Today’s Post by Joe Farace
When I was a kid I was sure that in the near future we would all be driving cars that would not only look like rocket ships but could fly. In the early ‘80s, Ridley Scott’s film Blade Runner (set in 2020) showed flying police cars but by this point in my life I not so sure that we would see this happen in my lifetime.
Today’s post asks the question: What’s happened to automotive innovation? Sure, ABS and air bags are technical advances but today’s cars are powered by the same kind of engine my Uncle Harry’s 1948 Buick convertible used.
During the 1950’s, Chrysler built limited edition gas turbine cars for several years. Only two are left and Jay Leno has one. Legendary automotive journalist, the late Tom McCahill was sure we would be driving these kinds of cars in the near future too but it never happened. In the sixties, Mazda licensed German NSU’s patents for the Wankel engine and both companies built rotary engine-powered cars, at least for a while, but not anymore. On June 22, 2012, the last Mazda RX8 was built with a Wankel engine.
Furing the seventies, Diesel-power was hyped as the way to get us out from under the thumb of mid-East oil cartels but poorly conceived products like GM’s converted diesel engines never caught on with American buyers. Up until recently, diesel cars seemed popular—diesel trucks have always been popular— even though here in the USA the higher cost of the fuel seems to offset the better fuel economy. It’s one of the reasons I sold my diesel-powered Mercedes Benz ML320. Yeah, I know diesel fuel cheaper now but will it stay that way? And now VW’s Dieselgate scandal may have driven the spike in the heart of these engines.
By the time the eighties got here, auto engineers seemed to had given up on real innovations. The Dodge Viper was powered by a V-10 truck engine! (There is some dispute about this.) Sure it’s fast, but Enzo Ferrari must be spinning in his grave at the thought of that engine in a sports car. Instead of radically changing the powerplants of our cars, automotive engineers seem to have fallen in love with electronics and gadgets, like in-dash Navigation systems and goofy automatic transmission controls like the one in my now departed Range Rover Evoque. Electric cars? Until it takes as long to charge a car as it takes to fill an ICE powered car with gas, in my opinion, it’s not going to become economically and socially viable.
And finally, am I the only person that thinks having computer-controlled internal combustion engines is like having laser-guided buggy whips. One of the appeals of the engines in classic sports cars, like my old Porsche 924, was its simple engine design—OK, it was an Audi truck engine—that’s not only powerful (enough) but easily passed this state’s emissions tests.
Chrysler turbine car photo: By Karrmann (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)], via Wikimedia Commons
If you enjoyed today’s blog post and because it’s Ice Cream Sandwich Day would like to treat Joe to one ($2.50) to cheer him up, click here.
Along with photographer Barry Staver, Joe is co-author of Better Available Light Digital Photograph that’s now out-of-print but new copies are available from Amazon for $21.88 with used copies selling for four bucks. For some reason, the Kindle price is really high.