History of the Automobile- 1920-present The United States became the forerunner in the automobile industry early and the automobile quickly found a place in almost every American home. In the decades after World War I, American demands on automobiles increased and the increased demands imbued many changes in the form and function of cars. The United States was host to countless developments for the car and became a large influence in the future of the automobile and its industry. Pre-World War I automobiles were far from refined machines. Manufacturers traveled a long way after the war to perfect their cars.
Perhaps the biggest improvement in car technology in this time period was the development of faster engines, mainly due to two factors. New steel alloys and aluminum replaced cast-iron in the making of engines that were much lighter. These new aluminum pistons could move twice as fast as the old cast-iron ones. The second contributing factor for faster engines was the replacement of the side valves in the cylinders with valves operated by a camshaft. This allowed the gasoline and air mixture to be sucked more quickly into the cylinder, resulting in a better engine (Evans 24).
The debut of the modern V 8 engine was one significant engineering development of the 1940 s. Companies had built V 8 s for years, Cadillac since 1915 and Ford since 1932. But these were relatively heavy, long-stroke, low-compression engines, known for smoothness rather than performance (Ludvigsen and Wise 124). With the new lighter technology, manufactures produced a new breed.
In 1949, Cadillac and Oldsmobile pioneered this new generation of V 8 s. Their product was the forebear of the engines powering most large American cars up through the fifties and even until today. America's efficient, powerful, light V 8 gained fame around the worldwide for its performance and reliability (Cars 40 s 12). Another extremely important engineering development was the perfection of the automatic transmission. Oldsmobile, part of General Motors, had offered a semi-automatic transmission in 1937.
The company then dropped it in 1938 for GM's Hydra-Matic, the most successful automatic transmission of all time. General Motors owned the automatic transmission market to in the 1940 s and other companies adopted the Hydra-Matic. Buick built its Dyna flow Drive in 1948 and Chrysler developed its Fluid Drive, which eliminated most of the shift motions of early transmissions. Chrysler continued to use these right on into the 1950 s. Ford was conservative, however, and stayed with the gear-shift, with and without overdrive, for all their 1940-1949 cars. Reluctantly, Ford later offered the GM-built Hydra-Matic on the 1949 Lincoln.
Ford eventually developed an automatic of its own in 1951 (Car 40 s 89). Other smaller, independent companies stayed with stick shifts but some gave in and purchased the Hydra-Matic transmissions as well. Two independents that did not give in to the Hydra-Matic were Packard and Studebaker. Packard's Ultra matic was the only automatic developed entirely by an independent without help from a transmission firm.
Studebaker teamed up with Detroit Gear to create an automatic, but it was not complete until 1950 (Evans 33). American engines and transmissions, the life lines of automobiles were soon impeccable, but the cars still needed other mechanical refinements. Again, many changes transpired. Hydraulic brakes became common and so too did windshield wipers, turn signals and dimming lights. Superchargers were also developed in this era of innovation. These were mechanically driven fans that increased the pressure of the air and gasoline mixture and allowed for much faster acceleration (Ludvigsen and Wise 47).
Unfortunately, pre-war automobiles could not brake well because they had brakes on only a few wheels. In the twenties, brakes were fitted to all four wheels, providing much greater safety and stopping power. In earlier cars, the magneto was the part that started the car and it needed rewiring every four or five years. All around improvements in car dependability resulted in a new replacement.
The magneto began to be replaced by a more modern coil that lasted much longer (Ludvigsen and Wise 54). Other developments of the 1920 s-1950 s took automotive comfort to a new level, which was becoming a major concern among buyers. Shock absorbers and independent suspension became more common. These additions allowed each wheel to move up and down separately over rough roads, and in turn gave a much smoother ride (Evans 29).
Pneumatic tires became standard and they also helped give a smoother ride. Furthermore, tire life was prolonged by as much as 5, 000 miles by the invention of cord fabric, a thick-ribbed cloth fitted beneath the rubber (Cars 50 s 39). Cars were slowly smoothing out the wrinkles in the road and were mechanical sound. Manufactures were going further by trying to make driving easier and more pleasurable. In 1922, Gottlieb Daimler experimented with in-car entertainment for the first time.
A radio set was fitted beneath the driver's seat and the driver could listen through headphones. The idea was some years before its time, however, as radios were not very good and not many programs were broadcast. In the thirties, some cars had adjustable steering columns to better suit the driver. Better all-round visibility was another progression in this decade. Yet another innovation to make the automobile more "user friendly" were synchromesh gears. They made gear changing, during the time before the automatics, much smoother and no longer the nightmare it had often been in the early days of driving (Evans 61).
The appearance of cars was increased in importance during this time period. The predominant car color was black, however. This was because accidents were frequent and black was the easiest color to match. Henry Ford claimed that he could supply any person with a car of any color, as long as it was black. In 1925, cellulose, or synthetic, paint was used on automobiles for the first time.
This made it easier to wash and polish than the older types of paint, and it did not scratch as easily. Moreover, paint was applied by spray rather than by brush (Cars 40 s 73). During the late twenties, bumpers became a popular accessory, but they did not become standard until the late thirties. Again, appearance became a factor.
At first, they were nickel plated but replaced with chromium, which needed less polishing to keep shiny (Cars 50 s 7). The increasing importance in appearance ultimately procured extensive change in body design. The design changes in the twenties and thirties saw the final break with the horseless carriage and the birth of the truly modern automobile. Early cars, around the turn of the century, were upright "horseless carriages" in style, far from comfortable and wide open to the elements. The cars of the 1910 s had a slightly more streamlined appearance and the body was nearer to the ground, but they still had very square lines. Most cars of the twenties were open tourers but some had a top and side windows for wet weather driving and only the most expensive models were enclosed sedans (Ludvigsen and Wise 172).
The bodies were still quite high and square but definitely not the horseless carriages of the past. The continually streamlining of cars meant the disappearance of the great protruding headlights of the early cars. They were set back into sloping wings, which themselves became curved and rounded parts of the car body. In an attempt for greater interior space, the engine and seats were moved forward.
This also enabled more luggage to be stored in the trunk. Before long, except for sports models, most cars were four-s eaters (Evans 45). The twenties and thirties had made their mark but the 1940 s was a decade when the motorcar was transformed once again. Bolt-on-fenders and narrow, upright grilles went out of fashion. Enveloped bodies came into use and cars became longer, lower and wider. They now had flowing fenders and broad expanses of glass.
General Motors, who had "invented" automotive styling through its Arts & Colour Studio 10 years earlier, again helped set many trends throughout the 1940 s. Among them were the pontoon-fender ed fastback sedans and hardtops (Cars 40 s 22). The changes in the thirties were very influential in the forties, nonetheless. The thirties' classic foursquare styling was largely abandoned after World War II, but some of its expressions reappeared in the forties. Some manufactures, like Ford and Mercury, still based their styling on the ideas of the thirties, with a perfection in line and form. Chrysler products of the late forties were boxy and upright which symbolized the corporation's concern for ample interiors yet compact exteriors.
This is still true and is visible in Chrysler's cab-forward design of the nineties (Ludvigsen and Wise 16). According to some experts, cars of the fifties are what made the American transportation scene the "mess" it is today. These cars were heavy, ungainly, beasts with power. But there were several important automotive advances between '50 and '60.
For instance, torsion-bar suspension, new short-stroke V 8 s, ever improving automatic transmissions, fuel injection and unit construction were introduced. The decade brought additional progress in body design, including more hardtops and the all-steel station wagon that was more car than truck (Cars 50 s 114). These years also marked some of the finest automotive designs of all time. American cars of this decade are considered by many experts to have been safer than cars had ever been before. Items such as seatbelts, padded dashes and sunken steering wheels were considered novelties, but proved to but useful.
The cars were also built differently in the fifties. They had interiors of mohair and genuine leather and bodies of heavy-gauge steel. Their makers avoided things like plastic, cardboard, decals and rubber bumpers. While the average family car handled sloppily, it was built with more pure integrity than its predecessors. Surprisingly, people still discover rust-free examples with their interiors, paint, and mechanical components in approximately the same shape as when they left the factory a quarter century ago (Cars 50 s 139). The early 1900 s was the infant stage of the automobile.
The twenties was the start of a long journey of advancements for the American automobile. Mechanically, cars were perfected. Essential components such as the engine and transmission were totally transformed in addition to countless other parts. The exteriors went through alterations and several distinctive forms. From boxy to round and back to somewhere between to the two, cars went through just about everything. Early cars were not pleasant to drive but by the end of this era, people enjoyed it.
Cars were literally built to last a lifetime and people took pride in their automobile. From a carriage with a motor to a precision machine, the car has come a long way. Bibliography Cars of the 40 s. ed. by Editors of Consumer Guide. New York: Publications International, Ltd.
, 1979. Cars of the 50 s. ed. by Editors of Consumer Guide.
New York: Publications International, Ltd. , 1978. Evans, Arthur N. The Automobile. Minneapolis: Lerner Publications Company, 1983. Ludvigsen, Karl and Wise, David Burgess, et al.
The Complete Encyclopedia of the American Automobile. Secaucus, NJ: Chartwell Books Inc. , 1970. 2 318.