MM Retro Write-Up: The Ten Most Influential Vehicles in Automotive History.

mmcartalk

Expert
Messages
4,022
Reactions
2,591
MM Retro Write-Up: The Ten Most Influential Vehicles in Automotive History.


Throughout automotive history, there have been special vehicles, that, because of their design, mechanical, or technical advancement, have vastly-contributed to the auto industry in their effects, contributions, or leadership. These vehicles set the stage for many that would come after them as a result of their effect. For those of you who don’t study automotive history closely, or who otherwise have interest in how today’s vehicles developed the designs that they did, I thought this might be an interesting thread or write-up to post. No doubt, there are many more vehicles that could be on this list, and I’m sure that some of you can (and will) come up with even more than that. But, to keep the number of them reasonable (and to keep from writing for a whole month LOL), I picked what I thought were the the most significant ones. I feel that, when one looks back at history, these Ten probably did more to influence auto-design and progress than anything else. I have arranged the vehicles in order of date-of-introduction rather than a straight 1-10, as, IMO, this will better illustrate their historical effect.

MM



1908-1927 Model T Ford…it put America on Wheels.

1923-ford-model-t-touring.png


The most significant car in history can (and probably will be) debated forever, but my vote goes to Henry Ford’s Model T of 1908. Simple, extremely rugged, easy to build, relatively easy to drive for the period once you mastered its quirky controls, it was a true Horseless Carriage, well-suited to the pitiful mud/snow/ice-filled roads in those days before paved highways, when a car could sink into mire as deep as its hubcaps. Its low price and easy-accessibility, for the first time in the relatively then-young history of automobiles, made them available to the American masses....who, before then, if not riding on trains, had relied mostly on horses, boats, or their own two legs. The low price was made possible by the economics of scale when Ford perfected the first assembly-line type of production where the car was on a conveyor belt, and each worker in the plant did a specific job on one vehicle after another…….boring, but quick and efficient. Before the assembly line, autos had been mostly built by hand, by teams of workers, and/or on sub-assembly lines, and their output could not compare with what Ford perfected in his methods. It was so efficient that, even with the low price on each car, Ford made enough profit that he was able (and willing, even without a Union) to pay his employees much more than the going rate at other companies, whose chiefs laughed at Ford and said he would go out of business being so generous with his money. Ford’s generosity, though, was not without conditions……he was a very strict man morally in his lifestyle, insisted that his employees also live in a saintly manner, and sometimes sent teams of company inspectors around to the houses of employees looking for things they would not want their pastors or church-mates to see…..actions that, today, would probably be tossed out by the courts on privacy-grounds.

The Model T, of course, nicknamed “Tin Lizzie”, was also famous for Henry’s statement “You can have it in any color you want, as long as it is black”. This came from experimentation in production with some different colors, but, with the primitive paint-technology of the time, the realization that black generally provided the best results in durability, problem-free application, and efficiency on a fast-moving assembly line. Later, of course, as paint technology improved, other colors also became available. The rest of the automotive world, however, especially Louis Chevrolet’s vehicles at GM, which were arguably Ford’s closest competitors even back then, was not standing still, and, by the late 1920s, the Model T was getting hopelessly outdated. Yet, Henry, with increasing signs of eccentricity, still clung to it like a baby to a Teddy-Bear (he was convinced that simplest was best), and only his wife could convince him to let it go….I get into that a little more further below, with the Model A.


1912 Cadillac……..The First Electric Self-Starter.

1912-Cadillac-w.jpg


Before Cadillac, by then GM’s top division, introduced an electrical system in 1912 that powered starting, ignition, and headlights, starting a gas-engined vehicle was a risky and sometimes dangerous business. One had to manually set the throttle/mixture/spark-advancement controls, then attach a roughly-S-shaped crank to the front of the engine-block, where it rotated the engine’s crankshaft and then (hopefully), for obvious reasons, disengaged when the engine started. But, even apart from that, the crank could be risky, as one was forcing it past the compression of the engine’s cylinders (which, in those days, was relatively weak but significant), and the crank could sometimes briefly kick back in the opposite direction. Many fingers, hands/wrists, elbows, and shoulders were injured (sometimes seriously) by these errant-cranks. When the electric self-starter and ignition was introduced, it was a tremendous improvement, not only for one’s potential health, but also by being able to start the vehicle from inside, out of the weather….although cars in general were not particularly well-sealed from the weather in those days. Too bad that one, at first, had to spend the money for a Cadillac to get this feature, but it was such a major improvement that the rest of the industry followed before long.



1932 Model A Ford…the First Widespread Affordable V8 Engine.

1932_Ford_Model_B_55_Standard_Tudor_Sedan_CXXXX7.jpg


WRbHcHVmQB6hI390S5iZpA


Henry Ford was famous, not only for producing the country’s first widespread cheap affordable car (the Model T I described earlier), for introducing and perfecting the assembly-line method of production which made its vast numbers possible, for willingly paying his employees more than the usual rate even without a Union, but also for introducing, on the Model A in 1932, the first mass-produced V8 engine for more power. (Never mind the fact that he was so attached to his old Model T design that his wife Clara, who he deeply loved and cherished, had to threaten to leave him unless he finally agreed to go with the new Model A replacement in 1928). And more power was often needed……mountain roads, in those days, before road-rebuilding, could be very steep and treacherous, and a number of automakers often tested their new products on the famous 3.5-mile 10% grade on the National Road (U.S. 40) up and down Chestnut Ridge/Summit Mountain, just east of Uniontown/Hopwood, PA. Henry Ford himself liked to stay at the quaint Summit Hotel at the top of the ridge that gave a beautiful view of the city and valley below.

The famous Flathead V8 design instantly became a hit….and was so popular that variations of it it lingered into the early 50s before Ford replaced it with more modern overhead-valve designs. The 1932 Ford “Deuce” 2-door coupe, particularly with the V8, became the object of pop-songs. And versions of it, retrofitted with 1950s Chevy V8s (which I’ll get to later) were extremely popular with the street-rodder scene two and three decades later. Perhaps one of its biggest compliments (one that Henry would probably not have been proud of) came from the notorious criminal John Dillinger, who used the V8 to outrun the police and law enforcement until his death in 1934….he personally wrote Henry a letter and told him how much he liked that engine, and what a great job the Ford engineers had done with it.



1936 Volkswagen Beetle……Mass-Market Rear Air-Cooled Engines.

1949_Beetle-Large-10600-scaled.jpg


Henry Ford’s notable accomplishments did not go unnoticed by the German dictator, Adolf Hitler. Even though he and his **** Henchmen generally rode around in big Mercedes or Maybach sedans/convertibles, being a car-enthusiast himself, he was admittedly somewhat jealous of Ford, and had a strong desire to give the German people, in the Depression Years, their own version of the Model T / Model A Fords…something cheap, affordable, and available to the masses. At that time, Germany was, with its Autobahns, arguably the world leader in modern highway construction…and, perhaps, also in the build-quality of its Mercedes and Maybach products. Now, he wanted to see the German auto market expanded to include vehicles for everyone, like in the U.S. So, he tagged Dr. Ferdinand Porsche, whom he considered one of Germany’s most noted car experts, with the mission of doing the same for Germany that Ford had done for the U.S.

What Dr. Porsche came up with, by using the larger rear-engined/air-cooled Tatra, a Czech design as a base, was, of course, the famous air-cooled Beetle. Although the Beetle itself was generally ready, by 1936, for production, it ran into conflicts with Hitler’s plans to re-arm Germany for the future war that was coming, and most of the production that old have gone to Beetles (and for the German people) ended up being re-directed to the German military. The air-cooled civilian Beetle, being cheap, well-built, and reliable, would go on to have an enormous effect on the auto industry, but only after the war was over and West-German factories recovered from the Allied bombings during the war….Soviet occupation and Communism prevented the same kind of recovery in East Germany. In the U.S., after the war, it was, along with the British open-top roadsters that returning American soldiers brought back with them, one of the first imports to make a sizable dent in the well-established American large-car-industry. Air-cooled versions of it were built, in Mexico, as late as 2003. There were, of course, later VW New-Beetles with conventional drivetrains…which were essentially redone VW Golfs.



1948 Tucker 48 Torpedo…..Unheard-of Safety and Design Advancements for the Period

f044f8962000cf6bd55f82f4e43d13d4.jpg


The Tucker Torpedo was famous and significant, certainly not for its numbers (only 51 examples were built before the company declared bankruptcy), but for what were, in those days, considered enormous and virtually unheard-of safety advances. It would have a rear-engine, like VW/Porsches and Tatras. It would have aircraft-style seat belts. The dash would be padded, to reduce injuries. Safety-Glass would be used on the windshield and windows….and the top of the windshield could pop out to further help prevent injury. The parking brake had a separate key (and lock) to help prevent theft. The doors extended into the roof for easier entry/exit for tall people. The steering column would collapse in an impact to keep it from causing face/chest injuries. A third “Cyclops” headlight in the middle of the front end swiveled at steering-inputs of more than 10 degrees for added visibility in corners…..in states that did not allow a third headlight, the headlight-opening used a cover instead. It was originally planned to use an air-cooled flat-six gas engine in the rear designed for early helicopters, but problems with its development and automotive adaptability led to the use of a more conventional 9.7L flat-six, producing 200 Hp and 450 ft-lbs. of torque, with mechanical fuel-injection, hemispherical-chambers, and oil-pressure-activated overhead valves. The name “Torpedo” had originally been used, but Preston Tucker changed the name of the car to “48” for both the introduction date, and from not wanting to offend a public that was tired of the long war they had been through by using the name of a naval weapon used in the war.

Poor Preston Tucker. His public life was a sad story indeed…..and, IMO, he was grossly mistreated. His car was so advanced that it alarmed the much larger and more established companies at the time…..who lashed out against him with a smear-campaign. Safety, though well-meaning, just didn’t sell in those days, and so many people simply did not appreciate his attempts to significantly lower the high death/injury rate in those days. The well-known reporter Drew Pearson lead another smear-campaign against Tucker…and would not even meet with him one-on-one to prove his allegations. Tucker was the subject of a Congressional investigation….headed by those who had more-established auto-plants in their districts. The SEC looked into his financial dealings. Last, and perhaps worst of all, his own proposed dealerships sued him when he couldn’t even get enough cars into production to sell. He was forced out of business before he could even begin…a victim of what big money and influence in both government /media and private industry competition can do. But his car is a testimony to what could have been (and a lot of deaths/injuries saved) had it been more successful…..although experience with the VW Beetle (and later Chevrolet Corvair’s) rear-engine and swing-arm rear suspension showed that rear-engined vehicles could also have stability problems.



1955 Chevrolet.…the First Truly Modern Mass-Produced V8

1955_Chevrolet_Bel_Air_PAS346.jpg


Although it can be argued that the Oldsmobile “Rocket” V8s, the relatively high-powered and efficient Cadillac V8s, the Lincoln V8s, and some others preceded them, the 265-cubic-inch (4.3L) V8, and all-new body style of the 1955 Chevys truly revolutionized the American auto industry, as Chevy, even with the 1953-54 Corvette sports car, had been playing second-fiddle to Ford for years under the hood. The ubiquitous Small-Block Chevy V8, with its oversized-bore / short-stroke, became the industry standard for relatively cheap horsepower, although Chrysler was to also introduce a much larger and more powerful Hemi V8 in its 300 that same year. The Small-Block Chevy V8 was not only widespread-produced and sold in its own products, but was also a favorite of the street-rodding crowd, who installed them in their aforementioned two-decade-old “Deuce” Ford Coupes, which were originally built with the old Flathead V8. The basic Chevy/GM small-block V8 was to be produced, in various displacement-configurations, for decades….one of the longest-running engine-designs in history, next to the air-cooled VW engines. Not only the engine, but the sleek new looks of the 1955 Chevy, particularly the Nomad Wagon, were to inject a shot into the division that had not been seen for years.



1959 Mini Cooper……..Transverse Engines and FWD

Morris_Mini-Minor_1959_%28621_AOK%29.jpg


In the late 1950s, as Europe’s auto industries had still not completely recovering from the devastating effects of World War II (although a lot of progress had been made since 1945), gas was still relatively scarce and expensive, and the majority of regular passenger cars were still quite small by American standards. There was pressure, in the design of smaller vehicles, to try and make them more space-efficient…..smaller on the outside, larger and roomier on the inside. VW/Porsche products and some Fiats were rear-engine and air-cooled, driving the rear wheels, which helped somewhat (also with winter traction), but the tail-heavy design and swing-axle suspensions in back made for some unstable handling conditions. Conventional front-engine/rear-drive subcompacts were relatively simple in design, but as cramped inside for larger adults as sardines in a can.

Sir Alec Issigonis (who was later Knighted by Queen Elizabeth for his work), a Greek-born auto engineer working for the British Austin and Morris companies, came up with an excellent solution to the problem of space-efficiency in subcompacts/mini-cars. His solution, introduced in 1959, was the Austin/Morris Mini/Mini-Cooper, a tiny-tot of a 2-door hatchback that was barely ten feet long, riding on an 80-inch wheelbase, that could seat four reasonably-sized adults, if not in limo-comfort, at least to the point where they weren’t Claustrophobic sardines. His solution was to take the engine block of a tiny 0.8L in-line four (larger engines were later fitted), turn it sideways under the hood so the vehicle could have a very short compartment for the engine as opposed to having a larger interior for passengers, and bolting the clutch/transmission/final-drive unit to the engine in a manner that the whole assembly fit sideways into the small compartment up front, saving a significant amount of space. Cooling was done by an auxiliary electric fan, since the engine could not directly drive the fan behind the radiator. The front axles/drive-shafts, as with earlier Front-Drive vehicles using conventional longitudinal engines, used CV (Constant-Velocity) joints to allow the front wheels to turn while engine power was being applied.

While not widely copied at first, as more and more vehicles downsized after the OPEC oil-crises of the 1970s, this eventually became the blueprint for most new vehicles today using FWD, and, also, in equally-large numbers, for crossovers adapting it to AWD (All-Wheel-Drive) variants. Today, a huge percentage of the auto industry, whether in the U.S., Europe, Korea, or Japan uses modern variants of what Sir Alec came up with in 1959, whether in FWD or AWD format. This car, with the possible exception of the AMC Eagle (which I’ll get to later) arguably contributed more to modern vehicle-design than anything else in history.



1964 Pontiac GTO….the Classic American Muscle-Car.

185634_Front_3-4_Web.jpg


At Pontiac, John DeLorean was never known as a Yes-Man, or someone who quietly did what he was told by his GM superiors…he had a noted streak of independence that was not characteristic of most auto executives at that time. He had presided over some unusual projects at Pontiac….most notably, perhaps, the 1961 Tempest compact that used a four cylinder engine up front (very unusual for Detroit in those days…..essentially half of the big 6.4L V8) and a rear-mounted transaxle, connected by a flexible drive shaft. This was an attempt to improve the weight-distribution and make it closer to 50/50 for better handling, although problems with the flexible drive-shaft and the stresses on it meant that the design wasn’t ultimately successful.

So, DeLorean gave up on that idea. As a real car enthusiast (something else that you often didn’t see among Detroit’s executives of that era) he liked the idea of muscle-cars. Then, however, the muscle-car market, at least as we were later to know it, did not exist. A few large and heavy full-size cars, like the Impala SS and the Chrysler 300, had large-displacement performance-engines in them, as did the small, British-derived AC-Cobra with the large Ford V8s. The AC Cobras with the big 427 (7.0L) V8s were blindingly fast for the era, but were crude, unrefined, had little or no protection from the elements, and were exceedingly risky and dangerous in the hands of unskilled or careless drivers. To get around the fact that the Impala SS and Chrysler 300 were so large and bulky, DeLorean’s idea was to take a standard, run-of-the-mill Tempest, which had grown some from the smaller 1961-63 generation and was now a mid-size car, and, for 1964, to offer the big Pontiac 6.4L V8, with a Tri-Power (3 x 2-barrel) carburetor option….essentially turning it into a dragster-grade family sedan that was a little lighter and more nimble than the big cars. Delorean took the idea to GM’s top management, and was turned down, as GM’s senior management, despite the Impala SS, was not very interested in performance cars, and, unlike Ford and Chrysler, would not give any official factory-backing to the Chevys and Pontiacs that were being run in NASCAR (stock-car-racing) at the time. DeLorean, however, was absolutely convinced of the legitimacy of what he wanted to do, went back to Pontiac headquarters, and secretly gave the order to put it into production for 1964. Most of Delorean’s subordinates probably agreed with him, as no one that I know or heard of went over his head to try and get it stopped. There was much debate within the Pontiac organization of what the name of the new car should be, and, finally, the Ferrari-derived GTO moniker was chosen, even though the Pontiac, of course, although with plenty of brute power, couldn’t hold a candle to the Ferrari’s sophisticated steering/suspension/brakes.

The result, of course, is history. Like the first 1964 Ford Mustang, the first-year 1964 GTO was fabulously successful, became the subject of pop-songs, and made a ton of money for GM…so much so that DeLorean’s bosses at GM management overlooked and forgave his obvious disobedience of orders, did not fire him, and kept him in the helm at Pontiac. There were some later rumors that DeLorean was later transferred to Chevy and given the humble subcompact Vega project (even though DeLorean was opposed to the Vega) to get back at him for disobeying orders in 1963, but, personally, I don’t believe it, and there is no real proof of it….and, even then, the Vega turned out to be poorly-engineered and mechanical disaster.

The GTO, of course, went on to spawn the whole era of 1960s American muscle-cars based on compact and mid-sized platforms……..mid-sized Chevy Chevelle SS396, Buick GS300/400, Oldsmobile 4-4-2, Ford Fairlane/Torino GT, Mercury Cyclone GT and Cobra-Jet, AMC Rebel “The Machine”, the also-fabulously-successful Plymouth Road Runner (my personal favorite of this group of cars), Dodge Coronet and Charger R/T and Super Bee, and the compact Chevy Nova SS350/396, AMC Rambler-Scrambler, Plymouth Duster/Dodge Demon 340, and the Dart Swinger 340. Not to mention also the pony-car variants of these muscle-cars, which were also inspired buy the original GTO. After 1970, increasing Federal government safety-regulations, tightening emissions-requirements, increasing insurance-premiums (these cars were risky in the hands of unskilled and careless drivers), and the OPEC oil embargo and and gas-crisis all helped to bring about the the demise of most of them, although the Pontiac Firebird Trans-Am kept the larger engines around longer than most of the others. But, while that era lasted, it was quite carefree and an Age of Halcyon. Today, of course, we have seen a New Age of Muscle Cars, primarily from the different technology and vastly-increased sophistication in the vehicles, and today’s electric motors offer the possibility of even more torque than those old 1960s monsters.



1980/81 AMC Eagle/Eagle SX4……the First Car-Based All-Wheel-Drive.

1200px-1981_AMC_Eagle_Sport_Wagon_in_Medium_Blue_Metallic%2C_front_left.jpg


SC2.png


Just as the 1959 Mini revolutionized the way that power-trains were arranged and laid out under the hood, the 1980/81 Eagle, from American Motors, revolutionized the way that engines, in the future, would drive all four wheels, which, along with transverse-engines, would ultimately lead to the enormous crossover market that we have today. Previously, Four-Wheel-Drive had generally been confined to body-on-frame vehicles, usually pickup trucks or off-road SUVs like Jeeps, Ford Broncos, Chevy Blazers, etc….It was a relatively primitive system that was called Part-Time 4WD, because it required a transfer-case lever and driver-shifting-action to shift from Rear-Wheel to 4-wheel-drive, often with also stopping, getting out of the vehicle, and manually engaging the front-hubs to connect the front wheels. This could be a pain in the a**, particularly in bad weather or on a muddy surface where you would get filthy. Later versions of the Part-Time system had auto-locking front hubs, so you at least didn’t have too get out of the vehicle. And, once you actually got the vehicle into 4WD, all four wheels rotated at exactly the same speed, so you could not safely go around a significant curve on dry pavement, where all four wheels want to turn at different speeds because of their positions in reference to the radius of the turn. If you were on a straight stretch of dry pavement, there might be no problem, but, on curve, some of the tires would bind and scrub because they wanted to turn at different speeds, and the system wouldn’t let them, resulting in tire/wheel-scrub and strain or damage to the drivetrain. It worked fine off-road, where tires were not on a paved surface, and could usually slip as needed, but was simply impractical for most regular passenger cars and/or paved-surfaces.

Well, the AMC Eagle changed all of that, at least on-road,…..and, as far as I know, was the first production vehicle to incorporate a system that would allow all four wheels to turn at different speeds while power was being applied to them and/or being steered into a curve. This was done by incorporating a center-differential that used a novel (for the period) viscous-fluid inside that allowed slippage between the input and output shaft. As the wheels on one side of the car (or front-to-back) differed in rotation-speed, the viscous-fluid reacted inside the differential and caused the necessary variations to allow it. This was all automatic….the driver did not have to stop, engage/disengage any hubs, shift a transfer-case, or worry about what kind of surface he or she was on. The car was in all-wheel-drive mode continuously regardless of surface or weather. It did add some weight and drag to the drivetrain, impacting gas mileage a little, but offered superb winter traction and safer winter driving as a trade off. The designers at AMC, ironically, chose a body-design that was by then a decade old (the Hornet/Concord sedan/wagon), although, by then, most of the bugs in the original design had been worked out, and it was generally more reliable and refined than the original one in 1970. A smaller version (the SX4) relied on the somewhat newer AMC Spirit. In addition to the revolutionary new AWD system, AMC designers chose to add a couple of inches of suspension-height to give added ground clearance for deep snow, mud, or water-puddles. It was a design that not only AMC, but Subaru and Audi would later capitalize on, in their own Outback and Quattro models. Indeed, when AMC folded a few years later, Subaru and Audi, for a number of years, became the new Masters of car-based AWD, as they honed and refined the original AMC system with their own advancements. Subaru eventually based their entire American-market production (except for the RWD BR-Z sports car) on the merits of their Symmetrical AWD, which used a simple and totally-balanced system in weight/hardware left-to-right. Some later versions of car-based AWD, as with my own Buick Encore GX, also incorporated a electronic push-button that allowed the AWD to be disconnected, and the vehicle to be run on only the front or rear wheels, for less drag and better mileage/acceleration when the extra traction was not needed….the driver makes the choice. Other versions of it run in FWD or RWD most of the time, and then switch automatically (On-Demand) to AWD when one or more wheels start to slip.

Needless to say, the AMC Eagle and SX-4 were some 15 years ahead of their time, although the advancements were not fully-appreciated at the time because, except for their Jeep Division, AMC was not highly-regarded by either the auto-press or public. History, though, proved the significance and importance of both the Mini and Eagle designs in what much, if not most, of the vehicle-market has become today.


2000 Toyota Prius…the First Practical Mass-Practical Gas/Electric Hybrid

2000_toyota_prius_03.jpg


Today, automakers (too much so, IMO…..but that is another whole issue) are scrambling all over each other trying to convert their fleet (and upcoming models) to either BEVs (Battery-Electric-Vehcles) or hybrids with a combination of electric and gas/diesel engines. Mass-produced Hybrids, as we generally know them in the American market, date back to the 2000 Honda Insight and Toyota Prius, which had been released in the Japanese market a few years earlier but were brought to the American market for the 2000-2001 model years. Technically, the Insight was first, arriving in the U.S. in January 2000 (I got to sample and test-drive what was questionably the first one into the D.C. area, at Tysons Corner, VA)…but, for purposes of this write-up, I’m going to concentrate more on the Prius, because I personally considered the Insight to be more of a toy than a real automobile. It had only two seats like the former Honda CRX and a similar body-shape, but was more cramped and less-space-efficient because of the hybrid-components under the cargo-floor, could carry only 350 pounds of passengers AND cargo (which effectively limited it to one large and one small adult and no luggage), had a very weak hybrid powertrain, an almost complete lack of any sound insulation of any kind, and drove like Kiddy-Car. Like the later Honda Civic Hybrid, it had a simile, basic, Series-Type hybrid system there the IMA (Integrated Motor Assist) electric motor could not run separately from the gas engine….the electric motor served as a starter and occasional torque-booster when needed, but that was it, and the gas engine recharged the electric motor as needed. The Insight was not successful int he American market, and was rather quickly superseded by the Toyota Prius, which arrived in the D.C. area about 7 or 8 months later, in August of that year.

In contrast, unlike the toy-like Insight, the Prius, although rather dull and boring to drive, and with a quirky interior layout/controls, was a legitimate, usable small car that had four doors, a high sedan roofline (so you weren’t lying on your back inside like with the Insight), room for a small family / four small adults and a usable back seat, and the promise of Toyota reliability, although in those days Hondas were also extremely reliable. Unlike the Insight, the Prius was obviously the result of more research/engineering efforts, and used a more sophisticated Parallel Hybrid system, where the gas and electric motors could operate independently of one another, meaning that, with high enough level of battery-charge, one could drive on the electric motor alone (using no gas at all) until the battery-charge dropped enough for the gas engine to start and recharge it. A video-display in different colors, on the dash, showed the driver which motor (or both) were driving the wheels at any given moment. Even so, its average mileage (around 45-50 MPG in the hands of most local customers here int eh D.C. area) was not as good as the smaller/lighter Insight, which could easily reach 60 or more, but the Prius, in turn, was far more usable and flexible for everyday use. It quickly became an automotive icon almost overnight, developed an almost cult-like following, became the poster-child for environmentalists, schoolteachers, college-professors, librarians, and was known as “The car for people who don’t like cars”. Many car-enthusiasts and performance-buffs, of course, laughed at the Prius and how it drove like a rolling-appliance. But, once again, as with the Mini and AMC Eagle, the Prius was a car before its time, and would have an enormous impact on the industry some 15 or 20 years later.
 

Sulu

Admirer
Messages
673
Reactions
920
1959 Mini Cooper……..Transverse Engines and FWD

The Mini's transmission was in the oil pan, under the engine, not bolted to one end of the engine, as is now common practice for FWD cars.

2000 Toyota Prius…the First Practical Mass-Practical Gas/Electric Hybrid

The Prius became the world's first mass-produced hybrid electric car when it was introduced for sale in Japan in December 1997. The "Generation II" (as it became known) model (a mid-cycle change on the First Generation Prius) was introduced in 2000, becoming an international model when it was officially exported outside of Japan. The Generation II (Gen1.5) Prius was more powerful than the original, Japan-only model, because Toyota recognized that Americans drove further and at higher speeds than the Japanese.

But it arrived in the United States later than the Honda Insight, so it is the Insight that has become known as the first hybrid vehicle (in the United States).

Whereas the Insight is a mild hybrid (the single electric motor-generator by itself is not powerful enough to drive the vehicle without assistance from the gasoline engine), the Prius was a full hybrid that could drive in electric vehicle mode (electric motor only) or hybrid mode, where the electric motor and gasoline engine work together to drive the vehicle.

The difference in the hybrid abilities of the Insight and the Prius come from the difference in the conceptual design of the two vehicles' hybrid systems.

The Insight is a Parallel Hybrid (all mild hybrids are parallel hybrids), where, theoretically, either the combustion engine or electric motor (assuming it is powerful enough) can individually drive the car, or they can both operate coupled together to drive the car. The electric motor also acts as a generator when not providing power to the wheels.

The Prius is a Series-Parallel Hybrid.

In Parallel Hybrid mode, either the combustion engine or the electric motor can individually drive the car (the electric motor is powerful enough to drive the car by itself); or the motor and engine can operate coupled together to drive the car. This is similar to the mild hybrid, except that in the mild hybrid (as was the case with the Gen1 Insight), the electric motor is not powerful enough by itself to drive the car.

In Series Hybrid mode, the electric motor can operate alone to drive the car while the combustion engine runs (at a constant speed) to generate electricity to run the electric motor and/or top up the traction battery.

In a strictly Series Hybrid vehicle, the combustion engine never drives the vehicle; it is there only as a range extender. Its purpose is ONLY to turn a second electric motor-generator to generate electricity to power the electric drive motor (this is how a diesel-electric locomotive works) or to charge the traction battery.
 

ssun30

Expert
Messages
2,499
Reactions
5,774
I remember when the Insight and Prius was introduced to Europe, there were massive resistance with media dismissing gasoline hybrids in comparison tests against diesels. This was when "clean diesel" was all the hype, which turned out to be a two-decade long scandal.
 

Ian Schmidt

Moderator
Messages
2,117
Reactions
3,717
The Prius being an appliance was exactly why it was successful. You got advanced-for-the-time tech but you also got all of the benefits of a Toyota, including daily-driver reliability. And the interior room was fantastic for the size class.
 

mmcartalk

Expert
Messages
4,022
Reactions
2,591
I remember when the Insight and Prius was introduced to Europe, there were massive resistance with media dismissing gasoline hybrids in comparison tests against diesels. This was when "clean diesel" was all the hype, which turned out to be a two-decade long scandal.
Ian Schmidt said:
The Prius being an appliance was exactly why it was successful. You got advanced-for-the-time tech but you also got all of the benefits of a Toyota, including daily-driver reliability. And the interior room was fantastic for the size class.
While I acknowledge that the Prius was one of the most influential vehicles of all time (I obviously wrote about it on my list, above), I'm still not convinced that hybrids and electrics will be better for us in the long run than clean diesels would have been......VW scandal or not. As far as I'm concerned, we would be better off with the clean diesels.......no range-problems on a longer trip, no charging-outlet problems (or lack of outlets) at one's home, no worries about power-failures (although some gas/diesel pumps don't work in those failures, either), no worries about overheating batteries/fires, and no problems disposing of or recycling used-up hybrid-batteries at the end of their lives (something that, right now, can be difficult). I understand that we are going to be stuck with hybrids and electrics in the long run, but I'm still not sold on them. Diesels, with today's technology and urea-solution injections, get excellent mileage, start and run as easily as gas engines, and can run almost as clean as pure electrics....without the extra drain/demand on the country's electric grid, or the pollution caused by the generation of electricity itself.
 
Last edited:

IS-SV

Premium Member
Messages
1,792
Reactions
1,302
While I acknowledge that the Prius was one of the most influential vehicles of all time (I obviously wrote about it on my list, above), I'm still not convinced that hybrids and electrics will be better for us in the long run than clean diesels would have been......VW scandal or not. As far as I'm concerned, we would be better off with the clean diesels.......no range-problems on a longer trip, no charging-outlet problems (or lack of outlets) at one's home, no worries about power-failures (although some gas/diesel pumps don't work in those failures, either), no worries about overheating batteries/fires, and no problems disposing of or recycling used-up hybrid-batteries at the end of their lives (something that, right now, can be difficult). I understand that we are going to be stuck with hybrids and electrics in the long run, but I'm still not sold on them. Diesels, with today's technology and urea-solution injections, get excellent mileage, start and run as easily as gas engines, and can run almost as clean as pure electrics....without the extra drain/demand on the country's electric grid, or the pollution caused by the generation of electricity itself.
Interesting perspective, unfortunately diesel has near ZERO marketability in US passenger vehicles and the economics are not good for the consumer.
But to simplify some critical factors, since a few people still dislike hybrids and EV's apparently even in 2022.

Then the direct-injected gasoline engine becomes the benchmark "clean" ICE.
1. Clean diesel engines are considerably more expensive than the clean gasoline equivalent (purchase price).
2. Maintenance costs associated with diesels (including urea systems and particulate traps) are higher than equivalent gasoline engines (even if the gas engine has a cheap particulate trap).
3. Reliability of the clean diesel engines suffer when compared to equivalent gasoline engines (again due to complex emission control systems mentioned above).

Yes, as it relates to topic here, the Prius is a boring yet economical vehicle, certainly opened eyes about battery power, etc.
 

mmcartalk

Expert
Messages
4,022
Reactions
2,591
At this point we gotta name the Model S…. Changed the game more than any diesel…
I don't completely disagree with you (there's at least some merit to the Model S)....but the whole idea of putting an electric-propulsion-motor into a modern vehicle, at first in hybrid form, started with the 1Gen Honda Insight (which basically went nowhere) and 1Gen Prius, which did it in a usable form that did succeed. There were a few BEVs in the very early 20th century, but the batteries simply had no range, and Henry Ford's Model T completely revolutionized the whole world of motoring...except for the risky crank-starts, which was solved by the electric-starter 1912 Cadillac.
 
Last edited:

Ian Schmidt

Moderator
Messages
2,117
Reactions
3,717
The Model S wasn't first by any means (Jay Leno has several examples of pre-1920 lead-acid BEVs, including one he's putting a Tesla drivetrain into), but it was the first "acceptable to the mass market" BEV, and the Plaid is certainly still a benchmark, even with the wonky shifting.
 

mmcartalk

Expert
Messages
4,022
Reactions
2,591
No love for the ultimate family hauler Dodge Caravan or the most popular segment of vehicles Rav4/Crossovers?


I respect your points of view on this one, but I think there are two potential issues that keep them off the 10-Most-Influential list. First, while the Chrysler minivans DID open up a whole new field of automotive-production replacing traditional station-wagons, their basic layout (Transverse-engine/FWD) simply replaced older RWD (mostly-Japanese) minivans, and the drivetrain layout itself was pioneered by the much-smaller Mini Cooper back in 1959, which is, of course, on the list. Second, ditto for the RAV-4 / CR-V / Outback....those vehicles simply were more or less 15-year-newer versions of what AMC introduced back in 1980-81 with the Eagle/ Eagle SX-4, which, of course, I also put on the list. Most of today's huge car-based crossover/crossover-SUV market, BTW, can be traced to the Eagle...it was a tremendously innovate vehicle that, partly because of its dying-AMC badge, did not receive the attention it deserved at the time. And, although AMC never was a true industry standard of quality or quality-control, those Eagle products were also far-better-assembled and engineered than the X-Body GM cars (Citation/Phoenix/Omega/Skylark), which, because of their enormous hype, sold like there was no tomorrow, but started falling apart on the way home from the dealership. I know.....I owned an early production Citation.
 

Ian Schmidt

Moderator
Messages
2,117
Reactions
3,717
Right, the strike against the Mopar minivans is mostly that that segment pretty much stopped existing by 2005.
 

mmcartalk

Expert
Messages
4,022
Reactions
2,591
Right, the strike against the Mopar minivans is mostly that that segment pretty much stopped existing by 2005.


That's part of it, but a much bigger part of it is that the 1984 Chrysler minivans simply applied something that had been invented a quarter-century earlier (MIni-Cooper transverse-drivetrain) to vehicles designed to replace station wagons. I don't consider that an enormous automotive breakthrough, except for the fact that these new transverse minvans, like the Mustang some twenty years before, were enormously popular at first. They were indeed a big marketing success, but, at least IMO, not an engineering breakthrough.
 

Ian Schmidt

Moderator
Messages
2,117
Reactions
3,717
I don't think you can dismiss cars purely on the engineering not being a breakthrough. That would also exclude the AMC Eagle, which was essentially an AMC Concord body mated to a Jeep chassis. What the Eagle has that the minivans don't is the longevity and influence of the Eagle's concept.
 

mmcartalk

Expert
Messages
4,022
Reactions
2,591
I don't think you can dismiss cars purely on the engineering not being a breakthrough. That would also exclude the AMC Eagle, which was essentially an AMC Concord body mated to a Jeep chassis. What the Eagle has that the minivans don't is the longevity and influence of the Eagle's concept.


Your opinion respected, but I base my position on the fact that the Eagle, although Concord-based, introduced a entirely new car-based/center-differential drivetrain which had never been used before.....much, if not most, of today's auto industry is based on it. It was arguably the most important new automotive invention of the late 20th century....though I'd also add EFI and electronic ignition. The Eagle was also arguably the first raised-station-wagon that was widely-copied in years to come, although the earlier Jeep Wagoneer had some similarities.
 

LS500-18

Follower
Messages
103
Reactions
139
I have a 1986 AMC Eagle wagon I'm slightly restoring. The vehicle was without question ahead of it's time, and the basis for basically the entire modern crossover-SUV craze. Boy do I wish it had EFI though, the carb gives me troubles sometimes in winter.
 

LS500-18

Follower
Messages
103
Reactions
139
Carbs and winter don't mix well. Maybe there's an aftermarket EFI kit you can add?
I think so, it may come to that. I rebuilt the carb a year ago and it was perfect until this past fall when it starting having issues again (I think choke issues). So maybe a carb rebuild would help but I don't want to do that every year LOL