These days there are so many gizmos on modern cars that it’s often hard to even tell what’s what.
Not just that, but the advancements in technology are happening so quickly that we tend to just take things completely for granted. Something like electronic traction control, or even ABS brakes, would have been absolutely revolutionary technologies, but give it a few years and nobody really gives a hoot.
However, if you think that these sorts of things are an entirely modern concept, it’s interesting to note that car manufacturers have actually been experimenting with all sorts of weird and wonderful creations on their cars for as long as they’ve been building them.
Some of these ideas, like the aforementioned ABS or traction control, turned out to be so useful that they’ve stood the test of time and now come as standard on pretty much every new car. Others, well, just didn’t age quite so gracefully.
For every good idea there has to be at least 20 bad ones, but it’s only ever the greats that get remembered. In honour of those forgotten, but no less hilarious, inventions, here’s some of the strangest car features that were ever made!
Back before modern crumple zones were a thing, where specific areas of the car are built to collapse and absorb energy when you crash your car, many cars and even buses were equipped with bumpers that were filled with water.
Not only that, but they were specifically designed to explode and squirt water all over the road to help diffuse kinetic energy in the event of an accident. The result? Giant water balloons! Interestingly, this technology lives on today in the form of water-filled crash bumpers that are often placed in high-speed areas of roads, racetracks and motorways.
The idea of putting rockets on a car is nothing new; for as long as there has been rocket technology, there have been people who have toyed with the idea of strapping a big jet engine to a set of wheels and seeing what happens; take the Bloodhound SSC crew, for example!
Rocket brakes, however, are not such a common idea, and it’s not really hard to imagine why. It might sound like a completely awesome idea to a six year old, but given the fire risk and the sheer cost of exploding your car every time you need to slow down, it’s probably not all that practical.
Incredibly though, a few cars complete with rocket booster brakes did actually get built in 1946, but it didn’t take long for the idea to be shelved.
Wipers for your headlights
Anybody who’s ever had to walk home in the rain with glasses on will no doubt remember wishing at once stage or another for a pair of glasses with window wipers on. Well, how’s this for an idea – window wipers for your headlights? Right? Guys…?
It’s not actually that much of a rarity, though; plenty of European cars come with wipers on the headlights along with jets that spray washer fluid onto the lights in order to keep them clean, saving you having to give them a scrub now and again.
Do you have a nasty habit of scraping your alloys against the curb? You might be interested in a set of curb feelers, which act like little metal whiskers on either side of your car to help you more easily detect where the road ends and footpath begins.
First introduced on American hot rods in the 50s, they do serve a pretty good purpose when you’re looking to save your car from unnecessary damage, but you have to admit that they do just look a little bit naff…
Unlike rocket brakes, this isn’t some crazy idea that’s been relegated to the history books. In fact, Land Rover actually included pedestrian airbags on the new Land Rover Discovery Sport in an effort to improve the safety of the car.
You have to admit, though, the idea is just a little bit odd. They essentially work the same way as airbags on the inside except that they’re, well… On the outside…
Activating within just 60 milliseconds of the front bumper’s pressure tube sensing a person or other object hitting the car, an airbag pops out of the bonnet to bounce the pedestrian off the front and – it’s hoped – stop them from ending up having to be scraped off your windscreen.
No, not like the child catcher from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, think more like the cow catcher grilles that were fitted to olden-timey steam trains in the late 1800s.
Acting kind of like the grandad to the modern airbag, albeit a lot more metallic and a lot less safe, the pedestrian-catcher was pioneered by the O’Leary Fender Company, who felt that the obvious way to reduce injuries and fatalities was to strap a metal plow to the front of every car.
Any unlucky soul who found themselves hit by the car would simply be scooped up and pushed out of the way, rather than roll under the wheels. Crude, but you have to admire the effort nonetheless!
Equipped on the Preston Tucker 48, which was designed to be the most technologically-advanced car in its time back in the late 1940s, ejector windscreen technology was one to really give you nightmares.
It was designed so that in the event of a collision, occupants in the vehicle would simply pop out the front of the car via the special windscreen, which was shatterproof and would launch itself out the front. Great thinking!
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