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Car Safety Trivia

This is the closest the Hybrid III crash test dummy family gets to smiling.

The Hybrid III crash test dummy family portrait.

I don’t know why trivia books are so popular, but they are. We could spend a bit of time pondering what it is about humanity that makes collecting obscure and quirky facts interesting or amusing. However, that wouldn’t be half as much fun as actually sharing a bit of trivia, taking the topic of car safety this time.

Not that car safety is a trivial issue, by any means. These days, a new car review is just as likely to emphasise all the safety features, active and passive, as it is to list the power and torque stats. And no wonder: in the state of Victoria last year, there were 248 fatal road accidents; NSW had 302. Some of these were drivers, some were passengers, some were cyclists and some were pedestrians. This is why safety features exist, everybody. There are a lot of lives that could be saved. When you think about the number of people who do idiot things like not wearing seatbelts, drinking too much and driving at speeds that are just plain too fast for the conditions, “facepalm” and “head-desk” just don’t quite cover it.

Right, enough depressing stuff and on with the trivia…

  • Top-level crash testing facilities such as MIRA in the UK don’t just crash-test cars. They also test other vehicles like heavy trucks, and “roadside furniture” such as lamp posts and traffic lights. Yes, they now crash-test lamp-posts to make them safer so wrapping your car around a pole is less likely. Don’t hold your breath for them to make it over to Australia for a while yet, though, so drive safely!
  • The first crash test dummy was called “Sierra Sam”.  Sam was invented in the late 1940s and was used for testing ejector seats in aircraft. It wasn’t until later that someone realised that using crash test dummies would be a good idea for new car models.
  • The average crash test dummy is 1.78 metres tall.
  • Airbags were first invented in 1952 by US inventor John W Hetrick. However, it wasn’t until 1971 that Ford  first actually put them in.
  • The three-point seatbelt that we all know today was invented in 1959 by a guy working for Volvo named Nils Ivar Bohlin. According to Volvo , during the inventor’s lifetime, about 1 million lives were saved by the three-point seatbelt. Let’s all make his name known more widely, because he certainly deserves it.
  • The state of Victoria was the first place in the world to enact seat belt legislation in 1970 when they made it compulsory for drivers and front seat passengers to wear some sort of seat belt. That’s over 40 years ago and some people still haven’t managed to get it.
  • Crash test dummies aren’t the only things strapped into the seats of cars and propelled at speed into an obstacle. Over the years, testers have used human cadavers and, rather nastily, live pigs under anaesthesia. Testing with live anaesthetised animals wasn’t banned until 1993. Cadaver testing sounds pretty macabre and probably is, but is considered to be the absolute best way to test new passive safety features. When you think about it, it’s no worse than donating organs for transplants or donating your body to medical colleges for research purposes and it does help save lives. It certainly beats using the poor old piggies.
  • Airbags inflate at 320 km/h, which is faster than the top speed of most cars they’re installed in.
  • The most common type of crash test dummy is the Hybrid III. To be more accurate, the Hybrid III family is used. This crash test dummy family consists of Mr Hybrid III (five foot nine inches), his big brother Uncle Hybrid III (six foot two), Mrs Hybrid III (five foot no inches) and two kids aged six and three. Mr Hybrid represents the 50th percentile for adults, Uncle is the 95th percentile and Mrs Hybrid is the 5th percentile.
  • Those percentiles mentioned in the snippet above are now out of date. Thanks to galloping obesity (or, more appropriately, not galloping), there’s a chance that crash testing facilities are going to need big fat dummies.

Safe (very safe) and happy driving,


A Car That Turns Head For The Wrong Reasons: The Reliant Robin

And on top of the other weirdness, the bonnet opens backwards.

And on top of the other weirdness, the bonnet opens backwards.

There are some cars that turn heads for the right reasons. You look at them and think “Wow!” I remember nearly going off the road the first time I saw a vehicle that I loved the styling of (it was a 2000 model Ford Falcon XR6, by the way – although I mistook it for a Jaguar at first glance).  Others are a pure dream to drive and seem to have been created by designers who really think about what people need and want (something I’ve experienced with the Volvo and the Saab I’ve owned over the years – bravo, Sweden!).

Others turn heads for the wrong reasons. They leave you wondering what on earth the design team was thinking. You wonder how on earth the cars in question got off the drawing board, let alone the sales yard. One car in particular stands out as a real head-turner (for the wrong reasons) and head-scratcher: the Reliant Robin.

redrobinIf you’ve seen a Mr Bean episode, you’ve probably seen a Reliant Robin. It’s the three-wheeled blue thing that perpetually gets shunted out of the way by Bean’s beloved yellow Mini .  This vehicle wasn’t, as I once thought back in my teen years, specially created by the producers of the Mr Bean series as a joke. It is for real. A design team really did sit down and a car company really did make a car with three wheels. What’s more, it sold.  Apparently, the “Plastic Pig”, as it came to be called, is the second-most popular fibreglass vehicle. It also went through three facelifts (all of which kept the three wheels) and was produced up until 2001.

The idea behind the Reliant Robin was frugality and innovation.  It was developed back in the 1970s during the oil crisis, so cars with small engines were highly desirable (some things don’t change). This had the benefit of bringing the Mini and the Fiat 500 to public attention but it also produced some right horrors. As well as the Reliant Robin, another mid-1970s horror was the Sebring-Vanguard CitiCar, an electric vehicle (yep, things haven’t changed) that was great in the fuel consumption department but looked singularly hideous and had windows that zipped up.

The Sebring Citicar.

The Sebring Citicar.

But why, oh why did they make it with just three wheels?  It doesn’t make for better aerodynamics to increase the fuel economy. It certainly doesn’t make for better handling. Out of all the three-wheeled car designs (the Reliant Robin isn’t the only one in existence), the delta layout (one wheel at the front, two at the back) is the least stable and is prone to rolling when braking   The “tadpole” layout – one at the back, two at the front, as seen in the BMW Isetta – is somewhat more stable.

The reason why they made it with three wheels was to make it more accessible: because of the engine size and because it had less than four wheels, it was classed as a motorbike for licensing and registration purposes. If you were a miner working in the north of England who needed to get to work cheaply but didn’t want to freeze your buttocks off on a motorbike, and you didn’t want to pay a packet for car registration, something like the Reliant Robin kind of made sense, especially as you could fit the family in the back, like you would with any three-door hatchback.

Specifications-wise, the Reliant Robin achieved its aim of good fuel economy. The 1970s model’s teeny little 750 cc engine (with 29.5 kW of power and 63 Nm of torque and a 0–100 km/h time of 17 seconds, depending on who you ask) could do 70 miles per gallon (that’s 4 L/100 km).  The top speed of the Robin was 136 km/h, although given its performance when braking and cornering, you probably wouldn’t want to flog the little thing that hard. Especially as the body was made of fibreglass to keep the weight and fuel consumption down.  Needless to say, the Reliant Robin has a rear-wheel-drive powertrain.

The Robin is notoriously unstable, with a tendency to lift rear wheels off the ground during hard braking or cornering. This is probably the main reason why it ended up being the patsy in the Mr Bean episodes: it was easy to roll, push, tip and otherwise abuse. Top Gear episodes have also taken the mickey out of the Robin. And the three-wheel design makes it look just plain weird.

However, as with all very distinctive cars, there are going to be a few people who are passionate about the quirkiness of the vehicle in question. Some people love the Robin. Heck, one specialist website claims that HRH Princess Anne once owned one. Owners say that they like the way that people stop to stare and smile at the car. Small children have been known to burst into laughter at the sight of a Robin. So I guess the Robin has the advantage of bringing more smiles and laughter into the world. If you want to do this, fine. Just remember two important things: (1) take it very, very easy around the corners, and (2) have another vehicle for taking the kids to school unless you want them to die of embarrassment (although it would make a good parental threat).

Safe and happy driving, whether you prefer two, three or four wheels,


Ancient Resurrection: The Masters Historic Festival at Brands Hatch

Image Credit:

Image Credit:

“A demon of the ancient world. This foe is beyond any of you.”

There are whispers in the dark. Mutterings of a nameless fear once thought long departed from this world. This is the deep breath before the storm. The serenity that dominates our modern world will be broken; shattered as the true power of the past unleashes its voracious fury. On this bank holiday, the Kentish countryside will explode in an illustrious majesty unmatched by anything from the modern world. This is the Masters Historic Festival at Brands Hatch. And Stopwatch as ever is here for all your hospitality needs and more!

This bank holiday weekend, prepare to relive the shining glory of the motorsport past as once again the Masters Historic Festival returns to Brands Hatch. And this year it is better than ever. If I asked you to name some of the great race series from the past, chances are that most of these will be racing this weekend. This is not just historic racing, this is a celebration and resurrection of our racing past in a weekend long festival that will stun, amaze and leave you wanting more.

Making their monstrous return to the undulating Kentish countryside is the FIA Masters Historic Formula One championship, proving exactly what F1 racing should be in all its rapturous, thunderous and almighty glory. No one is saying that the modern championship has a lot to learn from these beastly machines of old, but the vicious combination of speed, power and ungodly noise puts the aggravated bees of the modern day to shame. With machines from the 60s, 70s and 80s including Williams, Tyrell, Lotus and Arrows to name but a few, the golden age of Formula One racing will roar back into life in spectacular fashion.

These titanic time travellers would not be complete without a touring car renaissance, in the form of the Super Touring Championship. In a monster grid of nearly 30 cars, machines from arguably the greatest era of BTCC racing will come together to take on Brands Hatch. The Super Touring era truly defined what it was that makes tin top racing so special. In a time of excess and glamour, the BTCC attracted big manufacturers, big budgets and big names. The 90s may well be over, but the iconic machines remain, ready to reignite the meteoric fires of battle once again. From Nissan Primeras to Honda Accords to Ford Sierra Cosworths, this is not to be missed.

Photo taken from:

Photo taken from:

If that was not enough to whet your appetite, the FIA Masters Historic Sports Car championship will be pitting classic endurance cars against each other, bringing back the spirit of Le Mans from days gone by. Nothing quite beats the sight and sound of a Ford GT40 on the pit straight at Brands Hatch; truly electrifying. And on top of all that, various support series with classic sports, touring and single-seater machines make this a weekend of racing you do not want to miss.

The weekend is not just about the racing, a host of demonstrations and displays will transform Brands Hatch into the perfect Bank Holiday festival. Do not miss your chance to see classic F1 cars from the late 80s and 90s both on track and up close, while feasting your eyes on car displays including Aston Martin, Ferrari and Lancia among many others.

With such a biblically impressive weekend ahead, you deserve to enjoy the action in style. And there is no better place for that than Stopwatch Hospitality. For the small price of £45 per person, guests will be treated to an unrivalled behind the scenes hospitality experience, including multimedia access to live timing, twitter and video feed, complimentary tea and coffee, cash bar and a spectacular view of the circuit. But most importantly, word has reached our ears that BTCC legend John Cleland has agreed to give us a pit tour, sign autographs and take part in a Q&A session for guests. Cleland is celebrating a staggering 20 years since his most famous championship glory in the BTCC. Now that is not something you hear every day now is it?

On this glorious Bank Holiday weekend, its time to let loose the demons of the ancient world. This is the Masters Historic Festival at Brands Hatch. This is Stopwatch Hospitality.

See you there!

Race Day Tickets: £45 per person (Half Price for Ages 12 and under)

–          Includes Circuit Entry and All-day Suite Access

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Road Surfaces Over The Millennia

If I were a better artist, I’d love to create a wordless book tracing the development of a road across from a single game trail to a modern superhighway. History is pretty fascinating, so let’s take a look at how road surfaces have changed over the millennia. I’ll just stick to road surfaces, as including the wheres and whys of roading would make this article far too long to read in one sitting.

If you’ve ever seen a house where they park on the grass during winter, you soon see why. All that pressure and squelching soon becomes deep, thick mud, where wheels get bogged. Shortly after the wheel was invented (around 5000 BC), road surfacing followed shortly afterwards.

Roman road still in use in Jebel, Syria.

Roman road still in use in Jebel, Syria.

The earliest form of road surfacing was just plain brick, and examples can still be seen today in the Indus Valley.  However, paving stones proved to be superior – they could just be cut out of rock and dropped into place, rather than baked like bricks. What’s more, rain and grit didn’t wear stone away like it did brick.

The Romans were the first ones to do more than just chuck stones down on top of the surface of a dirt track. They figured out that if you put down a good base layer, all the rain would drain away more easily, so you didn’t get problems with rutting and potholing as often.  The Romans invented basecourse and subbase, and these techniques are still in use today.

At the bottom of a Roman road, the earth was levelled off at a fair depth down and rammed. After this, a layer of large stones the size of a hand was put down. Next came a layer of concrete (yes, the Romans invented concrete). After that, a layer of very fine gravel. On the very top came flagstones, and they were laid so the middle of the road was higher than the sides, rather like the shell of a tortoise, for better drainage.  Not all roads in Roman times got the full treatment, but the most important ones did – the key ones for trade and military manoeuvres.  Other rather familiar things found on a proper Roman road were milestones and pavements (sidewalks).

The Romans also introduced the idea of roading standards – they had a set of measurements that had to be stuck to for all roads, as least as much as possible, complete with different measurements for straight bits and for curved bits.

Legionaries building a Roman Road.

Legionaries building a Roman Road. “Metopa Columna lui Traian Constructie drum”. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons –

Tar did get used to seal roads during Classical times. This mostly happened in the oil-rich Middle East. Back then, tar was the only thing an oil well was good for.  But the idea of combining the Roman method of construction with the waterproofing of tar didn’t come for nearly 2000 years later. From 500 BC to about 1800 AD, it was cobblestones all the way.  It wasn’t until the Industrial Revolution that a new method was discovered… ironically, it was about the same time that better suspension systems in the form of leaf springs put in an appearance.

The breakthrough was invented by the Scotsman John MacAdam, although some credit does have to go to a couple of other civil engineers of the time, Pierre-Marie-Jérôme Trésaguet and Thomas Telford.  These three engineers had the goal of making good roads cheaply. Needless to say, it was hard work making cobblestones that fitted nicely into roads to give it a good smooth finish.  Cobblestones, after all, had to be cut by hand by a skilled bloke with a hammer and chisel.

Macadam did two things. Firstly, he did away with the club sandwich of layers that the Romans used, although a plain sandwich of basecourse and subbase still gets used today. Secondly, he found out that a good layer of gravel pushed into the right shape allowed for good drainage and was a lot smoother than cobblestones – and could be bashed into shape by a machine or by a road gang (possibly of convicts) in large quantities. Your typical back-country gravel road is what a Macadam road looked like.

Macadam’s roads had one problem, even though they drained pretty well and gave a comfier ride. They kicked up heaps and heaps of dust, especially once motorized transport became really popular thanks to the manufacturing efforts of Ford and others.  A solution was found pretty quickly: tar, which had the added advantage of being waterproof. This was known as “tarred Macadam”. This method involved two coats of tar or bitumen: one on the subgrade before the macadam gravel, then a top layer to seal it all in. You can still see this method used on a lot of country roads.

Then came Edgar Hooley, who had the bright idea of mixing the aggregate (the finely crushed gravel) with the tar before putting it on the road.  This was then flattened into place by a steamroller (which really did run on steam) and was super smooth as well as waterproof.  He patented his method under the name “tarmac” (short for “tarred Macadam”, although we also call it after the form of tar mixed with the aggregate: bitumen or asphalt.

Modern asphalt/bitument/tarmac.

Modern asphalt/bitument/tarmac.

Naturally, the development of road surfaces is still going on today. Slipping, cracking and rutting still happen. Who knows what they’ll think of next?

Safe and happy driving, whether your wheels are on gravel, cobbles or tarmac,


The Perfect Equation: Super Touring Cars and Brands Hatch

Photo taken from:

Photo taken from:

On any normal occasion the end of the month is a time of relief, happiness and impending financial gain. But this is no average month. On May 24th, the HSCC Super Touring Car Trophy returns to Brands Hatch for the Masters Historic Festival. With an expected bumper grid of over 25 cars, the glory of the 90s will once again flood back to Brands Hatch. After a strong opening race for the field at Donington Park, the excitement builds for Brands. And did I mention that there are two legends of the BTCC competing as well?

The 2015 BTCC season has already proven that it is fast returning to its status as one of the best race series anywhere in the world. The NGTC regulations have left other championships reeling in jealousy; cost-effective and ultra competitive make for some of the most entertaining races you will see. The combination of the modern championship with the returning HSCC Super Touring Car Trophy creates a beautifully poetic message about the timeless strength of touring cars as the best race category on the planet.

If the current BTCC represents everything forward thinking and fan-orientated about the modern era, then the glitz, glamour and excess that characterized the 1990s is perfectly epitomized in the Super Touring era of the championship. Big names, big budgets and titanic battles dominated proceedings throughout that time. The circuits may have changed and teams may have come and gone, but it was the iconic machinery that truly represented the golden age of touring car racing. When the HSCC announced it would run the Super Touring Cars, I was returned to my excitable years of innocence when as a child I would be glued to the television every time the BTCC was on. In an instant I was a child again, filled with wondrous joy and reveling in the beauty of Super Touring noise.

And Muller takes Cleland! Oh wait, its not 1998.. Photo taken from:

And Muller takes Cleland! Oh wait, its not 1998.. Photo taken from:

Last year, the Masters Historic Festival at Brands Hatch produced some beastly action from the F1 cars of days gone by, including a tear-jerking tribute to Jack Brabham. However, the Super Tourers were somewhat of a disappointment for those who had come to celebrate the height of the BTCC. After promises of large fields and intense action of a rumoured 30 cars, 7 turned up to the Brands Hatch meeting. In the case of one of the races, one car did not make the finish which did therefore mean there were only 6 cars that crossed the line. I have not seen a touring car race so embarrassing since the opening round of the 2001 season.

The event fell close however to the prestigious Silverstone Classic, which did present a considerable conundrum to the teams. The touring cars of the 1990s were so highly engineered and so specialist that one cannot wander into a mechanic and pick up some spare parts on a whim. There will likely come a time when the tyres that were made for the Super Touring cars will simply run out altogether. So in some ways, the increased television coverage and bigger crowds explains why many drivers chose to not enter the Brands rounds. Not only that, any touring car race at Brands Hatch is never without incident (ask John Cleland about 1995, I dare you), and the bill for repairing one of these BTCC icons will take more than your pocket money that’s for sure.

This year however, the time difference between the two is great enough that the full grid is expected to take to the tarmac. Just to add to the excitement, touring car legends John Cleland and Patrick Watts return once more with their ex-BTCC Vauxhall and Peugeot. They may be in their later years but lost their determination and skill they most definitely have not. On top of this, highly experienced historic racers James Dodd in his Nissan Primera and Stewart Whyte in his Honda Accord have been showing they have what it takes to fight it out at the top. The field itself consists of cars from across the full spectrum of BTCC history, including a Ford Sierra RS500, a Ford Escort Mk 2, BMWs from across the 1990s, the fearsome Renault Laguna, Ford Mondeos, Nissan Primeras (including the ex-Team Dynamics car of Matt Neal) and new for this year Audi A4s.

Multi-generations of Nissans: The beast is back! Photo taken from:

Multi-generations of Nissans: The beast is back! Photo taken from:

The first round at Donington Park saw a massive grid of 27 cars take on the track, with honours shared between Patrick Watts and Stewart Whyte. Moving forward, the rounds at Brands Hatch are expected to be something truly memorable. The sweet combination of BTCC and Brands Hatch has always created an electric atmosphere both on and off track. The elevation changes, overtaking opportunities, daunting corners and high speed straights make for one of the best circuits you will find anywhere in the world.

To name some of the historic touring car moments from Brands Hatch would take a lifetime. But who can forget the Reid – Rydell battle that ended in a post-race scuffle, or Simoni in 1994 who managed to barely keep his Alfa Romeo in a straight line while his team mate Tarquini powered to victory or perhaps more recently when Andy Jordan proved exactly why he deserved to be 2013 champion in the rain soaked final race of the year?

So many wonderful memories.. Photo taken from:

So many wonderful memories.. Photo taken from:

With such a packed grid, expect action from lights to flag as some of the most iconic racing machinery in the world come together to transport you back in time to reignite a fire long extinguished. Who needs Doctor Who and his Tardis when you have the Super Touring championship? The championship itself is fast gaining more support and recognition; it would not surprise me if in a few years time it becomes a regular support to the BTCC package itself. To describe me as excited would be a colossal understatement; my life is touring cars and those of the 1990s truly epitomize everything I love about tin top racing. If I could change anything, all I would want is the addition of some Volvo’s on the grid, lining up alongside some Rouse-prepared cars such as the ’92 Toyota or the Kaliber Sierra. And at that moment, my life may well just be complete.

I hope to see you there on May 24th. 

They’re back, and better than ever. 

You won’t want to miss this.

Don’t forget to follow me on Twitter @lewisglynn69 

Keep Driving People!

Peace and Love!

Holy Roller: The Popemobile

Not too long ago, I did a wee post telling you all about the fancy-pants limo used by the President of the US of A, known as The Beast.  The research for this led me to odd bits and pieces about the Popemobile, so I thought that the opportunity was too good to pass up.

The Beast at least looks like a car.  The Popemobile… doesn’t.  Maybe that’s the real reason why the current pope, Pope Francis, doesn’t like it, as well as his apparent preference for keeping things simple.  And I have to say that I’d prefer to drive myself around in a Ford Focus or a Renault 4 , too, like he does, rather than sit in what looks like a glass box on the back of a ute.

Mercedes-Benz-Popemobile-01-626x416Popemobiles are a comparatively recent arrival on the scene, unlike presidential limos. Prior to 1976, the pope got carried about on a mobile armchair known as the sedia gestatoria, which roughly means “portable chair”.  Pope Paul VI scrapped the idea of being carried about on the shoulders of fellow human beings and organised a modified Toyota Land Cruiser  instead.  It used to take 12 blokes to carry it, partly because that padded throne was pretty heavy and partly in memory of the 12 disciples of Jesus… although Jesus’s preferred forms of transport were foot, rowing boat and a borrowed donkey.

Popemobiles tend to come in two varieties: open top and bulletproof.  The uncovered ones tend to get used when the Pope is on his home turf in the Vatican, with the bulletproof ones being kept for overseas trips. The bulletproof ones came in after the assassination attempt on Pope John Paul II in 1981.

A number of vehicles have been modified over the years to be used as Popemobiles.  Fords, Fiats, a SEAT Panda (close cousin to the Fiat of the same name), a Kia and some British Leyland trucks have all been customised for the task, which is as close as a car comes to being consecrated.  A few other obscure vehicles have also been used over the years.  The current Popemobile is a modified Mercedes-Benz M-Class SUV.  All Popemobiles have the same license plate: SCV 1, with the SCV standing for Status Civitatis Vaticanae meaning “City State of the Vatican”.

Engine: 5-litre V8, petrol fuel.  There are probably plans afoot for greener versions.

Seating: Five maximum: two in the front (one chauffeur and one bodyguard), one in the special chair and two aides in the rear cabin facing backwards and lower down where the general public can’t see them so well.  The answer to the debate over how many guardian angels you can fit in the rear of the Popemobile along with His Holiness is probably the same as the one about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin.  The actual chair itself has a hydraulic lift system to get it up to the top of the turret for maximum visibility.  Entrance to the seat is through the rear door, and to get into this seat, the Pope goes through the rear door, climbs up a couple of steps, sits down then presses a button to get the chair up into the right place.

Performance: Tipping the scales at 5 tonnes thanks to heaps of body armour, the current Popemobile has a top speed of 160 mph and does the 0–60 mph “sprint” in 15 seconds, assuming that there’s a clear space in front.  The usual speed while on duty is more like 6 mph.  Fuel consumption is 15 miles per gallon.

Safety and security: The bulletproof glass around the rear cabin is actually plastic glass and is three inches thick, capable of withstanding explosions. The underside of the car is protected by a bombproof steel plate half an inch thick.  Kelvar body armour lines the sides of the cabin.  The rear cabin has its own oxygen supply and air filters to withstand biological attack.  The run-flat tyres are able to be used at speeds up to 70 mph.

I did notice that the special chair thing in the rear cabin doesn’t have a seatbelt…

Safe and happy driving – and don’t forget your seatbelts!


How World War 1 Changed Cars

Well, I hope everybody took a pause to “remember them” over the past weekend – ANZAC weekend.  It’s been 100 years since the disastrous landings in Gallipoli, and it’s this sort of anniversary that gets people in a thoughtful mood.

Renault taxis take French troops to Marne.

Renault taxis take French troops to Marne.

It’s interesting to speculate on how cars would have been different if World War 1 had never happened.  Cars had indeed been invented prior to the outbreak of war – Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria was riding in an open-top car when he was assassinated, triggering the whole stupid mess. But the war stimulated development of the automobile and accelerated progress.  Heaps of car manufacturers managed to get off the ground because of their involvement in producing cars (and tanks and motorbikes and aeroplanes) for their respective sides.  Renault started churning out war transport units, especially after heaps of Renault taxis were commandeered to take French troops to the battle lines after Germany invaded.  BMW and Citroen got started with serious auto production, although they turned to making cars after the war was over, as they had invested heavily in R&D and in manufacturing plants.

A few other ways that World War 1 changed cars around the world include the following:

  1. Mass production.  The wartime demand for lots of identically made gear churned out really quickly opened people’s eyes to the efficiency of assembly lines.  According to one historian, WWI was a “war of production” where the side who could crank out the most tanks, machine guns, aeroplanes, etc. had the edge.  Ford had begun pioneering assembly lines and time-and-motion efficiency measures before the US was dragged into the war; however, other car manufacturers quickly cottoned onto the idea. This meant that once the war was over, the technology was there and the factory lines were there, so they were used for making cars. And they still are.

    Rosie the Riveter and friends making Tin Lizzies on the Ford production line.

    Rosie the Riveter and friends making Tin Lizzies on the Ford production line.

  2. Social change led to more demand for cars. The war took heaps of guys off the farms and out of the factories and sent them around the world, giving them glimpses of the exotic. At the same time, it became respectable for middle-class women to stop sitting around being decorative and to work (who do you think was working on the assembly line when the men were fighting?). The new outlook on life and the desire to travel led to demand for cars (helped, no doubt, by advertising by the car manufacturers). Bicycles and the train, which had been the norm prior to the war, just didn’t cut it any longer.  The old class system was dead and cars weren’t just a luxury for the aristocracy and the wealthy.
  3. Petrol and diesel became the fuels of choice.  Prior to WW1, fossil fuels weren’t the only way to go.  Manufacturers were playing around with things like steam and electricity. According to the Encyclopaedia Britannica, electric cars were actually pretty popular because they were quiet. However, the advantages of gasoline over these other fuels became apparent during the war. The fact that the Allied forces (who had the new automotive technologies) had also managed to bag large chunks of the oil-rich Middle East that had been part of the Ottoman Empire might also have had something to do with this.
  4. Petrol stations.  As cars became more affordable (thanks to mass production) and more desirable (thanks to social change), fuelling stations had to be provided. All across the world, bowsers sprang up.  Before that, people had to carry their own gas or imitate Bertha Benz and pick up a container or so of fuel from any shop that sold it.
  5. Paying in instalments. Car manufacturers wanted to sell cars.  People wanted to buy them.  However, not everyone had the ready cash straight away to purchase a car outright. So car dealers started allowing people to pay in instalments. This was a way for makers of medium-priced cars to compete with the really cheap players like Ford (and later Volkswagen).
  6. Sealed roads. Cars wore roads down more than bicycles and carriages did (trains, obviously, stayed off the roads). This meant that as the car grew in popularity, more roads needed to be tarsealed to keep them in good condition.  The history of roads would probably make another good post in itself, so I’ll probably have to save that for another time.

Safe and happy driving,