Summer is coming to an end. As the last sunny days of the season slip past and we pull out our car cleaning supplies for one last car wash before the fall, it seems fitting to consider the technological advancements that have defined automotive evolution. It is even, perhaps, especially fitting now, since Cadillac is making its tour of the car shows proclaiming the 2013 XTS the “most technologically advanced car in the world.”
What are the five most technically advanced cars? Here are my calls, for what they’re worth.
#5 1948 Tucker Sedan
The 1948 Tucker was produced in a very limited quantity, since the company was immediately swallowed in controversy and folded after building only 51 cars. However, those 51 cars contained the first production version of one of the most important pieces of technology found in any car today: the seatbelt. Tucker had figured out that it was dangerous to put a living human being inside a shell of steel and to send it barreling down the highway at high speeds. It would take the Big Three automakers (and the rest of America) decades to catch up with him.
#4 Volkswagon Beetle
Since the Beetle (or Volkswagon 1, or Bug) is one of the simplest automobiles ever made, it might seem surprising to put it on a list of technically advanced cars. However, the Beetle deserves a space on the list because simplicity is one of the fundamental goals of engineering. The Beetle was designed for the people, to be fixed by the people, and to serve the people. It did just that, and it earned iconic status as a result.
#3 1997 Toyota Prius
The Prius went on sale in the United States in 2000, but the first Prius was introduced in Japan in 1997. This was the first mass produced gas-electric hybrid automobile, and more significantly it was the first alternative energy car to have massive global appeal. It has become an icon of clean motoring, just as the Beetle was an icon of mechanical simplicity.
#2 1978 Cadillac Seville
The 1978 Seville was more than just a big car that was popular with bankers and gangsters. It was also the first production car to come with a trip computer. Gradually, the trip computer grew into the complex and sophisticated on board computer that does everything from shutting the doors to parking the car. That all started in the middle of the 1978 model year with the Seville.
#1 1908 Model T Ford
The Model T is the car that made cars accessible and popular. It was the guinea pig that ran down the first true assembly line. It was a technical marvel in every conceivable way, from its concept to its production to the change it inspired across a nation.
Without any of the cars on that list, the ones we drive today would not be what they are. So as we break out the car cleaning supplies and put the last coat of summer polish on our rides, it’s worth remembering the pedigree those cars carry. And it’s worth imagining what marvels (like the ’13 XTS maybe) the future has in store.