We'll have hovercars to the moon by 1980. We'll have turbine-powered metal arrows that will shoot us into the horizon, buoyed by ground-traffic controllers. We're always looking to the future, hearing promises of the moon and settling instead for the stars. Or is it the other way around? And nowhere is that more evident than the lofty imagery shown to us by purveyors of the motor carriage.
Here, then, are ten advertisements, promotional videos, and pie-filled skyward thoughts that told us, no matter how dark the decade got, our cars would make it all better. Why drive something old, after all, when you can drive the future?
Winton Motor Carriage
This was where it all started: the idea of a motorized carriage as the future itself. Why get a horse when you could ride in style in a horseless carriage? Founded in 1897, Winton was one of America's first car companies, and its first car sold for $1,000—or $26,000 today. A decent price to pay to avoid staring at a horse's butt.
The decade that gave us the Chrysler Airflow and the age of commercial flight also gave us aerodynamics: the then-radical idea that hey, maybe all of our cars shouldn't be shaped like refrigerators or bank facades. Watch Chevrolet and explain the importance of aerodynamics and air resistance with the help of nature, birds, and some informative scientific demonstrations. Aerodynamics set the template for automotive design throughout the 20th century, which is a lot more than what we can say about cars speeding through buildings atop elevated highways at 120 miles per hour.
Gary Davis came back from the war with a dream to build car for the postwar boom, one with genuine aircraft construction and expertise, one with three-wheeled minimalism that could spin veritable donuts in the middle of the street. And the resulting Davis Divan made a splash: its creator engaged in a publicity blitz across America, appearing in newspapers and fancy hotels and even in the Rose Bowl. It was a fuel sipper, lent itself easily to parallel parking, could seat four across, and even be driven hard across train tracks. And if Davis hadn't been convicted of fraud—a recurring theme with these homegrown adventures, as you'll see—it would have worked far beyond the 17 prototypes his company built.
When it debuted in 1955 the was a revelation: a veritable spaceship, the most modern car that the postwar world had ever seen, one that landed on a hydropneumatic suspension. If you can understand French, you can make heads or tails of this strange, slightly unsettling (yet still informative) ad, which attempts to explain it with the help of fish tied to balloons. (In the English language, this is known as a "metaphor.") Conversely, this ad requires no translation.
GM Firebird II
Imagine motoring in the far-off year of nineteen-hundred and seventy-six: you get in your turbine-powered Firebird II, radio the tower for clearance, program your route, set the autopilot, merge into the High Speed Safety Lane, and blast off effortlessly on the Safety Autoway from Arizona to Chicago in safe, cool, cigar-smoking comfort. Twenty years from 1956, said this all-singing, all-dancing, all-American family, this will all be a reality! Too bad 1976 didn't exactly work out as planned. But that didn't stop certain individuals from dreaming about the future.
During those dire years of pricey gas and smog-choked emissions, of the Saigon Airlift and our self-imposed , we needed a car, anything really, to lift us out of the quagmire and into the future. And here it was: a banana-colored three-wheeled fiberglass-shelled wonder-car that, , could've been our first "Space Age Automobile!" The Dale was supposed to get 70mpg, reach 85 miles per hour with a BMW motorcycle engine, and cost less than $9,000 in today's money. If Liz Carmichael hadn't amassed $30 million in investments, fled with the money, , fled from the police and then been arrested for counterfeiting and bail evasion, the whole thing might've worked, too.
Eighties nostalgia has been of sorts recently, as our capacity for retro fondness operates in thirty-year cycles. And when we put on our fingerless gloves and , we're channeling this astounding advertisement for the fourth-generation Chevrolet Corvette—which, after all, did replace a nearly twenty-year design. Computers! Genius! Legend! Liquid-crystal displays! Computer-activated manual transmission! Four "never before" speakers! Computers! If you didn't build a car with computers in the Eighties, you didn't build a car at all.
Don't call it a four-banger! The Oldsmobile Aerotech and its turbocharged, four-cylinder Quad 4 engine—which ultimately hit a top speed of 267.88 miles per hour—paved the way of the future: someday, we'd all have a "2.0T" under the hood. Which is more than what we could say about the 1988 Oldsmobile Cutlass Calais, or Oldsmobile itself.
Active lifestyles, stand up and be counted! Pontiac was on a roll in the Nineties, and this $2 million design exercise was an exercise in FUN: fun for the whole family, fun in the sun, fun for the Nineties kids binging on Rocko's Modern Life and Surge! Remote keyless entry, driver-centric controls, removable seat inserts, cassette player, vacuum cleaner, garden hose, camping stove and picnic table—even a door that doubles as an ice cooler. It all served to predict the slew of fun two-door SUVs like the Isuzu Amigo, the Suzuki X90, the Honda Element, and yes, in one way or another, even the Pontiac Aztek.
"The only thing we can be sure of about the future," said Arthur C. Clarke , "is that it will be absolutely fantastic." The titan of science fiction was as good enough a voice, as any, for BMW to use in this ad for the i8, a genuinely futuristic car: a scissor-winged, all-electric supercar that looks like nothing else, seen against a night-sky backdrop of cityscapes and graceful bridges, does wonders to set the mood. The future will be cool, blue, and set in Dubai, baby.