97 Years Ago

America's first international auto racing event took place on Oct. 8, 1904, with the inaugural Vanderbilt Cup race in Hicksville, on New York's Long Island — an event that ran annually (except 1907 and 1914) through 1916. Named after its chief organizer, William K. Vanderbilt Jr., the 1904 race lured European entries from Mercedes, Panhard, Renault, Fiat and others. Among the American entries were Packard, Simplex and Pope-Toledo. The 300-mile (483-km) race was won by Frenchman George Heath driving a Panhard. (The first American to win the race was George Robertson, who drove a Locomobile to victory on Oct. 24, 1908.)

The race course was laid out over public roads and a lengthy list of regulations was issued for drivers, judges and course workers. Instructions for the “Special Officers at Highway Crossings” included admonitions to “Allow no vehicle to cross or enter upon the course; Allow no children, dogs, fowls or animals to cross or enter upon the course and caution all adults that crossing or entering upon the course is dangerous.” Drivers were told to “Keep right when being overtaken; Keep left when overtaking and give due warning of your approach by horn or trumpet.”

61 Years Ago

The original 160-mile (257-km) stretch of the Pennsylvania Turnpike, the first U.S. superhighway, opened on Oct. 1, 1940, less than two years after its Oct. 27, 1938, groundbreaking. The highway was based on a half-completed rail route abandoned in 1885 when a railroad company formed by William Vanderbilt and Andrew Carnegie went broke. Included in the original turnpike were seven tunnels through the Allegheny Mountains, constructed in whole or in part by the old railroad company.

The turnpike's design, a four-lane concrete divided highway (except at tunnels, where it narrowed to two lanes), was patterned on the high-speed autobahns then being constructed across Germany. Straight sections of the road were engineered for speeds of 100 mph (161 km/h), while elevated curves were designed for 70-mph speeds, and no speed limit was imposed until April 1941, when a 70-mph (113 km/h) limit was enacted for cars, with lower speeds for trucks. Some 1,100 engineers and 15,000 workers were needed to complete the $76 million project. The first U.S. highway free of intersecting roads, stoplights and rail crossings, it cut travel time between Harrisburg and Pittsburgh by more than three hours. Although planners envisioned usage at 1.3 million vehicles a year, traffic soon reached an annual rate of 2.4 million cars. Indeed, on Sunday, Oct. 6, just five days after opening, 27,000 curious drivers crowded onto the turnpike, causing massive traffic jams at tollbooths.

19 Years Ago

On Oct. 19, 1982, automotive glamour executive John Z. Delorean makes news again — this time for his arrest on federal drug trafficking charges. An FBI “sting” operation caught the head of the financially troubled Delorean Motor Co. on film arranging a $24 million cocaine deal that he hoped would generate enough profit to save his company. Although a jury later acquitted him, saying the FBI had used an illegal entrapment scheme, it was too late to save DMC.

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