, V-8 engines are extremely common in automobiles that need powerful motors.


Quebec Bridge is opened

Quebec Bridge opens near Quebec, Canada. At the time, it was the world´s longest cantilever truss span (in which stiff trusses extend from the bridge piers, without additional support).


Henry Ford tries to end World War I aboard ship

Automobile tycoon Henry Ford set sail for Europe on this day in 1915 from Hoboken, New Jersey, aboard the Ford Peace Ship. His mission: to end World War I. His slogan, "Out of the trenches and back to their homes by Christmas," won an enthusiastic response in the States, but didn´t get very far overseas. Ford´s diplomatic mission was not taken seriously in Europe, and he soon returned.


Plymouth debuts a front-wheel drive

The Plymouth Horizon was introduced on this day. It was the first American-made small car with front-wheel drive. Technical advances in drive technology had reduced the size and cost of front-wheel drive systems.


A national standard is established for license plates

On this day in 1955, the Federal government standardized the size of license plates throughout the U.S. Previously, individual states had designed their own license plates, resulting in wide variations.


Model-A Ford gets discontinued

The last Ford Model A was produced on this day. The Ford motor works were then shut down for six months for retooling. On April 1, 1932, Ford introduced its new offering: the high-performance Ford V-8, the first Ford with an 8-cylinder engine.


Japanese auto industry resumes post-war production

After World War II ended with Japan´s surrender on September 3, 1945, Japan remained under Allied occupation ruled by an occupation government. Its war industries were shut down completely. On this day in 1945, the Toyota Motor Company received permission from the occupation government to start production of buses and trucks--vehicles necessary to keep Japan running. It was the first rumble of the postwar auto industry in Japan.


Auto Racing Drivers Club closed for the war

The Automobile Racing Drivers Club of America (ARDCA) closed its doors due to World War II, which created shortages of fuel, tires, and other automotive necessities--including men to drive the cars. After the war, the ARDCA never got started again.


First pneumatic tires receive patent

English inventor R.W. Thompson received a British patent for his new carriage wheels, which had inflated tubes of heavy rubber stretched around their rims--the world´s first pneumatic tires. They became popular on horse-drawn carriages, and later prevented the first motorcar passengers from being shaken to pieces.


World´s first auto show opens

The world´s first auto show, the Exposition Internationale de Velocipidie et de Locomotion Automobile, opened in Paris, France. Four makes of automobiles were on display.


Studebaker digs in

The Studebaker Corporation, a leading automaker that began as the world´s biggest manufacturer of horseless carriages, began construction of a new factory in South Bend, Indiana. Studebaker was a leading automaker throughout the first half of the twentieth century.


Thunderbird makes a change and ends its 2 door design

The last two-seater T-bird was produced on this day. Through 1957, Ford´s Thunderbirds were jaunty, two-seater sports cars that boasted removable hard tops and powerful V-8 engines. The 1958 Thunderbird (nicknamed the "square bird") was a four-passenger car, 18 inches longer and half a ton heavier than the previous year´s model. The new luxury Thunderbird packed a 300hp V-8, making it one of the most muscular cars on the road. And one of the most popular. It sold more cars in 1958 than 1957, despite a nationwide slump in auto sales. Ford discontinued the Thunderbird after the 1997 model year, by which time it bore little resemblance to the stylish early "Bird" versions. To the delight of Thunderbird aficionados, it was reintroduced in 2002, with a brand-new and noteworthy design that incorporated elements of 1955-57 and 1961-62 models, including "porthole" windows, rounded lights and a hood scoop.


The “Brickyard” at Indy was finished

The famous brick surface of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway (the “Brickyard”) was finished on this day. The speedway had its grand opening three days later, when the brickwork was ceremoniously completed by Governor Thomas R. Marshall of Indiana, who cemented the last "golden" brick.


Ohio´s Silver Bridge collapses during rush hour

On this day in 1967, the Silver Bridge across the Ohio River collapsed during rush hour. Dozens of cars fell into the icy water. Forty-six people lost their lives in the accident, and many others were injured. Today, better construction and safety rules make accidents like this one less common.


Swedish carmaker debuts

A Swedish company by the name of Svenska Aeroplan Aktiebolaget produced its first motorcar. In 1965, the concern changed its name to Saab Aktiebolag, and a few years later simply to Saab. The first Saab automobiles were engineered with the precision of fighter planes--the company´s other main product. Today Saab is known for producing safe, reliable, high-performing vehicles. In 1990, General Motors bought Saab´s car operations, excluding its bus, truck, and military jet businesses. Ten years later, GM acquired the rest of Saab´s automotive operations.


Stan Barrett breaks the sound barrier in a Car

Driver Stan Barrett became the first person in the world to travel faster than sound on land. He drove the Budweiser Rocket car at a top speed of 739.666 in a one-way run at Rogers Dry Lake, California. The ultrasonic speed set an unofficial record, but an official record requires trips in both directions, whose speeds are averaged.


A first official land speed record is set

Count Gaston de Chasseloup-Laubat set the world´s first official land-speed record in Acheres Park near Paris: 39.245mph in his Jeantaud automobile, powered by an electric motor and alkaline batteries. The Jeantaud is widely believed to be the first automobile steered by a modern steering wheel rather than a tiller. The tiller was quickly replaced by the steering wheel in the early 1900s.


Last Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost rolls off the line

The last Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost manufactured in England was sold in London. The Silver Ghost, a custom touring car, was introduced in 1906, and was called by some the "Best Car in the World." The Silver Ghost was followed by the Twenty, the Phantom, the Silver Cloud, the Silver Shadow, and the Silver Wraith.


Inflatable wheel is patented

Alexander Brown and George Stillman of Syracuse, New York, patented an inflatable automobile tire. Before the pneumatic tire, wheels were often made of solid rubber. This made travel a bumpy experience. After all, the streets of 1892 were made of dirt or cobblestone. Some horse-drawn carriages had been made with inflatable tires, but Brown and Stillman got the first patent for pneumatic automobile tires.


The Lincoln Tunnel opens

The Lincoln Tunnel was officially opened to traffic, allowing motorists to drive between New Jersey and Manhattan beneath the Hudson River.


Mercedes is born

A new 35hp car built by Daimler from a design by Emil Jellinke was completed. The car was named for Jellinek´s daugher, Mercedes.


President W. Wilson receives a Rolls for B-Day

Former President Woodrow Wilson receives a a Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost Pall Mall touring car for his birthday. It´s a gift from friends.


England issues first license plate

On Christmas Eve, 1903, England issued its first automobile license plate, number A1. The plate was issued to Earl Russel, the brother of the philosopher Bertrand Russell.


Oldest legal driver dies at 105

Mr. Layne Hall of Silver Creek, New York, was born on this day in 1884. At his death on November 20, 1990, he had a valid driver´s license. He was 105 years old, making him the oldest legal driver ever.


First overland journey across Africa ends

The first overland journey across Africa from south to north was completed when the expedition of Major C. Court Treatt arrived in Cairo, Egypt. Major Treatt had set out from Capetown, South Africa, some 27 months earlier in two military-style Crossley automobiles. After the difficult trek across unmapped regions, the hero´s safe arrival in Cairo was a major treat for everyone.


Due to WWII U.S. begins rubber rationing

Rubber rationing was instituted by the U.S. government, due to shortages caused by World War II. Tires were the first items to be restricted by law.


Volkswagen reaches milestone 2,000,000 made

The 2,000,000th Volkswagen was finished on this day in 1957. Begun 30 years earlier by the Nazi regime, the German automaker and its economical Beetle overcame their unpleasant pasts and began selling in the United States.


Schwarzenegger drives Maria into ditch with Jeep

Arnold Schwarzenegger was cited for driving without a license after he drove his Jeep into a ditch with Maria Shriver aboard. No one was hurt.


General Motors strike leaves thousands of workers idle

Strikes closed seven General Motors (GM) factories in Flint, Michigan. The giant automaker employed upwards of 200,000 men, and more than one in six of them stopped working during the strike. The United Automobile Workers of America, a labor union, was quarrelling with GM over the right to bargain collectively with manufacturers. The work stoppage was so large that it threatened to force layoffs in the steel, glass, and battery-manufacturing industries, due to reduced demand.


The Manhattan Bridge opens for traffic

A graceful 1,470-foot span across the East River opened to traffic on this day. The Manhattan Bridge was the fourth bridge between Manhattan and the boroughs across the river.

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