Visionary techFri, 10 May 2013
Ignore the marketers: There's nothing new under the technological sun. Cost and reliability concerns may have hindered the early adoption of these auto-tech breakthroughs, though you'd never know it based on their present-day ubiquity.
The combination of a fully enclosed, carlike body and all-wheel-drive underpinnings got its start with the Volkswagen Type 87 Kommandeurwagen.
Built in limited numbers during WWII, the Kommandeurwagen hopped up a basic Beetle with a 4x4 system borrowed from the amphibious Schwimmwagen—making the rugged Bug the conceptual, if not direct, predecessor of today's faux-SUVs.
1952: Adaptive lighting
Move over, Mercedes-Benz Adaptive Highbeam Assist: General Motors developed the photoresistor-based high-beam-controlling Autronic Eye in 1952.
Today's systems are better able to distinguish between traffic and false positives like street lamps. Still, with the addition of the Twilight Sentinel automatic lighting control feature, GM products had a functionally modern lighting setup before we reached the moon.
1959: Continuously variable transmissions
CVTs are becoming increasingly prevalent, but they have been around for half a century: Dutch automaker DAF put a CVT in its two-cylinder 600 family car way back in 1959, marking the first successful commercialization of the tech.
Better yet, each 600 came with two CVTs—one for each rear wheel.
1966: Heated seats
Heated aseats are now as affordable as they are widespread across all automotive segments. But there was a time when you had to go to the very top—to Cadillac, the Standard of the World—to heat your buns. Even then, it cost a not-inconsiderable $60.20 on top of the 1966 Cadillac Fleetwood's roughly $5,000 base price to enjoy the option.
1981: On-board navigation
Before GPS, in-car navigation was limited to paper maps and gas-station directions. It didn't have to be that way.
Honda devised an inertial guidance system (similar to those used in interncontinental ballistic missiles) as an option for the Accord back in '81. Called the Electro Gyrocator, it used a motion-sensing helium gas gyroscope to calculate location.
No records exist of how many Gyrocators were purchased and installed, but at $2,800 a pop, it probably wasn't many. Today's navigation systems might do more for less, but they lack the Gyrocator's analog feel.
By Graham Kozak