Tag Archive | "automotive history"

Automotive Facts You Probably Don’t Know


If you love cars then you probably know a fair bit about them, one way or another. Even so, the car had been with us for well over a century now and there are many facts associated with it that have disappeared into the mists of time. A mystery history, you might say.

Did you know, for example, that the first car accident occurred in 1769. Now, I know what you’re thinking and you would be right, because it was not a car as we know it but it very much was an auto-mobile.

A Frenchman, one Nicolas-Joseph Cugnot by name, was an inventor and he is known (although it is disputed) to have built the first working self-propelled mechanical vehicle – the world’s first automobile in fact. He took a big cart called a fardier and successfully built and fitted a device that converted the reciprocating motion of a steam piston into rotary motion by means of a ratchet arrangement. A small version of his three-wheeled ‘steam dray’ ran in 1769. The second one crashed into the wall of the Paris Arsenal. It is not known if he got a ticket. Amazingly, that cart still exists in a Paris museum.

The facts keep on coming: There’s nothing new about hybrid cars; Porsche built one in 1902. It was called, cunningly, the ‘Mixte’. Do you see what they did there? Also, and unbelievably when you consider how long CDs have been with us, the last car to come with a cassette player was the Ford Crown Victoria in the USA, which offered the option up until 2011. You can buy this as a used car now. Still time to dig out those old Carpenters’ tapes!

And – to paraphrase a famous actor – not a lot of people know that the world’s first speeding ticket was issued in 1902. Presumably the issuer wrote it out whilst walking alongside the offending motor. Additionally, there is no point in blaming foreigners when you get stuck on a red light because the first traffic lights were launched in 1927 in Wolverhampton, so we‘ve only got ourselves to blame.

The Chinese have invented a solution to traffic jams. If you contact the right people they will send along a motorbike to take you to your destination whilst the arriving pillion passenger gets in your car and waits it out until he can ferry the motor to your destination. Now that’s enterprise.

There is reckon to be around a billion cars on the planet now so it’s just as well that the car is the most recycled product on earth.

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Automotive Pioneers


It has recently been announced that the famous explorer and all-round Great Brit, Sir Ranulph Fiennes, is off to cross the inhospitable terrain of Antarctica – during that continent’s winter! The question that is always asked is “Why?” and of course the only answer that makes sense is “because somebody has to”. That is the purpose of discovery and there will always be people willing to take that chance.

This is why over the last century or so certain special individuals have toiled in cramped corners to produce and refine the motor car. Whilst the only things that most of humanity has made in their lives are excuses, these singular people have had the brainwaves, knowledge and foresight to do something new and daring and some of them have been significant in developing the automotive industry and culture around the world.

Arguably, there are around 200 influential people who have made a major impact on the car industry, most of whom you haven’t heard of but whose names live on engraved on plaques or on car badges around the world.

We’ve had our fair share in the UK. A name that springs to mind is Sir Alex Issigonis. He designed the original Mini and we have a lot to thank him for. It isn’t just because the Mini is possibly the most iconic motor ever but because it was the first mass-produced car to feature a transverse engine, resulting in the front wheel drive that helped to give the tiny car room to seat four. These days most motors have front wheel drive, thus enabling designers to build capacious small cars.

Meanwhile a young man called Colin Chapman, a design engineer, inventor and builder in the motor industry was working part-time with a group of enthusiasts to establish Lotus Cars. After some earlier attempts the company produced a small roadster called the Lotus 7 and the rest, as they say, is history. You can see the descendents of this great sports car in what is now known as the Caterham 7.

Baron Austin of Longbridge, Herbert to his friends, was the obvious founder of the eponymous car company which he originally started with Frederick Wolseley and that produced cars for decades, including the Mini. We’ll never know what the Baron would think of what became of his life’s work.

But the popularity of cars isn’t all down to oily engineering types; there were also pioneers in other ways. So let’s hear it for Dorothy Elizabeth Levitt (pictured) – an advocate of female independence and motoring, and a motor racer who once held the women’s land speed record. She wrote a book called charmingly, ‘The Woman and the Car: A chatty little handbook for all women who motor or who want to motor’. In this she suggested that ladies keep a small, portable mirror in a handy space and use it occasionally to look behind them when driving. In short, she was advocating the rear-view mirror two years before it was first seen on a production car! What a girl.

So give thanks to the automotive pioneers. Without them we wouldn’t have the technologically advanced vehicles we have today. It’s just unfortunate that another breed of person entirely thought up all the rules.

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