Carvolution

History of the motor car

It’s been over 100 years since the first car hit the road.
Today, cars are smarter, safer, and more powerful.
But how did it all happen?

Start your journey

 
1903

Driving licences introduced.

Driving licences introduced.

The Motor Car Act made it compulsory for all drivers to be licenced, and cars to be registered. Each driving licence cost 5 shillings (25p in today’s money). No test was required.

1909

Britain’s first roundabout was built in Letchworth Garden City.

Britain’s first roundabout was located in Letchworth Garden City.

1913

First moving assembly line for production of an automobile.

First moving assembly line for production of an automobile.

Henry Ford installs the first moving assembly line for the mass production of an entire automobile.

1927

First automatic traffic light signals installed.

First automatic traffic light signals installed.

1928

Fastest car - Duesenberg model J: top speed 119mph.

Fastest car - Duesenberg model J: top speed 119mph.

 
1908

Ford Model T introduced. It was considered the first widely-available and affordable car.

Ford Model T introduced. It was considered the first widely-available and affordable car.

The model T was the first of its kind. It was affordable, durable and versatile. Over 15 million model T's were produced during 1913 and 1927. Henry Ford successfully achieved his goal to "democratize the automobile".

1911

The electric ignition debuts.

The electric ignition debuts.

The electric ignition, also known as the electric starter, eliminated the need for hand cranking. It was invented by GM engineers Clyde Coleman and Charles Kettering.

1921

There were only 1 million drivers in Britain.

There were only 1 million drivers in Britain.

1928

Safety glass more widely used.

Increased use of safety glass.

Safety glass being more widely used due to glass shards causing a high number of injuries after accidents.

 
1930

The Road Traffic Act 1930.

The Road Traffic Act 1930.

The Road Traffic Act 1930 repealed some of the previous acts and introduced many new regulations. Some of these included the removal of all speed limits for motor cars, introduction of driving offences and requirement for third-party insurance.

1935

First driving test introduced.

First driving test introduced.

The fee for the first driving test was 7/6d, equivalent to 37.5p today. The test was suspended from 2 September 1939 for the duration of World War 2, and didn't resume until 1 November 1946. Examiners were designated as traffic officers supervising fuel rationing.

1939

Drivers in the UK reached 3 million.

There are currently only 1 million drivers in Britain.

1945

History of the VW Beetle.

History of the Beetle.

The Beetle was officially put on sale to the public in 1945, although its conception can be traced back to 1934. The name ‘Beetle’ was coined by a motoring journalist, but wasn’t officially adopted by Volkswagen as a model name until the 70s.
- VW Heritage
www.vwheritage.com

 
 
1931

The Highway Code.

The Highway Code.

The first edition of the Highway Code did not mention mirrors, and drivers were advised to sound their horn when overtaking another vehicle.

1937

Speedometers were made compulsory.

Speedometers were made compulsory.

The only speeding law at the time was maximum of 30mph in built-up areas. The 70mph speed limit on motorways was introduced in 1965.

1940

Packard introduced first power windows.

Packard introduced first power windows.

 
1950

VW Camper Van introduced.

VW Camper Van.

The first official VW Camper was produced by Westfalia in 1951. It manufactured a camping box interior that could be installed into a regular VW van for weekends away with the family. Westfalia still produces VW Camper Vans today.
- VW Heritage
www.vwheritage.com

1951

Zebra crossings were introduced.

Zebra crossings were introduced.

1953

Modern automobile air conditioning.

Modern automobile air conditioning.

The first modern air conditioning system for passenger cars was installed into Packard cars in 1939. But it wasn’t until 1953 that it became more mainstream thanks to the Chrysler Imperial.

1958

First cars to have cruise control.

First cars to have cruise control.

A step towards driverless cars. Chrysler introduced the first cruise control feature, which is still being perfected today.

1960

MOT test was first introduced.

MOT test was first introduced.

It was first introduced to test vehicles’ brakes, lights and steering. It was only required for vehicles over 10 years old.

1964

Volvo developed the first rear-facing child seat.

Volvo developed the first rear-facing child seat.

1967

First electronic breathalyser.

Breathalyser.

The introduction of the breath test in 1967 had a profound effect on drink-drive casualties. It’s probably the best ever example of enforcement and education coming together to foster real behavioural change. Publicity campaigns started to raise awareness of the problem. Scientific research suggested a limit, and then the technology of the day delivered a simple roadside test that couldn’t be fudged.
- IamRoadSmart
www.iamroadsmart.com

 
 
 
1951

First commercially- available passenger car power-steering system.

Power steering.

Power steering has been available from the early days of car manufacture. But it’s only in the last 30 years or so that it’s become popular in mainstream models – to the extent that virtually all models now have some form of power steering. The early systems were nearly all fluid-driven, but nowadays there are also electric-powered steering systems or a combination of both.  Gone are the days when you needed biceps like the Michelin Man to turn the steering on some high-performance sports cars!
- Haynes
haynes.com/en-gb

1952

Blaupunkt had been the first company to offer FM radio for automobiles.

First FM radio.

In-car entertainment vastly improved after the introduction of the FM radio. Suddenly drivers were able to seek through different stations and listen to a higher-quality broadcast.

1958

Swedish company Saab first introduced seat belts as standard.

Swedish company Saab first introduced seat belts as standard.

1959

First MINI goes into production.

First MINI goes into production.

1964

First generation of the iconic Ford Mustang was introduced.

First generation of the iconic Ford Mustang was introduced.

1965

Ford and Motorola jointly introduced the 8-track tape in-car tape player.

Ford and Motorola jointly introduced the 8-track tape in-car tape player.

 
 
1970

Green Cross Code introduced.

Green Cross Code.

This campaign symbolised children's road safety for many years. It allowed children to learn a basic set of life skills that they could use to keep themselves safe on all but the busiest roads. While it’s no longer promoted in its original format, the elements of the code still make up the core of pedestrian training schemes today.
- Road safety GB www.roadsafetygb.org.uk

1973

In 1973 the number of drivers had risen to about 20 million.

In 1973 the number of drivers had risen to about 20 million.

A centralised computer-based licensing system was brought in to cope with the huge increase in demand for both driver and vehicle licences.

1978

National speed limit.

National speed limit.

National speed limit on ordinary roads is set at 60mph, and a limit of 70mph is made permanent on motorways and dual carriageways.

1983

Seatbelts were made compulsory.

Seatbelts.

Compulsory use of seatbelts has undoubtedly reduced the severity of injuries in countless crashes. But there’s still a surprising number of drivers and passengers who don’t always use them. With modern crumple zones and safety cells, a car occupant is much safer staying in the vehicle… Without a seatbelt, there’s a good chance of being ejected from the car, killing other passengers on the way.
- Road safety GB
www.roadsafetygb.org.uk

1985

Anti-lock braking system (ABS).

Anti-lock braking system (ABS).

Anti-lock braking system (ABS) was developed for mass-produced cars by Bosch, although there are many other manufacturers producing a wide range of systems. Though some premium and specialist cars had ABS earlier, the first volume-production car to be fitted with ABS as standard was the Ford Granada in 1985. ABS is, arguably, the first and most important active-safety device fitted to a vehicle. Over the years, ABS has contributed to saving millions of lives.
- Haynes

 
 
 
1972

First unleaded fuel was introduced.

First unleaded fuel was introduced.

By the early 1980s, leaded fuel was completely phased out.

1974

Standard airbags introduced.

Standard airbags introduced.

1981

Transport Act introduces evidential breath testing.

Breath testing.

Intensive and long-term publicity about drink-driving have moved it from a social norm to a position of total unacceptability. Police officers are now dealing with a core minority of offenders, assisted by ever-improving technology. Robust penalties have also had an excellent deterrent effect upon society.
- Road Safety GB
www.roadsafetygb.org.uk

1985

First factory-installed in-dash CD player.

First factory-installed in-dash CD player.

 
 
 
 
1992

First permanent speed camera introduced.

Speed camera.

In the right place, safety cameras have proved themselves to be an excellent part of the enforcement strategy. Not only do they reduce speeds in areas of concern, but they also stream offending drivers towards an educational alternative to prosecution. This allows road safety practitioner’s access to the average driver.
- Road safety GB
www.roadsafetygb.org.uk

1995

Electronic stability control (ESC).

Electronic stability control (ESC).

Electronic stability control (ESC) is one of the latest active-safety systems fitted to motor vehicles. ESC uses the ABS system to control wheel slip. But instead of controlling slip while braking, ESC uses sensors to measure cornering forces and reduces the risk of wheel slip during corning. It does this by braking individual wheels to regain the vehicle’s balance. Some systems also cut engine power momentarily.

1997

The first Toyota Prius – first mass-production hybrid car is sold in Japan.

 

The first Toyota Prius – first mass-production hybrid car is sold in Japan.

2003

It becomes illegal to use a mobile phone at the wheel.

Mobile phones.

Mobile phone use is the biggest complaint road users make about drivers. Distraction is a major contributor to crashes. Even if you’re making the call hands-free, your mind won’t be on the task of driving. It's the conversation that kills.
- Road safety GB
www.roadsafetygb.org.uk

2010

It was estimated that there were over 1 billion vehicles in the world.

It was estimated that there were over 1 billion vehicles in the world.

2015

Driverless cars trialled on public roads.

Driverless cars.

In 2015, the UK allowed driverless car trials to take place on public roads anywhere without the need for permission. But only so long as they’re covered by the correct insurance.

Insurers such as RSA are actively working on some of the first trials. These began in February 2015 in Greenwich, Milton Keynes, Coventry and Bristol, backed by a £19 million fund from the taxpayer.

2019

Volkswagen expects first self-driving cars on the market by 2019.

Volkswagen expects first self-driving cars on the market by 2019.

 
 
1995

First navigation system made an appearance.

First navigation system made an appearance.

By the mid-2000s, portable and in-car equipment becomes more or less the norm.

1996

European New Car Assessment Programme is introduced.

Euro NCAP.

Feb 1997 saw the first set of results for Euro NCAP – this included tests on the VW Polo, Renault Clio, and the Nissan Micra. Since 2009 there’s now one unified star rating given. This is intended to focus manufacturers on child occupant and pedestrian protection – not just adult occupant protection – in order to achieve a better score. Although Euro NCAP saw some resistance, overall it has transformed the car manufacturing industry, and has set the bar for safety high.
- Aled Williams, Euro NCAP
www.euroncap.com

2000

European Council bans leaded fuel.

European Council bans leaded fuel.

2007

Honda unveiled the world’s first production hydrogen-fuel-cell car at the LA Auto Show.

Honda unveiled the world’s first production hydrogen-fuel-cell car at the LA Auto Show.

2015

Pedestrian airbag introduced.

Pedestrian airbag introduced.

On 1 January 2009, Euro NCAP announced a new rating system that was focused more than ever on pedestrian protection. Euro NCAP changed its scoring to account for pedestrian protection, resulting in innovative change from car manufacturers.

2016

Volvo promises death-proof cars by 2020.

Volvo promises death-proof cars by 2020.

Volvo has made a bold pledge: by 2020, no one will be killed or seriously injured in a new Volvo car or SUV.

 
 
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