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The Future Looks Faster

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San Francisco:  There's no record of people making predictions about "the horse of the future", but it seems that automotive fortune-telling was born the day after the first primitive car rolled out of its inventor's barn.

One of the earliest predictions comes from Thomas Edison. The year was 1895, when only 500 or so cars were registered in the United States. But Edison confidently said, "it is only a question of a short time when the carriages and trucks in every large city will be run with motors." Of course, he was planning on those motors being electric.

Scientific American was equally optimistic about the abilities of the automobile to benefit mankind, stating in 1899 that city streets of the near future would be rendered "...clean, dust-free and odorless, with light rubber-tired vehicles moving swiftly and noiselessly over their smooth expanse..."

Henry Ford, never one to hesitate in offering his opinion to the world, spoke to reporters in 1936 of future cars that would use "synthetic materials to replace heavy metal parts." While the 1953 Corvette was only the first of many automobiles to prove him right, Ford was less on target with his comments in 1946 about the Volkswagen. He thought the car uncommonly small, extremely ugly and absolutely unsellable. Good observations but an awfully wrong conclusion--over 20 million "bugs" were eventually manufactured.

As usual, nobody was listening in Detroit when a Fortune magazine article of 1942 made a pretty good try at describing the car of the future: "...what nonsense it is to use...two tons of gas-eating road-hammering machinery to haul one 160-pound man around. They say right now they can design a car that weighs a third to half less than our 1942 models, rides on air, and goes half again as far on a gallon of gas, and yet offers more space and comfort."

Another rational voice in the 1940s was aviation engineer William B. Stout, who saw cars of the next twenty years powered by fuel-injected, air-cooled engines. His dream would have been realized in the 1968 VW Squareback, had he not added, "tires will automatically adjust pressure...the steering wheel will disappear, replaced by a steering lever. Windshields will be of double glass and heated, eliminating windshield wipers. Doors will be sliding instead of hinged." Perhaps Stout was looking way into the future?

But it would be hard to beat Car Life's 1954 prediction on the forthcoming atomic car: "Its length will run between 25 and 30 feet, and its weight will be at least ten tons. Its horsepower will be between 1,000 and 2,000. It will cruise at speeds of 150 miles per hour and capable of attaining 500 miles per hour."

Now there's a future I'm glad I missed. By Joe Troise AutoWire.Net - San Francisco

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Byline:  By Joe Troise AutoWire.Net - San Francisco
Column Name:  The Future Always Looks Faster
Topic:  Automotive Predictions for the Year 2000
Word Count:   463
Photo Caption:  '53 Corvette Roadster
Photo Credits:   Chevrolet Historical Society
Series #:   1999 - 14

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