Innovations over the decades
COMPILED BY Dyan Seneviratne
This column usually dwells on the latest innovations in motor technology that are being embraced by the world and introduced to the latest iterations. But since most vehicle manufacturers were forced to grind to a halt due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there’s not much to talk about in that arena at this time.
So let’s instead check out some of the innovations over the ages that have contributed to making our driving that much safer and more pleasurable.
COOL CARS The installation of air conditioning in cars was introduced in 1933 by a company in New York whose customers drove limousines and luxury cars. The Packard Motor Car Company is credited with being the first manufacturer to offer an air conditioning unit in its cars in 1939. Cadillac and Buick offered air conditioning as an option in their 1953 models.
Even though there’s an ongoing debate about the impact of air conditioning on the fuel efficiency of a vehicle, it sure feels nice to drive around in a car that’s cool inside!
QUICK START Did you know that electric starting, which seems so simple, has a rich and complex history? Before the advent of the electric starter motor, cars needed to be started by hand. This was accomplished by turning a crank to move the pistons until enough momentum was generated to keep the engine running on its own.
Needless to say, the crank was difficult to operate; and in addition to causing uncomfortable conditions such as back pain, the crank could actually kick back and hit the operator!
HAND BRAKES Once you start moving, you need to be able to stop. This might seem obvious but most early cars were simply trying to get moving and didn’t have the best braking systems. The 1886 Benz Patent-Motorwagen is arguably the first car created; it is also the first to have brakes.
Since its creation, there have been many evolutions of car braking systems that range from hand to drum and disc brakes – and eventually, power-assisted and antilock brakes.
CLEAR VISION Hand-operated windscreen wipers were invented by Mary Anderson of Alabama after she visited an icy New York City. She noticed that the trolley driver was driving with the window open because it was too difficult to keep the sleet off the front window.
Upon returning to Alabama, she hired a designer who helped her to create the very first windscreen wiper. This innovation consisted of a simple rubber blade placed outside the windscreen and was controlled by a lever inside the vehicle.
SAFE STEERING The collapsible steering column is a notable safety innovation. Older vehicles had steering columns that consisted of one solid piece. Since these columns caused serious injuries in car accidents, engineers created collapsible steering columns.
A steering column that collapses on impact instead of being driven back into the driver greatly reduces the chance of serious injuries.
So let’s salute these early innovators for their vision, as well as a desire to make our drive safer and more pleasurable!