This week in automotive history: Of primitive motorcycles, Nazis in Grand Prix and Sunmobiles

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The way we commute has been evolving ever since the invention of the wheel. With the introduction of the motorised vehicle somewhere at the turn of the last century, we picked up pace. In this weekly feature, we’ll be looking at some important landmarks in history that have shaped motoring culture across the world. Scroll down to know more about the world’s first gasoline powered bike, how Nazi Germany dominated the race circuits and the introduction of solar powered mobility.

August 29, 1885: The motorcycle is patented, and it’s here to stay

World's first motorcycle patented by Daimler
Source: www.wired.come
The first motorcycle, patented by Gottlieb Daimler at the Deutsches Zweirad- und NSU-Museum in Neckarsulm, Germany. Image by Joachim Köhler


Pioneer of the internal combustion engine and the modern automobile, Gottlieb Daimler patents the world’s first motorised two-wheeler. The wooden, single-seater is powered by a single-cylinder spark ignition engine. From its first mass produced versions at the turn of the century to the role it plays in the World War, the motorcycle takes a while to catch up as an ordinary method of commuting.

August 30, 1945: Civilian car production is resumed at Hudson Motor Company

1940s Hudson Super Six Coupe
The first Hudson to be manufactured after the Second World War is a Super Six Coupe in 1945. This one is a 1946 model


The war effort required every auto manufacturer in the US to cease car production to manufacture arms. Hudson commences production in 1945 with a pale green Super Six Coupe, powered by a sophisticated high-compression L-head motor.

August 31, 1955: A pocketful of sunshine serves as fuel

GM Sunmobile 15-inch Powerama
Source: Wikipedia
The 15-inch Sunmobile becomes the first solar-powered ‘car’ in the world


William G Cobb of the General Motors Corp demonstrates the working of a 15-inch miniature (somewhat closer to today’s 1:18 scale models) vehicle that runs on solar energy. The demonstration marks the beginning of  research on making photovoltaics (converting light to electricity) suitable for mobility. The chassis of the quaint looking Sunmobile houses the powertrain and is constructed with pine wood, while the wheels have been obtained from a hobby store. Solar power will go on to be a challenging alternative to gasoline, with electricity and hydrogen fuel applications making it to production cars earlier.

September 1, 1989: Toyota forays into the luxury car segment

Toyota Lexus launch 1989
Source: Wikipedia
The Lexus LS 400 launched in 1989


Only 60 designers, 24 engineering teams, 1,400 engineers, 2,300 technicians and 220 support workers are privy to the inner workings of Toyota’s super secret F1 project (F for “flagship”). The result is Toyota’s new luxury division, called Lexus. On this day, Toyota sells the first car bearing the Lexus badge.

September 2, 1959: Pre-millennium Falcon

Cars from 1960s Ford Falcon
A 1960s print ad for the Ford Falcon


Ford tries to break into the compact car market in the US by introducing the 95PS Falcon. The small sedan is the American manufacturer’s answer to the people’s cars from Renault, Fiat and Volkswagen. Ahead of its 1960 launch, Henry Ford II makes an appearance on a 21-city news broadcast to announce the production of the car, focusing on its efficiency of 10.6 kilometres to the litre – frugal for this period. It’s sold as “the small car with the big car feel.” The following year, the Falcon will be featured in an iconic commercial starring characters from the comic series Peanuts.

September 3, 1939: Yugoslavia hosts its first and only Grand Prix race

Yugoslavia GP race results
Note the incidence of Swastikas in the race results of the Yugoslavian GP


Held exactly two days before the Nazi invasion of Poland, the Yugoslavian Grand Prix race is sponsored by King Peter II and viewed by over one lakh citizens at the Kalemagdan Park in Belgrade. Italian racecar driver Tazio Nuvolari bags a victory and beats the Third Reich-backed Germans who’ve been dominating the race circuit (Note the incidence of the Swastikas in the race result above). Post-war communist authorities in Yugoslavia will go on to shove the event down the memory hole in order to erase any evidence that paints King Peter in favourable light. 

September 4, 1997: The end of a thunderous love affair 

Last Ford Thunderbird rolls off assembly line in Ohio 1997
Source: Wikipedia
Fans of the Thunderbird mourned the end of its 38-year long run in 1997


A Ford dealer in the US orders flowers and a ‘rest in peace’ plaque to mark the death of the Ford Thunderbird, as the last unit rolls off the assembly line in Lorain, Ohio. Pitched as a personal luxury car, the Thunderbird convertible has been serving as Ford’s answer to GM’s Corvette. Five years later, the model will be revived but only for a short period of time.



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