Cars today are technological marvels that contain some truly miraculous innovations. If you were to tell people even 10 years ago that cars would be able to park themselves, direct the driver to where they are going and be equipped with rear view cameras, most people would tell you that you’re crazy. Yet, here we are in 2016 on the cusp of seeing completely automated, driverless cars on North American streets. This is truly impressive. Yet for all the automotive innovations over the years that have advanced cars and made them safer, there have been a staggering number of bizarre vehicle innovations that have failed miserably. Here’s a list of the 10 strangest car innovation failures.
10. Front-Mounted Horse’s Head
It’s fair to say that the automobile did away with the horse-drawn buggy. As more Ford Model T cars dotted roadways a hundred years ago, people became less inclined to hitch their horse up to a buggy and trot into town. Of course, not everyone was an immediate fan of the then-new invention known as the automobile. Many people, notably rural farmers, were scared of cars and the speeds at which they traveled. So, in an effort to appease many people and make them feel more comfortable driving a car, some automotive manufacturers offered to attach an artificial horse’s head to the front of the cars they were selling. One vehicle manufactured out of Michigan in 1899 became known as the “Horsey Horseless Carriage” and featured an artificial horse’s head mounted on the front of the car. The horse’s head was actually hollow and used to hold extra fuel, which turned out to be a hazard in the event of a crash or accident. Fortunately, this innovation went the way of the buggy whip.
9. Children’s Partition
Let’s be honest, being stuck in a car with your kids on long road trips can be a real headache. How many times can you hear the children scream: “Are we there yet?” Or listen to a game of “I Spy” for the umpteenth time? It’s aggravating to say the least. Automakers feel our pain, which is why many car companies in the 1940s and 1950s experimented with partitions between the front and rear seats of cars. These were like the partitions you see in limousines when famous people are being chauffeured around. The idea was to separate parents in the front seats from their annoying kids in the back seat. Not a bad concept, really? But it turned out that many parents didn’t like the idea of not being able to see or hear their kids in the back of the car. So these good parents ruined it for all of us, unfortunately.
8. Nuclear Fusion Engines
Whoa! In a page out of The Jetsons cartoon or Back to the Future films, automakers in the 1950s and 1960s (at the dawn of the nuclear age) were talking up the development of nuclear fusion engines in cars. The Ford Motor Company went so far as to develop a nuclear powered concept car in 1958 known as the “Ford Nucleon.” This scale model showed how a nuclear-powered car might look and operate. Many other carmakers also experimented with the idea of outfitting vehicles with nuclear engines. The idea was for cars to be powered by a nuclear reactor mounted in the rear of the vehicle. Fortunately, nuclear-powered cars were deemed to be a wee bit dangerous, and too expensive, to develop and were scrapped. However, the Ford Nucleon is available to see today at the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan.
7. Onboard Record Players
We didn’t always have satellite radio. And, in a bygone age the only way for people to listen to their favorite music was on a record player that spun their vinyl 45s. So how to take your favorite music with you on the go? By installing a record player in the car. Not a radio, but a full-blown record player connected to the car’s speakers. Chrysler offered optional onboard record players, known as “in-car phonographs” on many of its most popular car models in the mid-1950s, and they proved pretty popular with the bobby socks set at the time. However, it did prove difficult to turn the records over from side A to side B while driving, and the needle on the record player was prone to skipping whenever the car hit a bump in the road, leading this innovation to be short-lived. Still, you can’t fault Chrysler for trying.
6. Side-Mounted Flamethrowers
We know what you’re thinking: Where in the world would you need side-mounted flamethrowers on a car? No, not in downtown Detroit. In South Africa, where crime, violence and destruction run rampant. Meant as a deterrent to carjackers, many optional side-mounted flamethrowers are also used elsewhere on the African continent to scare wildlife away from cars, notably large safari animals such as Rhinos that are fond of charging vehicles. German automaker BMW actually developed an infamous luxury car equipped with flamethrowers that it called the “Blaster.” Of course, the legality of developing these types of vehicles was questioned given that most militaries around the world no longer use flamethrowers as a weapon as they are considered too barbaric and inhumane. The United Nations has called them an “instrument of torture.” Not an innovation likely to catch on everywhere.
5. Scent Dispensers
There’s no question that cars stink. Everyone’s car smells bad. That new car smell we all love disappears pretty fast and is replaced by a strong stench of B.O. What can be done about the wretched car stink? Well, a few luxury carmakers experimented, not too long ago, with automated scent dispensers. The idea was to take the air freshener to its logical extreme and install timed pumps that dispensed pleasing aromas inside cars. Mercedes-Benz and Infiniti each developed built-in scent dispensers, or perfume dispensers, into some of their most popular models such as the Mercedes-Benz S-Class and the Infiniti Q45. Seems like a good idea, right? Problem was that many people are allergic to perfume and scents. In fact, most hospitals in the U.S. and Canada today forbid people to wear perfume in their buildings. Same, it turns out, goes for cars. This concept ended up smelling pretty bad in the end.
4. A Fifth Wheel for Parking
Parking, specifically parallel parking, has frustrated even the best of drivers at various times. Some people who’ve had their license for years cannot parallel park—no matter how big the available space happens to be. Despite the best efforts of driver’s ed teachers everywhere, this still seems to be an issue. Naturally, automotive engineers endeavored to rise to the challenge and solve the problem of parallel parking once and for all. They created a retractable fifth wheel that lowers from beneath a car’s trunk so that drivers can maneuver their car’s rear-end into a parking space. Sounds incredible? It is! Cadillac actually developed this innovation in 1951. Sadly, it proved to be too cumbersome to deploy and retract, was prone to glitching, and generally found to be impractical. Turned out to be much easier for people to just drive around in a parking lot until they found a space where they could comfortably park their car.
3. The Hover Car
By the 21st century, we were all supposed to be riding around in flying cars that traveled through the air rather than on the ground. This was accepted as fact in the 1960s and 1970s. Almost every futurist worth their salt predicted flying cars by the year 2000. So what happened? Where are all the flying cars? Believe it or not, more than a few automakers experimented with the concept of flying cars. The “Curtiss-Wright Air Car” came closest to realizing the dream. The vehicle, powered by two 180 horsepower aircraft engines, could actually fly aloft for a period of time. But the innovation that was the hover car never took flight because the noise made from the aircraft engines turned out to be deafening, and flying cars were found to consume way too much fuel. In the age of the electric car, vehicles powered by aircraft engines were deemed to be too expensive and bad for the environment. Disappointing, we know.
2. The Amphibious Car
For some reason (and we’re not sure why), the idea of developing a car that could double as a boat was very popular in the 1960s and 1970s. Engineers, designers and the general public seemed obsessed with the concept of having a car that you could commute home in and drive across a lake or go fishing in. More than one vehicle manufacturer developed an amphibious car capable of remaining buoyant in water. Companies from Porsche to Land Rover experimented with this innovation. And while a few amphibious vehicles caught traction for a while, in the end the market for these water-logged cars proved to be too small to justify their continued existence. Not that many people wanted a vehicle that was both a car and a boat. Who knew?
1. The In-Car Toilet
Yes, this is true. In 1947, Cadillac developed a car that was equipped with a toilet in it. A real, working toilet. This innovation was developed to help Cadillac complete the feat of driving over 10,000 kilometers non-stop. And while this was a stunt, the idea of outfitting cars with toilets was hotly considered by major automakers in the late 1940s and 1950s. But, while the innovation worked in a concept car for Cadillac, it proved to be horrendous to work in most vehicles. Just finding a place for the toilet inside the car, along with a tank to store the excrement, was difficult. But there were, of course, issues with splashing, spraying and messes, not to mention smells. In the end, it proved to be much easier for motorists to simply pull over at a gas station and use the toilet than to squat in the back of a car. Oh, to think what might have been.