The Week of January 21-27 in Automotive History

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 21

2009-Toyota officially becomes the world’s largest automaker, defeating General Motors by producing 8.97 million vehicles that year, versus 8.36 million GM cars.

Tuesday, January 22

2009-Gran Torino debuts in Australia and New Zealand.  This blockbuster hit starred Clint Eastwood as a grizzled Korean War vet named Stanley Kowalski who lives in a crumbling neighborhood in Detroit.  In the garage sits a 1972 Ford Gran Torino, a remnant of the muscle car era.  Faced with an influx of Hmong immigrants, Kowalski is initially hostile, particularly after a Hmong teenager attempts to steal the Gran Torino, however he soon warms to his new neighbors. Read on for the rest of This Week in History.

Wednesday, January 23

2006-the documentary Who Killed the Electric Car? is released.  It explores the stillborn efforts of automakers in the 1990s to produce a viable electric car.  It particularly laments the demise of GM’s EV-1 project, which was terminated in 1999.  It was widely acclaimed by environmental activists and spawned a sequel called Revenge of the Electric Cars which was released 5 years later.

Thursday, January 24

1871-Albert Russell Erskine is born in Huntsville Alabama.  After brief stints at American Cotton and Underwood Typewriter, Erskine became president of Studebaker in 1915.  Under his direction, Studebaker became a competitive American automaker, buying the Pierce-Arrow brand and expanding the lineup to include affordable cars such as the little known Rockne lineup, named after football star Knute Rockne.  However, Studebaker did not fare well in the Great Depression.  Accused of financial mismanagement and plagued by personal debt and health problems, Albert Erskine committed suicide on July 1, 1933.

Friday, January 25

2003-Legendary Italian mogul Giovanni Agnelli passes away in Turin, Italy at the age of 81.  He bore the namesake of his grandfather, also named Giovanni Agnelli, who founded Fiat in 1899.  The younger Giovanni Agnelli enjoyed the playboy lifestyle, indulging in fast cars, yachts and Hollywood starlets.  He spent a few years in Detroit in the late 1930s, learning the car business from the Ford family.  In 1966, he was given control of Fiat.  Under his direction, Fiat became one of Europe’s premier car manufacturers.  Agnelli added several other marques to the Fiat holdings, most notable Ferrari, Alfa Romeo and Lancia.  In addition, the magnate also directed Fiat’s entry into other industrial areas such as construction and finance.  It is estimated that at the height of his power, Giovanni Agnelli controlled 25% of the companies being traded on the Milan Stock Exchange.  In 1996, Agnelli resigned as head of Fiat.

Saturday, January 26

1979-The show Dukes of Hazzard premiers on CBS.  Featuring the legendary 1969 Dodge Charger known as “General Lee”, the show wowed viewers with dramatic car chases and thrilling stunts.  It depicted two cousins who outwitted the corrupt, incompetent local police force on a regular basis.  Set in the rural South, the show exhibited many of the popular trends in 1970s cars, such as CB radios and golden eagle emblems.  The last episode aired in 1985, although numerous TV specials were produced throughout the years.  In 2005, a Dukes of Hazzard movie starring Johnny Knoxville, William Scott, and Jessica Simpson debuted to mostly negative reviews and was universally panned by critics.

Sunday, January 27

1965-Famed racer Carroll Shelby released the Shelby GT 350, his version of the iconic Ford Mustang.  Featuring a hopped-up 306-hp version of the stock Mustang’s 289 cubic inch mill, the GT 350 was capable of giving the archrival Corvette a run for its money.  Ford shipped partially finished stock Mustangs to the Shelby garage in Venice, California, where they were transformed into Shelby GT 350s.  The GT 350 found its way onto the racetrack soon after it was released, conquering the SCCA-B title for 3 years in a row.  Production of the Shelby GTs ended in 1970.  After a 30 year hiatus, a new Shelby Mustang debuted in 2006.

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