It’s official. We’re 65 years old. If you were born at the same time as Wheels, you might well be looking forward to mid-afternoon naps and the prospect of uncorking your Super. Meanwhile, we get to respawn like a cheat code in a computer game, pumped full of new blood.
You’ll have seen a lot and so have we, so to celebrate our 65th, we thought we’d take a look at the decisions that have changed the automotive world over the last six and a half decades. Some were inspirations that altered it for the better, others were engineering dead ends, nefarious cover-ups and valiant flops.
Yes, it’s our birthday but this feature isn’t about us. Athol Yeomans sketched out the first issue of Wheels in the stationery room of Hudson Publications in Sydney back in October 1952, bringing the first issue to market in May 1953. His first editorial stated the following: “We believe it is time Australia had a motoring magazine equal to the best overseas publications, and this will be our aim with Wheels.”
Publishing has changed a great deal since, but the core of Yeomans’ message at Wheels hasn’t. What follows are 65 big ideas that shaped our world, in no particular order.
Designed to capitalise on a US market that had fallen in love with the Ford Bronco and Jeep Wagoneer, the 1970 Range Rover was a d development of Maurice and Spencer Wilks’ Road Rover concept, this time fitted with permanent four-wheel drive, a lightweight V8 engine and sitting on a 99.9-inch (2 2537mm) wheelbase. Spen King and Gordon Bashford refined the styling of the new car, prototypes of which were badged Velar, and p the production version soon started selling to a very different market sector than that envisaged by Land Rover. By accident rather th than design, the luxury SUV was born.
It’s strange to think that the car we viewed as the greatest supercar ever built is now perceived as the last of the line of analogue sports cars. The F1 had no turbochargers, power steering, ABS or traction control, and neither designer Gordon Murray or manufacturer McLaren had ever built a road car before. And nobody will ever again win Le Mans outright with what was a lightly modified road car. It was the greatest in 1992 and while it may no longer be the fastest, it’s still the one today.
The mo The model l that made us take Japanese cars seriously was no s not the he Lexus LS400, or the Honda NSX, nor the Datsun 240 Da un 240Z. We’re going with the humble Datto 1600, ich cam which came to Australia in 1968 and competed against the Mk2 Cortina. The Ford had overhead valves, a live rear axle in rea axl in all but top GT trim, and drum brakes. The s. Th Da un Datsun 1600 had an overhead cam engine, front discs, t disc indepe and independent rear suspension. It was an instant t success success on both track and rally stages, thanks to a o a 10 100mph (ph (160km/h) top end and peerless reliability.
It’s hard to believe that such a simple car as the MX-5 took 13 years from ex-ex-Wheels jo st B b H journalist Bob Hall’s’s first proposal t proposal cago Sho to the 1989 Chicago Show car, but Mazda’s labyrinthine ppr planning and approvals process produced a gem, reviving s pr the classic formula of British sports cars such as the Lotus or s c he L Elan and the MGA, minus the flaky build quality. Four, m generations on and with the millionth car built in 2016, th the m llion h c r bu lt in 2 the MX-5 has proven the old adage that light is right.
Who cares that it wasn’t the first all-wheel-drive performance car? The Jensen FF might have beaten Audi’s icon to production by a good 14 years, but Ingolstadt made the link between rallying success and road-car sales. In certain regards, the Quattro was expedient; a cost-effective piece of engineering genius at a time when Audi’s brand cachet was outgrowing its front-wheel-drive architectures. The most game-changing rally car of all time also kick started a road-car revolution.
Today, all-wheel drive has grown beyond its rally-replica roots and now underpins the latest generation of hypercars, super sedans and hot hatches. The massive torque outputs of modern turbocharged engines has put a premium on traction, and directing drive to each corner is the natural solution. And to think that this all grew from one Audi engineer who noticed that Volkswagen’s Iltis 4x4 was capable of embarrassing higher-powered cars on Finnish snow tracks. Jorg Bensinger, take a bow.
Hybrids aren’t new. Ferdinand Porsche developed an AWD series hybrid, the Mixte, in 1900. In the early ’90s Audi developed the 100 Duo, Volvo the 850-based ECC and BMW worked on an E34 5 Series hybrid. But Toyota was the first to bring a product to market in 1997, with its first-generation NHW10 Prius. A spud-like sedan, the Prius sold just over 37,000 units in its first three years on sale, or about what the Corolla would shift in two weeks. That was about what Toyota expected, internal documents showing that they gave it a five percent chance of commercial success.
Better fortunes would come with the XW20 model. Toyota realised the Prius needed to make a more overt statement and developed swooping new bodywork. Suddenly, it was hot. Leonardo di Caprio, Natalie Portman, Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts, even Millennium Falcon helmsman Harrison Ford all owned one. Arguably the most game-changing vehicle since the Ford Model T, the Prius has sold over 4.5 million units and sparked a hybrid boom that now sounds the death-knell for the solus internal combustion lump.
“We have to take a different approach,” said Renault CEO Pierre Dreyfus, in 1965. “Cars can’t just be four seats and a boot any longer. They must be viewed as a volume.” With those words, he set in place a revolution and birthed the modern hatchback. A front-engined, front-wheel drive, torsion-beam suspended hatch, the R16 changed the script for compact cars. Back in 1970, Stirling Moss said, “There is no doubt that the Renault 16 is the most intelligently engineered automobile I have ever encountered.”
Fa F st, cheap, reliable – pick any two. That was the received wisdom until Volkswagen’s Golf GTI appeared in 1976. Designer Giugiaro’s mag m num opus may not have even been the first hot hatch – the Autobianchi A112 Abarth, for example, predating it by 15 years – but the Golf democratised the concept. It took u until 1990 before Australians were offered the pr p ivilege with run-out Mk2s. Even accounting for the so-so Mk3 and Mk4 generations, it’s been a love-in ever since. Four decades on, the Golf GTI remains the benchmark by which hot hatches are judged. m
Say what you will about the Dodge Caravan and Plymouth Voyager twins, also launched in 1984, but neither had the ambition and clarity of vision of the Renault Espace. A Matra concept that was sold to Renault but which originated in the Chrysler UK planning department, the Espace featured a galvanised steel chassis and polyester bodywork, resulting in low weight and decent rustproofing. Seven seats in a 4.25m long car (shorter than a modern Mazda CX-3) was a triumph of packaging for the ground-breaking monospace.
It’s a measure of Tesla’s vaulting vision that six years after the Model S was first unveiled, it still has no commercially viable electric rivals. Sales have grown every year it’s been on sale, it revolutionised our ideas about performance sedans and rendered your hot-rod V8 a dinosaur overnight. Sure, Elon Musk’s hubris in refusing to see Tesla as a car company has saddled the business with all manner of production issues, but the Model S remains a game changer.
The ultimate evolution of the hugely successful Chrysler/Mitsubishi Sigma of the late-’70s/early’80s, the original Magna (1985) finally achieved what domestic carmakers had wanted to do to overseas products for decades – widen them. While BMC’s aspirations of broadening the narrow-bellied Austin Freeway and Wolseley 24/80 came to nothing, Mitsubishi’s success in splicing 100mm into the centre section of the 1983 Japanese-market Sigma/Eterna set the global blueprint for today’s modern medium-size car. And made the Magna an Aussie success story across three generations. The ‘wide-body’ Toyota Camry (1993) was directly inspired by the TM Magna; likewise Ford’s last two generations of Mondeo/Fusion n..
Be Beyond its affe fectiona ionately ‘ ly ‘hunch-backed’ form, the FJ Holden (and its 48-215 predecessor) possesses something far more significant. With its gloriously extravagant chrome grille and freshly minted ‘Special’ variant, the FJ went on to influence Aussie culture way beyond the end of production in 1956. There were bands – Ol’ 55, fronted by Frankie J Holden (not his real name, would you believe) – and even a film called The FJ Holden (1977), delivering a bleak depiction of western Sydney’s cultural landscape as lead character Kevin seems to care only about his battered old FJ (and beer). And its star would shine again 50 years later as Efijy (2005), Holden’s breathtaking concept-car homage to the iconic FJ. (2, Holde s br ng co ept hom e to the iconic FJ
In the same year Holden dominated Australian passengercar sales with more than 50 percent of the market, Toyota stepped quietly onto Aussie soil with the LandCruiser. Just 13 landed in 1958 – privately imported by Sir Leslie Thiess to assist with the Snowy Mountains Hydro Electric Scheme – but it didn’t take the LandCruiser long to find favour in mining and farming communities. Tough, handsome and unfailingly reliable, it was almost Chesty Bonds on wheels, with all four doing the driving.
The LandCruiser family expanded in 1967 to include the FJ55V wagon – our first breakthrough ‘SUV’ – and half a century later, as total ’Cruiser sales in this country ticked over 700,000 (10 percent of total global volume), no one could doubt the significance of the Toyota 4WD’s impact. We’ve bought more LandCruisers than any nation on earth, a fact supported by the scores of grey nomads currently scouring the country in one, earning it virtual Aussie citizenship.
Ford Australia struck a winner with the Territory in 2004. A handsome monocoque design standing tall among a sea of lumbering separate-chassis rivals, it prefigured an era when available two-wheel drive and the lack of any real off-roading credentials played no determining factor in an SUV’s success, or lack thereof. As a design, it was bang up to date - superb seat comfort (providing you weren’t dumped on the bones of your bum in the third-row), excellent steering response, supple ride comfort, and brilliant vision. Twelve years later, it was still a handsome thing, finally available with a (sluggish) diesel engine option in lieu of Ford’s spritely, if thirsty, petrol six, and still able to house a bottle of wine lying flat in a bespoke receptacle next to the front passenger. Sooo Melbourne, darling.
It wasn’t our first performance V8, and it wasn’t even our first V8 Falcon - that honour going to the COTY-winning XR range of 1966 - but the introduction of a GT version sparked a four-door muscle-car, er, ‘phase’ that would feed Aussie petrolheads for more than 50 years. Looking back on it now, a 16.4sec standing quarter is slower than a bunch of small automatic hatchbacks in 2018, but the Falcon GT’s crisp response, planted feel and long, lusty legs were the stuff of dreams in 1967. The almost overnight transformation from three-on-the-tree column gearshifts (with no synchro’ on first), bench seats and unassisted drum brakes to a bent-eight muscle sedan with broad buckets, taut suspension, power front discs and the same sports steering wheel as a Mustang must’ve been like waking up to a whole new world. Or bumping into Elvis in a lift. And the XR GT’s spirit would live on right to the close of Aussie production - the Falcon XR8 Sprint, Commodore SS-V Redline and HSV GTS-R W1.
Wi With 440,748 built across a se a seven-year per year period,, f five of of th those as our number-one s e seller, the VE has shapedaped our automotive landscape i e in the b st pe best possible way – y – wi with beauty. Even today, its exqu ly propor quisitely pr ortioned and expertly crafted form provides dashing reli g relief liances w among the hordes of appl es with which it s which it shares es ro road space – even when dumpe on its guts w dumped on its guts with two drainpipes poking out its back end back end. As the pinnacle e pinnacle of of Australian automotive experexpertise, it w for ve it will forever d if enthusiasts con stand tall and proud. And if en usiasts continue t ue to view it that way, we’ll keep s vi p seeing t e Vng the VE (and it d its fa facelifted VF successor) on oon our roads, in all guises, well into an increasingly elecelectrified f we ified future
In post-war Australia, an easy-riding, affordable and virtually unbreakable small car was always going to earn a following – especially one that failed to ‘boil’ at the slightest hint of hot weather or hard work. And so it proved for the cute-as-a-button Volkswagen Beetle. Debuting here the same year as this very magazine (1953), the Beetle’s sales trajectory was rapid, and its prevalence on Australian roads both wide-ranging and long-lasting. By 1960, it was our second biggest seller (behind the FB Holden), achieving a sales figure (24,388) that would make the Golf proud today, and by the mid-’60s, 95 percent of it was manufactured here. Yet the Beetle’s eventual demise in 1976 failed to remove its trademark domed roofline from our streetscape. Right up to the late-’90s, you could still see Beetles scurrying among the daily commute.
“It’s a Holden!” cried t d the advertising tagline, drumming home t ng home to people that the beautifully propor oned European proportioned,, Europea -flavoured VB Commodormodore was in fact “a Holden”, even though it was a virtu l de it w s a v it wasavirtual deaddead-ringer for Opel’s own 1978 Commodormodore. The dif he difference, of course, was that o that ours had u ded undergone exhaustive Outback development, strengthening its structure far beyond t at o its Ge yond that of its German cousin, and you could have a V a V8 in o n one. Crucially, it’s that last point that helped ed Holden build t ld the Commodore nameplate into what it is today. Or what it was when local production ceased last October… produ ion cea ed
We’d seen Fairlanes before the locally developed ZA model debuted in February ’67 (namely the ‘Tank’ Fairlane of 1959-’62 and the 19 the 1962-’65 Com65 ‘Compact’ Fa lane – bo Fairlane – both US models assembled here) but the realisation of a of an affordab able long-wheng-wheelbase ‘luxury’ s y’ sedan an suddenly sprouted wings with the first ‘Aussie’ F ie’ Fairlane. The ZA (and i d its ’68 ZB successor) was an overnight sensation, selling almost 20,000 in less than two years while becoming the blueprint for dome domestic luxury for t for the next four decades. And it spawned a bunch of domestmestic rivals tvals,, though none ever achieved the LWB Ford’s huge populapularity. Thing is, our first-generation Fairlane was pure Americana. It may have been manufactured here but only the instruments, front guards, grille and headlights came from Broadmeadows.
“And he Andhes got a p e’s got a panel van” b a panel v n, boas s one l van”,, boasts one su fie s one surfie scrag to scrag t anoth rther in Bruce Be esford to another in Bruce B e Beresford’s ub rd’s Pu er y B u uberty Bllues (1981)(981),81), lik likike i k it was th ’7the ’7 70s teenage equivalent of a f n apartmenti Bt t t iin Paris. But wheB t h n you were still li till l living unde d r your parents’ roof, a mobile shaggin’ wagon was better than any Parisian pad. And none more so than the original Sandman, a special edition that first surfaced late in the HQ’s life (’74) and quickly came to symbolise the sand, sun, surf and sex-filled youth culture of 1970s Australia. Wearing loud colours, lairy decals, and quite often air-brushed murals and bubble-tint rear side windows, the craze spawned Van Wheels magazine, which morphed to become our sister title Street Machine.
This guy is the hero nobody knows – a Swedish engineer who went from designing ejector seats in Saab fighter planes to a job at Volvo in 1958. A year later, he perfected the three-point seatbelt. Although Volvo patented his invention it allowed widespread use, free of royalties. By 2002, the year he died, it is estimated his invention had saved over a million lives.
Shaped Australian motoring culture like nobody since Ben Chifley. In 1984, the Senator dismantled high car import taxes (a lazy 57.5 percent) and scrapped import quotas. The message to the then five local makers: get world competitive or go home. The Button Plan left us with no car industry but delivered every buyer more variety, better quality, higher technology and lower prices – with billions of taxpayer dollars saved in subsidies.
Il Commendatore fashioned a business from his passion for racing. The charismatic road cars embodied primal design with symphonic engines. With a record 231 GP wins, Ferrari is the glue that holds Formula 1 together. Then there’s Le Mans, the Mille Miglia and countless others. Enzo was driven and ruthless, but long after his death in 1988, his surname remains shorthand for ultimate performance, while his cars have acquired art-collector status.
The curse of the third generation weighs lightly on the grandson of Toyota’s founder. The man they called The Prince took over as Toyota president in 2009, just as the GFC turned profits into losses for the first time. Undaunted, he set Toyota on a course for radical transformation as a “mobility platform” – autonomy, electrification and connectivity are his buzzwords. By 2025 he wants every Toyota model to be either electric or have an electric option. Huge investments are being made in new solid-state battery tech to make them smaller, lighter and more affordable. For the generation that’s supposed to lose the plot, Akio Toyoda is very much the visionary. He says he thinks a lot at night about Google, Facebook and Apple because, he says: “We didn’t start out making cars, either!”
The engineering genius behind Lotus on road and track. His list of big ideas includes development of one of the earliest and most successful rear-engined Grand Prix cars, pioneering work on monocoque construction and aerodynamics in the form of wings (1968) then ground effects a decade later, with the Lotus 79. A total of 13 GP Championships and that famous win at Indy are part of his “Lighten and Simplicate” legacy.
From the wreckage of post war Japan, he built a brand that turned accepted wisdom on its head. Motorcycles like the Honda Dream and 750/4 spelled the end for the British industry. They gave Honda the chance to apply the same engineering savvy to cars. Witness the 1972 Honda Civic and (COTY winning) 1977 Accord. Soichiro was a staunch advocate for motorsport teaching young engineers to think on their feet.
Formula 1 existed before Bernie and will no doubt continue now he’s cashed in his chips aged 87. But this master deal maker made the sport a global phenomenon worth billions while bringing plenty of controversy along the way. Let’s not forget he bought the Brabham team in 1972 and managed it to multiple World Championships while simultaneously expanding his grip from team boss to undisputed F1 supremo.
An outsider from South Africa achieved what GM, Toyota and the rest of the established order could not – produce a sexy, desirable and practical electric car with a recharging system to boot. While Tesla’s financial issues remain, there is no doubt it and its evangelist founder galvanised the world’s car makers into massive investments in electrification.
His father Ferdinand (senior) helped Hitler with the People’s Car but it was left to his son Ferdinand (a.k.a. Ferry) Porsche to transition a design and engineering consultancy into full-scale manufacturing.
Ferry was the driving force behind the 356, which went into production as Job #1 and lasted until 1965. The engineering spec and dimensions for its successor may have been Ferry Porsche’s work but not the iconic design.
It was Ferry’s son, Ferdinand Alexander Porsche (known variously as F.A. to his colleagues or Butzi) who produced the distinctive shape of the 911 that debuted at the 1963 Frankfurt Motor Show as the 901 prototype. Arguably it sits with the Coca Cola bottle as the most recognizable piece of 20th century industrial design.
Now in its seventh iteration, the 911 is still providing tidy profits for the eponymous company where for generations, everyone was a Ferdinand with a big idea.
The world’s most influential and prolific car designer, full stop. There are more than 200 models credited to the studios of the man they simply call Maestro.
He began his career at Bertone in 1960 penning the classic Ferrari 250GT SWB before establishing ItalDesign in 1968. Voted Car Designer of the Century in 1999 and later admitted to the Automotive Hall of Fame, his resume includes the Lotus Esprit, the 1974 VW Golf and later, the DeLorean DMC12.
World-class engineer, industrialist, and eccentric, this grandson of the Porsche dynasty has been on the spot for seemingly every significant development in Germany.
He managed Porsche victories at Le Mans, revitalized Audi through the Quattro period as tech director then CEO. Later he lorded over VW as undisputed king maker and ruthless executioner. A dazzling technical mind and an enigmatic personality.
His pioneering McLaren F1 road car was all about transferring racing technology to the road, while his achievements in Grand Prix racing were those of an innovator – the famous Brabham fan car took ground effects to its ultimate conclusion.
So good it was banned. He designed World Championship winning cars for Brabham and had his fingerprints on the all-conquering McLaren MP4 that delivered Aryton Senna his first title.
Still the only man to design, build and drive a car of his own making to a World Championship in 1966. ‘Black Jack’ was a gifted driver and technician who worked at Cooper Cars during the development of the mid-engine F1 in 1957 and won his first Championship in 1959. He teamed up with designer/engineer Ron Tauranac in 1962 and went on to win 14 GPs and three world championships before retiring in 1970.
From 18-year-old F1 spannerman for Jochen Rindt in the ’60s, to co-founding his own F1 team in the ’70s, to turning McLaren into an F1 superpower in the later decades, there’s no denying the business brain and ambition that powers Ron Dennis. His impact on the F1 grid is undeniable, including the fact he was team boss in 2007 when McLaren was fined $US100m for alleged theft of Ferrari F1 intellectual property. But can we forgive him that for his part in the birth of the road-car business?
When you’ve been a high-level headkicker at all of the Big Three (as well as BMW) it’s only appropriate that you’d be referred to as a ‘car tsar’. When this cigar-chomping former Marine speaks, the global automotive business listens (unless you’re Tesla, who he predicts will soon go bankrupt.) He also reckons humandriven vehicles will be legislated off our highways by 2038. Okay, bugger off now, Bob, you’re not helping.
The most divisive innovation of the past decade? That’d probably nov ion of t ly be the rise of autonomous vehicle tech. Keeping the least g the l as in interested drivers away from a steering wheel and pedal set st driv s a ng whe seems a good idea to us, leaving control of a vehicle to people s a g d idea t g c who are invested in the act of driving. As we’ve seen though, who a e i st e act of d iv ng. A we’ve s mi in mixing artificial intelligence with the vagaries of human ci in ig th th ar decision-making can be tricky, so squaring that circle will lead to de on in can b ky so squa in an interesting few years and vast technical challenges. The safety benefits, reduction in congestion and productivity gains inherent benef s, red ion i cong ains inhe in automated vehicles present key points of differentiation to car ca y p of d ion t manufacturers that appear too lucrative to overlook. ma fa ers t ppear t
Revolutio Revolutionary would be too bad a pun for this one, but the Wankel ankel engine design that we know of today wasn’t actually designed by Felix Wankel. The simplified competitor design to Wanke to nkel’s rotary was Hanns Dieter Paschke’s work and old Fe x h Felix hated it, claiming that Paschke had turned his “race horse into a pl o a plough mare”. Between 1964 and 2012, the rotary was synon m synonymous with first NSU and then Mazda, but poor reliability, thirs fuel th st and correspondingly high emissions saw the rotary fu sh shelved. The return of the rotary as an EV range extender is being exp eing explored by Mazda. Watch this space.
Think of t k of the dual-clutch transmission as a transitive technology.
Por Porsche’s f s irst PDK transmission was seen on the 956 and 962 racers rom 1983 from 1983, later morphing into the Audi Quattro S1 rally car’s ge gearbox ox. By 2003, the dual-clutch had been productionised in the Mk4 Golf R 2 a olf R32 and seemed a game changer. But durability issues surfaced, an ma and manufacturers of torque converter automatics massively upped the r g m heir game. The dual-clutch still persists, but it’s possible it’ll go the way of t y of the Wankel. The market will be the final arbiter on that one.
First car with factory sat nav? That’d be the 1990 Mazda Eunos Cosmo. Prior to that there had been some half-baked systems like Honda’s Electro Gyro-Cator, but GPS changed everything. Or rather Bill Clinton did when he signed a bill in 2000 ordering the military to stop degrading satellite signals, in the process improving accuracy by a factor of 10. Today it’s hard to imagine going back to paper maps, or just pretending to know where you’re going.
Ask any current automotive CEO and they’ll have no hesitation identifying the biggest threat to their bottom line. It sounds simple but it’s people no longer wanting a car. The rise of slick ridehailing services like Uber has contributed to the fall in driving licence acquisition by late teens. On-demand subscription services also threaten the traditional notion of the two-car household, further eroding the potential customer base. Throw the rise of the autonomous car into that mix and you have a hugely disruptive influence on the traditional car company’s business model. Innovation breeds innovation, though, and car companies are now being forced to respond in kind.
Remember when the fitment of a turbo was all about raw, unmitigated testosterone? That’s no longer the case. While we recall with dewy eyes the early days of the properly scary boosted motor in vehicles like the Renault 5 Turbo II, the Porsche 930 Turbo and the Ferrari F40, these days turbochargers are more often used to help bolster a downsized engine with low-down torque and for efficiency gains. Turbo lag might be a thing of the past, but so increasingly is the great-sounding normally aspirated engine. Reduced emissions remain the big draw for manufacturers but big forced-induction power/torque numbers keep us excited.
Thank Ronald Reagan for kick-starting the modern emissions s control movement when he founded the Californian Air Resource Res rce Board in 1967. Prior to that, some steps had been taken to curbing to c in tailpipe emissions, including the widespread adoption of positive po it crankcase ventilation. Sealed fuel systems that couldn’t vent to ve to the atmosphere came in the early ’70s followed by exhaust gasgas ust ga recirculation, and the development of secondary air injectionctio and, crucially, catalytic converters. Between the introduction ction of Euro 3 emissions rules in 2000 and Euro 5 in 2014, NOx O emissions have been reduced more than sevenfold. In theory.
If we’d never thought of carting a huge vat of inflammable liquid around with us a century or so ago, the notion of doing so now would probably seem vaguely ridiculous. Electricity seems a natural choice for propelling a car, offering near silent drive, no tailpipe emissions, mechanical simplicity and stacks of easy torque. The California Air Resources Board began a big push towards zero-emission vehicles in the early ’90s, eventually seeing Tesla surge to the fore. And yet there’s really only one volume-selling mass-market electric car available, the Nissan Leaf, which passed 300,000 global sales in 2018. And electric cars currently make up 0.0004 percent of Australian car sales. It’s likely to be leg ygislation, rather than buyer behaviour that changes this.
We tend to think of platform sharing as new, but Citroen spun the Ami8, Dyane, Acadiane, FAFA, Méhari and Bijou from the original 1948-vintage 2CV platform. General Motors shared their Y-body platform across multiple brands in 1960, with Buick, Oldsmobile and Pontiac all top-hatting their designs onto a common chassis.
More recently, the VW Group’s $60bn investment in MQB sees a return to the original principles of mass production, cutting complexity and reducing the time taken to build a car by 30 percent.
An engine has to work under a huge range of different conditions and it was soon clear that neitheither carburettors nor mechanical fuel injection was a an optimal solution. Step forward Bendix and its 1957957 Electrojector. Step back again, because it was drea readful.
It took Bosch to pick up those reins with its transis or nsistororbased D-Jetronic system in 1967 to start to realise these the benefits of improved power, efficiency and tractability, y, as well as reducing maintenance and emissions. Most of the major European car manufacturers soon adoptadopted Bosch’s system, with the hugely successful K-Jetronic etronic architecture dominant from 1973 to 1994. Bosch wouldh would later mug an ailing Fiat for its rights to common-rail n-rail fuel injection.
Mercedes’ original 300SL was essentially a rebod ed, odied, road-going racer, complete with a bulky aluminiumium spaceframe chassis, featuring wide sills for maximumximum rigidity. As a result, regular doors couldn’t be fit itted, so the suave signature gullwings were the inspir ired solution. Contrasting the classy elegance of the clea e clean rounded silhouette are the blistered wheelarches and he outrageously long dash-to-axle ratio, cementing the ng th 300SL’s place as the world’s first supercar.
Imagine how mind-blowingly otherworldly the futuristic DS must have s e seemed back in 1955, amid Cold War paranoia, stifling normality and the FJ Holde Holden. Its beautiful proportions were the work of Italian sculptor Flaminio Berton, whoni, while the advanced engineering by aeronautical engineer André Lefèbvre incl cluded ed hydropneumatic suspension, making it distinctly secure as well as subl mely ublimely comfortable. The beauty of ‘the goddess’, as it was known, ran beyond sk skin-deep.
Like most cars for the masses, t s, the Fiat at Nuova 500’s ethos was function on over fo form. Observe the tiny air-cooled twin tu tucked out back to maximise interior or space, mandatory fabric roof since that’s since t at’s ch cheaper and lighter than steel, wheels at l, whe s at ea each corner for surefooted handling and minimal ostentation. Nearly 3.9 million ex examples over 25 years turned the feisty 50 500 into a symbol of Italy.
Sexing up the original Falcon with a four-seater coupe/convertible spinoff range boasting a striking long-bonnet/short-boot silhouette, evocative name, stirring performance options and countless personalisation configurations might seem normal toda today, but the Must but the Mustang elev g elevated design-fue uelled market marketing to dizzying heights, smashing records g to zz ing heights, s ng record and s and sending rivals scrambling in response.
It’s now legend that Porsche had intended to kill off the 911 not long after the larger, luxo 928 grand tourer launched in 1977, but by the ’80s neither sports car buyers nor marque fans would have any of that and the company relented. It just doesn’t date. Rear engine, rear (or later all-wheel) drive, and a horizontally opposed six in either naturally aspirated or (nowadays) turbocharged guises, the 911 has become the sports-car yardstick which all others – including ultimate supercars – must match to achieve greatness. Happy 55th, Project 901.
A sublimely sensuous silhouette and productionfirst mid-mounted rear-drive V12 heart that helped make this Lamborghini the world’s fastest car back in the day are all good and well, but Marcello Gandini’s ’60s supercar masterpiece has sashayed into the world’s collective psyche because of those eyes. With headlights that make this car’s face as sultry as any supermodel’s, the Miura catapulted its maker into the sports-car stratosphere, and remains the epitome of Italian design prowess to this day. No wonder the Countach didn’t even try to emulate such loveliness.
The st The story g y goes t s that after being co ng courted t en sp ted then spurned bned by Enz Enzo to buy Fe buy Ferrari for its racing d g division, a seething He ng Henry Ford II teamed with British outfit Lola to create the ruggedggedly lithe GT40 (denoting the car’s approximate height in inches). Ford eventually won four Le Mans (1966-69), and the legend of the blue-collar underdog prevailing over the arrogant Italian fuelled the GT40’s provenance ever since.
The impact of the original TT was profound. The first true modern Audi sports car (the epochal Ur-Quattro was a beefed-up 80 Coupe), the sleek, A3-hatch based tw -do two-d or borrowed Bauhaus desig design elements, brilliantly meldi ding originality with postmo modern retro cool. A real highlightght was th was the austere yet crafted cabin that ehat exuded high-quality finesse.
Alec Issigonis’s response to a ’50s oil crisis was a flawed, fabulous masterstroke, punching above its diminutive weight by pioneering eastwest front-drive engineering, engaging dynamics and friendly design. The latter ca came about through packaging and bu budgetary requirements, since the Mini was foremost a mass-market econoca car. Yet ’60s counter-culture adopted the bolshie Brit runabout as its cl classless poster child, while motorsport recognised the virtues of the spirted and agile Cooper S – a pocket-rocket pioneer.
Evolved from the ’50’s Le Mans-winning D-Typ ype racers, the feline E-Type’s origina ginal aim was to stamp Jaguar’s authority on performance. Its 150mph claim was e sensational, aided by innovations like nt monocoque construction, independent suspension, rack-and-pinion steering and and disc brakes, combined in a lightweight, aerodynamic and then-affordable grand tourer shaped by former aircraft engineer, eer Malcolm Sayer. That’s why the E-Type feels like a wingless jet fighter behind the th wheel. That it also represents Britain, ’60s ’6 revolution and unbridled sexual virility ty are simply reflections of the beholder.
Until the mid-1950s it was accepted that a strong, rigid car was a safe one. Celebrated Mercedes-Benz engineer Bela Barenyi challenged this notion and successfully patented the concept of a vehicle crumple zone in 1937 and in a more developed form in 1952. It took until ’59 and the Mercedes-Benz W111 before a series production car featured crumple zones. Engineering and materials advances have since seen the creation of dedicated crash structures and the concept of load pathways refined and improved.
The active safety features that followed make today’s cars even safer. But when it comes to the crunch you can thank the crumple zone engineered into every monocoque car (but not separatechassis 4WDs), Mercedes-Benz and an Austrian visionary for the fact you could walk away.
Austr stralia led the way with the seatbelt, as the first country to make the use of this new vehicle safety device compulsory, starting in Victoria in in 1970. It had been a long road from the invention of the seatbelt by En lis English engineer George Cayley – he was granted a patent in 1885 – to its ar s arrival as an option, first in Nash (1949) and then Ford (1955) models. In In 1958, Sweden’s Saab was the first to make seatbelts standard.
American John W. Hetrick was granted the first airbag patent in 1951 and airbags as a replacement for seatbelts were trialled in the early 1970s by GM and Ford.
Mercedes-Benz led the way in production, offering the tech in its 1981 W126 S-Class, with Chrysler and Honda soon following suit. From early driver-only airbag installations, today’s cars utilise front, side and curtain airbags, driver’s knee airbags and even seatbelt airbags.
Although exact figures would appear hard to come by, the NHTSA claims that airbags saved 44,869 lives in the US between 1987 and 2015.
Anti-lock brakes first appeared on models from the US Big Three and Nissan in 1971, and automates the principles of threshold or cadence braking. As active safety goes, being able to stop the car, or manoeuvre around a potential collision, are two of the most fundamental crash avoidance abilities.
By preventing the wheels from locking, skidding is reduced to a minimum, reducing stopping distances on smooth and slippery surfaces. And with ABS at work, tractive contact and therefore steering ability is maintained – something that is not possible with the wheels locked.
Australia was on the global forefront when, in June 2009, it was announced that electronic stability control would be compulsory on all new passenger vehicles sold here from November 2011. The crash-avoidance technology, which uses sensors to continuously compare steering angle with the vehicle’s course to establish whether the driver has control, first appeared in 1995 when Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Toyota introduced their first ESC systems, prior to the infamous Elk Test of 1997 (see opposite).
162 Between 2009 and 2015, the Volkswagen Group built around 11 million vehicles that emitted as much as 40 times their published nitrogen oxides; compounds that damage lung tissue and inflame potentially fatal respiratory diseases such as emphysema and bronchitis. The vehicles were programmed to switch into a clean mode while undergoing laboratory emissions testing and then revert to ‘dirty’ in real-world conditions. In April 2017, a US federal judge ordered Volkswagen “to pay a US$2.8 billion criminal fine for rigging diesel-powered vehicles to cheat on government emissions tests.” Too little, too late? Between 2009 and 2015, Volkswagen sales increased by almost 60 percent and in 2017 it overtook Toyota to become the world’s biggest car maker. The damage to the company’s reputation over the longer term is harder to assess.
The Ford-Firestone rollover scandal of 2000 kicked off when the NHTSA asked both Ford and Firestone to investigate a high rate of blowouts that led to rollovers and up to 100 deaths. Ford blamed Firestone, and Firestone blamed Ford. Nearly 20 million tyres were recalled, the two companies underwent congressional hearings, and in a flurry of lawsuits, Firestone and Ford parted ways in 2002. Was it poor Ford design, flawed Firestone rubber or a bit of both? We may never know as neither company ever took full responsibility.
In its simplest terms, a cost-benefit analysis states that if the cost is greater than the benefit, the project is not worth it – no matter what the benefit. These were the grisly mathematics behind Ford’s Pinto development.
The car needed to come to market in the 1970s at not a cent over US$2000 and not an ounce over 2000 pounds and safety was not a priority. An $11-per-car fuel tank improvement would have prevented 180 deaths a year, but Ford’s internal memo titled ‘Fatalities Associated with Crash-Induced Fuel Leakage and Fires’ valued each death at $200,000. Therefore modifications to make the fuel tank less susceptible to rupture in rear-end impacts, even at $11, were not deemed cost effective.
These days, there’s barely any car enthusiast who doesn’t know what an Elk Test is. Back in 1997, a Swedish magazine rolled the revolutionary A-Class during a lane-change test. Mercedes initially stonewalled, but eventually recalled all 130,000 cars sold, added ESC across the range and modified the suspension. After a flurry of bad press, the company emerged with its safety credentials boosted by doing the right thing, providing a case study in crisis management. The range-wide ESC adoption also set a precedent. By 2014, ESC was required on all new cars in the EU.
From 2000, Japanese airbag manufacture Takata inadvertently introduced a design fault to its airbags whereby inflators were degraded by moisture. When triggered, the airbags could shower occupants with potentially lethal metal shards. It’s alleged that Takata knew about the flaw in 2004 and Honda issued a recall in 2008, but Takata didn’t announce a large-scale recall until 2013. Now it’s estimated that around 30 million vehicles worldwide will require recalls. More than 20 people have been killed by the fault. Takata filed for bankruptcy in 2017.