6 age-old automotive inventions… some made it, some didn’t

  • Motorcycle and car in one
  • Lit Motors gyroscopically stabilised vehicle
  • Driving simulator
  • Automated braking
  • Pocket-sized car
  • Steam car
  • Mercury's wrist-twist steering wheel
Date:10 July 2013 Tags:, ,

Times have definitely changed, but we try not to forget the efforts of those who came before us. We delved into the old PM archives and dug up these priceless automotive inventions from way back when. Some were the starting blocks for some of the fresh designs we see now, and some, luckily, didn’t quite make the cut.

1939 Motorcycle and car in one: About 74 years ago, an unnamed Miami inventor came up with this strange-looking vehicle, powered by a small 4-cylinder engine. It featured outrigger parking wheels that retracted into the bodywork during regular driving. Inset: Here’s a modern version, this one designed by Californian firm Lit Motors. Billed as the world’s first gyroscopically stabilised rolling smartphone (sic), it sets out to combine the efficiency and freedom of a motorcycle with the safety and convenience of a car.

1953 Driving simulator: So you thought driving simulators were new? Think again. This version, equipped with regulation steering wheel, pedals and instrument panel, employed a model car on a rolling “highway” and was able to simulate reverse-parking situations. Interestingly, we’ve found an even earlier prototype in a back issue from 1941

1858 Automated braking: If you thought automated braking was a new concept, think again. This experimental car, introduced to PM readers more than half a century ago, was equipped with “electric brains” that controlled a number of functions, including the braking system. A surprisingly sophisticated acoustic sensing apparatus applied the brakes – with increasing urgency – when it detected an obstacle in the car’s path. Perhaps even more compelling was the “tail-pipe firing device” that reportedly operated like a ramjet (with a little help from blowers) to boost the vehicle’s performance.

1958 Pocket-sized car: Deciding he’d had enough of Rome’s parking problems, Italian Vito Pecori built himself a pocket-sized car that would fit into just about any space. Although the Italy of the Fifties was a nation of small cars, Vito’s little runabout – powered by a tiny 49 cm³ scooter engine – was in a league of its own.

1965 Steam car: Our feature on steam cars focused on a variety of interesting vehicles, including a home-built Bonneville speed record contender (the designer fully expected to achieve 270 km/h) and this rather fetching kart, powered by two small steam engines. A steam whistle replaced the more conventional hooter.

1965 Wrist-twist steering system: Mercury’s wrist-twist steering system was one of many automotive innovations from the 1960s that didn’t make it as far as the production line. Interestingly, test driver Alex Markovitch started out hating the concept, slowly became used to it, and ended up actually liking it.