This Week in Automotive History: January 28-February 3

Welcome to “This Week in Automotive History,” where we take a look back at significant moments in the auto industry from our past. Why the whole week in one post? Because we’re not a damn “Word a Day” desk calendar. You want a word for today? “Donnybrook” There, look it up. Anyways, on with the history… 

Monday, January 28

2009-Country singer John Rich releases a song called Shuttin’ Detroit Down.  When it debuted, Detroit was experiencing one of its roughest years. Both Chrysler and GM filed for bankruptcy, but received a massive stimulus payment from the government to keep it afloat. The song particularly resonated with Detroit autoworkers, who were losing their jobs in droves. It debuted at number 34 on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart and topped at 12.  A music video was also produced and has aired on various country TV channels.

Tuesday, January 29

1843-President William McKinley, who holds the distinction of being the first President to ride in a motorcar, is born in Niles, Ohio. The car that had the honor of first carrying a president was a Stanley Steamer. Powered by a 12 hp steam engine, the Stanley Steamer was radically different from gasoline-powered cars, lacking even a clutch or transmission. The car enjoyed some success in the early 20th century, however, they quickly became obsolete with the emergence of internal combustion engines. The Stanley Steamer company was dissolved in 1924 and its assets were sold at auction.

Wednesday, January 30

1920-Japanese businessman Jujiro Matsuda creates Toyo Cork Koygo, a cork manufacturing business.  A decade later, they switch to producing automobiles, and eventually they would be renamed Mazda.  Their first vehicle is the Mazda-Go, which was introduced in 1931.  It featured a 3-wheeled setup, a 1 cylinder air cooled engine, and a small flatbed.  The Mazda-Go resembled a motorized rickshaw more than anything else, but it started the Japanese trend of producing small, fuel-efficient microcars.

During World War II, Mazda’s factories in Hiroshima were decimated by the atomic bomb. However, after the war, Mazda quickly recovered, producing a line of 1 ton trucks that were popular in the 1950s.  In 1960, Mazda released their first passenger car, known as the R360. In 1970, Mazda officially entered the United States car market, and in 1979 they undertake a partnership with Ford, which lasts until 2008.  Today, Mazda enjoys sales of over 900,000 vehicles a year, and their iconic MX-5 Miata holds the title of the world’s best-selling two seater sportscar.

Thursday, January 31

2007-Cars.com releases their Top 10 Movie Cars list.  Top of the list is the KITT Pontiac Trans Am, made famous by the 1980s TV show Knight Rider.  Featuring David Hasselhoff and a 1982 Pontiac Trans Am, the show followed their crime-fighting adventures.  The show ran from 1982 to 1986, with a final total of 84 episodes, some of them two hours long.  The show was a primary reason for the Pontiac Trans Am’s wild success in the 1980s.

Second on the list is the iconic 1969 Dodge Charger “General Lee”, featured on Dukes of Hazzard.  Third is the Mystery Machine of Scooby Doo fame.  Other notable entries include the 1955 Batmobile, the 1983 GMC G-series van featured in the A-Team, and the 2005 Maserati Quattroporte from The Sopranos.

Friday, February 1

2004-Little noticed amid the uproar of the Janet Jackson “wardrobe malfunction” incident, Ford releases a Super Bowl commercial for their new GT supercar.  The car was a direct homage to the 1960s GT40, which won 24 Hours of Lemans a stunning four times in a row, from 1966 to 1969. The new mid-engined GT featured a 5.4L supercharged V8, backed by a Ricardo 6 spd. Power output was 550 hp, and the car was capable of hitting a top speed of 211 mph. The Ford GT was sold on a limited basis from 2005 to 2006, with a grand total of 4,038 being sold.  In 2006 Ford shuttered the Wixom, Michigan GT plant despite widespread criticism from enthusiasts.

Saturday, February 2

1991-Legendary endurance driver Hurley Haywood collects his record fifth 24 Hours of LeMans victory.  His first Lemans victory was in 1973, at the wheel of a Porsche Carrera RSR.  He also won the 1975 and 1977 contests as well.  His fourth LeMans championship came in 1979 with teammates Ted Field and Danny Ogais.

In 2008, Haywood retired with more endurance wins (10) than any other driver.  He also holds the distinction of being the first driver to win 24 Hours of Daytona and 24 Hours of LeMans in the same year (1977).  He is currently the chief driving instructor at the Porsche Sport Driving School outside Birmingham, Alabama.

Sunday, February 3

2006-The World’s Fastest Indian debuts in the US. Starring Anthony Hopkins, the movie is based on the real-life story of Burt Munro. Munro was a New Zealand native who started racing motorcycles as a teenager. He set numerous motorcycle speed records throughout the 1940s and 1950s with his handbuilt Indian and Velocette bikes.  However, he had long set his sights on the Bonneville Salt Flats, which were very popular with drag racers.  In 1962, Burt Munro made the trip to Utah with the goal of setting the world motorcycle speed record.  Later that same year, he conquered the record on one of his custom bikes, hitting 178.97 mph.  A few years later, he set yet another record in the sub-1000cc motorcycle class, hitting 183.586 mph in his 1920 Scout. Munro passed away in 1978, his exploits known only to a few groups of motorcycle enthusiasts.  However, upon the movie’s release, his legacy grew overnight and he became a cult hero in his native New Zealand.

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