Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Everyman's Folding Auto (1939)

The November 26, 1939 San Antonio Light (San Antonio, TX) featured this prediction of the fold-up car of the future.
Even the young man of the scientific future may find trouble, one day on the road, with his sunpower automobile. He gets out, tips up the car with one hand and looks underneath. Finding what seems to be the trouble, he unscrews a few clamps, takes out the engine, and starts off jauntily to the repair shop, as though he were only carrying an alarm clock.

Strong muscles? Not at all, merely a lightweight engine.

Next day he comes back for the engineless car, folds it up like a collapsible baby carriage, loads it on the most convenient high speed bus or aero bus, takes it home and tucks it away in any handy closet until the engine has been repaired.

These are not Professor Harrison's predictions, but they are made possible by one of his, that of stronger metals.

What requires so much weight in automobile engines or bodies, in giant bridges, in the steel frames of buildings and a thousand other things is that much metal must he used to make the beams or castings strong. Weight Itself is useless. Need is only for strength.

"Great strides have been made recently," Professor Harrison writes, "in the physics of metals—the study of how atoms cling together to form crystals and these crystals hang together in metal rods and wires. All metals are permeated by microscopic cracks and flaws which greatly reduce their strength.

"If only Ihe crystals of which they are composed would hang to one another with the forces with which the individual atoms cling together! Then a cable of steel an inch thick would safely support four million pounds, instead of the mere 300,000 pounds which it now will held."

Such metals 13 times stronger than now can mean not only lighter engines and folding, fly-weight auto bodies, but also taller buildings, longer bridges, faster airplanes, larger ships--or deadlier machine guns and farther-ranging submarines.

Previously on Paleo-Future:
Dymaxion Car of the Future (1934)
Streamlined Cars of the Future
Zipper-Bag Airplane (1958)


Anonymous said...

Remionds me of Skidbladnir, the ship of the Norse gods, made by the dwarves. Once you beached it, you could fold it up and put it in your pocket. Rodger Cunningham

Anonymous said...

Wow, about the most prescient piece you've posted. Not that folding autos have come about, I mean, but rather his basic understanding of what it would mean to develop strong but lightweight materials. Only instead of metals in the classic sense, we're dealing with carbon-fiber composites and carbon nanotubes.

Jay Alt said...

The late 1930s was the dawn of metals physics - which gave the theory of dislocations and plastic deformation in metal crystals. Metals are decreased in strength due to internal flaws, as the professor mentioned. But it's now known to be impossible to make metals that don't contain them. (entropy considerations)

For several decades there have been stories about the super-strength of spider webs and how humans might use such materials. But no one has yet figured out how to make them, except the simple insects.

Anonymous said...

George Jetson, the king of the retro future world, had a flying car that folded up into a briefcase as he rode the conveyor sidewalk to his job in the skyscraper on stilts.

Anonymous said...

Wasn't there a vehicle like this in the documentary GIZMO?

Anonymous said...

Lightweight material is really good idea.

Anonymous said...

Collapsibility is a good thing when you have a small, lightweight vehicle like a scooter or a bike, but is much less practical with bigger vehicles like cars. Also, a hypothetical folding car would have to be electric, since carrying around a gasoline-filled ICE would be asking for trouble.

Has anyone ever worked on a folding motorcycle?