The Future Then: Auto Edition

PopSci has been looking toward the near and distant future of the car for over 135 years. To coincide with car month here, see how some of our past predictions have survived the test of time.

Since PopSci’s inception, we’ve had a special place in our heart for cars. Cars that fly and cars that swim. Cars that glide along on three wheels, or one, or none. Rocket autos, sleeper buses, monster trucks-we’ve covered them all (and, on occasion, more than once).Launch our blast-from-the-past gallery to see our conception of the future as we saw it way back when, as well as the future as we view it now. Have we guessed right? You be the judge.

YESTERDAY:

  1. Bomb Baby Europe’s mini export of 1955 hoped to take Detroit by storm
  2. Battery Beaut Electric cars are nothing new, this 1960 edition ran on 56 cells
  3. O What a Gas A rocket car from 1930 is converted to run on liquid oxygen
  4. Ready for Landing In 1930 an airship engineer introduces the concept of aerodynamics
  5. Inventing the Wheel A prototype car from 1932 is little more than a gigantic wheel

TODAY:

  1. Smart Sipper The Smart car comes Stateside
  2. Elegant Electric The Tesla Roadster revolutionizes the way we view electric cars
  3. Gas Goes Green Audi’s diesel-fueled racecar demonstrates the power of alternative fuel
  4. Ready for Takeoff If it were engineered any differently the Bugatti Veyron wouldn’t stay on the ground
  5. Reinventing the WheelPopSci predicts the future of cars is in a giant wheel

RELATED ARTICLES:

  1. Streamlined Auto Can Almost Fly
  2. Liquid Oxygen Runs Amazing Auto
  3. Amazing Motor-Drive Hoop May be Car of the Future
  4. Meet Messerschmitt’s Three-Wheeled ‘Bomb’
  5. The Smart Car Road Trip
  6. Drive Fast, Save the World
  7. SNAP! Multicar
  8. The New Face of Racing: Clean, Fast–and Diesel
  9. The Fastest Production Car Ever

NOW: Gas Goes Green

December 2006
Audi’s diesel-fueled racecar won the famous 24 Heures du Mans endurance race. The increased efficiency helped produce its 650-horsepower output more cleanly than typical gas.

THEN: O What a Gas

August 1930
This rocket car shot along at 90 miles an hour on a different sort of alternative fuel: liquid oxygen. The driver ended up being killed in an explosion at a later trial, but its inventor insisted that the successful first run proved “the scientific possibility of driving vehicles this way.” To read the original article, click here.

NOW: Smart Sipper

May 2007
Next year the fuel-friendly Smart arrives Stateside after a successful decade-long run across the pond. Will its 60mpg efficiency prove more tempting this time around? Wait and see.

THEN: Ready for Landing

December 1930
This aerodynamic car, designed by an airship engineer, used a sunken body and sleek back and rear vents to economize on gas and hit speeds of 80 miles an hour.

NOW: Elegant Electric

May 2007
JB Straubel’s Tesla Roadster out-accelerates a Lamborghini using 6,831 lithium-ion batteries. One charge powers the car 250 miles.

THEN: Battery Beaut

September 1960
This electric car hit an admirable top speed of 48 miles an hour on a set of 56 silver-zinc battery cells. A charge was necessary every 150 miles or so.

THEN: Bomb Baby

July 1955
Tiny cars are nothing new. Fifty years ago, Europe hoped to entice Americans with a different mini auto. The Bomb was small enough to fit under some trucks but got an impressive 100 miles per gallon.

NOW: Ready for Takeoff

December 2006
The fluid Bugatti Veyron relies on rear defusers, underbody channels and a spoiler to ensure that when you reach its top speed of 253 miles an hour, you don’t actually leave the ground.

THEN: Inventing the Wheel

May 1932
This motor-driven hoop relied on one wheel for increased efficiency and carried its single passenger at a “30-mile-an-hour clip.” Steering was accomplished by simply leaning left or right. Piece of cake, right?

NOW: Reinventing the Wheel

May 2007
Seventy-five years later, we’re still keen on the hoop. The motor-driven hoop balances using gyroscopic sensors, so tipping over isn’t a problem in today’s “car of the future.”