Once again, Graeme Rice looks back on the motoring worlds of 100, 75, 50, and 25 years ago
For an expanded version of this month’s Timelines, visit www.classiccar.co.nz and search ‘Timelines’
Herbert Austin was an early beneficiary of the war effort when the Russians placed an order for over £50,000’ worth of vehicles. Top of the list were 48 armoured cars, each able to carry a crew of five and two machine guns, and capable of reaching 80kph. Next on the list were 100 three-ton general-transport lorries, then 18 workshop wagons, 16 tankers to carry petrol, and 120 light- and 20 heavy ambulances.
It was a shame about the Europeans being otherwise engaged and not able to participate fully in the American racing season, but at least it provided great contests between two of the best sports cars of the generation, the Mercer and the Stutz. Barney Oldfield took a Stutz from Los Angeles to Phoenix in a 1114km (696 mile) race across deserts, through snow, sleet and heavy rain. Oldfield won at an average of 50kph after averaging only 24kph for the first few hours.
Late in the month, Dario Resta drove a Peugeot to victory in the American Grand Prix, at an average speed of 90.3kph over 644km, in San Francisco.
That great showman, entrepreneur, racing cyclist and tricyclist, racing car driver, and the man who probably should be accredited as the motor industry’s first PR man, decades before the title was invented, Selwyn Francis Edge, died at home in Eastbourne on February 15.
Born in Sydney in 1868, Edge was an Australian for the first nine years of his life, then the family moved back to the UK. After successfully competing in long-distance cycling events, Edge bought a Panhard Levassor in 1898 and set about learning all he could about motors. Fellow cycling enthusiast Montague Napier was convinced by Edge to set up car production in 1901. In 1902 Edge won the Gordon Bennett race in a Napier, in 1903 he convinced Montague Napier to build the industry’s first production six, and then in 1907 he completed the astounding 24-hour run on the new Brooklands Track, cementing Napier’s reputation and standing as the car to better.
In early 1940 Juan Manuel Fangio was beginning to make his mark. He had led part of the 1939 Gran Premio Argentino and won a stage of its continuation, the Gran Premio Extraordinario. These feats had helped him make something of a name for himself.
A Christchurch gentleman was trying to sell his 1938 Rolls-royce Phantom III. This was the massive 7430cc V12, developing around 119kw, which according to a 1936 Autocar road test was capable of 148.8kph (92.5mph), and hauled its 2656kg (5850lb) bulk from rest to 60mph in 16.5 seconds, at the cost of a healthy 28l/100km (10mpg) thirst.
Apparently it was in immaculate condition, and a superb-motoring car. All this class and rarity for what seems like a relatively modest asking price of £1650. For that money buyers could have opted for a 1963 Ford Falcon Futura with 4000 miles (6437km) on the clock for £1695. If something with walnut and leather was more desirable, a 1963 Wolseley 6/110 with just 26,000 miles (41,843km) under its belt was selling for £1575. Or maybe the Queen’s favourite — a 1962 Rover 3.0-litre four-speed with overdrive for £1785.
The Australian races in the 1965 Tasman Series saw Jim Clark and the Lotus 32B continue his winning ways at Warwick Farm, with various Brabhams mopping up the next six places, but Jack Brabham was able to get some revenge for the Aussies at Sandown the following week, ahead of Clark, and Phil Hill and Mclaren in Coopers. The Sandown race was marred by the death of popular Aussie driver Lex Davison in practice.
One of the more bizarre sales promotions took place in Dunedin when the local Holden distributor lined up a Spanish International Circus, its elephant Miayak, and a 3.8-litre V6, five-speed-manual Holden Calais plus a generously proportioned trailer. Turned out to be a bit of an anticlimax really. All the public had to do was guess the weight of the elephant, look at the weight the Calais could tow and go figure. Winners got $100 and free seats for the circus. How many $32,995 Calais were sold? Safe to say there were more buyers for the car than the elephant.
BMW was building 5000 M3s over 12 months to qualify for Group A touring car racing. Two-time winners of the Wellington Street race, these little Beemers were great giant-killers. A bigger engine — 2.5 litres in place of the old 2.3-litre motor — and more power, at 175kw rather than the previous 158kw (238/215bhp), meant a top speed of 248kph and zero to 100kph in 6.5 seconds. Bigger wheels and lowered suspension helped the handling.
After all the wrangling throughout January, Mclaren boss Ron Dennis had to apologise to FISA and pay the US$100,000 ($168,000) fine and further apologize for the late payment. Finally, the way was clear for Senna to compete in F1 for 1990, and everyone else could concentrate on getting prepared.