Three Cars That Were Ahead of Their Time


I was too young to watch the original Star Trek series when it first came out, but I’ve seen every episode dozens of times via reruns. One thing that amazes me is how far ahead of its time the show was. It shows characters sitting at video monitors, loading data onto floppy disks, and talking to computers with voice recognition software. In the 1960s, those kinds of devices were on the leading-edge of scientific speculation. Nowadays they’re so common we hardly pay them any attention.

Like Star Trek, every now and then an automobile appears that’s years ahead of anything else on the market. Whether it’s an advanced engine, a new type of suspension, or a design never thought of before, people look back on it years later and say “wow, how did they ever come up with that so long ago?” Here are three such futuristic cars from the past.

1980 AMC Eagle

1980 AMC EagleAn early version of the SUVs that would dominate auto sales in the 1990s, the Eagle combined features of AMC’s Jeep line, like full-time four-wheel drive, with passenger car components.  The result was a type of vehicle never thought of before, one which could perform as well in the bush as on the street.  While Subaru and Audi soon came out with their own versions, AMC got there first. This was THE precursor to the modern crossover.

1972 Volvo Experimental Safety Car (ESC)

1972 Volvo Experimental Safety Car

If you think that features like anti-lock brakes, airbags, crumple zones, and backup cameras are relatively new, then think again. Volvo’s futuristic concept car had all these features plus many more, and it had them two years before Nixon resigned. The ESC was the prototype for the Volvo 240, which appeared on the market in 1975 and was sold until 1993. In 1991 it was voted safest car in America. Six years before the series premier of Dallas, this had an actual backup camera, not to mention a crumpling steering wheel and pop-up head restraints.

1889 Lohner-Porsche Hybrid

1898 Lohner-Porsche Mixte-Hybrid

Yes, you read that right. The first gas-electric car was built 115 years ago by then 18-year-old Ferdinand Porsche, during his tenure with Jacob Lohner and Company, Carriage Builders. It was fitted with nearly 4,000 pounds of lead-acid batteries charged by a gasoline engine. The batteries fed power to four separate electric motors, one of which was mounted to each hub. Lohner later said of his young employee, “he is a man with a big career ahead of him. You will hear of him again.”

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