We live in a golden age of cars. Many, even the most inexpensive cars, have features that we admittedly take for granted. Before today's tech heavy cars, there were ambitious cars decades ago with tech that wasn't quite ready for primetime, but previewed the future. Here are 15 of your favorites.
The 1955 300SL was the first production car to feature Bosch mechanical direct fuel injection, a groundbreaking piece of tech of the time. Allowing for more power and efficiency, it made the 300SL a dominating race car, and a fantastically capable road car. At the time of its release, the 300SL was the fastest road car you could buy.
Preston Tucker had big plans for his 1948 sedan of the future. Things like disc brakes, independant suspension, and lights that rotated with wheel direction made the Tucker lightyears ahead of anything else of its time. Ultimately, though, Tucker failed to mass-produce his rear-engine sedan and only 47 examples remain today.
Adaptive suspension, four-wheel steering, and active aerodynamics are things you find on the supercars of today, but were all virtually unheard of in the early 1990s. The 3000GT VR-4, which debuted in 1994, had all of them.
The FCX Clarity was the first hydrogen fuel cell car available to the public. But nobody could buy them because Honda only leased them, and . The problem is that there's still no real infrastructure for hydrogen fueling, which makes these cars more experiment than replacement for production car.
Some peopled hated it. Some people loved it. But you can't deny that the Lagonda's sharply wedge-shaped nose is eye-catching. That, paired with fairly advanced in-car tech made the Lagonda a bit too advanced for its time. It had a digital instrument panel in 1976, which was hilariously bad, by the way. The buttons were touch sensitive and often didn't work. Bright sunlight washed out the display. That's why screens didn't show up in cars again for decades after that, but man, was it stylish.
First off: Awesome name. Second: The Jetfire (and the Chevy Corvair Monza) was the first mass-produced turbocharged car in 1962. The Corvair had an air-cooled, rear-mounted, and turbocharged flat-six engine. The Jetfire has a 3.5-liter V8 that made 215 hp. It relied on "" to combat detonation problems. You know how almost all cars are turbocharged these days? These two started it all.
When you think of an electric car these days, your mind will almost automatically jump to a Tesla Model S. But Tesla isn't the first American automaker to create a mainstream EV. Back in the late 90s, GM had the EV1 for lease-only. Automakers have been playing around with EVs since the 1800s, but the EV1 was the first modern mass-produced EV. It was good for 137 hp and had a 70- to 100-mile range.
The second generation Pathfinder abandoned the body on frame construction of the first generation in favor of the unibody design. Although it returned to BoF for the third generation so the platform could be shared between Nissan's trucks and SUVs, the second-gen 1995 Pathfinder displayed the eventual path that most other BoF trucks took in switching to unibody designs (the XJ Jeep Cherokee being the first).
The Insight was and had a sleek design meant to minimize drag. It was the first mass-production hybrid car sold in the U.S., although its sales figures never managed to top those of the Toyota Prius. Honda discontinued the Insight in 2006, and brought it back again as a five-door hatch in 2010.
The DS21 wasn't just beautiful, it was also innovative. It was the . It also had a self-leveling , which raised and lowered the car and gave it a "magic carpet" ride feel. Today, the system is used by Citroen, Rolls-Royce, and Maserati.
Every time the exotic silhouette of a mid-engined car catches your eye, the Lamborghini Miura's influence is there. It was the first serious production mid-engined supercar, and had a transversely mounted V12 tucked behind the passenger compartment. It delighted in being driven fast, and is still very expensive today.
When it was introduced in 1986, the 959 was the fastest street-legal production car, with a top speed of 195 mph, and was widely recognized as the most technologically advanced road car ever built. Porsche only made 337 examples, and each car had a complicated AWD system that standardized AWD for all Turbo models following it. The twin-turbo flat-six made an obscene 444 hp. You could control ride height. It was the first passenger car to have an electronic tire-pressure monitoring system. Besides the Ferrari Testarossa, it was also one of the few cars to have zero lift aero. And it had titanium connecting rods. Who at the time was packing this stuff into their road cars? Nobody, that's who.
After considering the crossover craze that's seized the U.S. car market, you start to think that maybe the Pontiac Aztek was just a few years short of being a popular family-mover. Sure, people complain incessantly about its looks, but when you hold it up next to some of the other oddly shaped crossovers on the market, like , is it really that weird?