How People Imagined in 1948 What Cars Would Look Like in the Future

With a few excep­tions, car design of the last two decades has been stuck in a rut, with a same­ness on the outside—-aerodynamic, sleek, rounded—-hiding the advance­ments under the hood and in the con­trol pan­el. That’s why it’s always a hoot to check out mock designs from the past, espe­cial­ly when they are being used to fore­cast the future.

This short 1948 film from Pop­u­lar Mechan­ics shows three pos­si­ble cars of the future, all of which for var­i­ous rea­sons, nev­er real­ly caught on. But films like this offer a tan­ta­liz­ing thought-—what if they had? It’s a tiny glimpse of an alter­na­tive real­i­ty, and we all seem to be lov­ing that mul­ti­verse vibe these days.

The first is the Davis Divan, which is per­fect for par­al­lel park­ing with its sin­gle front tire and tight maneu­ver­abil­i­ty. It cer­tain­ly looks cool but I will dis­agree with the nar­ra­tor: no amount of space-age oomph is going to make chang­ing a tire an “exhil­a­rat­ing expe­ri­ence.” The Divan was built by the Davis Motor­car Com­pa­ny of Van Nuys, CA, designed by used-car sales­man Gary Davis, and includ­ed ideas tak­en from the aero­nau­ti­cal indus­try. This film appear­ance was part of a major pub­lic­i­ty push from 1947–1949, but in the end only 13 Divans were pro­duced, and a dozen sur­vive. Not so the com­pa­ny, which was sued into liq­ui­da­tion after it failed to deliv­er prod­uct.

The sec­ond has an even stranger his­to­ry. If this is a “car from the future”, then the film­mak­ers neglect­ed to note it’s actu­al­ly from 1935. The Hoppe & Streur Stream­lin­er pro­to­type was designed and built by Allyn Streur and Allen Hoppe as part of Con­sol­i­dat­ed Air­craft San Diego, and based on a Chrysler 66 chas­sis. It seat­ed five peo­ple. If it looks like flim­sy met­al on top of a skele­tal frame, then you’ve guessed cor­rect­ly.

You can see how South­ern California’s aero­space indus­try has start­ed to influ­ence every­thing after the war, which accounts for the air­plane obses­sion with these autos, espe­cial­ly what comes next. The final selec­tion is Gor­don Buehrig’s TACSO pro­to­type from 1948. Sev­er­al of the con­trols in the dri­ver’s seat imi­tate those found in the cock­pit of a plane, and the four wheels are cov­ered in fiber­glass direc­tion­al fend­ers. Not not­ed in the film: the car had “a trans­par­ent roof that could be removed to let the wind in,” a fea­ture way ahead of its time. But it would have been too expen­sive to mass pro­duce (Auto­Blog fig­ures one of these would have cost the equiv­a­lent of $80,000 back in the day) so the one in the video is the only one in exis­tence.

As peo­ple are still try­ing (and fail­ing) to suc­cess­ful­ly par­al­lel park, safe to say none of these pre­dic­tions came true. Part­ly, that’s sad. On the oth­er hand, next time you hear some doom-n-gloom pre­dic­tion of our cur­rent moment, think on this video and how thank­ful­ly wrong they were.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Niko­la Tesla’s Pre­dic­tions for the 21st Cen­tu­ry: The Rise of Smart Phones & Wire­less, The Demise of Cof­fee & More (1926/35)

How Pre­vi­ous Decades Pre­dict­ed the Future: The 21st Cen­tu­ry as Imag­ined in the 1900s, 1950s, 1980s, and Oth­er Eras

Buck­min­ster Fuller, Isaac Asi­mov & Oth­er Futur­ists Make Pre­dic­tions About the 21st Cen­tu­ry in 1967: What They Got Right & Wrong

Ted Mills is a free­lance writer on the arts who cur­rent­ly hosts the Notes from the Shed pod­cast and is the pro­duc­er of KCR­W’s Curi­ous Coast. You can also fol­low him on Twit­ter at @tedmills, and/or watch his films here.

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