Hooniverse Asks: What Production Car was the Most Ahead of its Time?

When he went back in time Marty McFly had the benefit of knowledge that no one else did. His foresight came from an unlikely source, a time machine. Other people have lacked such a performance enhancer, but still seemed to envision the future with great accuracy. Some of those people even put their visions into automotive form.
Most cars can be easily identified as being ‘ of their era.’ Wether its Fifties fins, Sixties muscle, or Seventies sadness, the automobiles made in each era – for the most part – exemplify their individual age. That’s not always the case and on occasion a car or truck arrives that defies both convention and stereotype. The prescience shown by their designers, and those who gave them loose rein proves to be astounding, and the results are often models for standards years down the road.
Today we want to know which cars and trucks you think most accurately fit this bill. What are the cars that were so ahead of their time that they either set the standard, or perhaps proved to be far out of fashion for the age.
Image: Carstyling.ru


  1. In first to grab the low-hanging fruit – The 1934 Chrysler Airflow.
    From Time Magazine’s 50 worst cars of all time:

    “The Airflow’s “worst”-ness derives from its spectacularly bad timing. Twenty years later, the car’s many design and engineering innovations — the aerodynamic singlet-style fuselage, steel-spaceframe construction, near 50-50 front-rear weight distribution and light weight — would have been celebrated. As it was, in 1934, the car’s dramatic streamliner styling antagonized Americans on some deep level, almost as if it were designed by Bolsheviks.
    It didn’t help that a few early Airflows had major, engine-falling-out-type problems that stemmed from the radical construction techniques required. Chrysler, and the even more hapless Desoto, tried to devolve the Airflow stylistically, giving it more conventional grill and raising the trunk into a kind of bustle (some later models were named Airstream), but the damage was done. Sales were abysmal. It wouldn’t be the last time American car buyers looked at the future and said, “no thanks.”

    1. From the Wiki… “The Lohner-Porsche’s design was studied by Boeing and NASA to create the Apollo program’s Lunar Roving Vehicle. Many of its design principles were mirrored in the Rover’s design. The series hybrid concept underpins many modern railway locomotives, and interest in series hybrid automobiles is growing rapidly.”

  2. “proved to be far out of fashion for the age.”
    I actually will argue that the design of the AMC Pacer was too far out, too physically large, and then saddled with DOT mandated 7″ diameter sealed beam head lights which made it look “frog-like”.
    If the Pacer had been a smaller vehicle with aerodynamic head lights, it would have been essentially the same design as a 1992 Honda Civic 2 door hatchback… even just with aero-dynamic headlights it would have looked completely different.

  3. http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/6/63/1987-1992_Mercedes-Benz_300_SEL_%28W126%29_sedan_02.jpg
    The MB W126.
    The original design was from 1975, it was still in production in 1994 in South Africa.
    When people hear “Mercedes” this is the one they think of.
    A few firsts for the model:
    -Seatbelt pre-tensioners
    -A topographical sensor in the transmission controls and in the cruise control to avoid surging and correctly hold/shift gears based on inclines.
    I was going to say W116 due to the styling and the fact that it ushed in the era of the German sedan here in the US, but I think the long lifespan and success of the W126 overrides the styling influence of the W116.

    1. I personally think that the W126 is the best-looking sedan Mercedes has ever produced – it keeps the “serious” look of previous sedans but adds some sleekness to the mix.

      1. You may be right. I know the W116 was among the first to be designed with a hardened passenger compartment with extremity-focused crumple zones.

  4. more low hanging fruit, the citroen ds, and also the 2cv considering the design date, not the sale date.
    maybe there are other examples from other makers… but in my opinion citroen is the one that has been there more often

      1. I thought about the Suburban, but decided against it since it’s basically a panel truck with extra seats and windows. The Jeep was purpose-built to be a station wagon and was targeted largely to private buyers.

  5. Before Tesla and Fisker, GM had the EV1. The first all-electric, mass produced vehicle of the modern era (many early cars were electric) the EV1 was both a corporate image boondoggle and technical disaster. GM could claim to the enviro-nazis in California that they cared, but could not claim that battery technology was anywhere near being to a point that made all electric vehicles make sense.

    1. I’m not so sure about the technical disaster part. Reading the wiki page, it seems by the time they got the batteries sorted out, it had 100+ mile range (it did seem to take a while to get the batteries sorted out though). It made a lot more compromises for the passengers than current gen EVs, but it appeared usable as a car. Driving wise, it was probably comparable to a first gen Honda Insight, which was about the same size.

    1. Absolutely. The fact that the design lived on under various other manufacturers is a testament to how ahead of its time it was.

    2. Came here to post this. FWD, hidden headlights, semi-automatic transmission, supercharged, no stand up grille and no running boards.

  6. Hotchkiss Gregoire – aluminum body, front wheel drive, flat four engine. Large glass area with a bulbous streamlined body. High prices meant low sales but they apparently drive just like a modern car.

  7. Lexus LS400 – for the insane amount of engineering that went into this car, and an engine that is just about bulletproof. (Guys have used these engines to power their AIRPLANES, for god’s sake.)

  8. The Rover P6. Radial tyres, four wheel discs, crashability with progressively deformable structured designed in. Good handling and ride with De Dion rear suspension to avoid the camber changes that plagued the other IRS RWD cars of the time (BMW, Mercedes, Borgward all oversteering off roads near you.) Good ergonomics and great performance and economy. The first proper high technology, driver’s sports sedan, setting a market template eagerly grabbed by BMW and then others and of course not followed up by the British who also made and marketed the cars badly enough that they flopped in what should have been their biggest market, the USA
    The first European Car of the Year in 1964 in early four cylinder 2000 form

  9. http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/3/36/Morris_Mini-Minor_1959.jpg
    What? no mini?!?
    Monocoque – Check
    Transverse engine and FWD – Check
    All independent suspension – Check
    Fuel efficient – Check
    Room for four adults – Check (I am 6ft+ and a 42-44 jacket and I CAN sit in the back just fine)
    Plenty of interior space for luggage, etc – Check
    Cheap to buy and run – Check
    Sporty, modern driving experience – Check (an 850 would handle much the same as a Cooper, just less power)
    There was even serious talk of having something akin to a hatchback ala the A40 Farina , but that was deemed too risque for the British market, and would make for a higher production cost.
    It is the genesis of all FWD hatchbacks that would come to follow, how can it not be the most ahead of its time?

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