Today in History: The World’s First Auto Race in 1895

Today in History: The World’s First Auto Race in 1895

123 years ago today, Emile Levassor became the winner of arguably the world’s first official automobile race from Paris to Bordeaux and back. After 732-miles, Levassor crossed the finish line in Paris in his Panhard et Levassor car in just under 49 hours with an average speed of 15 miles per hour – an impressive achievement at the time. Other motor events had taken place prior to 1895 but they were not considered “official races” but “motoring exhibitions” that included limited competitions. Panhard et Levassor became a major force in the developing French auto industry. The success of the Paris-Bordeau-Paris race prompted the creation of the Automobile Club de France. The organization promoted future motor sports events that would eventually grow into the Grand Prix motor racing and Formula One.

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Today in History: First Porsche in 1948

Today in History: First Porsche in 1948

70 year ago today, a hand-built aluminum prototype labeled “No. 1″ becomes the first vehicle to bear the name of one of the world’s leading luxury car manufacturers: Porsche. The Austrian automotive engineer Ferdinand Porsche debuted his first design at the World’s Fair in Paris in 1900. The electric vehicle set several Austrian land-speed records, reaching more than 35 mph and earning international acclaim for the young engineer. He became general director of the Austro-Daimler Company (an outpost of the German automaker) in 1916 and later moved to Daimler headquarters in Stuttgart. Daimler merged with the Benz firm in the 1920s, and Porsche was chiefly responsible for designing some of the great Mercedes racing cars of that decade.

Porsche left Daimler in 1931 and formed his own company. A few years later, Adolf Hitler called on the engineer to aid in the production of a small “people’s car” for the German masses. With his son, also named Ferdinand (known as Ferry), Porsche designed the prototype for the original Volkswagen (known as the KdF: “Kraft durch Freude,” or “strength through joy”) in 1936. During World War II, the Porsches also designed military vehicles, most notably the powerful Tiger tank.

At war’s end, the French accused the elder Porsche of war crimes and imprisoned him for more than a year. Ferry struggled to keep the family firm afloat. He built a Grand Prix race car, the Type 360 Cisitalia, for a wealthy Italian industrialist, and used the money to pay his father’s bail. When Porsche was released from prison, he approved of another project Ferry had undertaken: a new sports car that would be the first to actually bear the name Porsche. Dubbed the Type 356, the new car was in the tradition of earlier Porsche-designed race cars such as the Cisitalia. The engine was placed mid-chassis, ahead of the transaxle, with modified Volkswagen drive train components.

The 356 went into production during the winter of 1947-48, and the aluminum prototype, built entirely by hand, was completed on June 8, 1948. The Germans subsequently hired Porsche to consult on further development of the Volkswagen. With the proceeds, Porsche opened new offices in Stuttgart, with plans to build up to 500 of his company’s own cars per year. Over the next two decades, the company would build more than 78,000 vehicles. Source: history.com.

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Today in History: Volkswagen is founded in 1937

Today in History: Volkswagen is founded in 1937
81 years ago today, the German automobile manufacturer Volkswagen was established. The idea for a small, affordable family car was introduced years earlier by engineer, Ferdinand Porsche, who wanted to create an automobile that was easy to build and inexpensive to buy. In 1933, Adolf Hitler got involved and contracted Porsche to design and build the Volkswagen (“People’s Car”) that could fit 2 adults and 3 children, drive 100 km/h (62 mph) and would cost no more than 1,000 Reichsmark (approx. $396). Hitler quickly funded the building of a brand-new Volkswagen factory to create Ferdinand Porsche’s design. Construction began on May 26, 1937. Volkswagen was founded two days later on May 28.

The People’s Car was to be made available to all German citizens through a state sponsored savings plan at a price of 990 Reichsmark (comparable to the price of a small motorcycle at the time). The car was initially called a KdF-Wagen (Kraft durch Freude / Strength through Joy). But by the time the first cars had been produced – the KdF-Wagen was displayed for the first time at the Berlin Motor Show in 1939 – World War II started. All production was halted and re-focused on military vehicles. No cars were ever delivered through the savings plan. One early Type 1 convertible model was given to Hitler on his 50th birthday.

At the end of the war, with the factory plant in ruins, the Allies used Volkswagen to help revive the German auto industry and thus the success story of the VW Beetle began. In 1950, the “beetle”-shaped car sold for approx. 4000 Deutsche Mark (approx. $2000). In 1955, VW had produced its one millionth car. In 1972, the Beetle broke the long-standing worldwide production record of Ford’s legendary Model T with 15 million vehicles. By 2003, when the last original Beetle rolled off the production lines in Puebla, Mexico, almost 22 million Beetles had been sold in over 150 countries – a true world record.

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Today in History: Mercedes-Benz founded in 1924

Today in History: Mercedes-Benz founded in 1924

Gottlieb Daimler and Karl Benz merged their two companies 94 years ago on this day and created one of the greatest automobile companies in the world. It started with two different ideas for two different cars by two different men: both Daimler and Benz manufactured their own cars for some 30 years until the merger that was largely created out of economic sense. Benz & Co. formed in 1883 and its first motor car rode through the streets of Mannheim in July 1886. Daimler who had been working on his own motor carriage founded the Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft in 1890 and marketed the first Mercedes in 1901. Both companies did well until shortly after World War I when the global economic climate of the early 1920s forced the two companies to form an alliance. In 1924, Daimler and Benz began marketing their products jointly while still working under separate trademarks. In June 1926, the two oldest motor manufacturers merged to form Daimler-Benz AG.

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Today in History: Carl Benz gets patent for gasoline car in 1886

Today in History: Carl Benz gets patent for gasoline car in 1886

132 years ago today, German engineer Carl Friedrich Benz received the first patent for a gasoline-powered vehicle. Benz had begun to work on the two-stroke (or two-cycle) engine in 1878. Benz & Co. formed in 1883 and its first motor car rode through the streets of Mannheim, Germany in July of 1886.

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Today in History: Last German VW Beetle produced in 1978

Today in History: Last German VW Beetle produced in 1978

40 years ago today marked the end of the German production of the Beetle: On January 19, 1978 the last model of the legendary car rolled off the assembly lines at the Volkswagen plant in Emden, Germany. Here is a link to a short blog about the VW Beetle: http://wp.me/p6cafs-N

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Today in History: First Mercedes Test Drive in 1900

Today in History: First Mercedes Test Drive in 1900

117 years ago today, the first Mercedes was taken for its maiden drive in Cannstatt, Germany. The car was specially built for its buyer, Emil Jellinek, an entrepreneur with a passion for luxury cars. Jellinek had ordered cars from Daimler in the late 1890s and sold them to high society customers. But he also used them in racing events, entering them using the pseudonym “Mercedes,” the name of his elder daughter. In 1900, Jellinek entered an agreement with Daimler to sell a new line of 4-cylinder automobiles suggesting they be called Mercedes. The first Mercedes was test driven on November 22 and delivered in December of 1900. Two years later, the Mercedes brand name registered legally.

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