Chronography of Road and Vehicle Technology

Page last modified 13/4/2022


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If I had asked customers what they wanted, they would have said faster horsesHenry Ford


2018, Waymo launched a self-driving taxi service covering parts of Phoenix, Arizona,

5/2016, The first fatality involving a driverless car, when a Tesla model S crashed into a lorry in Florida.

5/2016, The Tesla system mistook the white side of the lorry for the sky, causing a crash that killed the Tesla car�s passenger.

23/9/2015, The head of Volkswagen, Martin Winterkorn, resigned over the scandal over faked emissions levels.

18/9/2015, A major scandal broke at Volkswagen when it emerged that the company had developed special �Defeat� software to fool US government testing procedures to test the nitrous oxide emissions levels of their diesel cars. The cars appeared to emit 40x less pollution than would be the actual case in real-world motoring; the cars also appeared to be more fuel-efficient than in reality, due to procedures such as removing the wing mirrors to reduce drag.

2012, Nevada issued the first driving licence to operate a self-driving car, to Google.

2012, Google�s driverless cars succeeded in navigating autonomously through road traffic.

2009, Google began a project to develop a self-driving car.

2008, Rio Tinto Zinc began testing self-driving mine trucks.

1982, Bosch, in Germany, developed the first anti-locking brake system.

1981, The first satellite navigation system was fitted to a car. Commercial satellite car navigation systems became available from 1990, initially in Japan.

1981, BMW introduced on board computers, telling the driver when a service was due and monitoring engine performance.

1/1981, The UK Government announced that as from 1985 the maximum limit for lead in petrol was to be cut from 0.4 g / litre to 0.15g / litre. Also in 1985 no more cars in Australia were sold which ran on leaded petrol. In 1987 just 5% of petrol sold in the UK was unleaded, but by 1992 45% of UK petrol sales were unleaded. A lower rate of tax was charged on unleaded petrol than leaded. Annual lead emissions in the UK fell from 7,500 tons in 1980 to 1,000 tons in 1996.

1974, Airbags were fitted to cars for the first time, in the USA.

1972, Dunlop introduced safety tyres that self-sealed after a puncture.

1963, In Britain, the first self-service petrol pumps appeared.

1962, The child car safety seat was invented.

11/1961, Britain�s first self-service petrol pump began operating at Southwark Bridge, London. An earlier experiment with a shilling-in-the-slot petrol pump at Patcham, Sussex, in the early 1930s was abandoned because the machine was easily fiddled.

1960, A British driverless vehicle achieved 130 kph,guided by magnets in the road.

1959, The Volvo PV544 became the first vehicle to have 3-point seatbelts fitted as standard.

1957, Felix Wankel produced his first rotary petrol engine.

1954, Carl Bosch introduced fuel injection for cars.

1951, Buick and Chrysler introduced power steering.

1950, Dunlop produced the first disc brake.

1948, Michelin introduced the radial-ply tyre. Goodrich produced a tubeless tyre.

29/1/1948, The first flying car, the Hall Flying Automobile, took off.

7/4/1947 Henry Ford, American motor car manufacturer who pioneered techniques of mass-production, died aged 83.

1939, At the World Fair Futurama Exhibition, vehicles guided by automated highways were on show.

1938, The first commercially-produced car with air conditioning went on sale.

22/8/1938. In the UK, the first �automatic� car was tested.

1934, Percy Shaw (1890-1976) of England invented cat�s eyes, reflective studs to make the roads safer.

1933, Early turn indicators were now attached to the sides of cars. Called trafficators, they coinsisted of a small arm that could be raised and illuminated. In the 1950s they were superseded by indicators built into the rear of the car.

1930, Octane numbers for motor fuel were introduced. Higher-octane fuels were more resistant to �knocking� (see 1922, 1923). The octane number was the percentage of iso-octane (which would not knock at all) in a mixture of iso-octane and heptane (which was very prone to knocking) in a mix which matched the knocking quality of the motor fuel being rated. Refineries gradually improved (raised) the octane rating sof their fuels, but kept ordinary fuels some 5 octane points below premium grades. Aviation fuels had octane ratings approaching 100, meaning they would not knock at all even in high compression powerful engines. A further issue for early cars was that, the higher the octane rating, the less volatile the fuel meaning it the car was poorer at starting in cold weather.

4/4/1929. The engineer Carl Benz, who built the first internal combustion car, died aged 84.

1928, Cadillac introduced the synchromesh gearbox, making gear changing easier.

31/5/1927. The last �tin lizzie�, came off the production line, almost unchanged since the model was introduced as the Model T Ford in 1908. 15,007,003 Model Ts were produced. It was replaced by the Model A. The Model T had become outdated, and Ford had lost first place in the market to General Motors. The first Model T made in 1908 cost US$ 850 but by 1927 they cost under US$ 300. Ford had also lost sales to the second hand market; other car manufacturers countered this by changing the model slightly each year.

11/5/1927, Francis Davis filed a patent for power steering of vehicles. Whilst cars at the time did not need this technology, the heavier trucks and buses of the 1920s did. Additionally, uneven roads could jar the steering, causing the drover to experience �wheel fight�. General Motors took out a licence on the new invention; however the Depression caused them to delay plans for its use until 1941. By then World War Two caused further delays, and the technology was not fitted to passenger cars until 1951 by Chrysler.

1926, Safety glass (that would not produce dangerous shards when broken) began to appear in the windshields of upmarket US car models. By 1932 some 25% of US windshield glass was �safety�; many US States were now legislating to make safety glass mandatory.

20/6/1925. In Germany, a wireless telephone for cars was demonstrated.

1923, Tetra-ethyl lead was introduced as a fuel additive for cars by the newly-formed Ethyl Corporation, USA. The lead was mixed three parts to two parts ethylene dibromide, to prevent �engine knock� (see 1922) whilst leaving no lead deposit in the engine. Instead, the lead entered the atmosphere through the exhaust, to retard the mental development of many millions of children.

1922, In older cars the air-fuel vapour was compressed by a factor of 4 before being ignited. Greater compression would have yielded higher power but this was impractical as at higher compressions premature ignition occurred, causing kick-back or �knocking�. Adding tetra-ethyl lead was found to permit higher compression without �knocking� (see 1923).

1921, Thomas Midgely (born 18/5/1889, Beaver falls, Pennsylvania, USA) discovered that adding tetra-ethyl lead prevented �knocking� in petrol engines.

1921, The first car with a reversing light went on sale. It was the US model Willis St Claire.

23/10/1921. John Boyd Dunlop, who invented pneumatic tyres, died.

1920, Duesenberg introduced four-wheel hydraulic brakes.

1919, Electric starters became optional on Model T Fords; however most cars were still started by a hand-crank.

1916, In the US, windscreen wipers were first fitted to cars.

15/6/1911, Henry Leland, founder of Cadillac, heard that his friend Byron Carter (founder of CarterCar) had been killed when he went to help a stranded motorist and when he restarted the car by crank the crankhandle jumped back and broke his jaw. Leland now developed an electric starter for cars, which was standard on Cadillacs from 1912.

1/12/1913 Henry Ford, instituted the automatic production line, at his car plant. He was inspired by the grain conveyors and the meat packing plants of Chicago. Workers stayed in one place whilst automobile parts and cars came to them on a conveyor belt; each worker did the same repetitive task all day. Now a car could be made every 24 seconds, and annual car production rose from 82,000 to 189,000; by 1923 2,000,000 Model T Fords were being produced each year. Unskilled workers could be employed. Problems with boredom and loss of worker autonomy caused absenteeism and high staff turnover, but Henry Ford raised wages to the high level of 5 US$ a day; this reduced annual staff turnover from 48% to 6.4%. In 1926 Ford introduced an 8-hour,5-day week, meaning workers had more leisure time to use their new Ford cars.

30/9/1913, Rudolf Deisel, German inventor of the diesel engine, died, vanishing from a steamer whilst crossing the English Channel.

4/2/1913, Louis Henry Perlman of New York City was granted a patent for a �demountable tire-carrying rim�. This was the first car tyre rim where the tyre could easily be changed.

1911, US inventor Charles Franklin Kettering (born Loudonville, Ohio, 29/8/1876) patented the first practical self-starter for cars. Cadillac introduced the electric starter and dynamo lighting.

3/12/1910. The first neon lighting was used, at the Paris Motor Show. In 1910, in Britain, an Austin car, �Ascot� model, cost �420. It had 15 horsepower, and the hood, windscreen, windshield, and headlights were extra.

17/4/1909, The first patent for a catalytic converter on a car internal combustion engine was filed by Michel Frenkel, a French chemist. He used a ceramic honeycomb with 30g of platinum; modern convertors use the same principle but with a thinner lighter metal honeycomb and only need 3g of platinum, rhodium or palladium. Carbon monoxide and hydrocarbons are catalysed with extra oxygen into carbon dioxide and water.

1908, Henry Ford used assembly line production to manufacture his Model T (Tin Lizzie) automobile. It was called the Tin Lizzie due to the lightweight steel sheeting used for the chassis, like a tin can.

1/2/1907, Leon Serpollet, steam automobile developer, died aged 48.

1906, The Automobile Association of Britain (AA) introduced its horsepower rating for vehicles. The formula was D2N/2.5 where D is the cylinder bore in inches and N is the number of cylinders. 2.5 was an arbitrarily chosen number. This facilitated comparison between vehicle specifications.

1904, The term speedometer was in use for the speed indicator in a car.

1903, The first seatbelt was developedby Frenchman Gustave Desire Liebau.

10/11/1903, Car windscreen wipers were patented by Mary Anderson. She came up with the idea after seeing someone reach through their side window to clear snow from the windscreen. She never profited from the idea, which became widely adopted after the patent expired in 1920.

26/3/1903, The first vehicle speed trials were held at Daytona Beach, Florida

1/12/1902, The first patent for disc brakes, GB 26407/1902, was filed in the UK by Frederick William Lanchester (1868-1946) of Warwickshire. Initially these brakes were used on military vehicles only; they spread to private motor cars after Jaguar won the Le Mans 24-hour race in 1953 with a car equipped with disc brakes.

31/3/1901. The first Mercedes car was built. Its inventor, the German, Gottleib Daimler, named it after his daughter. The car had a maximum speed of 53 mph.

25/3/1901. In Britain, the world�s first diesel motor went on show.

1900, The term �accelerator� came into use for the pedal that controls the speed of a motor vehicle.

6/3/1900. The German motor car designer, Gottleib Daimler, died. He improved the internal combustion engine and made the first motor bike.

1896, Frederick Lanchester introduced epicyclic gears, which led the way to automatic cars.

13/11/1896, The Arnold car, made by Walter Arnold of Peckham, south London, made its first appearance on British roads. This was the first car to have an electric starter; older cars had to be crank-started by hand.

23/2/1893, Rudolf Diesel received a patent for the diesel engine.


Pneumatic tyres

1895, The first four-wheeled car to run on pneumatic tyres was a Peugeot L�Eclair, entered by the Michelin brothers for the Paris-Bordeaux race in July 1895. They gave up after 90 hours, having spent considerable time mending puncturesand using up their entire stock of 22 spare inner tubes. The winner of the race, Levassor, who took 48 � hours, said air-filled tyres would obviously never be of any use for motor cars. At the time, horses, on which most road traffic still depended, shed a lot of nails.

20/12/1892, The pneumatic car tyre was patented in Syracuse, New York, USA by Alexander Brown and George Stillman.

31/10/1888. Pneumatic bicycle tyres (see 10/12/1845) were patented by the Scottish inventor John Royd Dunlop.

16/1/1853, Andre Michelin, French manufacturer of pneumatic tyres, was born.

10/12/1845. The Scottish civil engineer Robert Thompson patented the first pneumatic tyres (see 31/10/1888). However the invention failed to catch on in the absence of a method of hardening the rubber.

15/6/1844. Charles Goodyear patented the vulcanised rubber process in the USA. This made possible the commercial use of rubber, such as for motor vehicle tyres.

21/11/1843. Vulcanised rubber was patented in England by Thomas Hancock.

5/2/1840, John Boyd Dunlop, vet and patenter of the pneumatic bicycle tyre, was born at Dreghorn, Ayrshire.


3/7/1886, The first successful petrol powered car made its first public run at Mannheim, Germany. Designed by Karl Benz, it travelled half a mile at 9mph.

29/1/1886. Karl Benz patented the first practical car with a petrol-driven internal combustion engine. It had three rubber tyres and went at 9.3 mph.

29/8/1885. Gottlieb Daimler in Germany patented the first motorcycle, a wooden bicycle frame with a single cylinder engine.

3/4/1885, Gottlieb Daimler patented the first water-cooled engine.

17/5/1876, Nikolaus August Otto patented the world�s first four-stroke internal combustion engine. However the patent office uncovered earlier work done on the four stroke cycle by Frenchman Alphonse Beau de Rochas in 1862. Otto�s patent was deemed invalid and others were free to use his idea. Karl Benz refined the four stroke engine and made it run not on gas but liquid fuel, kerosene or gasoline, thereby making the engine mobile.

1870, Early bicycles had the pedals fixed directly to the front wheel; to enablke the rider to build up speed for hills the front wheel was made very large, so more distance was covered for each pedal turn. With a small rear wheel for practical reasons, this �Ariel� model was called the penny-farthing. Then in 1873 English inventor HJ Lawson had the diea of connecting the pedals to the rear wheel via a transmission chain. This allowed for gearing, and now the front wheel need not be so large. Bicycle design has changed little since then,

30/7/1863. Henry Ford, father of the mass-produced car, was born in Dearborn, Michigan, the son of a farmer. He built his first car in his spare time in a shed behind his house in Detroit.

18/3/1858. Rudolf Diesel, inventor of the diesel engine, was born in Paris.

25/11/1844, Karl Friedrich Benz, German engineer and motor car pioneer, was born in Karlsruhe.

17/3/1834, Gottleib Daimler, German engineer who improved the internal combustion engine, was born in Schondorf.

24/12/1801, Richard Trevithick trialled his steam carriage, the first steam powered vehicle, on British roads. James Watt warned that the boiler pressures would blow the vehicle up. On 27/12/1801 Trevithick took some friends to the pub in his steam carriage, and later emerged to find the vehicle a smoking wreck.

12/1/1822, Jean Joseph Etienne Lenoir was born in Mussay la Ville, Belgium. In 1859 he developed the first working internal combustion engine, using coal gas as fuel; however his design was very inefficient.

29/12/1800, Charles Goodyear, US inventor who developed vulcanised rubber, was born in New Haven, Connecticut.

20/4/1770. The first tracked vehicle was patented by Richard Lovell Edgeworth. It worked similarly to modern tanks. The idea was to overcome traction problems caused by rough or soggy ground. Far ahead of its time, the vehicle never caught on.

1766, The first steam motor car was built, by Cugnot.


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