HERE’S YOUR FUTURE CAR! (Sep, 1947)

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HERE’S YOUR FUTURE CAR!

MI’s auto expert, Tom McCahill, went to the car manufacturers and got the straight dope on what you can expect in the coming decade.

SLEEK, beetle-high cars with retractable wings and power plants capable of jetlike acceleration, even when climbing Pike’s Peak, are some of the things many Americans have been led to believe were a matter of months away. We have dreamed or thought of the day when our American cars would resemble Buck Rogers creations and perform accordingly. As the war drew to a close, we heard rumors of super streamlined beauties in the works which would make anything we knew of automobiles in the past seem antiquated.

So what happened? Instead of super designs with super power plants, the postwar 1946 offerings were, for the most part, poorly disguised pre-war models. Many manufacturers had gone chrome happy in dressing up the front ends of their new cars so that they looked like the familiar juke box in the corner drugstore. A few added a bit of horsepower but, essentially, all were just yesterday’s stew with a bright dash of tabasco to keep things from getting monotonous. Studebaker got the jump on the others, however, by first bringing out a 1946 old hat and quickly shelving it a month or two later to introduce a really new type of body design, and most automotive authorities feel Studebaker will be getting the credit for a standard appearance when all cars will look like 1947 Studebakers to one degree or another before 1949.

Industrial designers cause a lot of ulcers among the manufacturers with hopped up creations which are pictured in our press from time to time symbolizing what future America will look like. All of us have seen their wild fantasies depicting future automobiles, worm high above the ground, tapering to a needle point many yards astern. We have seen pictures of automobile interiors that made Cleopatra’s quarters on the royal barge look like the left wing of a flophouse, power plants so sleek and streamlined you couldn’t even get fuel into them, and other surrealist pipe dreams.

Another fellow who causes unrest among our motoring public is the feature writer who interviews these geniuses and then writes articles practically advising all car owners not to be too anxious or hasty in buying a new car, because just beyond the horizon is the car of the century with hot and cold running carburetors, and so forth. You’ve read these articles and so have I, but as the automobile manufacturers are the ones who have to make all these gems, perhaps their opinions on future transportation might prove a little more accurate, if not as colorful reading. They are the ones who will have the final say when it comes to different power plants, rear-end drive, and all other additions or changes including size and body design.

With this in mind, I contacted executives and chief engineers of every major automobile company in America. Besides these I questioned independent designers and automotive authorities from coast to coast. I asked them all the same questions and though I got a variety of answers many of them ran in such similar pattern that a number of definite conclusions come out about our automobiles not only a year or so from today, but ten years from now. Of course, in ten years many things can happen that can alter some of these ideas but a lot of them will stand. However, what’s most revealing is how the important brains of the automotive industry are thinking today. Before continuing, I must say the executives and chief engineers of two companies refused to answer my questions but all others cooperated fully.

The first question asked was “Do you expect the engines of future cars to be designed to use 100-octane fuel or higher?”

The answer to this was in general no, but with two notable exceptions. Wilbur Shaw, only three-time winner at the track of which he is now President, Indianapolis Motor Speedway (where just about every known mechanical part and design on our present automobiles were developed), feels that our engines in the near future will be operating on 100-octane gasoline. I cannot stress too strongly what Shaw’s opinion means, as he is in direct contact with nearly all racing developments and, though few may realize it, our present cars were race cars just a few years ago. To illustrate: this means your four-wheel hydraulic brakes, spark plugs, tires, shock absorbers, steering geometry, frames, rear axles, present fuel, oil, short stroke, high compression engines, carburetion, spring suspension, pressure cooling and dozens of other features, all sprang directly from the Indianapolis track and no place else. So, you can see how Shaw’s thoughts may, in some cases, indicate definite eventualities regardless of the manufacturers’ views on the subject at the moment.

Harold T. Youngren, vice-president in charge of engineering at the Ford Motor Company, also feels 100-octane gas will be used but not for some time. His point being that, though we realize higher octane gasoline means more power and economy of consumption, a number of changes must take place before we are ready to utilize the possibilities. For one thing, higher octane gas means higher compression ratio with a greater tendency to rougher or high strung engine. Bearing stresses and other problems of a kindred nature are magnified many times. Youngren does feel, though, that this higher rate of fuel will be used when new combustion chambers are designed to promote a more uniform burning rate, at the same time eliminating peaks of explosion pressure that would now produce roughness and spark knock. It is also wise to remember, as he points out, that though higher octane gasoline, alcohol and other fuels offer a bright promise, a price factor comes into this, plus availability and distribution at our present comparatively low cost of gasoline.

So—what is the answer to number one? Most engineers feel that the gas octane rating will remain much as it is, whereas Shaw and Youngren, two wideawake and progressive engineers themselves, feel there is a place eventually for premium fuel.

The second question also pertained to fuel. The question was “Do you think there is a possibility that a different type of fuel may be used, such as alcohol and benzine or perhaps atomic energy in some form?”

In general, the answer was no, but Wilbur Shaw again felt that there is a possibility of solids or semi-solids being developed, but that there is not much chance of their being used for a number of years. He also feels that ultimately some form of atomic energy may be used but hardly before another decade has passed. The others thought there was little or no chance for a change, except for Youngren, whose remarks are mentioned above.

The third question was “What are the chances of the power plants being gas turbines or jet propelled?”

William B. Stout, former head of research, Consolidated Aircraft, and who recently developed a spun-glass plastic rear-engine-drive car that caused a sensation in national magazines and news-reels just a few months ago, said no such changes will take place for the next 15 years. Shaw feels that gas turbines are quite possible but that jet propelled autos are definitely out, due to the inefficiency of this type of unit for automotive use. All others said very little or no chance.

Question number four was “Do you expect that in five years or more rear engines will become popular?”

It wasn’t surprising that Stout should come out with a definite yes. It must be remembered that Stout’s present sensational car is rear-engine drive; also, that a number of years ago he manufactured a car called the Scarab, which was a rear-engine drive affair. He has been a rear-engine advocate for a number of years. Shaw also feels there is a good chance for rear-engine cars and goes on to say that they will undoubtedly become popular as soon as the leading manufacturers are assured the public will accept them. All others say possible but not probable. However, one interesting comment was made by Youngren, who said there is very little chance as the advantage is questionable and the cost excessive.

The fifth question was “Do you expect front-wheel drive to replace today’s rear-drive in popularity?”

Joseph W. Frazer answered this question, yes, there will be front-wheel drives in popular use. It must be remembered that Frazer is president of the company that manufactures the Kaiser and the Frazer, the latter of which was scheduled for a front-wheel drive originally, though it made its initial public appearance as a rear-drive car. The writer drove a Kaiser with front-wheel drive and thought it was very wise when they switched to the conventional method, however Frazer’s present comment would indicate that some of the bugs have been eliminated. Wilbur Shaw’s comment on this was definitely no. He said if you had ever seen a front-drive car trying to paw its way up a wet grease rack, you would quickly understand. The lack of traction is almost unbelievable and the manufacturers’ cost is extreme. Stout qualifies his no by saying it will be usable only in tiny cars, not over 15 hp. All other manufacturers just replied no.

My sixth question was “Will future engines develop more horsepower?”

The answer was an almost unanimous, yes! With the one exception of Youngren, who pointed out that horsepower will depend on economic conditions more than anything else. He said we are reaching a point of diminishing returns and that we have ample horsepower to produce as much performance as modern highways can safely handle. The writer must get his oar in at this point and say in spite of Youngren’s answer, I know that Ford and Mercury have scheduled the manufacture of engines of more horsepower, so his answer was a bit bewildering to me. Perhaps he means there will be no increase after the next models.

Question number seven was “Will the engines be higher speed than those of today?”

The answer was again unanimous, yes, with the same exception, Youngren, who answered “Possibly, although the best economy is attained at slower speeds.”

In number eight I asked “What do you expect will be the standard cruising speeds of cars five to ten years from now?”

Only three answered this directly. All others stated it would depend entirely on highway development. The three who answered were Stout, who said cruising speed of 70, Frazer, 80, and Shaw 80 to 90.

Number nine asked “Do you believe all gear shifting will be automatic?”

All but Frazer said yes. Frazer replied, leaving himself a loop-hole, “Not until some- one develops a better automatic clutch than we have now.”

The tenth question was “Will the popular priced cars be larger, smaller, or about the same as they are today?”

Here, we have a direct contradiction of ideas. For instance, some of the replies were as follows: Roy Cole, vice-president and chief engineer of Studebaker and the man credited with bringing out the most sensational car of the year, answered they will be smaller. Bill Stout said they will be smaller outside with the same amount of room inside, while Ford felt they would be about the same and Frazer said they will be larger. So, on this question, take your pick!

Questions eleven and twelve “Do you expect the cars will be much lower in over-all height” and “Will the cars have more interior room?”

It is interesting how the answers to this question ran. Roy Cole of Studebaker answered that the cars won’t be any lower and won’t have any more interior room. He is undoubtedly using his car as a criterion which is worm high as you know and has the most interior room from the standpoint of seat width of any car on the market, except the Kaiser and Frazer, both of which have even more room than the Studebaker. Frazer replied that the cars will be lower but not much, and he also said the cars will have more interior room. All others said more interior space and lower silhouette.

In question number thirteen I asked “What features do you expect to make the greatest strides—body-design, engine design, safety-factors or general performance?”

This brought an astounding similarity, all answering body-design with the exception of Shaw, who rated body-design second to engine development. You can see from this that the manufacturers are interested in eye-appeal, which they have recognized for years as the strongest selling point.

Question number fourteen “Do you expect a change in highway systems so that coast-to-coast trips can be made in future cars in three days or less with no more effort than it takes to do it in six now?”

In going over the answers to this question, it is interesting to see that the ‘conservative, stable manufacturers, for the most part, played cozy and it is also interesting to see that the men who already have proven themselves fearlessly outspoken, said yes. J. W. Frazer is the only man with long automotive manufacturing experience who came out flatly and said, “Yes, we’ll be able to make the coast-to-coast trip in three days.” Shaw answered, “Absolutely, super-highways by- passing towns will make a three-day trip from coast to coast quite simple.”

As one who had driven coast to coast many times I must say I wholly agree with these two. A continuation of the Pennsylvania turnpike or similar road would make it a cinch.

Question number fifteen was “How many years do you think it will be before we have combination car-planes or flying automobiles on the market and do you expect that these will eventually totally replace the regular automobile that won’t fly?”

All answered either “not practical” or “not in demand,” with the exception of Stout who was working along these ideas some years ago and who says we will have roadable planes in ten years but even he added to his answer the comment that they will not replace the regular automobile. Wilbur Shaw thought we will have roadable planes on the market shortly but they will leave much to be desired, for, as he points out, a roadable aircraft or flying auto will not be a good car or a good plane, but they will be available on the market.

What conclusions can we draw from these answers? They may be a great disappointment to a lot of readers who have been waiting for that bang-up highly modernized vision. There will be changes leading off with body-design but they will come slowly, in pre-war evolution, a few improvements each year. As I see it, the war cost us five years of advancement and next year’s cars will in reality be 1943 or 1944 models instead of 1948. The manufacturers, like insurance companies, must move slowly for two very good reasons. First, they can’t afford to get so far ahead of their competitors that they have an apparent freak on their hands which the public must be educated to, thus costing millions through sales resistance to the stockholders. Second, because the fewer changes they have to make the easier it is not only from a standpoint of economy but from a standpoint of production to get their product on the market.

The answers to the questions would indicate that such things as super fuels, rear-engine cars and production line roadable planes are still part of a quite distant future. However, as the 1947 Studebaker has shown, the cars will soon be lower and wider with an increase in interior room through design, and with greatly increased visibility which will radically change appearance and comfort. The engines will have more horsepower and will be higher speed than any we have now, assuring more flexibility. All gear shifting will soon be automatic but such things as jet propulsion and gas turbine power plants will have to wait for another decade. •

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