Cars are so ubiquitous that we forget that they’re a true engineering marvel. It didn’t happen overnight, either. The motor vehicle morphed and changed over the last 100 years, jumping light years ahead to where they are today. If we look at innovation in the past 20 or so years, it’s hard to believe that there was a time when it was even faster. It was, most definitely, in the first 20 years of the 20th century. Here, we’ll look at the greatest inventions and feats the automobile industry spearheaded and, along with it, changed the entire world.
Sports cars are the harbingers of acceleration, speed, and style. Their origins and their testing grounds are always on the track. From Ford to Ferrari to Porsche, the greatest minds on earth pooled together for the single goal of making the baddest machine on four wheels. They did it too, over and over again. The aerodynamic developments over the years, due to lighter materials such as carbon fibre and greater access to wind tunnels, have led to faster cars that can grip in the corners. Look at how sports cars have changed in this fantastic video from Compare the Market.
The changes didn’t stop there. They leaked into the retail market. Pretty soon, celebrities and businessmen were sporting some of the wildest cars known to man. That tradition of style and mechanical excellence can still be seen today.
There was a time when there were no seatbelts. Seriously, there wasn’t a single law or belt in any car up until 1954 when the Sports Car Club of America required its use during competition. Even then, it wasn’t a thing applied to consumers until the 1960s. The seatbelt has a long and rich history of trial and error. Yes, you read that correctly. Engineers would apply various kinds of belts and observe the effects over time. Some of these designs were primitive and didn’t do much except keep a person in the vehicle in case of a crash.
From those early designs came the retractable seat belt, postulated by Huntington Memorial Hospital Neurologist Dr. C. Hunter Sheldon out in Pasadena, CA (who is also responsible for half of the safety features in modern cars). Later on the 3 points, a retractable seat belt came to be. Because of this innovation, hundreds of thousands of lives have been saved, and countless others are protected.
Goodbye Hand Cranks
Ever seen a silent film? They’re adorable. A big part of the cute factor lies in police scenes. While a robber is on the loose, the cops have to turn a hand crank to get the engine going before they hop in. That was how people started cars before the electric starter. Cadillac was the first to truly put them in their vehicles. Now, every single kind of starter is a modern adaptation to that original concept. Touch and sensor innovation still, at its core, has the same kinds of components as those put in by Caddilac at the turn of the century.
Super Batteries: The Latest Innovation
Hate them or love them, Tesla is the new player in wild car innovations. See, innovation doesn’t have to mean creating a whole new concept. It can be maximizing an obsolete one. Tesla saw the car battery and was far from impressed. Instead, they fitted it with an insanely powerful and sustainable rechargeable battery with an open-source (you can look it up and make your own if you want) chassis to back it up. Because of this, they took a sleek looking luxury sedan and had it beat the Bugatti Chiron’s 0 to 60 time. They’re also just getting started.
Their constant innovation is fast becoming one of the most important utility products in terms of a more sustainable planet. That is if everything goes to plan. As history has taught us, it’s a lot more complicated than that.
Car features have come and gone over the years. Designs have shifted and drifted in and out of showrooms. Concepts have hit test production and faded away. But among the millions of ideas and attempts over the last century, electric starters, safety belts, race technology, and the promise of batteries have stood the test of time and scrutiny to make the greatest time for safe and reliable cars, ever.