Fact: cars are such a normal part of our lives that we forget that they are a relatively new innovation. It was barely 250 years ago when the world’s first self-propelled mechanical land-vehicle took to the streets of Paris. The first horseless carriage may not have been greeted with open arms, however, it sparked the imaginations of would-be inventors around the globe. With all due respect to Elon Musk, much of our most modern automotive technology and what many see as the future are actually very old ideas.
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Ask most people what the world’s best-selling car is, and they will likely guess something like the Honda Accord or VW Beetle, but both answers fall way short of the winner. With sales that had already topped 6 million before its 25th anniversary in 2004, the Little Tikes red and yellow Cozy Coupe toy car was at that time officially recognized as The World’s Best-Selling Car and considering the number sold each year it is not likely to lose that title at any point in our lifetimes.
While 'Green' has become one of the biggest buzzwords in advertising pretty much everything, including cars, some countries believe in being a little more honest than most. For example, in Norway, companies claiming their vehicles are "green," "clean," or "environmentally friendly" risk being hit with huge fines as this is considered false advertising. According to Consumer Ombudsman official Bente Øverli, "Cars cannot do anything good for the environment except some cause less damage than others." So much for the eco-mentalists trying to outlaw our V8s.
For many of us, the Tesla Roadster and those that have followed were our first real exposure to the idea of electric cars. Others, slightly longer in the tooth, will remember the rash of experimental electrics that appeared in the late 70s and early 80s, but electric cars go back way further in history than that. The first recorded electric car was built by Hungarian inventor Ányos Jedlik in 1828, but it was Professor Sibrandus Stratingh and his assistant Christopher Becker who first tied a small DC motor to a battery inside a vehicle circa 1835.
One of the stock CG effects used in many action-adventure car chase scenes these days is for a car to barrel roll through a tunnel leaving its pursuers trapped in traffic as it continues to loop past obstacles and speed away. As crazy as it may sound, this bit of movie magic is possible. A modern F1 racer traveling at 120 mph develops over 3.5 g of downforce while cornering, meaning it could literally loop upside down through a tunnel without fear of crashing to the road below.
Though there are many disputed claims to who had the dishonor of being the first driver targeted by police for speeding, the best official records place it upon the shoulders of one Walter Arnold of Paddock Wood, Kent in the UK on January 28, 1896. He was observed by a constable running through the village at an estimated four times the legal speed limit of 2 mph and without the required flag bearer preceding his coming. It took the officer 5 miles on his bicycle to overtake Arnold and site him a full shilling for the violations.
When a vehicle carries the reputation for quality and attention to detail, not to mention the price tag of a Rolls Royce, you naturally expect them to last longer and deliver better service than your average automobile. In this age of disposable everything, though, most people are surprised to learn that over 75% percent of all the Rolls ever built, including many examples from the early 1900s, are still on the road. This longevity is remarkable for any company, but when you consider the large numbers of vehicles lost during WWII service, it is truly astounding.
It can be frustrating to be stuck in traffic, but even more so when some self-important idiot is constantly honking their horn because the world is supposed to magically move out of their way. In Mumbai, a city of over 20 million people, they have found a way to curb the problem of impatient drivers. They now have decibel meters connected to red lights at major intersections, and each time they register horns blowing, they reset the timer on the lights causing them to stay red; the more you honk, the longer you wait.
Walter Arnold of Paddock Wood, Kent England may have received the world first speeding ticket, but this was by no means the first traffic violation noted in automotive history. The honor of receiving the world’s first traffic citation goes to nonother than Nicolas-Joseph Cugnot, the inventor of the first car who was cited for reckless driving and damage to property when his second prototype struck a garden wall in Paris at some point in 1771. Details are sketchy at best, but considering the steam-powered vehicle had a max speed below five mph, we doubt much damage was done.
Every race fan has their personal favorite, but a strong case can be made that the Indy Car Series is the king of the heap when it comes to performance, prestige, and the demands placed on drivers and their equipment. In 2006 despite protests from many corners, new car specs were released, stipulating the use of Honda engines in all racers. While many felt the move was instigated due to corporate favoritism, it is difficult to make much of a case when you consider in the time since then there has not been an engine failure recorded in any Indy Race.
No one likes the idea of being robbed or otherwise assaulted, but to be carjacked and deprived of transportation is adding insult to injury. While the use of deadly force, excess force, and right to self-defense may be argued in many quarters, there is not much doubt where South African lawmaker’s opinions fall. In South Africa, it is perfectly legal to attach small remote-control flamethrowers to the sides of your car to protect yourself from car thieves.
There is little doubt that proper maintenance and upkeep can go a long way toward extending the life of a vehicle, but anything mechanical is eventually going to wear-out right; maybe and maybe not. Whether it was due to TLC or just blind luck, Irvin "Irv" Gordon of Girdwood, Alaska, has clocked over 3 million miles in his 1966 Volvo 1800S. Gordon bought the car new for $4,150 and drove it an average 0f 92.5 thousand miles per year up till 2014 when he was gifted an XC-60R AWD by VCNA.
Most of us think of Volkswagen as a company that produces small, well-engineered, economical cars, but if you drive an Audi, Bentley, Bugatti, Lamborghini, Porsche, Ducati or anyone of over half dozen other car brands you are driving a VW. Since the 1960’s Volkswagen AG has worked aggressively to acquire not only other automobile manufacturers but the builders of motorcycles and commercial vehicles as well, it is now the world’s largest automotive producer and one of the top five conglomerates in existence.
We have already seen that electric vehicles are far from a new concept, but there is a pretty good consensus that the wave of the future will be hydrogen fuel cells. That may well be considering the power they make available without producing harmful exhaust gases, but again they are anything but a new idea. The first car designed to powered by a hydrogen-fueled engine was laid down by François Isaac de Rivaz as early as 1808.
The first mass-produced car sold in the United States with all-wheel steering was the 1978 Honda Prelude. It was faster through the slalom test than any other car in the world, including speed demons such as those offered by Ferrari and Porsche at the time and established the Honda reputation for superior engineering at affordable prices. Even today, these cars are highly sought after by collectors and tuners alike who understand what its development really meant to the entire industry.
The movie, The Grapes of Wrath was one of only a few western films allowed to be shown in Russia during the Soviet era as it displayed the poor suffering under capitalism, but it was quickly withdrawn from audiences once it was realized the movie illustrated that the poor under capitalism had cars that even those in power couldn’t afford under socialism. Politics are politics, but wheels trump ideology any day of the week and twice on Sunday.