From Jeep’s Luxury SUV to Chrysler Power Steering: A History Of Cars

On Thursday, December 4th, 2014

The history of the car is a long and astounding one. But the question has to be asked: just how did we get from the earliest steam-driven experiments, like Cugnot’s fardier à vapeur (‘steam dray’) to modern luxury cars like the Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT?

Early days

The progression can seem simply impossible. It’s hard enough to imagine the move from the simplistic ‘steam dray’ to Chrysler’s 1951, power-steered Imperial Sedan let alone the transition to the fantastic luxuries of modern cars.

Cugnot developed his ‘steam dray’ in 1770 and many attempts at steam-driven propulsion followed in the 18th Century. It was then in the 18th and early 19th centuries that inventions such as the handbrake and the multi-speed transmission were added to the automobile.

Date of birth of the car

Despite early attempts, 1886 is considered by most to be the car’s true date of birth. It was in this year that Karl Benz was awarded the patent for his Benz Patent-Motorwagen which was the first automobile produced on a large scale.

From then, the development of the modern car began to accelerate at an amazing rate. In 1898, Dynamotor invented the electronic ignition system. In 1902, Ransom Olds developed an early form of production line for automobile manufacture while Henry Ford famously expanded this to the mass production line in 1914 for his celebrated Model T.

Racing ahead

In the period after WWI, the development of the automobile started to race ahead even more quickly. In fact, it was in this period that car racing history really kicked off.

This was greatly helped by the internal combustion engine’s rapid refinements as well as a new interest in car aerodynamics. In 1921, German inventor Edmund Rumpler developed his Rumpler-Tropfenauto or ‘tear-drop car’ while Chrysler developed their aerodynamic Chrysler Airflow in this period too.

While car racing developed even more rapidly after the Second World War and in the 1950s, it was in this period that it became a highly specialised and largely separate automotive field.

In general-use cars, the focus moved much more towards comfort and ease. Vital in this was the 1948 Oldsmobile’s use of the first truly automatic transmission. Also key for comfort was Chrysler’s 1951 introduction of power steering for its Imperial Sedan.

Modern day

Since then, car makers have focussed particularly on safety and luxury. Seatbelts made their first appearance in 1956 while, after a slow development, airbags were first introduced into commercial vehicles in 1971.

In 1978, Mercedes Benz began to use an efficient, second-generation anti-lock braking system (ABS), which proved essential for driver and passenger protection.

One of the most recent important developments in the history of the car has been the massively heightened use of plastics. They have added greatly to the luxury of modern cars and have also, essentially, contributed to many recent safety developments.

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