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Automobile Story - Need for Speed

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What drives us? Read about the evolution of the automobile, from its early inception to what it has become today.

Need for Speed

When asked who invented the first automobile, most people will say Henry Ford. However, Henry Ford is not the first person who ventured forth in this endeavour; he was the first to manufacture automobiles on a large scale. The question regarding the origins of the automobile is not an easy or straightforward one to answer. Some historians may point back to the 15th century, when Leonardo da Vinci drew up plans for an automobile.

If you try to trace the evolution of the automobile, you will find that it occurred across numerous eras—Veteran, Edwardian, Vintage, Pre-War, Post-War, and the Modern Eras. Each of these eras contributed significantly to one development or the other.

The Dawn of the Automobile—Early Inventions:

The first automobiles did not look like anything that today's generation would think of as an automobile. They were steam, coal, electric, or gasoline driven machines. One such vehicle was invented in 1769 by Frenchman Nicholas Joseph Cugnot. Early automobiles often resembled a cross between a modified carriage or cart and a bicycle. These vehicles had tillers instead of steering wheels. These cars could only run at one uniform speed and most were initially open body, exposing the occupants to the elements. One important epoch in the history of the automobile was the invention of the First Marcus Car. This car was invented by Siegfried Marcus and was the first car to have an internal liquid fuel combustion engine, a forerunner to the engines of today's automobiles. Internal combustion engines were more efficient than their steam-powered predecessors.

Germany has made immense contributions to the growth of the automobile. The first production automobile was manufactured in 1888 by Karlz Benz. Around the same time, Gottlieb Daimler and Wilheim Maybach invented an automobile designed from scratch and not basing it around a carriage. The difference was that while Benz's automobile was a three wheeler, Daimler and Maybach had successfully invented the first four-wheeled, four-stroke engine-driven vehicle. By the 1900s, mass production of automobiles had really caught on.

Cars as We Know Them:

The Edwardian Era (1905—1914) heralded the dawn of one of the most popular automobiles of all times—the Model T from Ford. During this period, most automobiles were made of brass components and had flimsy canvas tops. This was closely followed by the Vintage Era (1919—1929), which was just after the First World War. During this period front-engine designs gained in popularity, along with closed bodies. Automobiles began to resemble their modern day counterparts in the Pre-War Era (1930s). During this period fully closed bodies, integrated fenders and a rear trunk for storage became a norm. It was during this period that the famous Volkswagen Beetle was first manufactured.

The Post-War Era (1940—1970) saw the rise of General Motors, Oldsmobile and Cadillac as brands. During this time, the eight cylinder V8 engine, which was known for its horsepower and speed, was introduced. This engine has become common in modern sports cars and is used with modifications and improvements to this day. Automobile top speeds increased, and the designs of the cars became more integrated and artful in nature. Cars like the Oldsmobile and Cadillac were long, luxurious and comfortable affairs, a far cry from the frugal Edwardian Era cars. These cars were more aerodynamically designed and guzzled gas.

What People Want and Looking to the Future:

As cars have evolved, so have our expectations from them. Cars have moved from a luxurious mode of transportation and a status symbol to become a commoner's choice of transport. We have seen cars such as the Ford Mustang becoming cult classics, developing their own fan followings. Cars have even become a form of entertainment and sportsmanship. There are various forms of motor racing such as 24-hour endurance Le Mans, Rally Sport, and Formula One. Everything, ranging from endurance of the automobile and its speed to the skill of men who drive them is tested in these sports.

The future seems bright for the automobile. Technology is focused on constant improvements in safety features, efficiency, aerodynamics, and overall development of automobiles. From gasoline, vehicles have moved on to be powered by compressed natural gas. Hybrid vehicles running on alternate modes of energy, such as the Toyota Prius that runs on two fuel sources, are on the rise. Soon we will see vehicles that will run completely on alternate fuels. What is next—a car that flies? Very closer to reality than you think! The Moller Sky Car is a prototype, personal vertical take-off and landing aircraft that is designed like a four-seat automobile, with fold-out wings. It does not require any piloting skills to operate.

So what will the car of the future be like? Let's wait and watch!

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