Thursday, August 29, 2013

The Wheels Come Off the Love Affair with the Automobile: 1973 and "Heavy Traffic"






While it may be easy to miss the serious side to "American Graffiti," the same cannot be said for "Heavy Traffic." After viewing Ralph Bakshi's largely animated release, I was disturbed. It was if the gates of hell were opened wide. Vincent Canby summarized the film as:
American graffiti of a very high and unusual order, a tale of a young New York City pilgrim named Michael, half-Italian, half- Jewish, ever innocent, and his progress tough a metaphor that is nowhere as dreary as it sounds: the pinball machine called Life. It is a liberating, arrogant sort of movie, crude, tough, vulgar, full of insult and wit, and an awareness of the impermanence of all things.
            Like "American Graffiti, "Heavy Traffic was another low budget film.  Conflicts between film's investors and Bakshi caused a final car chase scene to be dropped, and one wonders what closing statement is missing. Yet what remained included a scene featuring Chuck Berry's song "Maybelline" and Detroit "Iron" disemboweled and disintegrated. It is a picture of automotive chaos contained within a much larger chaotic view that is prophetic concerning what lays around the corner in terms of American life.  Traditional moral values, relationships, standards, and material culture was in rapid flux, to be challenged by new forms that were largely unanticipated by even careful contemporary observers only a few years before.

            While impermanence has always been a part of the American automobile industry and American life, the rapidity of that change after 1973 coupled with associated structural transitions was unprecedented. And although oil shocks I and II were major contributors to the dramatic rise of the Japanese industry and the decline of the Detroit Three, they were two causal factors, albeit important ones, among a host of other significant forces acting synergistically at the time. The categorization and explication of those forces are topics for a major scholarly monograph, and beyond the scope of a twenty minute introductory talk. But certainly one reason why the automobile industry went off the tracks was due to federal government policies that often were at odds with one another and the average American consumer.  And that is where I will start my next study, although I plan to go much beyond that single topic.

From the Love Affair for the Automobile to a Troubled Marriage: 1973, "American Graffiti," and "Heavy Traffic"





From Love Affair to Troubled Marriage: 1973 and the American Automobile Industry
                For the American automobile industry, the seventies have never ended. Intense foreign competition, high fuel prices, federal government regulation concerning safety and the environment, quality and reliability, potential power train transitions, and disaffected consumers all surfaced during the early 1970s and really never went away.  Yet, scholars focusing on automobile history have utterly neglected the decade, beyond the pursuit of a few preliminary studies.  Perhaps the oversight is because these years followed the glorious 1950s and 60s. Perhaps, it is overlooked as a consequence of the cars of the decade often being considered by enthusiasts as being from the post-1972 "Malaise Era." After all, you can count on your fingers the cars of the decade worth thinking about.  On a far broader scope than that of auto history, Andreas Killen has argued that the seventies continue as "the foundling of recent American history, claimed by no one."
                Nevertheless, this period in terms of both automobile history and global history, contains all the ingredients of revolutionary and enduring change.  Furthermore, the decade of the 1970s may be also viewed from the perspective of American manufacturers as a time of missed opportunities. It was an era characterized by the loss of product quality and Detroit Three market shares due to the emergence of a rapidly changing global economy.  On the street, Americans experienced the appearance of cars equipped with ugly bumpers and poor running engines. Additionally, a significant shift took place in the balance of power between the federal government as a countervailing force restraining a once unregulated industry.  As one contemporary auto industry commentator exclaimed, "Washington's hand was stretching out, sometimes fist-like." Ultimately after years of foot-dragging and denial, Detroit buckled to political pressures, and cars were never the same. , by the late fall of 1973 Americans experienced Oil Shock I.  Clearly, a historical break took place that even the most detached from American society experienced.
            Yet this transition was years in the making and did not begin with the Yom Kippur War of October, 1973 nor end with the easing of gasoline supplies in 1974. It has been swept forward by the winds of historical continuity to this day.  As it so happened, 1973 was a point of convergence for turbulent undercurrents rooted in the immediate past. Consequently the love affair with the American automobile decisively turned into a troubled marriage.  
            To say that, however, one must accept the notion that the love affair was not fiction; there are scholars who make that argument. And to go one step further in defining this essay's terrain, and to avoid confusion at this juncture, however, we must delineate between those who loved automobility, or the flexibility that the car provided in terms of flexible mobility, from the somewhat irrational behavior of enthusiasts.
            While many who fell in love with the automobile in the years before 1973 live on and continue to see the car as a freedom machine or an object of desire, those who were born more recently, the children of this troubled marriage, often think of the car as an appliance, second to electronic devices. After all, most of us, when we stop and think about it, have become more dependent on PCs and I pads than on the once cherished family automobile.
                The fallout has a generational aspect, particularly among the so-called "millennials" or Gen Y (born between 1982 and 2000). But in fact large numbers of Americans of all ages no longer think of the motor car as an object of desire. In fact, my recent work on the htsiory of auto theft raises considerable doubt concerning the depth of Americans' love affair with the automobile in the first place.  After all, why did some many car owners leave their keys in the ignition so that car theft was so easy to accomplish, and why were Americans so casual about the loss of their most prized possessions, as long as the vehicle was insured?
            Careful observers of contemporary American Car Culture argue that even before the 2008-9 recession something fundamental was changing as driving miles and personal and household car ownership in the U.S. began to drop. In Detroit, automakers are well aware of this lack of consumer interest, particularly among this younger market segment, and have dedicated considerable resources to both understand and remedy the problem. Most recently Brandon Schoettle and Michael Sivak at the University of Michigan's Transportation Research Institute published several studies on the topic of young adults (18-39) and their lack of interest in driving. One survey released in August 2013 concluded that the majority of unlicensed young people claimed that they were either too busy, too poor, rode with others, or preferred to walk or bike. Less than 10% of the group did not drive because of environmental concerns. Clearly, this group does not have a burning desire to get behind the wheel, although about 69 percent stated that finally within the next five years they will be getting around to obtaining a drivers' license!
                But rather than explore the troubling present, let us shift back to more solid ground rooted in the past, namely the events of the early 1970s, and particularly for this study, the fall of 1973.  There are several important signifiers reflective of the end of the love affair with the automobile from that time period, including the publication of Emma Rothschild's Paradise Lost: the Decline of the Auto-Industrial Age.  However, a discourse on Rothschild's rather shrill study would be taking a path of least resistance.  Rather, I want to explore two films that were released in the late summer of 1973, months away from Oil Shock I, acclaimed by critics then and now, sometimes reviewed together, and that eerily foreshadow the impermanence of what would follow. One of these movies most all in this room will recognize: "American Graffiti" (released August 11, 1973).  The second, "Heavy Traffic," (released August 8, 1973) is probably not familiar to many of you. New York Times film critic Vincent Canby suggested that these two titles could be interchanged with no loss to either.  Extending Canby's remarks, I would argue that together they anticipate the coming of a new car culture in America, and contextually with it a new automotive industry post-1973 and indeed a new world. Cultural representations often are imbedded with latent meanings, and that is certainly the case of these two films, a product of their time.
                I remember being sad after seeing "American Graffiti" in the theater in 1973. For those who lived during the early 1960s, even as younger children, it reminds us of what was perceived to be lost -- both real and imagined -- as a consequence of the tumultuous years that immediately followed 1962.  It is a story of a loose-knit group of teenagers possessing little sense of a larger world around them.  The story is seen through the eyes of director George Lucas, whose hometown of Modesto, California provides the setting.  It is really Lucas' autobiography of sorts, one in which the key characters are year by year reflections of the director's adolescent personalities as he matured between the 9th and 12th grade. The film is also about a community of youth -- friendly, harmonious, and with no parents around to supervise, especially on a late summer evening that is supposedly the last for two friends who will leave for college in the east the next morning. The 50s music creates the mood, and cars -- ever so luscious hot rods, Kustoms, '56 T-Birds, '55 and '58 Chevys and even a two-tone Edsel -- take us rather gracefully from scene to scene. And with the exception of Curt's (Richard Dreyfus) Citroen 2 CV, American cars are celebrated in this tribute to the Golden Age of the automobile. And what better place to use as a stage than California, the global epicenter of car culture then, and now."American Graffiti" is a film about the end of one era, the Fifties, that was released just as another was about to come to an end. The Vietnam War was essentially over, POWs were coming home, and Morrison, Joplin and Hendrix were dead. And the love affair with the automobile was in jeopardy, as reflected in a Seven-Up commercial that featured a young man stepping out on his front porch while children cry in the background. He looks longingly at his psychedelic bus on blocks in the backyard while sipping on a Seven-Up. Clearly the Sixties were done.   
                No character in the "American Graffiti" script better expressed the love affair with the automobile than greaser and hot rodder John Milner. Not a complex psychological figure like James Stark in Rebel without a Cause, Milner, on several occasions however, unnervingly suggests that things related to the automobile are about to change. At one point he remarks that "the whole strip is shrinking" an apt inscription for the end of the 1950s.  And ironically it is Milner, of all the young people in the group, who is most uncomfortable with change. Unlike his college bound friends, he exclaims that he will continue to live in the valley, and "have fun, like always." Yet, Milner's small world is a place of impermanence. His date, Carol, represents a new generation, a fan of surfing and the Beach Boys. As they cruise along the Beach Boys ome on the radio, and Milner exclaims, "I don't like that surfin shit. Rock n' Roll been going downhill since Buddy Holly died."
                And while "American Graffiti" contains many light hearted scenes, Milner's visit to a auto wrecking yard with his 14 year old date-for-the-night Carol (Mackenzie Phillips) gets to the heart of this essay. The screen play described it this way:

John's '32 deuce coupe crunches to a gravely stop in front of a dark auto-wrecking yard. John and Carol get out and climb over the fence. They walk through a valley of twisted, rusting piles of squashed, mashed, and crushed automobiles. John sticks his hands into his pockets moodily and looks at one of the burnt-out cars.
The wrecks are smashed up vehicles in which young men whom he once knew died violent deaths, often taking innocent passengers with them. He goes on to say that "All the ding-a-lings get it sooner or later. Maybe that's why they invented cars. To get rid of the ding-a-lings. Tough when they take someone with them." At the time Milner placed himself in the category of the "quick." It is only at the end of the film that we learn that John Milner would also be one of the "the dead," the consequence of a wreck in 1964. Lucas, who along with two others wrote the screenplay, astutely recognized that the American love affair with the automobile was in jeopardy, but at least in 1973 had no way of knowing just how fast or far the transition would take place. In sum, "American Grafitti is a road film where the road led nowhere."

While it may be easy to miss the serious side to "American Graffiti," the same cannot be said for "Heavy Traffic." After viewing Ralph Bakshi's largely animated release, I was disturbed. It was if the gates of hell were opened wide. Vincent Canby summarized the film as:
American graffiti of a very high and unusual order, a tale of a young New York City pilgrim named Michael, half-Italian, half- Jewish, ever innocent, and his progress tough a metaphor that is nowhere as dreary as it sounds: the pinball machine called Life. It is a liberating, arrogant sort of movie, crude, tough, vulgar, full of insult and wit, and an awareness of the impermanence of all things.
            Like "American Graffiti, "Heavy Traffic was another low budget film.  Conflicts between film's investors and Bakshi caused a final car chase scene to be dropped, and one wonders what closing statement is missing. Yet what remained included a scene featuring Chuck Berry's song "Maybelline" and Detroit "Iron" disemboweled and disintegrated. It is a picture of automotive chaos contained within a much larger chaotic view that is prophetic concerning what lays around the corner in terms of American life.  Traditional moral values, relationships, standards, and material culture was in rapid flux, to be challenged by new forms that were largely unanticipated by even careful contemporary observers only a few years before.

            While impermanence has always been a part of the American automobile industry and American life, the rapidity of that change after 1973 coupled with associated structural transitions was unprecedented. And although oil shocks I and II were major contributors to the dramatic rise of the Japanese industry and the decline of the Detroit Three, they were two causal factors, albeit important ones, among a host of other significant forces acting synergistically at the time. The categorization and explication of those forces are topics for a major scholarly monograph, and beyond the scope of a twenty minute introductory talk. But certainly one reason why the automobile industry went off the tracks was due to federal government policies that often were at odds with one another and the average American consumer.  And that is where I will start my next study, although I plan to go much beyond that single topic.
            

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Photographs (Carl Weese) of Drive-Ins that are Hanging On, Survivors of Another Time

Santa Fe Springs, CA

Wellsville, NY

Newberg OR

Montgomery, PA

Mount Zion, West Virginia

Henderson, NC
Oklahoma City

Riverside, California

Kansas City, MO

Fairborn, Ohio

Cars from Saxony, Germany and an Annual Driving Event

The Chemnitz region -- one of the most important geographical areas in the history of the automobile in Europe. What follows are a number of photographs from historic drives through Saxony during 2009, 2010, and 2011.  Can you identify the cars? A 190 Sl Mercedes and a Pagoda Sl are among the cars in the photos.








My favorite photo -- note on the right the excitement the little girl has as she looks into the car!



Friday, August 23, 2013

Why choose a Diesel Engine over a ICE when Buying Your Next Car -- a Contribution from Ivy Delfin







The benefits of choosing a diesel engine

When deciding on your new car, one of the things at the very top of your list is probably going to be the energy efficiency of the vehicle. Earlier, this may just have meant buying a reliable car that doesn’t cost hundreds to keep on the road, but our idea of energy efficient has also come to include how the fuel used in the engine impacts on the environment. Petrol engines have been the most popular kind of engines since the invention of the common car, but it’s a wonder why diesel has typically only been the standard for industrial vehicles up until this point when there are so many advantages to having a diesel engine.
Diesel engines are an internal combustion engine, just like regular gasoline engines, converting chemical energy in fuel into mechanical energy. The mechanics involve moving pistons up and down inside cylinders, these pistons are connected to the crankshaft where the motion of the pistons moving up and down create the motion that turns the wheels. Unlike a petrol engine, a diesel engine has no spark plug, it takes in air and compresses it before injecting the fuel, the heat created from the compressed air is what lights the fuel that gets the engine moving.
Diesel engines get amazing mileage, generally they are up to 30 percent more fuel efficient than regular petrol engines meaning you don’t have to fill up as often. It contains more usable energy than petrol, thus making it more fuel efficient; it works by turning heat into energy rather than expelling heat like a petrol engine. However it does not offer the same performance as a petrol engine due to the fact that the engine has to work harder to use the energy.
Diesel engines are also built to withstand higher demands on it’s use making them last a lot longer than their petrol counterparts; they can withstand higher compression so they generally can go much longer without needing a tune-up, unlike petrol engines, adding to it’s efficiency. On that note, a diesel engine’s impact on the environment is lessened by the fact that diesel engines don’t release fumes like petrol does, it is also harder to burn so it is safer and won’t explode as easily as petrol. Another environmental benefit is the ease of running a diesel engine on alternative fuel. Regular gasoline engines can only accept petrol, otherwise they must be heavily modified to accept a more eco-friendly fuel. Diesel engines love biofuels, so start collecting that vegetable oil and feed your car!

If you don’t already have a diesel engine, there are plenty of companies, like Industrial Diesels, that supply diesel engines to convert your current vehicle, otherwise look for a diesel engine or energy efficient vehicle for your next car, it could end up saving you hundreds, even thousands, in the long run.

Ivy H Delfin
Copywriter/Digital Marketing

Connect with me on Google+

America's Golden Age of the Automobile Lives on in Sweden!


Take a look at the video linked below. An amazing story of Europeans who love those American "dinosaurs in the driveway."  Why do they do this?  Is it because in the 1950s in America it was the last time for the young to have fun? And the Swedes have somehow perceived that, and by recreating the past, escape their own desperate present, and perhaps future?

http://www.tagesschau.de/videoblog/nord_nord_ost/oldtimer106.html





Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Rat Rod Cruise-In -- A contribution from Ed Garten





The creation of Ed. "Big Daddy" Roth

Lakeview Drive-In Cruise-In





RATS IN WINONA

While driving to business meetings in Minnesota last week, this writer spent a wonderful day and evening in the Mississippi River town of Winona, Minnesota, where he happened upon an evening cruise-in at Lakeview Drive-in, an eatery that dates to 1938.  But the centerpiece of this particular cruise-in seemed to be a preponderance of  what are termed as "rat rods."

The "rat rod"  is a style of hot rod or custom car that, in most cases, imitates (or exaggerates) the early hot rods of the 1940s and 1950s. The style is not to be confused with the somewhat closely related "traditional" hot rod, which is an accurate re-creation or period-correct restoration of a hot rod from the same era. Most rat rods appear "unfinished", regardless of their status, as only the vehicle's bare essentials are driven.

Rat rods were originally a counter-reaction to the high-priced "customs" and typical hot rods, many of which were seldom driven and served only a decorative purpose. The rat rod's inception signified a throwback to the hot rods of the earlier days of hot-rod culture-built according to the owner's abilities and with the intention of being driven. Rat rods are meant to loosely imitate, in both form and function, the "traditional" hot rods of the era.

The typical rat rod is a late-1920s through to late-1950s coupe or roadster, but sometimes a truck or sedan. Many early pre-World War II vehicles were not built with fenders, hoods, running boards, and bumpers. The bodies are frequently channeled over the frame and sectioned, or the roofs were chopped, for a lower profile. Later-era post-war vehicles were rarely constructed without fenders and were often customized in the fashion of lead sleds or low riders. Maltese crosses, skulls, and other accessories were often added.  Note that the "rat" seen in Winona, Minnesota on cruise-in night has "fake" rats clamoring in the truck bed and one appearing to emerge from the vehicle's gas tank.

Recently, the term "rat rod" has been used to describe almost any vehicle that appears unfinished or is built simply to be driven.  Chopped tops, shaved trim, grills, tail lights, and other miscellaneous body parts continue to be swapped between makes and models.

Frames from older cars or light trucks are sometimes preferred for rat rod conversions due to the chassis that is used for these types of vehicles-the chassis type provides a sturdy base for subsequent alterations. Older cars in poor condition are often advertised as candidates for rat rod conversions and, in some cases, the owner will purchase a custom frame, or design and build it himself/herself. In other cases, a rat rodder may use a small pick-up chassis, such as a Chevy S-10, to insert into an older car body, in order to create a vehicle that features the look of a classic rat rod, while also maintaining the reliability of a modern vehicle.

Rat rods often appear unfinished and, at most, primer-only paint jobs are applied; satin, or matte, black and other flat colors are also common. "Natural patina" (the original paint job, with rust, blemishes, and sometimes bullet holes, left intact); a patchwork of original paint and primer; or bare metal, in rusty or oiled varieties, with no finish at all are some of the other finishes that may be used-such finishes honor the anti-restoration slogan that "it's only original once".  Contrary to the aesthetic of many car builders, rust is often acceptable and appreciated by rat rod owners.

Interiors of rat rods can range from fully finished, through to a spartan form. Mexican blankets and bomber seats form the basis of many rat rod interiors, and most are designed to be functional without many comforts; although, this will vary in accordance with the owner's taste.

Though a variety of engines may be used, the most common engine type that is used in rat rods are: Flathead V-8 Ford, early Chrysler Hemi engines, or more modern small block V8 engines from any manufacturer (Chevrolet is a common choice of small block engine). Straight 8's, straight 6's and straight 4's are also fairly commonly used in the construction of rat rods-these engines may exhibit varying displacements and modifications. While diesel engines are occasionally used, these engines are rarely fitted with emission controls, as such a feature was not part of the original construction, or the feature was not required under special license.

Most rat rods are rear wheel drive, with an open driveline. The rear endss and the transmissions are typically passenger vehicle pieces.

My interest in "rat rods" was renewed this past spring while attending the Auburn Spring car auction and swap meet where I met the son and daughter-in-law of the late "Big Daddy" Roth, one of the major customizers and artists associated with rat car culture.

"Rat Fink" is one of the severa hot rod characters created by Roth, one of the originators of Kustom Kulture of automobile enthusiasts. Roth conceived Rat Fink as an anti-hero answer to Mickey Mouse.  Rat Fink is green, depraved-looking with bulging, bloodshot eyes, an oversize mouth with yellowed, narrow teeth, and a red T-shirt with yellow "R.F." on it.  Yes, I bought an R. F. tee-shirt from Roth's son and plan to wear it to swap meets and car enthusiastic events (see attached photo).

Roth began airbrushing and selling "Weirdo" t-shirts at Car Shows and in the pages of Hot Rod publications such as Car Craft in the late 1950s. By the August 1959 issue of Car Craft, "Weirdo shirts" had become a full blown craze with Ed Roth at the forefront of the movement.

Nonetheless, "Rat Fink" and "Rat Cars" have been closely associated since the late 1950s.  But who would have thought that the nice clean town of Winona, Minnesota, would be a hot-bed of rat rod culture?  Rats!!!!!

Friday, August 16, 2013

Society of Automotive Historians Call for Papers, Stanford University, April 10-12, 2014



Note the dates -- proposals due October 31,2013; Conference April 10-12.

AUTOMOTIVE HISTORY CONFERENCE

CALL FOR PAPERS



The Society of Automotive Historians is seeking proposals for papers to
be presented at its Tenth Biennial Automotive History Conference to be
held in Palo Alto, California, USA, from April 10 through 12, 2014.The
conference will be co-sponsored by the Revs Automotive Research Program
at Stanford University and will take place at the Vail Automotive
Innovation Facility on the Stanford campus.

The conference theme is *“The Evolution of Automotive Technology” *and
will focus on the continuing development of the motor vehicle and its
process of manufacture over a 120-year history.Although considered by
many to have reached a plateau a half-century ago, the industry and its
products seem in recent years to have entered a new phase of creative
development addressing again issues once thought resolved and responding
to new economic, social, and environmental conditions through
fundamental research.

Papers may address the search for an effective and portable source of
energy, one of the first issues confronted by automotive pioneer
designers and one that is being studied again from the point of view of
contemporary requirements. Papers may address the development of
standardized vehicle control systems, the arrangement of power
components or safety devices and the interface between the vehicle and
the driver, all of them under reconsideration in ways that have the
potential to fundamentally alter the relation between the vehicle, the
driver and the road.At the same time the industry, until recently
believed to be entering a phase of business consolidation, has expanded
to embrace many new producers, a process that could only be made
possible through innovations in production technology and international
trade agreements. Proposals for papers on automotive subjects unrelated
to the conference theme will also be considered.

The keynote speaker will be Dr. Rudi Volti, Emeritus Professor of
Sociology at Pitzer College, Claremont, California.Professor Volti’s
fields of expertise cover technology and society, social bases of
economic structure and behavior, automobility, and the sociology of work
and occupations.

Following the conference, a certain number of the conference papers will
be selected for publication in /Automotive History Review/, the journal
of the Society.

The Society of Automotive Historians is a unique interdisciplinary
organization devoted to all aspects of automotive history – engineering,
design, economics, the lives of automotive pioneers and innovators, the
history of motorsport competition, the integration of motor vehicles
into modern life and the culture of cars.In its publications and
conferences, historians of technology, business historians and social
historians interact to share their knowledge and perspectives.

Proposals should include the title of the submission, names and
affiliations of presenters, chairs, participants, etc., together with
addresses, phone/fax numbers, email addresses of contact personnel,
proposed format (paper, panel, workshop, etc.) and a one-page abstract
describing the content of the presentation.Proposals must be received by
October 31, 2013; notification of preliminary acceptance is anticipated
by November 30.Proposals should be submitted by email to Arthur W.
Jones, Conference Chair, _nomecos@verizon.net._

Thursday, August 15, 2013

First Internal Combustion Engine in Flight? Wolfert, Cannstatt, Germany,1888.




On 10 August 1888 Leipzig-based bookseller Dr Karl Wölfert took off in a motorised airship from the factory yard of the Daimler Motor Company at the Seelberg in Cannstatt for a flight to Kornwestheim. The drive system was the famous single-cylinder Daimler engine with an output of 2 hp (1.5 kW) which powered two propellers: one in a vertical position and the other horizontal.





Leipzig-based bookseller Dr Karl Wölfert undertook experimental flights with steerable balloons for many years. In 1896 Gottlieb Daimler supplied him with a 7-hp (5.1 kW) two-cylinder phoenix engine with a light alloy crankcase for his "Deutschland" airship. Wölfert completed several successful test flights. In June 1897 he crashed and was killed when the balloon caught fire.


Stuttgart – One of mankind’s oldest dreams came true on 10 August 1888: Wölfert’s motorised airship successfully completed the world’s first engine-driven flight with a combustion engine. The flying machine belonging to the Leipzig-based bookseller Dr Friedrich Hermann Wölfert, powered by a single-cylinder Daimler engine, flew four kilometres from the factory yard of the Daimler Motor Company (Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft) at the Seelberg in Cannstatt to Kornwestheim. Thus Gottlieb Daimler’s vision of motorising vehicles on land, on water and in the air became reality.
At 9.00 a.m. on 10 August 1888, a new era of aeronautics began in the factory yard of the Daimler Motor Company (DMC) in Cannstatt: an airship slowly lifted up above the company premises and flew off with an audibly clattering four-stroke Daimler engine in a north-westerly direction. It was the first successful engine-driven flight in history with a combustion engine as a drive for the propeller.
Even if the single-cylinder Daimler engine was still too heavy to be used over long distances, the flight in 1888 proved the suitability of the fast-running combustion engine as an aircraft engine. Later, DMC equipped numerous Graf Zeppelin airships with engines – from the Z1 in 1900 to the LZ 130 in 1938 which flew with Mercedes-Benz diesel engines. The combustion engine also established itself as a drive for propeller-driven aeroplanes meaning that engines by Mercedes-Benz and the previous brands conquered the skies.
On that Friday morning in 1888, the airship designed by Dr Friedrich Hermann Wölfert landed after four kilometres on the Aldingen parade ground near Kornwestheim where it was welcomed by the amazed officers. Despite the short distance covered, the flight was a success for the book-selling aviation enthusiast. Wölfert, who was two metres tall and weighed around 100 kilogrammes, did not personally steer his airship from Cannstatt to Kornwestheim; it was in fact the 30-kilogramm-lighter Daimler employee, Gotthilf Wirsum, who took the helm. Two days later Wirsum steered the hydrogen-filled airship from Cannstatt on another four-kilometre flight.
The dream of flying
Friedrich Hermann Wölfert, born in 1850, began to dream of building an airship very early on. After studying Protestant theology in Leipzig, he founded his publishing house there in 1873. In 1880, he joined forces with forester Georg Baumgarten in order to be able to pursue his love of flying. His inventions include amongst other things a robust suspension for the airship gondolas using ropes which were guided through the envelope of the toughened balloon to its apex.
In that same year, Wölfert and Baumgarten built a 26-metre long airship with a cigar-shaped body in Dresden. Contemporaries found it very difficult to understand this visionary aircraft. The “Dresdener Anzeiger” newspaper was also amazed at “the sight of this monster of an airship and its individual parts which are hardly in proportion to one another”. Whilst the aviation pioneers made progress in the construction of the gas-filled envelope and the control system, they had no reliable source of power.
Baumgarten powered his airship models with amongst other things a spring mechanism motor. During a test flight in 1879, one such machine with a 12.5-meter long body proved itself both movable and steerable against the wind. However, the “clockwork” unit was hardly able to serve as a reliable motor over longer distances. The attempts of French engineers to use battery-electric motors in the “La France” airship in 1884 did not bring about a solution either: the unit comprising an energy storage unit and a motor was much too heavy for the airship.
Wölfert looked for a light, powerful drive system for the newest development stage of his airship – he looked at various electric motors and gas engines but none of the machines seemed suitable. Then Gottlieb Daimler contacted him and recommended that he use the fast-running four-stroke petrol engine that he and Maybach had developed as a source of power for the airship.
Daimler saw Wölfert’s airship project as an opportunity to finally realise his dream of motorising vehicles on land, on water and in the air. His engine was already working reliably in the “riding car” from 1885 (the first vehicle in the world with a combustion engine and a forerunner of the present-day motorcycle) and the world’s first four-wheel motor vehicle presented in 1886. Furthermore, there was also the “Marie”, a motor boat, the four-seater trolley car and a tram (all in 1887).
However, he also wanted the engine to conquer the skies in a flying machine. Initially Daimler recommended his single-cylinder engine, known as the “grandfather clock” due to its form, to an Augsburg-based airship designer and even the Prussian war ministry as a drive system for an aircraft – but in vain. He recognised a new opportunity in the late autumn of 1887, after reading an article about Wölfert’s airships. Daimler invited the bookseller to Cannstatt and agreed that they build an engine-driven airship.
The “grandfather clock” learns to fly
The 84-kg engine was fitted into the gondola of the airship which hung under the cigar-shaped body and was made of wooden slats and ropes. Using a control lever, the pilot was able to apply the engine’s power to both the vertical (for longitudinal propulsion) and horizontal propeller (for controlling altitude). The 2-hp (1.5 kW) engine drove the propellers at speeds of up to 720 revolutions per minute. The airship was steered using a large rudder at the bow of the gondola which, like the two propellers, was covered with fabric.
Following the two flights from the factory yard of the Daimler Motor Company, the airship started on a third flight from the Cannstatter Wasen fair grounds in September 1888. In 1889, Wölfert presented a new airship in Ulm which was also powered by a Daimler engine. In June 1897, Wölfert’s newest airship, the “Deutschland” caught fire on a flight in Berlin and crashed killing both the aviation pioneer and his co-pilot.
A true-to-original reconstruction of the gondola – including Gottlieb Daimler’s engine – on exhibit in the Mercedes-Benz Museum recalls Wölfert’s 1888 airship.
Technical data:
Wölfert’s motorised airship with a Daimler engine
Cylinders: 1
Displacement: 603 cubic centimetres
Output: 2 hp (1.5 kW) at 720 rpm



A not-so-flattering commentary on BMW and Prius owners: from WSJ

Drivers of BMWs frequently come in for anecdotal criticism for habits on the road that are perceived as aggressive.

Now, a couple of studies, one in the U.S. and another from the U.K., appear to provide statistical evidence that BMW drivers are, to be polite about it, complete jerks.

In the older study, by researchers at the University of California, BMW drivers were far less likely to stop for a pedestrian who had just entered a crosswalk, the New York Times notes

“In our crosswalk study, none of the cars in the beater-car category drove through the crosswalk. They always stopped for pedestrians," researcher Paul K. Piff told the paper. He added that not only were "fancy cars were less likely to stop," but also that "BMW drivers were the worst."

Drivers of BMWs and other high-status cars (including Prius hybrids) were also more likely to cheat at four-way-stop intersections, according to the research.

In the second study, in the U.K., motorists were asked to identify the make and color of the car from which they have most frequently suffered road-rage incidents, the Daily Mail reports.

The study of 2,837 motorists found men between the ages of 35 and 50 driving blue BMWs were most likely to be reported as having engaged in road-rage behaviors such as aggressive driving and swearing.