Here we go again with a list of auto firsts, expanded from my last effort. These “first ever” accomplishments in the auto industry are noteworthy and I’m always collecting data, so keep those letters coming.
First American Fuel Injection: Chrysler’s 1958 “Electrojector” system on the Chrysler 300D, De Soto Adventurer, Dodge D-500, and Plymouth Savoy. Just 35 consumers took advantage, but as Rambler found out in 1957 with a prototype injected Rebel that never was produced, it wasn’t reliable. The undependable Chrysler injection was replaced with a carburetor, free of charge.
First Car, officially: The Benz Patent-Motorwagen, built in 1885 by the German Carl Benz is widely regarded as the world’s first practical automobile and was the first car put into series production. It was patented and unveiled in 1886 and the original cost of the vehicle in 1886 was 600 German marks, or approximately 150 U.S. dollars (equivalent to $4,773 in 2023).
First Rearview Mirror: Ray Harroun attached a rearview mirror to his Marmon Wasp at the inaugural Indy 500 in 1911. He won the race and in 1912 Marmon added rearview mirrors to its production cars.
First American Compact Hatchback: The first ever was the Chevy Vega, as over 1-million Vega hatchbacks were produced for the 1971–1977 model years. (I owned a 1974 Vega GT.) The Vega beat the Ford Pinto hatchback to the showroom by a few weeks, appearing in September of 1970. General Motors cashed in on the Vega’s popularity, rebadged with minor front and rear upgrades ala the 1973–1977 Pontiac Astre, 1978 Chevrolet Monza S, 1975–1980 Buick Skyhawk, 1975–1980 Oldsmobile Starfire, and 1977–1980 Pontiac Sunbird. (No, the AMC Gremlin was not a hatchback.)
First Extended Cab American Pickup: Dodge was the first to introduce an extended cab thanks to its popular Club Cab pickup in 1973. It offered side mounted jump seats or a tiny bench seat behind the front seats. Ford, Chevy and GMC were nowhere to be found.
First Modern Era V-12 Pickup: From 1960 to 1965, GMC offered a V-12 engine that was pretty much two V-6 GMC engines hooked together with one common crankshaft.
First Seat Belt Option: American car manufacturer Nash in 1949 was the first to offer seat belts as an option. By the time 1968 rolled along seat belts were standard fare.
First Air Conditioning: The 1953 Chrysler Imperial was one of the first production cars in 12 years to offer air conditioning as an option. This followed prototype experiments by Packard in 1940 and Cadillac in 1941.
First Power Steering: Chrysler introduced the first commercially available passenger car power steering system on its 1951 Chrysler Imperial under the name “Hydraguide.” Francis W. Davis receives the credit, he a hydraulic engineer who first started his power steering experiments way back in 1906 with Pierce-Arrow.
First Car Radio: In 1930, the Ford Model A had a $200 optional car radio feature, which was huge money back then. In comparison, that’s $3,582 in 2023 dollars.
First 8-Track Tape Player: Ford’s 1966 Mustang was the first car to offer a factory in-dash 8-Track player. The 8-Track replaced “Madman” Muntz’s 4-track Stereo-Pak.
First Disc Brakes: The first mass produced American disc brake applications arrived in 1949 and 1950 on several models. The sub-compact Crosley cars and pickups utilized them as did the full-size Chrysler Imperial Crown as standard equipment.
First Compact Disc Player (CD): The first car with an original equipment manufacturer (OEM) CD player was the 1987 Lincoln Town Car, while the last of the new cars in the American market with factory cassette decks in-dash are the Nissan / Infiniti brands through 2020. Thanks to Pioneer, several cars utilized aftermarket car CD players back in 1984. By 1990, Car CD changers boomed in popularity and many were trunk mounted and could hold numerous CDs while dash mounted CDs could hold six or more.
First Sunroof / Moonroof: The very first sunroof award goes to the 1937 Nash. Although crude by today’s standards, it featured a metal panel that was capable of sliding open and offering an “open cabin” experience.
First Automatic Transmission: The 1940 Oldsmobile is the first American automobile to use a fully automatic transmission. General Motors engineer, Earl Thompson, developed and advertised the Hyrda-Matic as the “greatest advance since the self-starter.” Other manufacturers like Hudson and Chrysler worked with clutch style automatics, but Olds had the first fully automatic.
First Hatchback: The 1949-1954 Kaiser Traveler and Frazer Vagabond utility sedans were the first hatchback style cars. They were really impressive vehicles.
First 4-door crew-cab truck: The first crew cab truck in the U.S. was made by International Harvester (IH) in 1957 dubbed Travelette, followed by Dodge in 1963, Ford in 1965, and Chevrolet in 1973. To this day, International is a major brand in heavy and severe duty trucking.
First Air Bag: This is debatable. In 1971, Ford built an experimental airbag fleet while General Motors tested airbags on the 1973 Chevrolet that was only available for government use. However, in 1973 the Oldsmobile Toronado was the first car with a passenger airbag available to the public. GM then made its own air cushion restraint system (ACRS) available as an option on Cadillac, Oldsmobile and Buick models in 1974.
First American Taxi Cab Company: Checker Motors, founded back in 1921, built Taxi Cabs all the way through 1982. After 1982, Checker invested significantly in the third party manufacturing business, serving GM and Chrysler with metal stampings of all types. On Jan.16, 2009, the company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.
(Greg Zyla is a syndicated auto columnist. He welcomes reader input and questions on collector cars, auto nostalgia and motorsports at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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