During the classic muscle cars era, competition to lead the industry with radical new features drove car manufacturers to take risks. This is when modernizations that we take for granted today were being introduced. Things like disc brakes, the first automatic transmission, aerodynamics, and a modern electric car became realities.
A poignant example is the Chrysler Turbine Car. Chrysler invested ten years in what became nothing more than a fleet of prototypes. The car was turbine driven and could run on any fuel. Over-the-top promotional stunts like running it on tequila in Mexico and burning Chanel No. 5 perfume in Paris proved it.
The engine made bold use of turbine power. It used several turbines, but no pistons or valves. There was no radiator, no distributor, no carburetor, no valves, and only one spark plug. Chrysler’s innovative engine was hand built at Highland Park. There were several reasons the Chrysler Turbine car didn’t catch on. Chrysler scratched the program and crushed the entire fleet of 50 units. The book, “Chrysler’s Turbine Car: The Rise And Fall Of Detroit’s Coolest Creation” documents the story.
Here, we’re going to look at 10 classic cars that were ahead of their time. These cars introduced all kinds of advancements that we expect to come standard today.
10 1959 Cadillac El Dorado Biarritz
In 1959, Cadillac Eldorado was a grand display of modern luxury. It was the most expensive American car. Elvis Presley owned one, he had a fancy for Caddys. Frank Sinatra and his buddies in the Rat Pack drove the Cadillac Eldorado Biarritz too. The wraparound windshield still looks space age swanky. Ditto for those highly sculpted tail fins.
Available in convertible or hardtop, it was fitted with a V8 engine worthy of 345 horsepower. The lavish 1959 Cadillac Eldorado came with all the bells and whistles. Power steering, power brakes, automatic transmission, power seats, power windows, and a radio that scans the dial. Cadillac introduced newfangled upgrades like these from the start. The original 1912 Cadillac introduced the self-starter, which was a welcomed invention, finally replacing the crank. And the 1915 Cadillac is the first successful mass-produced car with a V8 engine.
9 1955 Chrysler C-300
The 1954 Chrysler C-300 was the first real classic muscle car, situated in the era of Detroit competition for more powerful engines. It was the fastest and most powerful production car out there at the time, hitting a top speed of 130 mph. It had a 331-cu. in. V8 with an early Hem with a zero to 60 mph in 10 seconds.
The C-300 made 300 horsepower. Needless to say, this car dominated NASCAR. In 1955, the indomitable beast clocked 22 wins. A true classic.
8 1980 AMC Eagle
The revolutionary 1980 AMC Eagle anticipated the all-wheel drive (AWD) Subaru. The four-door station wagon or sedan was the first crossover utility car made, even if SUV terminology wasn’t there yet.
As a sort of mash up between the AMC Gremlin, the Pacer, and the Rebel, the Eagle was the first American car to come with AWD. It also featured a raised chassis with rust-resistant galvanized steel. It was the perfect vehicle for inclement climates.
7 1962 Oldsmobile Jetfire
The Oldsmobile Jetfire was a futuristic spaceship, relative to other cars at the time. Out of all the classic cars of the time, none had a turbocharger, but this one did. It was the first production car ever to use a turbocharger.
To activate the fuel-injected turbocharger, drivers simply pressed the acceleration pedal to the floor and the car would rocket off like a jet.
It was like science fiction. The turbo was fired by injection of a special fuel, called Turbo Rocket Fuel, which was stored in the special Turbo Rocket Fuel tank. If it sounds like it might be unsafe, it was. Oldsmobile allowed owners to keep their Jetfire, but not the turbo system. The manufacturer swapped the problematic fuel-injection system for a four-barrel carburetor and conventional intake and exhaust systems, at no extra charge.
6 1948 Tucker
The maker of the Tucker sedan was way ahead of the time. Its engine, a Franklin sourced from a helicopter, was air-cooled and rear mounted. Rubber suspension softened the ride. It provided stability by lowering the center of gravity. And it was equipped with a center headlight that would swivel with steering.
The 1948 car was made by Preston Tucker. His most out-of-the-box thinking in the 1948 Tucker was its attention to safety. In case of collision, the windshield ejected, the dashboard was padded, and there was a “safety crash chamber” under the dash. The Tucker sedan did not make it to the ‘50s, but its padded dashboard became standard in Detroit.
5 1974 Sebring-Vanguard Citicar
This little marvel was spotted zipping around streets in the ‘70s during the heart of the oil crisis. The Citicar, made by Sebring-Vanguard is not in business anymore. But their innovative car, powered by an 8-horsepower electric motor was groundbreaking. Its range was about 50 miles, and it could go 40 mph. It was the only all electric car, but a few years later, it was gone.
Still, the Sebring car brand ranked No. 6 in U.S auto manufacturers up until 1977. The Sebring Citi car was made in Sebring, Florida and named for that city. Given that it was styled on a golf cart, its Sunshine State background makes sense.
4 1951 Hudson Hornet
If you’ve seen Cars (2006), the Pixar movie that Disney managed to get right, you know the Fabulous Hudson Hornet as Doc Hudson, portrayed by Paul Newman’s voice. In 1951, this car really was a NASCAR legend nicknamed the “Fabulous Hudson Hornet.” Innovations such as a balanced crank shaft and dash-mounted oil pressure gauge were one thing. This old time muscle car was made with the largest displacement size production engine, a 5.0-liter straight-six with 160 horsepower. Dual brakes were more a necessity than an advancement, but they were state-of-the-art.
The Detroit-based Hudson Motor Company made production cars for racing and marketing. It lasted until 1954 with a merge with AMC. Steve McQueen had a 1953 Hornet and liked it enough to do a rebuild, as shared at Hagerty, influencing the Lightning McQueen character’s name.
Hornet Team racecar drivers in the ‘50s included names like Herb Thomas, the first NASCAR multi-Cup Champion, Marshall “King of the Beach” Teague, and Frank “Rebel” Mundy. Hornet Team drivers won a total of 79 races in just three years, as well as three Championships.
3 1953 Corvette
The Corvette’s introduction in 1953 in post-War America was humble, yet grand. The price of the two-seater convertible roadster greeting soldiers returning from war and a boosted economy was an affordable value. It was one of the fastest cars of its time, like an old muscle car on par with Porsche, Jaguar, and other European roadsters.
The 1953 Corvette was revolutionary in body design. Made of a new material of the day, fiberglass, it was lightweight and complemented an aerodynamic build. It was one of the earliest cars with an all-fiberglass body. Credit goes to GM designer Harley Earl who chose the lightweight, rust proof, cost-effective material for the 1953 Corvette.
2 1941 Packard Super Eight 180
State-of-the-art creature comforts are Packard’s inventive contribution automotive advancement. Driving was made easy with an Electromatic Drive, an early automatic transmission.
This beautiful looking automobile was the first to debut power windows. Air conditioning was also on board to keep cool. The automatic windows used a button-operated hydroelectric lift design. It even had a central privacy partition window. Packard identified the Super Eight as a “sedan limousine” since it could be used either way.
1 1934 Chrysler Airflow
The Chrysler Airflow’s revolutionary contribution to automotive progression was not just aerodynamics, as its name implies. It was the way aerodynamics were designed to balance weight distribution. The 1934 Chrysler Airflow was the first car to streamline body design in that way.
The Airflow was a trailblazer, it had a 50:50 distribution in weight. A lightweight, unibody frame with aerodynamic sculpting contributed to this engineering achievement.