Throwback Thursday: Automobile Features from the Past

By Cole Q.

Automobiles have been around for a long time. The distinguished history of the automobile has also include the development of a number of features meant to make your car, truck or SUV easier, better, safer and more fun to drive. Among these features are a few that haven’t quite stood the test of time.

On this Throwback Thursday, we’re going to take a look into the automotive time capsule and jog your memories on a number of features that might have been standard decades ago, but would definitely turn some heads if you saw them today. Let’s have a look back, and a laugh, when we see how far we’ve come.

Rumble Seats

Convertibles are cool. On a warm sunny day, nothing beats the feeling of having the top down driving with the wind in your hair. Rumble seats gave early automotive passengers the option of riding with the top down, only the top stayed put. It was basically a bench in the way back of the car that remained open. The only problem is, you were always exposed and without the benefit of any screen or windshield. Without any protection, bugs and debris can make that magical top down dream ride seem like a nightmare.

Horse Heads

Early automobiles were called “horseless carriages” for a reason. When society had been using the mighty steed to move people and cargo for so long, the thought of anything else was a little scary to some. To ease the transition from creature to car, “horse heads” were available to give drivers the impression that the horse was still a part of the driving experience.

Chin Alarm

In a world where there weren’t highways, much less the rumble strips that line them, how do you deal with the problem of people dozing off at the wheel? Back in the 1930’s they didn’t have fancy computers that could sense when the driver’s attention began to drift. They had chin alarms. Chin alarms were small metal bells or chimes that attached to the driver’s chin via a string. If the driver began to fall asleep, their head would nod, and thus trigger the bell. A simple yet effective solution, even if it wasn’t the most comfortable.

Automatic Safety Belts

We all know how important wearing your seat belt is. Back in the 80’s and 90’s, before many states had implemented mandatory safety belt laws, many car manufacturers experimented with ways to make wearing your belt one less thing you had to think about. For those not old enough to remember, automatic seat belts ran along a track that was just above the top of the driver and sometimes front passenger windows. When the car was started, the belt would run along the track and secure over your chest automatically. A good idea, right? Well, the problem was they were a little uncomfortable and sometimes awkward to use. As a result, some people just stopped wearing seatbelts completely. Kind of counter-productive, huh?

Pet Sack

Man’s best friend loves a good ride in the car. But, back in the 1930’s, driving around with Rex hanging out of the window wasn’t as socially acceptable. And, let’s face it; dog hair is not fun to clean out of the interior of the car. With that in mind, the Pet Sack was developed to allow your dog (or cat, I guess) to enjoy the thrill of the open air ride in the car, without the messy clean up. It’s exactly what it sounds like, a sack that your dog would be stuffed into, with a slat for his or her head in the front. The sack would hang off the side of your car. We can think of a few reasons why this never quite caught on, not the least of which is the safety and well-being of the pet.

BONUS – Some throwback features didn’t quite make it into mass production cars. Think of the hundreds, if not thousands of fascinating gizmos that were developed, but we’ll never know about. There’s at least one experimental feature that, thanks to the miracle of the internet, we can shed some light on. Behold the “Wrist-Twist” Steering System .

It’s easy to look back on the development of vehicle features and poke fun at the odd ones that never quite caught on. But the present will be the past for the future and it won’t be long before some of the things you find to be necessities might be scoffed at by the next generation of drivers.

What’s the craziest/oddest/most unusual automotive feature you’ve ever come across? Share your story , or tell us about it in the comments.