See how people 100 years ago imagined cars would look in the future (and how wrong they were)

Science and Invention magazine 1923 - Cars from 1973-001

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Automobile of tomorrow will be constructed like a moving drawing room (article from 1918)

Just press buttons and let the engine do the work

That the automobile of the next generation will be far different from the type in use today is the prediction made in an interesting article in a recent issue of the Scientific American.

The entire control of the machine will be simplified, and perhaps located in a set of push buttons. A recent invention makes possible the opening and closing of garage doors by this method, and the application of the theory, it is prophesied, will be applied to the automobile itself.

The article, which is entitled “The Motor Car of the Future,” says that the car will be weather-tight and weather-proof, and that the sides, front, rear, and roof will probably be made of glass. In warm weather, the sides would come down, while inside curtains, including one for the roof of the machine, would keep out the sun and glare when shade is desired.

The car of the future - Imagined from 1918

Change in engine

The writer then says:

“The power plant of the car of the not-too-near future will be under the body and on or near the rear axle.

“A thousand gasoline engineers are about to arise and call me wicked names and tell me it can’t be done. I dare say it can’t with a gasoline engine. But who said the car of the future had to have a gasoline engine?

“There is at least one brand-new development in the steam-car field, which does this very thing — puts the power plant where it belongs, close to the rear axle, thus dispensing with the long shaft, the universals and their likelihood of breaking and wearing out, and their power loss. Electric automobiles of the present all have their power plants on or near the point of power application.

“If, as seems reasonable to suppose, the greatest of all power problems is finally solved if we ever learn to develop the power in gasoline, alcohol, kerosene, explosives, coal — wherever latent power is — directly into electricity, then there can be no question as to where the power plant will be. And — make no mistake about it — that development will one day be made.”

Science and Invention magazine 1923 - 1973 car

Revolution going on

“The means of control of a motor,” he continues, “are undergoing a revolution right now — and the end is far to seek.

“The first automobile had an engine to pull the car, a man to start the engine, a man to stop the car, a man to pump the gasoline, a man to turn down the oiler, a man to pump the tires, a man to fill the oil lamps, a man to light them — oh, it was the same man, but the point is the engine didn’t do anything but pull him around. He had to attend to all the rest of it himself.

“Today the engine supplies power for lights, power to start itself, power to pump up tires, power to pump its own oil, power to pump its own gasoline.

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“What is next? Power to stop itself, of course! And here we are on solid ground, for the vacuum brake, which uses engine power to create suction and air pressure to apply brakes, is already on the market. So is an electrical brake, which uses the stored engine energy in the battery to wind a cable or a drum and puts so much pressure on the brake bands that the best practice is to keep them thoroughly oiled!

“The car of the future won’t leave anything to be done by man power. If the engine starts and lights and pumps and stops itself, why, shouldn’t it steer the car?

“And in the future, the car with the steering wheel will be as obsolete as the car with the hand pump for gas or oil is today.

Science and Invention magazine 1923 - Cars from 1973

“The car of the future will have no such thing as a driver’s seat. All the seats in the car save the rear one, will be movable.

“Driving will be done from a small control board, which can be held in the lap. It will be connected to the mechanism by a flexible electric cable, a small finger lever, not a wheel, will guide the car. Another will attend to speed changes, buttons will light and warm the car, blow the horn, apply the brakes — everything.

“The driver will sit right or left as he pleases or even, on country roads, on the rear seat. Driving will be then, what it ought to be, a mental, not physical exercise.

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“And don’t protest that an electric cable can’t carry all the controlling influences from driver to car, to engine, to lights, horn, brake, speed controls, steering.

“The modern church organ has five banks of keys and hundreds of stops. Every key has an electrical circuit, every stop, every coupler, every pedal has at least one and sometimes several, and they all — the whole several hundred of them — go in one flexible cable so that a modern console can be moved about in the church exactly as the modern control board of the future will be moved about in the automobile.

Car that is to come

“Pedals, levers, dials, contraptions of all sorts, will disappear. The interior of the car of the future will look like a little pleasure house, not the engine room of the U-boat.

“The engine — I won’t quarrel with you as to whether it is electric, gas or steam, or located under the hood or the rear seat — will deliver and store enough power to do everything about the car that manual labor now does.

“The motor car of the future will be low. You won’t climb into it — you will step into it. Six-inch clearances will be ample, because the future won’t have any bad roads.

“The car of the future will carry neither extra tires nor extra wheels. In the first place, if the non-puncturable tire doesn’t arrive — which it will, probably — and if the substitute for rubber is never made — which it will be — why, someone will come across with a substitute for air.

The car of the future - Imagined from 1918 (2)

Electrical control

“By means of an electrical device patented, the automobilist can, upon reaching his garage, press a button which will turn on the lights in the building, unlock the doors and fold them back clear of the opening all within a few seconds,” says the Scientific American.

“The push buttons are arranged on a metal post outside in a convenient place at the side of the driveway where the driver can reach out with one hand and operate the device. One push button opens up the garage, another closes it while a third stops the doors instantly.

“Provision has been made through a spring checking device to prevent accidents to persons or machines, should they, by oversight, be standing in the opening after the closing button has been pressed.

“In case of emergency, as power being off, etc, a slight pull of a lever disengages gears, and the doors can be hand-operated. The doors are mechanically connected so that the opening of one section also opens the other.

“When the push-button device is outside, they may be operated with a cylinder lock; so that no one besides the owners can enter the garage.

“The device is very simple to install and can be placed wherever there is twelve inches space above the doorway. The maintenance after installation is practically nothing.”

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