INSIDER: 12 of the wildest car innovations you probably had no idea existed
It’s incredible to think about how far automobiles have come since the first motor car was released in 1885. So many innovations along the way have made cars safer, more reliable, and increasingly more convenient. The fact that we can use a remote from the comfort of our living room to warm our cars in the winter is proof that auto engineers really have our best interests in mind.
But even though some of those innovations have been amazing, others have been wildly unsuccessful, completely bizarre, and sometimes just plain bad. From flying cars to a driver-side dog carrier, these are some of the wildest car innovations of all time.
Flying cars were a reality for a short time.
For decades now, science fiction has been promising us that flying cars would soon be a reality. But as it turns out, they already were. According to How Stuff Works, several attempts had been made to get flying cars to the public, but most failed due to lack of finances or unsuccessful prototypes.
Smithsonian magazine reported that in 1949, an aeronautical engineer named Moulton Taylor produced five Taylor Aerocars which could be operated on the road or in the sky. Only five were ever produced, and the entire process of converting from car to plane wasn’t ideal. To begin with, it took about 15 minutes to do. The wings were also a separate piece, not attached to the car. You’d have to pull them with you on a trailer if you were planning on flying that day.
The cars didn’t quite take off (no pun intended) like Taylor had hoped, but his cars are still looked at as a great feat of engineering.
A wooden horse head was used as the fuel tank for one car.
Making the change from a horse-drawn cart to a motorized vehicle was a scary idea for many people. The change didn’t happen overnight, which meant cars and horses had to coexist for a while. Reports from that time show that the horses didn’t handle it very well, often getting so spooked by the cars, they would buck wildly and injure their owners and other pedestrians.
According to Wired, in an effort to ease the transition, Uriah Smith designed a car with a large wooden horse head on the front, with the idea that horses wouldn’t be smart enough to know the difference between themselves and the fake horse. It wasn’t successful, but having a horse head as your fuel tank would make for a great conversation starter the next time you’re pumping gas.
Partitions used to be more common.
Limousines and chauffeur cars still utilize partitions to separate drivers from whoever they’re driving around, but, according to Goliath, they used to be found in regular cars as well. If you’ve ever been on a long road trip with loud children (or some adults), you’ve probably dreamed of a way to separate yourself from them. Partitions were the perfect solution until parents complained they weren’t able to hear their kids, which did prove to be somewhat of a safety hazard.
Some cars had a fifth wheel for parallel parking.
Parallel parking is everyone’s least favorite part of their driving test and one of the worst parts about driving in general. Even the DMV acknowledges that many students fail otherwise-perfect driving tests all due to their inability to parallel park.
Which is why, according to Old Cars Weekly, in 1953, Brooks Walker tried to help out struggling drivers with his self-driving car. The prototype was created using Walker’s own personal Packard Cavalier and used the spare tire as a jack to lift the rear tires. At that point, the spare would aid in moving the car from side to side and make the parking process easier.
Many cars do have parking assist functions now, so Walker’s design was way ahead of its time.
The Curtiss-Wright Air Car could hover over the ground.
It looks like “Back to the Future II” was actually taking a cue from history when it showed hover cars in a futuristic city.
According to Road and Track, Curtiss-Wright, an aerospace and defense manufacturer, created a new vehicle in 1960 — the Curtiss-Wright Model 2500 Air Car— that the military once considered adding to their fleet.
The military didn’t move forward with the vehicle, which used aircraft engines to hover only 15 inches off the ground and could only reach speeds of 38 mph. After purchasing two, they found that any terrain that wasn’t completely flat could be detrimental to the car, which made it pretty impractical for war use.
Amphibious cars let you go from land to water.
For those times when you need to cross a body of water, but there’s no bridge in sight, the Amphicar was the perfect solution. According to Classic Driver, the Amphicar 770, which was released in Germany in 1959 and in the US in 1961, was named as such to represent the 70 mph it could go on land and 7 mph it could reach in water. The car doors even sealed once the vehicle hit the water. They were no longer sold after 1967, but they left quite a mark.
These amphicars are making somewhat of a comeback since being utilized at Disney Springs at Walt Disney World, where you can rent them for rides around Lake Buena Vista.
In-car toilets made bathroom stops unnecessary.
When you’re on the home stretch of a long trip, the last thing you want to do is make a pit stop. According to Hagerty, the 1954 Rolls-Royce Vignale took care of this problem with an in-car toilet. According to BBC, many portable toilets have been made since, but an actual, built-in toilet is a thing of the past, which is probably for the best since it was also an environmental hazard with the waste simply spilling onto the road below.
The “Bird Dog Palace” let you carry your pet everywhere.
It can be heartbreaking to leave your pet at home, and car makers in the 1930s agreed. That’s why they came up with some designs that would allow motorists to take their furry friends everywhere. According to Modern Mechanix, in 1932, the “Bird Dog Palace” was released, which was a steel crate that could be clamped on to the side of the car without damaging it. This was likely much safer than this sack hooked onto the window that was marketed in 1936.
Today, there are products that keep pets safe inside the vehicle.
There were electric vehicles long before the Tesla.
According to BBC, the Sinclair C5 was a one-person electric vehicle released in 1985 that was touted as an environmentally friendly car for the future. Created by Sir Clive Sinclair, the C5 was a massive failure with consumers feeling unsafe while driving it. It’s also possible they were annoyed that to go up any kind of hill, they had to use the pedal function.
While the C5 may not have been a flawless vehicle, it’s sad to think that, had it been successful, we could be 30 years ahead in terms of electric car innovation.
The 1957 Cadillac Eldorado Brougham came with a mini bar.
In the 1950s, Cadillac added a mini bar to their 1957 Eldorado Brougham, according to Jalopnik. The bar was located in the glove box and also included a cigarette dispenser and a small vanity. The shot glasses were even magnetized to avoid any unwanted spilling in the car.
Let’s hope that the bar was only used by passengers and not the driver of the car.
Automatically dimming headlights helped out oncoming drivers.
It’s pretty standard today for headlights to automatically turn on when it’s raining or when the sun goes down. But they used to be able to dim as well.
According to Hagerty, in 1952, General Motors unveiled their “Autotronic Eye” innovation, which would recognize headlights from oncoming cars and automatically dim your own. It would then turn them back on once the vehicle passed. Other car-makers soon followed suit, but ultimately the technology proved unreliable, with even reflective street signs causing the lights to dim.
In-car record players were cool but inconvenient.
Before streaming, mp3 players, CDs, and even cassette tapes, vinyl was the only way to listen to music aside from the radio. It makes sense that people would want to have the same music available to them in their cars. Thus, according to Consumer Reports, multiple companies began selling portable record players made for cars, but they came with a hefty price tag. They also came with some challenges.
It’s said that the needle had to push so hard into the record in order to keep it in place despite rough roads and speed bumps that the records wore out fairly quickly.
With the rise of vinyl collectors in recent years, it’s the perfect time to bring these devices back, even if playing music from your phone seems like the peak of musical convenience.
Article By: Stephanie Ashe