Coupe Dreams

Actually, even four-door models are fair game as we fantasize about the future of cars

Most people have a dream car. Well, if not the car, at least the dream.
It might be a Mustang convertible, or it could be some sort of souped-up '57 Chevy, or maybe even a Porsche 959, which, according to The Great Book of Dream Cars, went for about $400,000 in 1990. Different dreams for different tax brackets.

Even bad people like good cars. Hitler rode in a Mercedes. One of the assistant football coaches at my high school, who had a penchant for humiliating adolescents, liked Ferraris. And Messala, the bad guy in Ben-Hur, fancied a chariot with four horsepower.

See? The art of dreaming about a hot set of wheels hasn't been limited to the 19th and 20th centuries. We've been wasting time for millennia.

A Brief History of Wasting Time
Since the dawn of the species, we've been dreaming about great transportation.

Those Neanderthal cave drawings in Europe? Came from guys sketching ideas for improvements on the four-cornered wheel.

The Sphinx? An early, albeit oversized, hood ornament for afterlife cruising.

And when Hannibal crossed the Alps with those elephants, he liked the big trunks but was really wishing he'd had something snazzier for his descent into Italy. Maybe a Jaguar.

Writers of the Bible referred to car-nal knowledge, and, of course, there were those chrome-loving knights in search of the Holy Grille.

The great explorers had their boats, but even Columbus was dreaming of a nice economy car when he named one of his three original ships -- you know, the Pinto.

And this next one is true: By 1770, some French fantasizers had already dreamed up and put into use a bulky, steam-powered contraption that was the world's first self-propelled road vehicle.

That was 229 years ago, and who then could have dreamed of the cars we have today? And who today can dream of the cars in 2228, another 229 years down the road?

Us, that's who.

Delayed Gratification
Some of the original dreams were simple enough but took years to become standard equipment.

After extensive research (OK, I looked at pictures in about six illustrated histories of the automobile), I am concluding that the windshield was not an idea whose time had come until about 1900. Bugs with your fries, sir?

Headlights were also slow to arrive on the scene, and it wasn't until 1912 that Charles Kettering closed out the age of hand-cranking (cars, that is), when he perfected the electric self-starter.

Oh, and did you want some music for the trip? Get real. To buy a car with a radio, you had to wait until 1927, three years after Nash offered a car with a built-in electric clock, which, we'll grant, would let you know what time you weren't getting to listen to any music.

Are we spoiled or what?

When You Wish Upon a Car
But, actually, lots of people have already seen their futuristic automobile dreams come true, some more quickly than others.

As noted in America on Wheels: Tales and Trivia of the Automobile, "in 1948 a man wrote in to Popular Science magazine's 'I'd Like to See Them Make ...' column with his wish: He wanted to see cars with a wireless dashboard cigarette lighter -- a gadget with a hot element at the end of a cone, say -- so the driver could keep his eyes on the road when using it." Almost as quick as you can say "lung cancer," the cigarette lighter was standard in nearly all cars.

Then again, not everybody is willing to wait for their dream gadgets to become standard equipment.

For instance, how about if you're the despised leader of a Middle Eastern country that's about to throw you from power?

The Shah of Iran, no miser when it came to his personal expenses, in 1979 had a new Cadillac that, according to America on Wheels, "came equipped with front and rear machine-gun ports; an emission system that could spill oil on the road or spray tear gas or sleeping gas up to 50 feet; a hidden transmitter, so the car could be tracked anywhere; a hand-held bomb sniffer; an electronic watchdog that told if the auto had been tampered with; a remote control ignition device that would start the car a quarter-mile away; and infrared glasses for the driver, to be worn for getaways in fog, smoke, or total darkness."

Sounds swell, but the book doesn't answer this question: How many cup holders?

King of the Cup Holders, and Other 1990s Goodies
Somewhere along the line, perhaps during our 1904 World's Fair, when ice-cream from those newfangled cones was dripping on the insides of some fetching auto, somebody must have thought: "Where the hell can I set this stuff down?"

From such incisive thinking eventually sprang the cup holder, and the damn things have multiplied like rabbits.

Not that I'm complaining. Our 1995 Ford Windstar has five cup holders but is far behind the current cup-holder champs. According to Sandy Pochapin, an advertising manager for auto-show producer Reed Exhibition Companies, the new line of minivans from Chevrolet and Oldsmobile features 17 cup holders.

But cup holders are small potatoes compared to some of today's auto goodies, either already operational or in the development stage.

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