62 Years Ago

Opening on Nov. 4, 1939, the National Automotive Show in Chicago brought the American public the first look at a revolutionary, if expensive, automotive accessory when Packard Motor Car Co. displayed the first production car with an evaporative interior cooling system — air conditioning. The concept of providing cool air to vehicle occupants dated to the late 1880s when a block of ice was housed below the floor of a carriage and an axle-mounted mechanical fan passed air over the ice and up into the carriage. Packard's '40 models used an engine-mounted compressor and a trunk-mounted evaporator with cool air ducted through vents in the rear package shelf. The driver could control the temperature of the air as well as the fan speed. However, the compressor ran continuously when the engine was running.

Although Packard took full advantage of its innovation with ads proclaiming, “Forget the heat this summer in the only air conditioned car in the world,” very few of the expensive units were actually sold in the '40 model year. The following year, Cadillac also offered optional factory-installed “air” on its '41 models, but again the system was bulky and expensive; Cadillac installed the system in only about 300 cars. Use of the system slowly spread, with some 36,000 air-conditioned cars in operation in the mid-1950s. Ironically, Studebaker's '56 models were the last American cars to introduce factory-installed air, just as it was about to merge with Packard to form the ill-fated Studebaker-Packard Corp. in 1956.

56 Years Ago

Having fallen into disrepair during the four years it sat idle while WWII raged, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway might have fallen to the wrecking ball except for its Nov. 14, 1945, purchase for $750,000 by Tony Hulman, who became chairman and named Wilbur Shaw as president. Prior to the purchase, owner Edward Rickenbacker was considering tearing down the aging wooden grandstands, digging up the track and selling off the land. Following the sale, the track was repaired and resurfaced in time for the resumption of the annual 500-mile race in May 1946. The near-death experience for the track wasn't the first. Prior to the first Indianapolis 500 in 1911, the track suffered two unprofitable years and was in need of renovation. The four original investors, Oscar Fisher, A.C. Newby, James A. Allison and Frank A. Wheeler, replaced the original crushed-stone surface with brick paving and hit upon the idea of an annual 500-mile race as a means of promoting Indianapolis into the title of “Automotive Capitol.” The distance of 500 miles was chosen to allow enough time for spectators to arrive, view the race and return home before dark.

44 Years Ago

Under the direction of the communist government of the German Democratic Republic (East Germany), the one-time maker of Audi and Horscht cars in Zwickau began cranking out its plastic body Trabant Sputnik cars on Nov. 7, 1957. The cars would remain in production with few important changes until the fall of the East German government and reunification of Germany in the late 1980s. The unit-body car was built on a steel inner structure with attached outer panels made of “Duraplast,” a cotton-reinforced resin plastic formed with presses rather than molds. An 18-hp, 500-cc, 2-stroke, 2-cyl. engine featuring only five moving parts powered most Trabants, but in the car's last few years of production it could be had with an optional 1.1L 4-cyl. engine based on a design licensed from Volkswagen AG.

TRAVEL PLANNER

Nov. 13-14

  • 42 Volt Design Seminar, Munich, Germany Nov. 15-17

  • 45th Stapp Car Crash Conf., Marriott Riverwalk Hotel, San Antonio, TX