Remember Back to the Future and flying cars? Or Blade Runner with the Spinner that could drive on the road or take off vertically, fly and hover? During the 50s through to the 80s, and depicted in LOADS of movies, there was a total belief that by the time the 21st Century rolled around we would no longer use our roads but instead would be flying and hovering all around the sky in our bullet proof cars with flame throwers and jet engines, or cars would be driving themselves while we had a family outing playing board games (ok, so that one’s not too far away).
But, fast forward to now and our cars don’t fly. Or hover. I mean, they might be in pre-pre-pre-production, and they may still be in the R&D department of all major car brands but they don’t DO it. And it’s been SIXTY YEARS!
So we thought we’d take a look at the innovation from movies and the news from way back when and see if anything has come true or if we’re still way way behind where we thought we’d be.
Harley Earl is the granddaddy of car design (actually, his daddy started it but lets not be picky), including the Corvette and LeSabre amongst many others. Throughout the 50s he designed cars with heated seats, sensors to raise the roof once it started to rain and, my all time favourite (because he housed it in pointy Dagmars – see image below), a radar system which was a primitive crash detection system. These are all things, in one form or another, that you’ll find in today’s cars.
Courtesy of GM
In 1977 the Panther Six not only had six wheels (!) but also had air-con, an in-car telephone and electric windows – way ahead of it’s time and all things we take for granted now.
The prediction from Ford in the 50s and 60s was for nuclear powered cars. Yep, they thought there’d be nuclear reactors small enough to power a car. Ok, it was more of a predictive exercise than anything serious, but still, it was an actual thought fifty odd years ago. By contrast, GM designed the Firebird to be turbine-powered and there was the odd thought that a jet engine might work too.
So none of these have come to light but they are all a pre-cursor to the thought that something other than petrol or diesel can power a car, and we are indeed on the brink of fully electric cars that can charge while parked over a plate and can charge super fast, not to mention the possibility of solar technology on the roof and bonnet.
Of course, James Bond has the best futuristic cars of all. The iconic Aston Martin is probably the best known, with it’s rotating number plates, tyre shredders, machine guns and ejector seats – all of which will never likely be in mass production! But what about the Lotus Esprit and it’s ability to become a submarine? Well have you ever been on a Duck Tour – the bus that drives right into the water and becomes a boat? Which do we think came first; there are rumours that the first ‘duck’ was in 1946 so was this the inspiration for the car? And is it such a stretch, in this time of climate change and threats of rising sea levels, to believe that the Concept Departments of car designers might be working on something that will do both land and sea?
And that brings us around to K.I.T.T – Michael Knight’s bullet proof, self driving, self thinking Trans Am that we all fell in love with in the 80s because it was, well, brilliant. And to this day I’m pretty sure we all want one. You can talk to a Ford and a Mercedes, they kinda talk back. These weird little concept cars like the Nissan Leaf are not what we envisage when we hear ‘driverless’ however they are proof that what started as a silver screen concept in the 80s has pioneered the movement of today.
A lot of what was deemed ‘futuristic’ has indeed made it’s way into 21st Century cars but a lot…hasn’t. Has innovation slowed down or were these concept cars just way too ahead of their time and nuclear powered cars with 6 wheels are just around the corner?
Love a Concept Car? There’s 50 totally bonkers ones here. Have a read and see which features from the 50s to the 80s have made it into today’s cars.