Cars That Have Become Technology Pioneers (I)

Aivaras Grigelevičius

The first car appeared more than 130 years ago. This invention fundamentally changed life as we know it, and opened the way for faster and more efficient trips. This time, we want to give you the cars that became technology pioneers and were the first to use one engineering solution or another.

The supercharger – 1921

The first award goes to the Mercedes-Benz camp. Official sources say that the first car with a supercharger was rolled out in 1921.

Mercedes-Benz made the first car with a supercharger in 1921
Mercedes-Benz made the first car with a supercharger in 1921
©Daimler AG archive)

Front-wheel drive – 1928

Many think that the Citroën Traction Avant was the first front-wheel-drive car, but the pioneer in this genre was actually a company called Tracta that, like Citroën, was also from France.

Tracta car
Tracta car
©Tracta archive

The 8-speed manual gearbox – 1931

Do you remember the day when Porsche introduced a 7-speed manual gearbox? We do. We also remember all of the jokes that soon we'll have an 8-speed manual gearbox – an idea that had actually already been implemented in 1931 in the Maybach DS8.

Maybach DS8
Maybach DS8
©Daimler AG archive

The coupé convertible – 1934

The body type that was popularized by the Mercedes-Benz SLK and the Peugeot 206 CC. Even though most people give Mercedes the credit for the creation of this body type, it's really Peugeot's employees who deserve the applause, since they were the ones who released the 401 Eclipse in 1934 and gave us the first coupé convertible.

Peugeot 401 Eclipse
Peugeot 401 Eclipse
©Peugeot archive

The diesel engine – 1936

Not one, but several manufacturers deserve thanks for this invention. Although Mercedes-Benz was the first to start mass production of diesel engines, the engineers at Citroën, Saurer and Peugeot were toiling over this type of engine at the same time.

Mercedes-Benz diesel car
Mercedes-Benz diesel car
©Daimler AG archive

The hatchback – 1938

The most popular body configuration in Europe that everyone has a weakness for. Many agree that this is the ultimate body type. For this we have to thank the specialists at Citroën who introduced the Commerciale version of the Traction Avant in 1938.

Citroen Traction Avant
Citroen Traction Avant
©Citroen archive

The 5-speed gearbox – 1948

After World War II, Lancia was one of those manufacturers that showed major progress. One of this company's more interesting inventions was the 5-speed manual gearbox that was first fitted in the Lancia Ardea.

Lancia Ardea
Lancia Ardea
©Fiat group archive

The V6 engine – 1950

Large-displacement engines are the signature of American cars. Cars enthusiasts on the other side of the Atlantic love powerful 6- or 8-cylinder engines. Yet it's the Italians rather than the Americans that we should thank for the first V-shaped, 6-cylinder engine.

In 1950, Lancia engineers began mass production of a 6-cylinder engine that was initially put in the Lancia Aurelia models.

Lancia Aurelia
Lancia Aurelia
©Fiat group archive

Power steering – 1951

This invention that makes driving so much easier was still not being put in all cars just 30 years ago. Meanwhile, Chrysler made it available in the Imperial in 1951, which was great for drivers – particularly the ones who spent most of their time in the city.

Chrysler Imperial
Chrysler Imperial
©Chrysler archive

Fuel injection – 1952

Many think that Mercedes-Benz was the first company to start putting engines with direct fuel injection into its cars, but this isn't true. The first car to come with direct fuel injection was the Goliath GP700.

Goliath GP700
Goliath GP700
©Goliath archive

Automatic height adjustable suspension – 1955

Many luxury cars now come with air suspension systems that allow you to adjust the ride height. Meanwhile, Citroën performed this stunt well before any other manufacturer when it introduced the far-famed DS 19 in 1955.

Citroën DS
Citroën DS
©Citroen archive

The multi-purpose vehicle – 1956

Fiat is often criticized for certain decisions that are not widely understood, such as the Fiat Multipla design, but the company contributed significantly to the development of the automotive industry. One of the more modest examples is the original Fiat 600 Multipla that debuted in 1956 – the world's first multi-purpose vehicle.

Fiat 600 Multipla
Fiat 600 Multipla
©Fiat archive

Air suspension – 1957

The "Air Dome" was another feature that Cadillac introduced in the late 1950s. Looking for a way to increase the level of comfort in its most luxurious models, Cadillac created what is now standard equipment in the S-Class Mercedes-Benz and the BMW 7 Series. This is the air suspension that was introduced in the 1957 Eldorado Brougham.

Cadillac Eldorado
Cadillac Eldorado
©Cadillac archive

Cruise control – 1957

The United States has no shortage of long, straight roads that go on and on for not just hundreds, but thousands of miles. Therefore, it's no surprise that the cruise control system was developed by Chrysler engineers and used in the Imperial.

Chrysler Imperial
Chrysler Imperial
©Chrysler archive

Continuously variable transmission – 1958

Japanese car manufacturers adore CVTs. They work efficiently, and their design is relatively simple. And they also last a long time. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the first CVT that the engineers at DAF introduced in 1958.

DAF car
DAF car
©DAF archive

Seat belts – 1959

The Volvo Amazon was the first car in the world to be equipped with seat belts. It's said to this day that this invention has helped save more lives than any other safety measure around.

Volvo Amazon
Volvo Amazon
©Volvo archive

The alternator – 1960

The alternator is one of the most important components that allow you to enjoy everything an electrical system has to offer: power windows, a stereo system, navigation, etc. The Plymouth Valiant was the first car in the world to be fitted with this wonderful device.

Plymouth Valiant
Plymouth Valiant
©Plymouth archive

The closed cooling system – 1961

Before the Renault 4 came out, drivers had to constantly monitor the level of fluid in the cooling system. If it got low, they would have to top it up with antifreeze. This problem was solved when the tiny Renault 4 hatchback was introduced.

Renault 4
Renault 4
©Renault archive

The rotary engine – 1964

Was Mazda the pioneer in rotary engines? In part, but NSU was the first company to put this idea into mass production.

NSU car
NSU car
©NSU archive

Climate control – 1964

Americans revel in the highest level of comfort. Maybe that's why US manufacturers are often the first to offer innovations in this field. One of them is Cadillac, which in 1964 offered climate control in its DeVille sedan.

Cadillac DeVille
Cadillac DeVille
©Cadillac archive

The tilt steering wheel – 1965

A feature that some modern cars are still unable to offer. Meanwhile, Cadillac already demonstrated decades ago that a steering wheel that can be adjusted in several directions is not just an added comfort, but a necessity.

1965 Cadillac car
1965 Cadillac car
©Cadillac archive

Next week we will publish the second part of an article.