10 Car Innovations That Were Either Ingenious or Preposterous

10 Car Innovations That Were Either Ingenious or Preposterous

Stephanie Schoppert - December 4, 2016

Cars have always been the vehicle of innovation, they have helped change the future since their creation and each year car manufacturers try to bring something new to their designs. Today’s cars have come a long way and are full of advanced features that make driving a much better experience. But some of your favorite features might not be as new as you think and some old cars might even have had features you wish your brand-new car had. Here are just a few of the innovation that were supposed to make the driving experience better but very few of them ever made it to production.

10 Car Innovations That Were Either Ingenious or Preposterous

1. Illuminated Tires

In the early 1960s Goodyear tried new experiments with their rubber to create something that was quite revolutionary. They called it “the tire of tomorrow” and it was definitely a showstopper. The tire itself was translucent and mounted to the inside of the rim were tiny light bulbs. These bulbs created a glowing effect that basically made the car look like it belonged in Tron. As an added feature the bulbs could be made to blink individually or in unison.

The tires were made differently than other tires of the period. They were made from compounds of Neothane synthetic rubber that was then poured into special molds. The batches were then heated to 250 degrees. What most enticed Goodyear’s customers was not the fact that the tires ran smoothly, quietly and were expected to wear at a much slower rate than regular tires, but the fact that the compound could be dyed to nearly any color. It was suggested that the new colored tires might become so common that a woman would change her tires to match her dress.

But these “tires of the future” were never meant to be. For one thing, they had no traction on wet pavement. For another they tended to melt when the brakes were pressed too hard and they lost stability at speeds over 65 mph. Perhaps the most troubling however, was the fact that in road tests onlookers were so distracted by the tires that they would stop in the middle of traffic, go through red lights or spend more time looking at the tires than the road. Since the safety issues were not solved and the tires themselves were seen as too distracting for night driving, Goodyear only allowed the illuminated tires were to be put on one private vehicle that belonged to collector Jim Street.

10 Car Innovations That Were Either Ingenious or Preposterous

2. Dog Sacks

Dog Sacks were one of the first examples of people really starting to think out of the box in terms of how to get cars to accommodate dogs as well. After all if a dog would not keep still it was dangerous to have the dog in the car, not to mention the hair and the damage their claws would do to the leather interior. So it is not surprising that people started to think of ways that the dog could travel with their owners, without actually being in the car.

The running board on cars of the 1930s was the ideal solution. It allowed space for a kennel or even worse, a dog sack. For those with the money or show dogs that they actually wanted to have a chance at surviving to their final destination there were metal cages that attached to the running board. This was considered a “palace” and the ultimate in luxury travel for your dog. While that remains to be seen it was definitely better than a dog sack. This invention appeared in a 1935 issue of Popular Mechanics. The idea was to have a sack that attached to the running board at the bottom and to the window at the top. The dog would be held tight against the side of the car and still get to feel the wind rushing into their face as they go for the most terrifying ride of their lives.

It is of course important to remember in the 1930s cars drove slower and there were fewer cars on the road. But that still does not make this any sort of a good idea and it was never made a standard feature on any model of car. But it was just one proposed idea for those who were looking for some way to take their dogs along for the ride.

10 Car Innovations That Were Either Ingenious or Preposterous

3. Mini Bar

In terms of bad ideas for car features, this one has to rank near the top. Nothing says living dangerous quite like being able to pour yourself a shot while driving. The 1957 Cadillac Eldorado Brougham came with a beautiful mini bar in the glove box. There is no denying that it looks much nicer than what most people have in their glove box but that does not mean it is the best choice. It was really well thought out and designed perfectly for the needs of the driver who wants a drink while on the go. The mini bar was magnetic and the glasses were magnetically held to the mini bar. This allowed for the glasses to remain still and not spill while you were pouring drinks or letting it rest between drinks.

Ideally drink mixing would have been done by the passenger and not by the driver, but then again this was never thought out in terms of safety. The Cadillac Eldorado Brougham was top the line and was only meant for the wealthiest of car buyers. The glove box of this car did not just contain a magnetic mini bar with plenty of space to keep your drink of choice but it was outfitted with many of the same amenities of a hotel room. There was a women’s grooming kit, a comb, cigarette case, a matching notebook, and even an atomizer filled with perfume. With those kinds of features it is clear that this car was meant for the man that wanted to impress the ladies. Fortunately, as the years passed and people became much more concerned with safety, the idea of a glove box mini bar became a thing of the past.

10 Car Innovations That Were Either Ingenious or Preposterous


4. Hit & Run Discs

This device for cars was actually a bit ingenious and it was designed to help identity the culprits of a hit and run. The idea behind the device was that if a car struck someone it would then shoot out discs from a compartment. These discs would feature all the pertinent information for who had been driving the car, such as their name and license plate number. That way if someone was in a car accident or if they were struck from a vehicle they could just pick up one of the ejected discs and they would have all the information they would need to track down the driver.

This was featured in a 1931 Popular Mechanics magazine as more of an idea rather than an actual feature that would be utilized in cars. The idea of it is a good one because hit and runs as as much of a problem now as it was in the 1930s. The problem is that people would likely be able to easily access and change or remove the discs, so that if they were to get into an accident the discs would be useless. The mechanics of the system would not be that easy either (especially with 1930s technology) to be able to register a hit on any part of the car and then be able to deploy the discs.

Hit and runs were a major problem in the early years of cars. In 1917 in Detroit there were over 7,000 accidents and 168 auto fatalities (with 65,000 cars on the roads) and three-fourths of those victims were pedestrians. Often the person driving the car would just keep going and the victims would have no recourse. So it is not at all surprising that a lawyer in 1930 would suggest a solution such as this one.

10 Car Innovations That Were Either Ingenious or Preposterous

5. Iter Avto

The idea of in car navigation assistance is not a new one even if GPS technology is. Back in the 1930s there was an attempt to have a navigation system in the car. This system would let you know where you were on the road and give you a glimpse of what was coming up. Looking at the device it looks like one of those old toys where you turn the knob and the picture changes. In truth, it operated in much the same way. There was a roll of paper that you would place into the device and then it would be attached to a cable that would act as a speedometer. However fast you were driving would determine how fast the scroll of paper moved. It really was an ingenious little device that could show you where you were on the map in real time as you drove down the street.

There was a slight problem that made it more than a little impractical. Each scroll of paper only worked for one street. If you had to turn down another street then you would have to remove the scroll you were using, find the scroll for the new street and then put it into the device. If you were planning a long road trip, for example, you would need to have a scroll for each road that you planned to drive on or might end up on, which would have meant carrying a large number of scrolls and being able to quickly change them anytime the car needed to turn. This idea was actually put into a design 10 years earlier, but as a navigation device that you wore on your wrist and used with a little box of scrolls that you would have to carry with you.

10 Car Innovations That Were Either Ingenious or Preposterous

6. On-board Record Player

When most people think of the evolution of music in cars, they think of the radio and then 8tracks and then cassettes, CDs and MP3s. But there was something that did come before 8tracks and revolutionized the way people listened to music. There were phonographs and record players. In 1956, Columbia actually came up with a phonograph that fit right under the radio in the dashboard. It was nicely hidden behind a panel, but once you opened it up you could switch from the radio to the phonograph with just one push of a button. Once you had switched over to the phonograph all the volume and equalizer controls worked for the phonograph just as they did for the radio.

The neat little player was available on several models including Chrysler, Dodge, Plymouth and DeSoto. The player was able to handle 45 speed records and 7 inch records in the 16 -2/3 format. The phonograph was problematic though. The biggest problem was that any bump at all would cause the record to skip and car rides in the 1950s tended to be a bit bumpy at times. The other downside to the in-dash phonographs was that Columbia had an exclusive deal which meant that drivers were only able to listen to music by artists that were signed to Columbia records. Despite the ingenuity of the phonograph it only lasted a year. A few years later manufacturers tried to revive the idea but it failed once again. It was not until the technology improved and 8tracks were developed in the 60s that drivers were able to personalize their driving experience with their favorite tunes.

10 Car Innovations That Were Either Ingenious or Preposterous

7. Wrist Twist

In 1965 Ford wanted to continue to innovate with their cars and one such innovation was to completely replace the steering wheel. The steering wheel which was easy to use, intuitive and worked perfectly. Their idea to replace the steering wheel was as complicated as it looks. Instead of that big bulky wheel (that Ford had spent time trying to get out of the way) the driver would twist a set of dials. The dials were locked so that they twisted in unison and Ford believed that it was much easier than a steering wheel. There were a few benefits, the driver had more room, better visibility and they could even rest their arms on the armrests as they drove. Ford even suggested that it was easy enough for a woman to use!

Popular Mechanics went and tested the still experimental system in 1965 and found that it had a bit of learning curve. The lighter touch was hard to get used to and if one reverted to trying to turn the controls like a steering wheel the car would respond in dramatic fashion with a jerk. However, after an adjustment period the driver sent by Popular Mechanics, Alex Markovich, grew to like the new system. It was more comfortable be able to put arms on the arm rests and the system did have better visibility. Obviously the wrist-twist did not catch on but the reason was not because it was just too strange for people to get over or that people were just too accustomed to the steering wheel. The wrist-twist had a substantial problem that must have stalled the transition to the new steering system. During violent-lock maneuvers the wrist twist could run out of power boost. This was a problem in traditional power steering as well but it was much easier to overcome with a traditional steering wheel.
In 1968 Popular Mechanics reported that the strange steering system was not yet dead but that it was unlikely to hit production in the foreseeable future.

10 Car Innovations That Were Either Ingenious or Preposterous

8. Chin Alarm

The Chin Alarm is perhaps one of the more ridiculous car innovations on the list. This was designed as a fail safe for keeping people awake when they were driving. The idea was that a driver who was concerned about falling asleep at the wheel would attach a bell of some sort to their chin and then it would ring loudly if their chin dropped. This idea was expanded upon in 1936 with a small metal gong that the driver would hang from his shirt collar. If the driver’s chin dropped in the slightest the gong would loudly ring and wake the driver up. From the pictures it looks more like a prank hand buzzer, which might actually have been even more effective at waking up a dozing driver.

Fatigued drivers have been around since the early days of cars and they have not gone away. However, since many people were not too eager to strap a bell to their chin, there have been modern improvements to safeguards against driver dozing. Today Ford offers a camera mounted on the rear-view mirror that detects lane markings on the road and predicts where the car should drive. If the driver deviates from the camera’s prediction an alarm sounds and a warning is displayed on the dash alerting the driver to take a break (with the tempting image of a coffee cup). Mercedes-Benz has their own tired driver system in which the car gathers information about driver behavior within the first few minutes of any drive. After that if the driver deviates from the driver profile that was created an alert sounds and once again a friendly coffee cup is displayed. These modern-day “chin alarms” are at least much more comfortable than having a gong tied around your neck and they are even more effective.

10 Car Innovations That Were Either Ingenious or Preposterous

9. Swing Steering Wheel

On the 1961 Thunderbird, Ford offered something completely revolutionary: A Swing-Away Steering Wheel. The steering wheel was created out of the understanding that sometimes getting in and out of the car could be a pain if you were carrying groceries, a briefcase or a purse. The bags would have to squeeze past the steering wheel, often getting caught in the process. It was easily solved by just putting the bags in the car before getting in, but Ford thought they would make it even easier. The Swing-Away Steering Wheel was designed to be moved 10.5 inches to the right making the space for the driver to enter the car substantially bigger.

It was so popular on the 1961 Thunderbird that it became the standard feature on the 1962 model. It was also added to the Ford Galaxie in 1963, but by 1966 the Swing-Away Steering Wheel was no longer being offered on any Ford models. It was instead replaced with the Tilt-Away Steering Wheel which was fully automatic. It would get out of the way when the door was opened and then moved back when the door was closed. The driver could also move it manually. The change was necessary so that the steering wheel could meet Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards. The idea was popular while it lasted but never really moved to all makes and models of cars. GM did offer a Tilt Steering Wheel option for their 1963 Cadillac and there was a Vertically Adjustable Steering Wheel Column for the Lincoln. The 1966 Lincoln redesign featured the Tilt Steering Wheel. These designs continued into the 70s. Some of the most popular features of the movable steering wheels was when they began offering different positions so that the driver could pick the best steering wheel position for their personal comfort.

10 Car Innovations That Were Either Ingenious or Preposterous

10. Automatic Seat Belts

Automatic seat belts seemed like a great idea when they were introduced. For many people that saw these in the 80s they were cool. It was a seat belt that ensured that no one would drive without being at least somewhat protected. Automatic seat belts were first introduced by Volkswagon in 1972 on their Experimental Safety Vehicle. The 1975 Volkswagon Golf was the first commercial car to feature automatic seat belts.

In 1977 the United States Secretary of Transportation mandated that by 1983 every new car should have airbags or automatic seat belts. GM introduced the automatic seat belt on Chevrolet Chevette and then it was featured on the VW Rabbit. The Transportation Mandate went back and forth through different administrations but by 1984 it was once again mandated that all cars must have airbags or automatic seat belts. Since the automatic seat belts were cheaper, most car manufacturers opted for the seat belts. The seat belts faced complaints because it was awkward for the driver to get in and out of the car and often got in the way. If the driver was entering their car while carrying something it was even more difficult. Some drivers got so frustrated with the design that they would just cut the belt and go without.

In 1995 the rules changed yet again and all cars were required to have driver side airbags. This led most manufacturers to do away with the automatic seatbelts. The last cars to feature this design were the 1995-1996 Ford Escort/Mercury Tracer and the Eagle Summit Wagon. These seat belts were one attempt at modernization and automation that did not go over well with drivers. They did have some benefits as a 1978 study by the Department of Transportation found that cars that had automatic seat belts had a fatality rate of .78/100,000,000 miles as opposed to 2.34/100,000,000 miles for cars with regular seat belts. They were not as effective as airbags which was the reason for the change in rules yet again.