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Then and Now: What a Difference a Century Makes

It doesn't take a gearhead to know that cars have changed drastically in the last century, but lets stop for a moment and take a look at just how much they've changed. 100-years-automobile-history-feature Let's dial the Wayback Machine to 1914 and imagine ourselves driving along in a 1914 Cadillac. As we head back, be glad that we're not doing this experiment a decade earlier, because cars had advanced tremendously since 1904. 1886 is widely accepted as the birth of the automobile but it took decades to get them to a point of being dependable transportation. We often forget that the internal combustion engine wasn’t the only thing powering our cars’ ancestors. Tesla may be leading the advancement in electric motor technology today and Toyota on the forefront of gas-electric hybrids, but they are by no means the first of their kind. In fact, the predecessor to the Prius was… Porsche! That’s right, Ferdinand Porsche invented one of the first hybrid cars way back in 1898! It’s currently enshrined at the Porsche Museum in Stuttgart. Lohner_Porsche DL Aside from electric, gas, and hybrid vehicles roaming the poorly-paved and often unpaved streets, which they still shared with the horse-and-buggy, there were other power plants, such as the external combustion engine and steam-driven vehicles, most notably the Stanley Steamer. Check out this video of jay Leno and his Stanley Steamer. The technology of the early 20th century was all over the place, from the hideous beast called the Reeves OctoAuto (written about in my previous Brands That Failed article) to sled-like cars such as the Briggs & Stratton seen below. A Briggs and Stratton DL An invention that first appeared on the 1912 Cadillac, the electric starter, became standard in 1914. This was a huge improvement on earlier models that broke arms and (allegedly) even a few skulls of those trying to crank their cars. Another major safety and convenience feature was the inclusion of headlights. Since electric headlights began popping up in 1912 (again on the Cadillac), night driving was becoming somewhat more common. 1912 Cadillac and 1908 Cadillac Creature comforts such as climate control were nearly unheard of. The original design to heat a cabin interior came around 1910 when charcoal was used to heat the inside of early cars.  Imagine driving in your car with a charcoal grill at your feet and you will understand why this didn’t become the automotive standard of the future! The first heater introduced by any major manufacturer came from Ford in 1934 and was available as an option for a mere $12 extra or could also be retrofitted onto several earlier V8 Fords for $14.00. In 1914, nobody knew which technology was going to be the dominant one, as they all had their shortcomings. Gasoline, aside from being smelly and flammable, was also at the time widely least not as we know it. Thanks to the 1913 invention of the gas pump, you could now begin filling your car up directly - prior to that you needed to carry tin cans filled with gas if you were going to journey beyond your tank's driving range. Early gas pumps, surprisingly, were self-serve models - with slots for quarters, half-dollars, and dollar coins, pumps sat curbside providing 24-hour access. This doesn't mean that it was easy to get around in 1914. It's not like there was a gas station on every corner. Nor were there very well-paved roads, or maps for that matter (much less GPS!) You could technically drive across the country, but it was a fairly epic feat - very unlike hoping in your modern car and taking off across the country on I-10 or I-80. comparison chart Speaking of modern cars, let's take a moment and think about how far we've come. Go outside and hop in your modern car for a ride. First sit back and feel the comfort. Lumbar support, contoured to your body, very ergonomic. Climate controlled, for many down to the exact degree - with seat heaters as a bonus. Now start your car (many via push button rather than key) and listen to how sweetly that engine purrs as it swiftly turns over. Nice, isn't it? Rev it up and take it for a spin. Safe, comfortable, responsive, and fast! There was a day, not that long ago in the grand scheme of things, when people believed speeds of 60mph could kill a person merely from G-forces! Appreciate that modern car of yours, and where it came from...who knows what driver's seat we'll be sitting in after another century goes by! Dial it back and read the rest of this month's NOW vs. THEN series:

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