We the TRED car geeks are continuously amazed and enthralled with various high-tech innovations on new cars. It blows my mind how things that seemed unbelievable twenty years ago come standard on cars today—GPS seemed pretty space-age at one point—and also how quickly we become accustomed to using the various gadgets available, and asking for more. Much of recent tech is focused on connecting cars to the Internet of Things via the web, and the zenith of this so far, the self-driving car, is now being tested for widespread use.
Inspired by some of the awesome things happening in car tech, we decided to do a post looking over the last century and a half of car tech, marking out some of the most interesting and notable inventions and innovations. Whether you’re a car geek or not, the fascinating evolution is sure to grab your imagination—just read on!
- Ok, so we’re cheating a little with the “150 years” thing, because technically there were what could be called automobiles from as early as 1769, albeit steam-powered ones rather than powered by internal combustion engines, which is how we think of modern cars. However, in 1886, Karl Benz and Gottlieb Daimler developed the first gas-powered internal combustion engine.
- In 1891, Panhard et Levassor’s Système Panhard was patented to create front engined, rear-wheel drive internal combustion engined cars with a sliding gear transmission, which became the standard recognizable form of automobiles thereafter (replacing coach-style and alternate fuel vehicles).
- In 1898, independent suspension came into use.
- In 1903, Henry Ford brought the automotive assembly line into use in America, making it possible for cars to become available to the masses.
- In 1905, safety glass was invented.
- In 1909, four-wheeled brakes were developed.by the Scottish Arrol-Johnston Company. At this point, drum-brakes replaces the bicycle-type wheel brakes that were used previously.
- In 1912, the electric ignition was first installed on a Cadillac, replacing the hand-crank.
- Between 1908 and 1927, the Ford Model T became the most widely produced and available four-seater automobile and used a pedal-based control system.
- In 1919, hydraulic brakes were invented.
- Development of the internal combustion engine continues apace in the 1920s, churning out the V8, V12 and V16 engines on expensive models. Cadillac was one of the leaders, offering V12 and V16 engines from early on, a brand that continues to be known for luxury and power.
- In 1922, the Ford Model T pickup came into production; almost a hundred years later its descendent the F-150 is all shiny and new on the TRED website.
- The first radios were installed in cars in the 1920s, though this wouldn’t become standard until the 1930s (and only AM radios).
- In 1927, tempered or toughened glass began to be used in windows and windshields.
- In the ‘20s and ‘30s, cars with fenders and fully-closed bodies began to dominate sales, and the car trunk, used for storage, became typical.
- Germany opened its freeway system in 1934, setting a standard that would later be followed by America, and making it extremely efficient to drive long distances.
- Though first invented in 1922, in 1940 the automatic transmission became a widely available option.
- Innovations in the 1940s were slowed by wartime recession. During this period Hudson debuted the semi-automatic transition; Chrysler was developing a luxury “wagon” that would precede, in effect, the minivan; and Packard and Ford developed luxury models (the Ford Continental was especially lush, and became the standard Presidential parade car).
- Preston Tucker’s Tucker Torpedo, unveiled in 1946, was the “Car of the Future” with is swooping aerodynamic lines, third headlight, defensively swiveling fenders, rear engine and padded dashboard. Outsold by the more conservative post-Depression business models of Chrysler and Ford, Tucker’s innovation lost out to corporate prudence.
- The Department of War unveiled the Jeep, a one-quarter-ton, four-wheel-drive military vehicle. The classic Jeep has seen a number of innovations since and continues to be among the most popular SUVs.
- The 1950s saw wider use of fuel injection systems and independent suspension.
- In the 1960s the gas turbine became available, although it was first invented in 1946.
- Turbochargers, in use in aviation since the 1920s, came into use in cars in the 1950s, pioneered by General Motors, though they wouldn’t become widespread until the 1980s.
- Cruise control was invented in the 1950s by Ralph Teetor.
- The first FM car radio appeared in 1952, and by 1953, combination AM/FM radios were available.
- In 1963, the Ford Mustang prototype became a reality and was Ford’s most successful launch since the Model A. The Mustang continues strong, going through many evolutions since—have a look at this gorgeous one currently for sale on TRED.
- The first eight-track tape players became available in cars in 1965.
- In 1966, the “double offset joint” drive shaft system was introduced in the Japanese Subaru 1000 along with front wheel drive, giving superior driving control.
Image credit: Mario Duran
1970 – Today
- In response to the 1970s oil crisis and new safety and emissions standards, as well as global economic stagnation, the car industry became more focused on efficiency and less on luxury.
- Smaller cars became more popular, with the “compact” and ”subcompact” segments introducing cars like the Chevy Vega, Ford Pinto, and AMC Gremlin.
- In the 1970s, cassette tape players became standard in most new cars; in 1984 the first CD players was installed.
- Off-road vehicles with all-wheel drive became popular in the 1970s and 1980s.
- In the 1980s, computer-aided design became possible, as well as computerized engine management systems.
- The first commercially-available GPS systems became available in cars in the 1980s.
- By the late ‘80s, most sedans came with antilock brakes.
- The 1990s saw an increased interest in environmental standards, with car design refocusing on potentials for hybrids and electric vehicles.
- In 1997, the Toyota Prius—the first widely available hybrid car—went on sale in Japan.
- In the early 2000s, in-car DVD entertainment systems became widely available.
- In July 2009, the Mitsubishi i-MiEV, the first highway-capable all-electric car, launched in Japan.
In the last ten years, auto tech innovation has gone through the roof, with everything from Bluetooth hookups to satellite radio becoming standard, to locating and starting cars with mobile devices, to driverless cars, standard anti-theft technology, and advanced driver assistance systems that tell you what the weather is like and how close you are to the speed limit. It’ll be amazing to see what comes out next.
While you’re waiting to find out, why not have a browse of the current TRED car selection to see what your next car might be? And let us know if we left out a car history event you think should be included—we’ll be sure to add it in!