This week in motor history with Walker Cutting

Check our calendar of car history, charting the anniversaries of motoring milestones we’ll see this week.

Daimler-Feuerspritze_No._2

On 26th September 1982

a certain Pontiac Firebird & her owner first roared dustily onto US TV screens- accompanied by a masterful- if unapologetically 80’s- soundtrack. Knight Rider went on to garner a cult following, and along with appearances in films like Rocky II & Smokey & the Bandit, boosting the profile of the Trans-Am model, as well as, somewhat more controversially, the co-star David Hasselhoff.

 

27th September 1925

Today saw work commence on an icon of motorsport- the Nurburgring in West central Germany. The infamous circuit was complete two years later and hosted its first race in June 1927- not of cars but for motorbikes. Still going today, the ‘Green Hell’ at Nurburg stands as a testament of the enthralling, almost mystical thrill men & women found in the early days of motor racing, its legends and its mysteries.

 

28th September 1978

This was the day the new Mazda RX7 driven by Don Sherman made 183.904mph on the famous Bonneville Salt Flats. The record helped the RX7, with its innovative Wankel rotary engine, become a long-respected model on the US market. The car handled well for the time, and without pistons the drive was reported to be so smooth, a buzzer had to be installed to physically warn the driver when nearing 7,000rpm.  A modified RX7 would go on to be the only Japanese car ever to win the famous La Mans race in 1991, and would be produced in different versions until 2002.

 

29th September 1888

While Jack the Ripper terrorised London, over the Atlantic a landmark in industry was making the news. The Daimler Motor Company of New York was set up on this day following an agreement between Gottleib Daimler, German car manufacturer, and William Steinway, a New York industrialist and himself a German immigrant to the USA- of Steinway & Sons pianos. European cars were popular in the USA but the costs & taxes associated with importing them made them prohibitively expensive- yet despite the ready market in those early days Daimler of New York limited itself to gas & petrol boat engines, not producing a motor car until 1904- the American Mercedes– top speed 50mph.

 

30th September 1901

As the rise of cars continued to cause chaos, authorities in France determined to restore some order to the highways. As railways came to dominate Europe in the 19th Century, roadways often want ignored and unexpanded- it was not until the rise of mass, popular bicycling that new road surfaces were even considered. Cars, which were slow (the first British driver to be caught speeding was arrested by a bobby who caught up with the offender- on his bicycle), unreliable, and noisy, did not ingratiate themselves to existing road users- most of whom used horses. Streets which were already overcrowded by tens of thousands of people and horses, filthy (New York suffered from over 2.5 MILLION pounds of horse manure PER DAY) poorly maintained and desperately unsafe were pushed into pandemonium by the rapid emergence of the motorcar. Bridget Driscoll was the first person killed by a car in 1896, while in the USA Henry Bliss was killed stepping off a tram on September 13th, 1899. 30th September, 1901 saw France introduce its first traffic regulations- a simple register of car owners- in an attempt to quell the chaos of motorcar accidents. Unfortunately (as we all know) it wasn’t enough, and 115 years of government bureaucracy followed.

 

(Dis) honourable mentions

30th September 1901:

An attempt was made to combine motorsport with bullfighting. The newest spectator sport and one that could trace its bloody roots to the Roman coliseum met in Bayonne, France, with predictably unsuccessful results. The 12volt electric car used hit one of the bulls, much to the irritation of the crowd. The two sports continue to this day- as entirely separate events.

 

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