Coming Cars that Can “Take It” (Mar, 1938)

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Coming Cars that Can “Take It”

Is the crashproof car a dream? Read this prophetical article.

by Frederick Russell

SAFE because it’s unbreakable—is that the picture of the automobile as it will be in the near future?

Many engineers say “yes,” pointing to the greatly fortified 1938 car as evidence The majority of them agree that if cars can be built with sufficient strength to withstand today’s punishment it should be but a short step to a car that can take a bad spill and not be any the worse for it.

The idea that cars should crack up when they collide is coming to be regarded as a relic of pioneer days in motordom. Many years ago engineers decided that unless they built what is known as a high “factor of safety” into each of the car’s major units there could be no real endurance. Cars would not be practical with rear axles breaking down at every abrupt start or with springs collapsing every time a bad bump came along. Now the demand is for greater security against the possibility of damage from collisions of all kinds.

This is indicated in the offering of grille guards and special bars for use in reinforcing the bumpers. It is not improbable that we will witness a revival of one of the features of the erstwhile Marmon car, in which the steel running boards served as side bumpers.

One of the popular attractions at amuse-parks is the midget automobile which is surrounded by a continuous bumper. So much strength is provided by this simple arrangement that the driver can strike the wall or collide with another car without risk to either the car or himself. It is the unbreakable car of the future in miniature.

A few years ago a pioneer along these lines startled New York by striking “L” posts at speeds up to 35 miles per hour. With a special bumper on the front of his car he was able to laugh off the usual collisions with these immovable objects which have meant so much grief to motorists in Manhattan. The bumper took the shock gracefully, allowing the car to dissipate its momentum and come to rest without too much confusion. What the driver lacked then he now has with the

newer cars—a carefully designed safety interior with no sharp protrusions and no controls that are apt to spear him. The combination at that time would have accelerated the trend now so evident toward the car that can “take it.”

It isn’t that drivers want to be able to crash into things without paying the penalty, but simply that they demand protection against that small, but always present, group of thoughtless operators who continually threaten to crash into them. At the present time any serious head-on collision is certain to result in expensive repairs not only to the front end assembly but to the engine itself. It is a popular wisecrack to refer to the engine of the modern car as the front bumper. This may be a factor in hastening general adoption of the rear-engined car.

We have gone a long way with the all-steel body, non-scatterable glass and low center of gravity, but the car has had too many “arms and legs” that can be maimed in even minor accidents. There will be a tendency toward bodies of heavier gauge steel so that the body itself will help the chassis remain in alignment. Glass is now being perfected that will not even shatter when it receives a blow. The best we have today is glass that does not scatter when broken. Building the engine and chassis lower to the ground has done much to save upsets, but the next step is designing cars which cannot upset. Possibly motordom may borrow an idea from the familiar ash stand which can be tipped over but which will not stay upset.

The automobile industry knows no such word as “can’t.” It meets every challenge Today motorists are beginning to wonder why they should have to pay big repair bill if, through some miscalculation or misfortune, they have not been able to keep the car to a safe course. Motorists long since refused to consider a car so weakly constructed that the roughest useage would crack the frame Now they want a frame that will be equally shock-resistive in a collision.

The shock-proof car can be done in quantity production because it is already being done on special order. One of the manufacturers of high-priced cars recently exported to Asia a remarkable vehicle for use by a foreign potentate. The car is entirely bullet-proof and is so strong that no ordinary collision could best it. There is no way anyone can gain access to its interior except with the use of a special key. It is said to be armored motoring de luxe.

This does not mean, however, that we will have to carry around tons of steel in order to enjoy this new security awheel. We are going to benefit by the amazing new developments in metallurgy. Stronger but lighter materials will find their way into the picture. The camera is playing an important role in the study of the structure of metals. Weaknesses in steel are quickly detected through the micro-camera photo. And steel will be but one of the metals used in the fashioning of the car that will be impervious to collision.

In fact, some go so far as to predict that rubber may be the answer to this new security. Many experiments along these lines are engaging the attention of those who are building tomorrow’s automobiles today. Rubber is being used for so many pails formerly reserved for metals and wood it is not at all improbable that it will play a role in providing the answer to the problem of building parts that will withstand shock without breaking or without getting out of alignment. Rubber now is used for battery-cases, spring shackles, motor supports and many other parts which are subjected to extra strain. Success may lie in meeting the shock of impact by means of flexibility, resiliency, elasticity. It is exactly what they have done in solving the problem of excessive engine vibration.

Translate floating power into the effort to provide an unbreakable car and we see rubber in a new light. Perhaps the shock-proof car of the future will absorb impact, bending and yielding in accordance with the nature and severity of the blow, but without any serious consequences.

It is the low pressure tire that has done so much to lessen the annoyance and danger of puncture. High pressure tires banged over the road, forcing nails and glass through the tread to the inner tube. Today the low pressure tire actually rolls over many sharp objects, yielding but not picking them up.

Shock absorbers were first introduced in America in 1904. Their virtue largely lies in controlling spring action by checking excessive compression and recoil of the springs, but the “shocks” are a part of the stabilizing process, joining with the anti-away bar in helping the car fight a million collisions with the road surface. It is incredible that with such remarkable strength and endurance under the car we still have extremities that fold up like a piece of cardboard when under any extra strain. All the driver need do is scrape a bit of high curbing and he has a badly mashed fender to show for it.

We are, of course, dealing with terrific forces when we aim to make cars immune to collision damage. A mass of two to four thousand pounds is something to reckon with when it is shooting through space a mile a minute. Did you know that at the modest speed of 20 miles an hour a car is shaken up as much when it runs head into something as it would be if it dropped 13.4 feet? Most collisions are of the glancing blow type wherein the actual forces of impact are greatly lessened, and it is largely in this field that engineers hope to save motorists those endless bills for straightening fenders, repairing frames and aligning wheels. Most of the collisions also are with other vehicles rather than with immovable objects. That increases the force of impact and complicates matters still further. But the unbreakable car will come into existence because it is needed. It will take its place along with the fireproof office building and the dwelling that is immune to hurricanes.

Certain it is that the future will find cars wearing bumpers on all four sides. These would be ornamental as well as protective. They will be covered with special rubber bonded to the metal. It would not be surprising to find another continuous bumper running from the radiator bottom to the license plate holder over the hood and top. This would help protect the car in event of a forward upset, or roll.

These bumpers would be useful in concealing the radio antenna, and could also be used to carry fuel, water and oil for long distance travel. If the engine finally is mounted in the rear it may be the special continuous hollow bumper that will become the elongated gas tank. We are witnessing this year the first elongated battery box. It is suggestive of the new trend toward re-shaping many of the conventional parts of the car.

As developments proceed it will also be necessary for engineers to expand their work to make a car a safer place in which to be jostled about. It may even be necessary to strap in the driver and his passengers. Part of the security in the protected collision of tomorrow will be the importance of remaining in position during the impact and the possible after-roll. This is part of the secret of success with stunt drivers who manufacture their own collisions to demonstrate the strength of modern cars.

  1. fluffy says: May 7, 200712:59 pm

    Ah, back before automakers considered that it’d be easier on the passenger to NOT suddenly get jostled at 10G. Crumple zones exist for a reason, and it’s not to protect the car.

  2. Daniel says: October 31, 20071:43 pm

    That car would make a good basis of a new NYC taxi, though, all the glass…

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