91 Years Ago

Ray Harroun, a Marmon engineer, wins the first Indianapolis 500 race on May 30, 1911. Driving a specially prepared factory-backed Marmon Wasp, Harroun, who started 21st in a field of 40 cars, averaged 74.6 mph (119.4 km/h) to take first place, despite a protest from another driver who claimed race officials hadn't credited him with one lap. His win netted the $14,250 purse, the richest in the world at the time. As per the custom of the day, all cars except Harroun's carried riding mechanics who, among other things, helped the driver keep track of other vehicles during the race. Unable to find a mechanic to ride with him, Harroun installed a mirror on his car so he could view what was happening behind him and be alert to any cars overtaking him. Automotive historians credit this as the first use of a rear view mirror on an automobile.

When the 2.5-mile (4 km) track at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway opened in spring 1909 the four partners envisioned it as a test track and proving ground that would occasionally hold automobile and motorcycle races. After the original surface of crushed rock in tar proved unsuitable for racing, the track was repaved in August of that year with some 3.2 million bricks. When several subsequent races in 1910 failed to attract the hoped-for crowd, it was decided to hold a single 500-mile racing event every year. The annual event has been held every year except during WWI (1917-1918) and WWII (1942-1945). By 1936 the most worn parts of the brick track had been covered with asphalt paving. As the bricks continued to wear, asphalt gradually covered more and more of the track until by 1941 only the main straight was still brick. Except for those at the start/finish line, the remainder of the brick surface was covered over in 1961.

33 Years Ago

May 9, 1969, brings an announcement from General Motors Corp. that it is ending production of the rear-engine Chevrolet Corvair, Edward N. Cole's engineering “tour de force” introduced with much fanfare 10 years earlier. Although bad publicity, including the book Unsafe at Any Speed that launched Ralph Nader's career as a consumer activist, surrounding the handling of first-generation ('60-'64) models was generally blamed for the car's rapid demise, high manufacturing costs and quality problems prevented it from achieving its planned sales volumes.

And while hundreds of lawsuits were filed against GM over the car's alleged handling defects, the corporation never lost a case, but it did settle some out of court. Eventually the car was cleared by a National Highway Traffic Safety Admin. study that concluded the Corvair's propensity to roll over was no greater than other cars of its size and weight. Nails in the Corvair's coffin included the 1962 introduction of the conventionally engineered and less costly to manufacture Chevy II compact and the 1966 intro of the sporty Camaro into which Chevy could stuff a high-horsepower V-8.

Other Dates in History

May 20, 1899 — A New York City taxi driver became the first driver arrested for speeding when he was stopped in Man-hattan for traveling 12 mph (19 km/h).

May 21, 1901 — Connecticut becomes the first state to enact speed limits (although some localities had already done so): 12 mph on rural roads and 8 mph (13 km/h) within city limits.

May 8, 1933 — The first 2-way police radio system was in-stalled in the two patrol cars belonging to Easchester Twp., NY.


May 6-8

  • Automotive Finishing 2002 Conference & Exhibition, Novi, MI.

May 14-16

  • The Auto Interiors Show, Cobo Center, Detroit.