This Week in Automotive History: February 4-February 10

Welcome to “This Week in Automotive History,” where we take a look back at significant moments in the auto industry from our past. Why the whole week in one post? Because we’re not a damn “Word a Day” desk calendar. You want a word for today? “Donnybrook” There, look it up. Anyways, on with the history…  Monday, February 4 1922-Ford officially purchases Lincoln for $8 million. The car company had been founded only 5 years before by Henry Leland, one of the founding fathers of Cadillac. Prior to the Ford takeover, Lincoln had struggled to gain traction in the industry, producing only 150 L-Series cars in 1922.  Henry Ford’s son Edsel was given control of Lincoln upon its purchase. Under Edsel’s direction, the company took a turn for the better. The revolutionary Zephyr was introduced in 1936, putting Lincoln on the luxury car map. Lincoln also gained fame as the maker of presidential limousines, starting in 1939 with the “Sunshine Special” V12 convertible made for President Franklin Roosevelt. In 2010, Ford CEO Alan Mulally made the decision to dissolve Mercury and expand the Lincoln lineup.  In addition, they would focus on creating unique Lincoln models with styling that would set them further apart from their Ford siblings. Tuesday, February 5 1878- Andre Citroen, known as the “Henry Ford of France”, is born in Paris. After founding a gear-manufacturing company, Citroen began building cars after World War I at his Javel works. He became the first European auto company to utilize the Henry Ford manufacturing model.  By 1920, his plant was churning out over 100 cars per day. Citroen was also known for selling complete cars straight from the factory.  Previously, the norm was to send unfinished chassis to coachbuilders, who would then install bodies. In 1934, Andre Citroen lost control of his car company due to massive debt.  Citroen’s largest creditor, Michelin Tire, took over and Pierre Michelin became head of the French automaker. Michelin eventually decided to focus solely on tire production, and Citroen was sold to Peugeot in 1973. Today, the combined Peugeot/Citroen partnership is France’s largest automaker and one of the key players in the European automotive industry. Wednesday, February 6 2009-The Honda Insight debuts in Japan. Carrying a base price of just under $20,000, the new Insight quickly racked up 18,000 orders in the first 3 days. Conceived as a direct competitor to the Toyota Prius, the new Insight boasted many of the features that made buyers fall in love with the Prius, including a roomy 5 door hatchback configuration. The Insight was priced much lower than an equivalent Prius, and as a result immediately began eating into its sales. The Insight made its US debut a few months later, selling 20,000 units total in 2009. Thursday, February 7 1938-Harvey Samuel Firestone, founder of the tire company that bears his name, passes away at the age of 69 in Miami Beach, Florida. Born on an Ohio farm in 1868, Firestone was initially a buggy salesman. In 1895, Harvey Firestone sold a set of rubber carriage tires to a young Henry Ford, who was working on one of his prototypes at the time. That encounter led to a long and profitable business relationship. In 1900, the Firestone Tire & Rubber Company was incorporated in Akron, Ohio. Soon afterwards, Firestone became the official supplier for Henry Ford’s Model T factories.  By 1910, the Firestone corporation was enjoying profits of over $1 million a year. Harvey Firestone retired as CEO in 1932, and in 1988 Firestone was bought out by the Japanese company Bridgestone Tire. Friday, February 8 1985-Sir William Lyons, founder of Jaguar, passes away at the age of 84 in Warwickshire, England. In 1922, he co-founded the Swallow Sidecar company with his neighbor William Walmsley. They started out producing motorcycle sidecars but eventually turned to motorcars. In 1935 their first car, the SS Jaguar 100, was unveiled. Following World War II, Jaguar dropped the “SS” from its name, due to the initials’ negative association with the German secret police. Their landmark XK 120 sports car bowed in 1948. Thirteen years later, Jaguar hit another home run with their provocatively styled E-Type. The car was so attractive that it became only the third car to earn a permanent exhibit at New York City’s Museum of Modern Art. Sir William Lyons was knighted in 1956 for his efforts in revolutionizing the British automotive industry. In 1972, he retired to his farm. Five years after his death, Ford bought Jaguar as part of a massive buying spree. After a few unproductive decades, Ford sold Jaguar to Tata Motors of India in 2008. Today Jaguar competes in the luxury car market with their midsize XF sedan and full-size XJ. An F-Type roadster was announced in 2012, and sales are expected to begin later this year. Saturday, February 9 1846-German automotive pioneer Wilhelm Maybach is born in Heilbronn, Germany. His mentor was the engineer Gottlieb Daimler, and together they successfully developed a high speed 4-stroke internal combustion engine. The pair affixed this engine to a bicycle to create the world’s first motorcycle. Later on, they created a motorcar by attaching the same motor to a carriage. In 1890, Daimler Motor Company was officially founded, with Wilhelm Maybach named chief designer. Five years later, Maybach finished work on the first Daimler automobile. Wilhelm Maybach left Daimler in 1907 and later went into the car business with his son. Their first car was the Maybach Type W3, which was unveiled at the Berlin Motor Show in 1921. Throughout the 1920s and 1930s, Maybach became known as a maker of high-end custom luxury cars. With the advent of World War II, Maybach manufactured engines for German medium and heavy tanks. After the war they never returned to producing cars, although they did still make engines. Mercedes-Benz purchased Maybach in 1960, and in 2002 the nameplate was revived. Like the Maybachs of old, the new ones were ultra-luxurious large sedans individually customized to clients’ specifications. Two sedan models were produced, the 62 and the 57. Starting at a little under $350,000, the cars came with a long list of standard features, as well as an infinite number of options. They did not compete well in the marketplace, due to their outdated underpinnings and relatively high price. Mercedes terminated the Maybach lineup in 2011 after only selling 3,000 units worldwide. Sunday, February 10 1966-Consumer activist Ralph Nader testifies in front of Congress for the first time regarding automobile safety. The author of Unsafe at Any Speed, the young lawyer accused car companies of sacrificing safety for style and power. He famously cited the example of the Chevrolet Corvair, a rear engined sedan that had a propensity for rollovers. Shortly after Nader’s congressional testimony, he accused GM of sending private investigators to pry into his private life. The allegations put Nader on the national stage and soon he was a household name. Later that year, Ralph Nader sued GM for harassment and invasion of privacy, and he won the lawsuit, sparking even more controversy. Nader’s activism led to the passage of the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act, which mandated certain safety features on all American automobiles.

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