This Week in Automotive History: February 11-February 17
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 11 1937-GM President Alfred Sloan signs the automotive industry’s first labor agreement with the fledgling UAW. The strike began on December 30 as workers barricaded themselves inside GM’s Fisher body plant in Cleveland. After a six week standoff that saw a riot on January 11, President Franklin Roosevelt stepped in and began negotiations between the UAW and General Motors. Among the concessions GM granted were bargaining rights, improved working conditions and better wages. Tuesday, February 12 2008-In the face of a record $43.3 billion loss for the 2007 fiscal year, GM offers buyouts to all 74,000 of their UAW-represented workers. There were a range of options, including a $140,000 lump payment in exchange for giving up health and pension benefits. General Motors hoped this move would cut the bloated union payroll and allow them to bring in non-union workers at less than half the cost. 19,000 UAW workers ultimitaley ended up taking the payout. Unfortunately, GM’s troubles were not over. After receiving a $34.4 billion loan from the Treasury in December of 2008, GM was informed they would be unable to recieve additional federal funding unless radical restructuring plans were implemented. Chief among these plans was the ousting of CEO Rick Wagoner, who had held the top spot since 2000. Despite these moves, GM was forced to file for bankruptcy June 1. After a short stint in automotive purgatory, the new GM emerged July 10. Wednesday, February 13 2008-A California judge rules that actor Mel Gibson has successfully completed the terms of his no-contest plea bargain. The star of the Lethal Weapon movies had been arrested in July of 2006 when a bottle of tequila was found in his Lexus LS 430 during a routine traffic stop. He also failed a breathalyzer test, placing well above California’s legal driving limit. The incident was made worse when Gibson made a series of anti-Semitic remarks to the Jewish officer, which later became public. Gibson’s attourney pleaded no contest to one charge of driving above the legal limit of .08 percent. The actor later publicly apologized for his actions and claimed the slurs came about as the result of a temporary fit of insanity. The judge in his case sentenced Mel Gibson to 3 years’ probation, 4 ½ months of Alcholics Anymomous meetings and the revocation of his driver’s license for 90 days. Thursday, February 14 1867-Toyota’s patriarch, Sakichi Toyoda, is born in Shizuoka , Japah. His mother was a weaver, and through her influence, Toyoda created an automated weaving machine. He created a company and over the years invented a varity of power looms, revolutionizing Japan’s textile industry. In the late 1920s, Toyoda’s son, Kiichiro began making cars with the blessing of his father. Sakichi Toyoda passed away in 1930, leaving control of his industrial empire to Kiichiro. Toyota Motor Corporation was officially founded in 1933 as a division within Toyoda Loom Works. Kiichiro Toyoda died in 1952 at the relatively young age of 57. However, Toyota continued to grow after his death, and in 2008 they passed General Motors as the world’s number 1 automaker. Friday, February 15 1998-Legendary Nascar driver Dale Earnhardt Sr wins his first Daytona 500. “The Intimidator” as he was known, had tried for 20 years to win the coveted trophy. Just a year earlier his shot at the Daytona 500 trophy fell short when his car flipped on the backway. After the victory, pit crews from the other teams gathered to cheer on Earnhardt, which was a rare occurrence in Nascar’s deeply divisive rivalries. This would be his only win at Daytona, despite having 76 career victories and 7 Winston Cup championships. Tragically, Dale Earnhardt Sr would be killed in the 2001 Daytona 500 after his car slammed into the backwall going 190 mph. He was taken to the hospital where he later died of severe head injuries. See a replay of the crash here. Saturday, February 16 1997-Just a year before Dale Earnhardt won his first Daytona trophy, 25 yr old Jeff Gordon becomes the youngest Nascar driver to win the storied race. This race was also a field day for Gordon’s team, Hendrick Motorsports as their other two drivers, Terry Labonte and Ricky Craven finished second and third. Jeff Gordon had begun his Nascar career with a bang in 1993, collecting Rookie of the Year honors. He went on to dominate Nascar in the 1990s, winning the Winston Cup in 1995, 1997, and 1998. His last championship was in 2005, but Gordon is still a competitive driver, finishing tenth in 2012. Sunday, February 17 1972-On this day the Volkswagen Beetle officially becomes the world’s best selling car, eclipsing the Ford Model T. It was car #15,007,034 that broke the record. The Volkswagen Beetle’s origins date back to the 1930s, when Chancellor Adolf Hitler requested that Volkswagen start work on a “people’s car”. It was to be easy to afford and cheap to run. Construction began on a factory in 1938 but plans were put on hold when World War II broke out. Postwar Volkswagen decided the Beetle was an excellent car for war-torn Germany. Soon after the car came to the United States in the 1950s. The Volkswagen received a lukewarm response, partly due to the negative association with the former Nazi regime. However, after a brilliant advertising campaign that set the benchmark for the automotive industry, the Beetle began selling in droves. The last Beetle didn’t roll off the assembly line until 2003. After a mind-boggling 60 year run, the original Volkswagen Beetle racked up a grand total of 21 million cars sold.