The humble automobile has always been fertile ground for innovation. Some inventions have been more successful than others. Brakes – you probably agree – are a good idea. But in their … er … drive to attract customers with the latest and greatest, some companies might have taken things just a little too far…
5: On board tunes
Today all we need to do is flick on the radio to hear our favourite music. Modern cars can now play music from a passenger’s phone via Bluetooth. And with great sounding amps and subwoofers blasting at decibels that even your Aunt Mavis could have heard, car audio seems to be solved, right?
But what happens when you really want that authentic sound of old-school vinyl while you are taking your Sunday drive?
With vinyl record sales outstripping CD sales in 2016, people old and young will be interested to learn that those people at Chrysler had it all sorted in the 1950s with the in-car phonograph. And with a mini-record player under the dash what could possibly go wrong?
Well, it turns out the in-car turntable had to have specially designed mini-records, so the catalogue of available tunes was very small. Even if you are a die-hard Sinatra fan, there are only so many times you want to hear the same song from Ol’ Blue Eyes. And (surprise, surprise) the records bounced a little when the car went over a bump. One year later, they were gone.
4: Cocktail hour on wheels
Rumour has it that Ol’ Blue Eyes himself owned a 1957 Cadillac Eldorado Brougham. The car contained some random features including a woman’s leather grooming kit, a cigarette case and an atomiser containing a mystery fragrance.
Were these high on Frankie’s shopping list? Possibly. But it was undoubtedly the mini-bar in the glove box that sealed the deal; a shiny set of tumblers and a cocktail shaker, magnetised of course to avoid unnecessary spills.
Maybe driving through the Hollywood Hills one handed, while mixing a martini was the only way to drive in the 1950s. Or maybe this is where the notions of romance and reality collide. Literally.
3: Dog sacks
The poor pooch! You want to take it along, but don’t want it in the car. The answer in 1935: a sack, of course, hung outside from the side door. There was even a hole for the dog’s head, although why a pup would want to watch what was unfolding is anyone’s guess.
One publicised attraction was that the pooch could get some fresh air. But you had to fully wind down the window to hook it on, so there would have been plenty of air to go around. Sales were poor, and the inventor ended up in the dog house.
2: Stay awake … with bells on
As long as there have been cars, there have been drowsy drivers. And for about the same amount of time, there have been inspired (have a power nap) and not-so-inspired solutions. Our favourite of all came in the 1930s when drivers could purchase small bells or even a little gong that would sound if your head suddenly dropped. Strapped to your head and hanging down under your chin, we can think reasons other than noise for why it might have kept you awake.
Happily, drivers today can grab a takeaway coffee or just play their doof-doof … LOUD!
1: Horse head
Although it was never actually made, turn-of-the-century-before-last designs show one of the most kooky, ludicrous ideas we’ve come across. To ease the transition from horse-drawn cart to motor car, Michigan preacher Uriah Smith patented the Horsey Horseless, a hollow wooden horse head that was to be attached to the front of your new automobile.
Apparently, farmers were as frightened of cars as we are of driverless cars. I wonder if putting a wooden dummy chauffeur in the driver’s seat will make our transition any easier…
We can be thankful for the inventors who put their blood, sweat and tears into improving safety in the cars we drive today. Air-bags, sensors and seatbelts may not have the same glamorous allure of an on board mini-bar and record player, but they are just a little bit more useful.