Sometimes, the auto industry makes cars that the world just isn’t ready for. The first hybrid production car was built in 1898. The first all-electric car was galloping around race tracks as early as 1902. Volvo was using rear cameras in the 1970s, decades before they’d become an industry standard. Not every car and not every new piece of technology stuck the first time around, but eventually, the world caught up. Here, we look at 10 cars that were way ahead of their time.
10. Volvo 240
Volvo has always had a reputation for safety, but in 1972, they outdid themselves. The Volvo Experimental Safety Car was created as a concept car to test out new technology. It had the full caboodle, including pop-up headrests, anti-lock brakes, a collapsing steering wheel, rollover protection, crumple zones, auto-locking seat belts, airbags, and even a backup camera. In 1974, it got rebranded as the Volvo 240. It barely changed for the next 20 years, but then again, it didn’t need to – it was the safest car on the road, and by introducing new features and technology to the mainstream. it made other cars a whole lot safer too.
9. Porsche 959
The Porsche 959 pushed boundaries, broke records, and kicked butt. From the start of its run in 1986 to its end in 1993, it was the fastest street-legal production sports car in the world, dishing out 450 horsepower and nearly 500 foot-pounds of torque – huge numbers even now, but unheard of back then. Even more impressively, it managed it with nothing more than a minuscule 2.8-liter engine and without compromising one iota on style and comfort. Without the Porsche 959, modern sports cars would be a very different thing.
8. Subaru Outback
Where it not for the Subaru Outback, the Volkswagen Golf Alltrack, Subaru Crosstrek, Toyota Venza, Honda Crosstour, Audi Allroad, and many, many other vehicles wouldn’t exist. It wasn’t the first crossover the world had ever seen, but it was the first to perfect the concept in a way that caught the public’s imagination. It exploited a previously untapped market, paving the way for every other crossover that came after.
7. Chrysler Turbine Car
The Chrysler Turbine Car was a trailblazer. Built between 1963 and 1964, it was so far ahead of its time, we still haven’t completely caught up. The first car from a major marque to utilize turbine technology (which until then had only been seen in aircraft), its engine could run on a variety of fuels, was as light as a feather, and required precious little in the way of maintenance. It didn’t herald a major shift in the auto industry, but even now, companies like Techrules are still trying to harness the same technology.
6. Toyota RAV4
As hotcars.com notes, being ahead of one’s time does not always mean being the first. Case in point – the Toyota RAV4. It wasn’t the first car to tap into the market for smaller, more eco-friendly SUVs, but it was the first to be truly embraced. People liked it, they bought it, and its success led other carmakers to launch their own versions. Without it, the modern crossover vehicle segment would be a very different thing – if it existed at all.
5. AMC Eagle Wagon
AMC were always odd. They were only around for a little over 30 years, but in that time they managed to produce everything from public transit buses to Pacers and the frankly bizarre Gremlin. But strange though they were, they also managed to produce a car that foresaw the future. As jalopnik.com points out, the AMC Eagle Wagon beat the SUV craze by a generation. It was too wild and wacky to catch on at the time, but its ability to comfortably handle even the toughest weather conditions and terrains set the template for the modern crossover.
4. Toyota Prius
We all know that fossil fuels are bad and electric cars are the future. A large part of the reason we know those things is down to the Toyota Prius. While not the first electric car on the market, it was the first to harness the technology in a consumer-friendly way. It wasn’t expensive, it wasn’t clunky, and it wasn’t so underpowered, you’d have been better off walking than driving. Basically, it made electric cars both attainable and desirable – without it, we’d still be sticking to gas guzzlers and writing off anyone who drove an EV as a hippie.
3. Buick Riviera
As autoguide.com writes, although it might seem odd to see a Buick on a list of cars ahead of their time, back in the mid-1980s, the Buick Riviera introduced us to something that’s since become an essential ingredient in most new vehicles – touchscreens. The 1986 Buick Riviera was the very first car to include touchscreen control on its center display screen. The tech was basic and occasionally unreliable, but it kickstarted the trend for single screens in favor of buttons.
2. GM EV1
Not many people have heard about the GM EV1, the very first electric car to be produced by a major car brand. Produced in a limited, pre-qualified sample size from 1996-1999, GM made the decision to offer it only on lease after realizing that selling it would come with a loss. At the end of the lease period, GM collected and destroyed almost every model. But the problem with the EV1 wasn’t the car, it was the times. The world may have been ready for a lot of things, but it would take a few more years before it learned to embrace electric cars.
1. Baker Electric Car
Electric cars might be new to our roads, but the technology is over 100 years old. Back in the early 1900s, Baker Motor Vehicle Company produced several completely electric cars. One was sold to Thomas Edison, another was bought by King Chulalongkorn of Siam, and a third made its way into the first White House fleet of cars. In 1902, one of their racing models took part in a race in Staten Island, New York. The intention was to cover a mile a minute from a standing point, thereby proving that electric vehicles had the speed to beat gasoline cars. Unfortunately, the driver ended up losing control and sliding into the crowd, killing two spectators and injuring a number of others. The incident dented confidence in the safety of electric cars, resulting in a decline in public interest. It’d take another 100 years before the tide of opinion shifted.