This week in automotive history: The Nurburgring, Knight Rider and Formula 1

Posted on by

For this edition of our weekly motoring history feature, we revisit incidents like the beginnings of the most feared speedway and the mysterious deaths of the inventor of the diesel engine and actor James Dean. But not all developments this week are shrouded in gloom and mystery.

September 26, 1982: KITT up!

Knight Rider opening creditcs NBC classic
The Knight Industries Two Thousand aka KITT


NBC airs Knight Rider for the first time on this day. A pre-Baywatch David Hasselhoff plays private eye Michael Knight. But the real star is not the Knight Rider but his ride, a Pontiac Firebird named KITT. And it communicates with Knight – not in the way of the personal emotional connections that no one outside can determine but through AI-enhanced voice activation features, with complementing interfaces and flickering lights on the dash and outside.


Unlike the entertainment industry’s previous trysts with talking cars, Knight Rider makes for slick, engaging television.


September 27, 1925: Hell on the other side

History of Nurburgring
“If you are going through hell, keep going.”
Source: Wikipedia


It was this day that they started to carve through the Eifel forests and begin construction of the formidable Nurburgring circuit. The speedway will go on to be called the Green Hell, for the many lethal curves and drops on its 20.7km stretch. Many drivers tried to conquer and tame the circuit, as a testament to their skill. The raceway has been witness to some of the most gruesome motorsport accidents in history – including F1 driver Niki Lauda’s fateful crash in 1976.


September 28, 1978: Rotary riffling


The Mazda RX7, defying convention with its unusual rotary engine, scorches across the Bonneville Salt Flats and makes its way to the record books by hitting a top speed of 183.904mph (296km/h). At the wheel is erstwhile Car & Driver editor, Don Sherman, who is now officially a holder of a Class E motoring record.


September 29, 1913: Diesel conspiracy


Creator of the combustion engine, Rudolf Diesel, is reported missing from the steamship Dresden he was aboard, while on his way from Antwerp, Belgium to Harwick, England. When his body is recovered later this year, the incident is declared a suicide, but many believe and theorise that the inventor’s death may have had something to do with “big oil trusts” and the threat that the diesel engine posed to their product. Incidentally, Diesel was on his way to meeting the British Navy with the intent of proposing the installation of diesel engines in all their submarines.


September 30, 1955: Cause of the death of a rebel

James Dean's  Porsche 550 Spyder

Actor and avid racer James Dean meets with a crash on his way to a race in California after losing control of the Porsche he’d nicknamed ‘Little Bastard’, causing it to flip into a gully. Parts of its drivetrain are later installed in two separate entries to that same race later. Both the cars meet with gruesome crashes, one of which proves fatal to the driver. Much like the Elder Wand from Harry Potter, Little Bastard will go on to leave a bloody trail everywhere it goes.



October 1, 1908: To the T

Ford Model-T rolls off assembly line
The Model-T begins the ‘Ford revolution’ in America


The Ford Model T shows up on the American market to become the country’s version of the ‘people’s car’. Nearly 1.5 crore units of the Tin Lizzie, as it’s called, are sold until the end of its production run in 1927.


October 2, 1947: Formula-tion


The Federation Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA) officially instates the rules and regulations for Formula 1 racing. This marks the beginning of the era of maddeningly faster and fiercer cars on the racetracks, owing to the technological breakthroughs made for the war effort. Initially, the racecars will compete in two categories – 1,500cc supercharged and 4,500cc unsupercharged over a distance of 300km, instead of the earlier 500km.