Are these the top 7 most ludicrous features ever to be fitted in a car?
It was fun, the 20th century. When technology hadn’t taken over and all the problems had to be solved manually, mostly involving inventing or changing things. A simple over-the-air update was unimaginable. We were still stuck in getting the radio right on cars. As the years progressed, changing or inventing things became much easier and faster.
So, let’s take a minute, slow things down as we look at some of the more offbeat features to have ever donned the automobile of yesteryear.
Even today, wouldn’t you stop and stare if a car drove past you with illuminated tires?! I would. Imagine the look on the faces of bystanders when cars with lit up tyres went past them, in the 60s. They must’ve been left wondering if they were on a sci-fi movie set.
Developed by Goodyear, the tires were made out of Neothane, a synthetic rubber. The company claimed the tires combined the hardness of plastic with the resilience of rubber. As Neothane was translucent, Goodyear took advantage of this by adding neon-coloured dye to the rubber and fitting the rims with tiny light bulbs, resulting in the illuminated effect.
The driver could even control the illumination via a control stalk on the dashboard. Imagine using illuminated tires as turn signals and brake lights! Sadly, the rubber melted under heavy braking, the compound didn’t last during the monsoon season and it was getting too expensive to produce commercially. Hence the idea had to be scrapped.
Pivoting Passenger Seats
Back in the 50s and 60s, General Motors used to conduct travelling auto shows hosting more than 10 million visitors through major cities like New York, Miami and San Francisco. In one such year, Buick introduced an Electra 225 convertible show car. Nothing odd there, except it was given a heavy makeover. Renamed as the Flamingo, the convertible show car came in a pearlescent pink livery with dual-tone upholstery inside finished in pink and cranberry shaded leather. After it took a while for the visitors to look past that, they noticed the front passenger seat revolving a proper 180-degrees, facing the rear passengers. An astonishing party trick, in those times! Sadly, it didn’t make it to production.
Chrysler’s Highway Hi-fi
When people didn’t have Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, or even cassette players, drivers were at the mercy of the radio stations and children seated at the back for in-car entertainment. Peter Goldmark came up with a solution which served dual purposes - making personalised in-car entertainment a reality and shutting up the kids. He developed a record playing system for cars which would snugly fit in the dashboard, right beside the steering wheel. Capable of playing 7-inch discs with heavy vinyl, it featured in a lot of Chrysler models including Plymouth, Dodge and Imperial. Although it came as an optional extra, in 1956 that was arguably the world’s first in-car entertainment system.
Chrysler advertised it as a record player which would play smoothly irrespective of any curves, bumps, acceleration or braking. A game-changing invention, but sadly it didn’t find many buyers as the player only played Columbia produced records which didn’t have a big enough catalogue and the system itself proved to be unreliable. Finally, Chrysler had to pull the plug.
Volvo Anti-Kidnapping Heartbeat Sensor
(This one is an exception, from the 21st century) I’m not sure if this feature was to somehow challenge kidnappers or carjackers, but it certainly took safety to a different level. In the early 2000s, Volvo introduced the Personal Car Communicator which was a key fob which could tell the driver if the car’s locks have been tampered with or not. Where Volvo took it to the next level is by installing an electronic system in the car which could listen to the inside of a human body! The system would communicate the same to the key fob, letting the driver know well before he/she gets in, if he/she’s bound to encounter a kidnapping, robbery or if you were a government official or a spy, an assassination. This feature could be had only with their flagship sedan, the S80, although the proximity range at which it worked remains vague.
Nissan S-Cargo Speed Chime
After this feature, I consider my generation to be the lucky one. Speeding has been a usual task which we humans have been devilishly practising for a long time. To keep a check on that, modern cars have a simple bong to remind us to lighten our right foot. But a couple of decades ago, it wasn’t just a simple bong. It was a huge chime.
It came as a solution to strict Japanese speed limits, reminding the Japanese drivers that exceeding speed limits was somewhat equal to national treason. Hence, the chime. And if you thought the size or sound of the chime would be a problem, you’re in for a surprise. The chime was said to keep ringing, constantly attracting attention and embarrassment to the driver until he/she gets the speed back down to the said limit. I would always have the chime ringing.
WATER- BALLOON BUMPERS
Very simple, straightforward idea. Though in the current global-warming and a million horsepower vehicle times, it is best if we avoided this. Designed to protect the bodywork in low-speed crashes, each bumper was filled with seven or more gallons of water, depending on the size which would splash out in case of a crash. And it wasn’t exactly a prototype as these bumpers were used by the taxis of Portland, New York and San Francisco. Although it seems comical now, in the 60s, one of the initial tests runs even proved that it lead to sizeable reductions in accident repair costs (concerning the bodywork). It is said that a volunteer even agreed to put his head in between these bumpers with a 10mph (or 16kph) impact and he suffered no injuries! However, getting a different set of bumper filled with gallons of water proved to be a bit of an expensive affair and thus, the idea was let go.
Hit and Run Discs
With the introduction of cellphone cameras and CCTVs on every street corner, identifying a hit and run culprit has become relatively easy. The same can't be said for the 30s. Hence, a scheme, apparently suggested by a lawyer, was drawn where the car’s front bumper would deploy a series of small metal disks onto the road in case of an impact with a passerby. These disks would contain the car’s license number and name of the driver, providing a lead to Scotland Yard. But what if the license number and the driver’s name on the disk could be altered? Oh god, I’ve made up a scene for road rash.