Our Forefixers: The Winter Innovators

Neither snow nor rain nor gloom of night shall stop today’s drivers from getting somewhere sunny and bright! Nope, we’re not referring to the delivery route of your friendly neighborhood USPS worker. We’re talking about cold-weather-fighting automotive inventions like winter tires and all-wheel drive, which let motorists go wherever they want regardless of the season.

But where did these inventions come from? Here are the origin stories of some of winter’s most essential features.

Tires

Source | Imthaz Ahamed/Unsplash

Winter Tires

Picture this: it’s a frosty winter’s night in Finland in 1934, and horse-drawn carts are still a common sight. The cars of the time are nowhere near as well-built as today’s, and slush and ice on the roads only make being behind the wheel even scarier.

Enter Nokian, who recognized the need for a tire suited to frozen climates. The company first designed cold-resistant rubber for delivery trucks that had no choice but to drive on the white stuff. The tires featured a never-before-seen type of asymmetrical tread pattern that went sideways to bite into snow. Two years later, it was adapted for passenger vehicles, allowing all drivers to keep cool in slippery situations.

Ferdinand Porsche

Ferdinand Porsche

 

All-Wheel Drive

He created the Volkswagen Beetle, the world’s first gasoline-electric hybrid vehicle, as well as the first mid-engine, rear-wheel drive race car—so, we have to ask, was there anything Ferdinand Porsche couldn’t do?

Apparently not! While working for pioneering car manufacturer Jacob Lohner & Co., Porsche also invented the first automobile powered by all four wheels. Did we forget to tell you that the aforementioned hybrid had individual electric hub motors on each wheel, driven by an onboard engine-powered generator? This unique model was debuted at the Paris Auto Salon in 1900. Now, Porsche offers all-wheel drive on everything from Cayennes to 911s.

Saab

Source | Saab

Heated Seats

Keeping your tush toasty in the middle of February is as easy as flicking a switch, thanks to heated seats. This wasn’t the case until 1972, when the feature was made standard on a few of the models, like the 95, 96, and 99 sedans, offered by now sadly defunct Swedish automaker Saab. (According to one legend, the innovation came about in an attempt to alleviate a Saab executive’s back pain.) Unfortunately for the owners of those first vehicles, sitting in the hot seat wasn’t optional, because the function turned on automatically when the interior dipped below a certain predetermined temperature whether they liked it or not.

Do you know of any forefixers who changed the way we drive in winter? Share what you know below.

Our Forefixers: The Lighting Innovators

Just as TV is enjoying a unrivaled era of quality programming, the automotive industry is experiencing a golden age of lighting. Today, manufacturers use everything from halogen to LED technology in order to illuminate the road, brighten the cabin, and make vehicles more visible to other drivers. But early in their history, headlamps were little more than acetylene lanterns (like those used in the early days of mining). Brake lights didn’t even exist.

Let’s take a trip down memory lane and learn more about three people who were instrumental in getting auto lighting to where it is now.

James Allison

This American entrepreneur invented the first headlight assembly. Allison was a co-founder of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Prest-O-Lite, a company originally specializing in concentrated acetylene gas. The chemical compound was used to fuel portable lamps popular with miners because of its resistance to wind and rain, and for the same reason was adapted for use on vehicles in the late 1880s. A pressurized acetylene-filled canister would feed out to an opening in front of a reflecting mirror, similar to a modern headlight lens housing. Activating a switch inside the cabin caused a spark to ignite the brightly burning gas. Before that, such as on the world’s first production automobile, the Benz Patent-Motorwagen, there was simply no formal lighting hardware available.

John Voevodsky

It turns out a psychologist, not an engineer, was responsible for inventing the Center High Mount Stop Lamp—otherwise known as the third brake light—in 1974. Californian John Voevodsky was researching car accidents and set up a study in which a portion of a group of San Francisco city taxis was outfitted with an additional brake light at the base of the back window. At the end of 10 months, they discovered that the cabs sporting the extra bit of equipment had 60.6 percent fewer rear-end collisions than those without. The third brake light was born.

HID headlight

Robert Reiling

While high-intensity discharge (HID) headlights didn’t appear in North America until 1991 via the BMW 7 Series full-size luxury sedan, the first successful example was actually developed in 1962 by a man named Robert Reiling. He improved upon earlier designs and created a reliable gas-discharge lighting system that formed the basis for contemporary HIDs. Two tungsten electrodes inside a bulb produce a powerful electric charge, which interacts with xenon gas and metal salts present to produce plasma, together creating the signature intense light.

Did we miss any vehicle lighting Forefixers? Share what you know in the comments.

Our Forefixers: The Innovators Behind Brakes

Mercedes-Benz is a global luxury brand that needs little introduction. But how much do you know about Bertha Benz, the wife and business partner of founder Karl Benz, who is often credited as the inventor of the brake pad? She and a handful of other pioneers have been integral in paving the way for the contemporary automobile brake system. Let’s take a look at three of them below.

Bertha Benz: Brake Pads

In 1888, Bertha went on an unprecedented road trip in her husband’s three-wheeled Patent Motorwagen, a direct ancestor of the gasoline-powered cars of today. During her journey, the brakes, then consisting of wooden blocks that pressed up against the rear wheels to slow down and stop the vehicle, became worn down and failed. Ever the innovator, Bertha had a local shoemaker in the next town affix leather onto the blocks, thus effectively designing the world’s first brake pad in the process.

Louis Renault: Drum Brakes

Another admirer of the horseless carriage, Frenchman and engineer Louis Renault applied for a patent in 1902 for an internal shoe drum brake that would eventually become the industry standard. Rather than earlier drum-brake versions, which relied on a steel cable wrapped outside of a brake drum mounted on a wheel to apply pressure and bring the wheel to a halt, Renault’s setup used shoes installed inside the drums that would press up against the inner surface to generate friction and achieve a similar result. This is the same technology used in some models today.

Fred Duesenberg, with his brother, August.

Fred Duesenberg: Hydraulic Brakes

A born tinkerer, German-American Fred Duesenberg, along with brother August, would build everything from motorcycles and race cars to luxury vehicles. In 1921, the pair introduced the first passenger car with hydraulic brakes, which use fluid pressure to push the shoes up against the brake drums—a technique originally dreamed up by a young man named Malcolm Lockheed.

Fun fact: Many once believed the expression “It’s a Doozy” is in reference to Duesenberg, but, according to Merriam-Webster, etymologists trace it to a variation of “daisy.”

Do you know of any braking trailblazers throughout history? Let us know!