The History of Car Features
by Ed Scott
If you’re in the market for a new car, there’s a good chance you’ll want one packed with features such as satellite navigation, heated seats, air conditioning and maybe a sunroof. And there’ll be some features, such as airbags and power steering, you’ll expect as standard.
Have you ever wondered where these automotive innovations started though? If so, you’re in luck as we’ve compiled a quick history of car features…
The first 4WD system was invented by English engineer Bramah Joseph Diplock – this was before the modern motor industry had been established in Britain – and then in 1899, Ferdinand Porsche built an electric vehicle driven by all four wheels that he eventually unveiled at the 1900 World Exhibition at Paris.
The first full-production 4WD vehicle to go on sale to the general public was the utilitarian Willy CJ-2A that was sold in the US in 1945, followed by the similarly box-like Land Rover which first appeared in 1948’s Amsterdam Motor Show.
The US was the first country to introduce airbags into passenger cars in the mid-1970s – this was as a reaction to the low number of people who wore seatbelts.
Although the idea for airbags in vehicles can be traced back as far as 1941, the first patents weren’t filed until 1951, and they weren’t used on commercial vehicles until 1971 when Ford became the first manufacturer to build a fleet of cars with airbags. General Motors then did the same with a fleet of Chevrolets in 1973.
In 1987, the Porsche 944 turbo became the first car to have driver and passenger airbags as standard equipment.
In 1933 New York limousines became the first cars to come with air conditioning and then six years later the Packard Motor Company – a Detroit-based firm that disappeared in 1958 – was the first to offer air conditioning units in its production models.
The tech never took off for a number of reasons, not least that the system took up half the boot space and it was too expensive for most customers.
In 1953, Chrysler offered it in its Imperial model (again) and a year later the Nash Ambassador became the first car to feature front-end, fully integrated heating, ventilating, and air-conditioning system.
The origins of cruise control go back as far as the 17th century when a centrifugal governor was used to maintain the speed of steam engines, no matter what the load.
The modern cruise control system was invented in 1948 by mechanical engineer Ralph Teetor and first used 10 years later in Chrysler’s luxury Imperial model.
A Pennsylvania resident called Robert E.Twyford issued the first power steering patent in 1900, a full 24 years after a man known only as Fitts installed the first recorded power steering system on an automobile.
Power steering wasn’t available on commercial vehicles until 1951 when Chrysler installed a system it called ‘Hydraguide’ on its Imperial model – the same car that three years earlier had become the first passenger car to feature cruise control.
The Nash Motor Company – which would eventually become part of the Jeep-Eagle division of Chrysler – was the first to offer a sunroof as standard when it was included in its 1937 models.
The first ever in-car ‘satnav’ system was the Iter Avto – a basic map on a scroll that could be mounted to car dashboards in the 1930s.
The first modern in-car satnav, that actually uses satellite navigation, was introduced by Toyota in 1992 when it was placed in its Soarer models. In 1995 Toyota introduced the first voice assisted GPS system in the Celsior.
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