Hooniverse Asks: What Production Car was the Most Ahead of its Time?

When he went back in time Marty McFly had the benefit of knowledge that no one else did. His foresight came from an unlikely source, a time machine. Other people have lacked such a performance enhancer, but still seemed to envision the future with great accuracy. Some of those people even put their visions into automotive form.
Most cars can be easily identified as being ‘ of their era.’ Wether its Fifties fins, Sixties muscle, or Seventies sadness, the automobiles made in each era – for the most part – exemplify their individual age. That’s not always the case and on occasion a car or truck arrives that defies both convention and stereotype. The prescience shown by their designers, and those who gave them loose rein proves to be astounding, and the results are often models for standards years down the road.
Today we want to know which cars and trucks you think most accurately fit this bill. What are the cars that were so ahead of their time that they either set the standard, or perhaps proved to be far out of fashion for the age.
Image: Carstyling.ru

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  1. Lokki Avatar

    In first to grab the low-hanging fruit – The 1934 Chrysler Airflow.
    From Time Magazine’s 50 worst cars of all time:

    “The Airflow’s “worst”-ness derives from its spectacularly bad timing. Twenty years later, the car’s many design and engineering innovations — the aerodynamic singlet-style fuselage, steel-spaceframe construction, near 50-50 front-rear weight distribution and light weight — would have been celebrated. As it was, in 1934, the car’s dramatic streamliner styling antagonized Americans on some deep level, almost as if it were designed by Bolsheviks.
    It didn’t help that a few early Airflows had major, engine-falling-out-type problems that stemmed from the radical construction techniques required. Chrysler, and the even more hapless Desoto, tried to devolve the Airflow stylistically, giving it more conventional grill and raising the trunk into a kind of bustle (some later models were named Airstream), but the damage was done. Sales were abysmal. It wouldn’t be the last time American car buyers looked at the future and said, “no thanks.”

  2. P161911 Avatar

    The Jensen FF. AWD and anti-lock brakes in 1966. But also, typical 1960s/1970s British reliability, except for the Chrysler V-8.

    1. Alff Avatar

      From the Wiki… “The Lohner-Porsche’s design was studied by Boeing and NASA to create the Apollo program’s Lunar Roving Vehicle. Many of its design principles were mirrored in the Rover’s design. The series hybrid concept underpins many modern railway locomotives, and interest in series hybrid automobiles is growing rapidly.”

  3. econobiker Avatar

    “proved to be far out of fashion for the age.”
    I actually will argue that the design of the AMC Pacer was too far out, too physically large, and then saddled with DOT mandated 7″ diameter sealed beam head lights which made it look “frog-like”.
    If the Pacer had been a smaller vehicle with aerodynamic head lights, it would have been essentially the same design as a 1992 Honda Civic 2 door hatchback… even just with aero-dynamic headlights it would have looked completely different.

  4. PotbellyJoe★★★★★ Avatar

    The MB W126.
    The original design was from 1975, it was still in production in 1994 in South Africa.
    When people hear “Mercedes” this is the one they think of.
    A few firsts for the model:
    -Seatbelt pre-tensioners
    -A topographical sensor in the transmission controls and in the cruise control to avoid surging and correctly hold/shift gears based on inclines.
    I was going to say W116 due to the styling and the fact that it ushed in the era of the German sedan here in the US, but I think the long lifespan and success of the W126 overrides the styling influence of the W116.

    1. tonyola Avatar

      I personally think that the W126 is the best-looking sedan Mercedes has ever produced – it keeps the “serious” look of previous sedans but adds some sleekness to the mix.

        1. JTuhka Avatar

          I think the W140 looks rather ungainly and heavy compared to the W126.

          1. nanoop Avatar

            So do I.

        2. tonyola Avatar

          Wrong version of the S-class. This came after the W126.

    2. JTuhka Avatar

      If my memory serves me correctly it was also the first car designed to withstand offset impacts. That reminds me of this australian MB ad. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VojePSOrnYw

      1. PotbellyJoe★★★★★ Avatar

        You may be right. I know the W116 was among the first to be designed with a hardened passenger compartment with extremity-focused crumple zones.

      2. mzszsm Avatar

        http://automotivesafetyanalysis.com/images/Head%20on%20Crash-(Done).jpg Volvo as well was testing this. By the mid ’70s they had already engineered structures for higher speed less injurious oblique and frontal offset collisions. I also remember a Volvo magazine ad around the time of the very nice Mercedes commercial you linked above that touted frontal offset performance but I can’t find it online. https://youtu.be/_xwyOjYBwb8?t=53s

    3. Kiefmo Avatar

      Oh, you. All my thumbs up forever.

  5. tonyola Avatar

    1933 Tatra T77.

  6. fede Avatar

    more low hanging fruit, the citroen ds, and also the 2cv considering the design date, not the sale date.
    maybe there are other examples from other makers… but in my opinion citroen is the one that has been there more often

    1. Tanshanomi Avatar

      I’m not a raving DS fanboi, but that was what came to my mind first as well.

  7. P161911 Avatar

    A 4wd jacked up wagon with a straight six.
    AMC was just too far ahead of the curve on the whole crossover thing.

  8. Vavon Avatar

    The Citroën DS… What else???

  9. tonyola Avatar

    1946 Willys Station Wagon. Is this the first SUV?

    1. P161911 Avatar

      Technically Chevy had been building station wagons on truck frames since 1933 and calling them Suburbans. 4WD models didn’t come along until the 1950s.

      1. tonyola Avatar

        I thought about the Suburban, but decided against it since it’s basically a panel truck with extra seats and windows. The Jeep was purpose-built to be a station wagon and was targeted largely to private buyers.

  10. Tanshanomi Avatar

    The Tuesday answer is the NSU MAX. Overhead camshaft (with concentric rod drive!), monoshock rear suspension, and a modern, managed-flow airbox with paper air filter. All in 1952.

    1. Jeepster Avatar

      BMW R17 Tanshanomi,
      waaay ahead of the curve

  11. engineerd Avatar

    Before Tesla and Fisker, GM had the EV1. The first all-electric, mass produced vehicle of the modern era (many early cars were electric) the EV1 was both a corporate image boondoggle and technical disaster. GM could claim to the enviro-nazis in California that they cared, but could not claim that battery technology was anywhere near being to a point that made all electric vehicles make sense.

    1. P161911 Avatar

      I’m not so sure about the technical disaster part. Reading the wiki page, it seems by the time they got the batteries sorted out, it had 100+ mile range (it did seem to take a while to get the batteries sorted out though). It made a lot more compromises for the passengers than current gen EVs, but it appeared usable as a car. Driving wise, it was probably comparable to a first gen Honda Insight, which was about the same size.

    2. Rover 1 Avatar
      Rover 1

      And still the most aerodynamic ground vehicle ever made.
      Cd of 0.19

  12. Citric Avatar

    In terms of American cars, there was nothing else like it for nearly 30 years.

    1. Alff Avatar

      Absolutely. The fact that the design lived on under various other manufacturers is a testament to how ahead of its time it was.

    2. salguod Avatar

      Came here to post this. FWD, hidden headlights, semi-automatic transmission, supercharged, no stand up grille and no running boards.

  13. oldcarjunkie Avatar

    Hotchkiss Gregoire – aluminum body, front wheel drive, flat four engine. Large glass area with a bulbous streamlined body. High prices meant low sales but they apparently drive just like a modern car.

    1. Sjalabais Avatar

      Rarity bonus! This is a great answer.

  14. Tomsk Avatar

    Okay, so it was more “production-ready” than production, but I nominate Marmon’s last, desperate gasp at the car biz, the HCM V12 prototype. An all-aluminum overhead-valve engine, backbone chassis, fully-independent suspension, inboard rear brakes, magnesium wheels and semi-streamlined styling…in 1933!

  15. P161911 Avatar

    Lancia Aurelia. In 1950, a V-6, radial tires, and a rear transaxle.

  16. Jaap Avatar

    Nomen est omen? Far Ahead of a time that still has to come….Renault Avantime

  17. Jfalcon Avatar

    Lexus LS400 – for the insane amount of engineering that went into this car, and an engine that is just about bulletproof. (Guys have used these engines to power their AIRPLANES, for god’s sake.)

  18. Rover 1 Avatar
    Rover 1

    The Rover P6. Radial tyres, four wheel discs, crashability with progressively deformable structured designed in. Good handling and ride with De Dion rear suspension to avoid the camber changes that plagued the other IRS RWD cars of the time (BMW, Mercedes, Borgward all oversteering off roads near you.) Good ergonomics and great performance and economy. The first proper high technology, driver’s sports sedan, setting a market template eagerly grabbed by BMW and then others and of course not followed up by the British who also made and marketed the cars badly enough that they flopped in what should have been their biggest market, the USA
    The first European Car of the Year in 1964 in early four cylinder 2000 form

  19. Rover 1 Avatar
    Rover 1

    1967-1977 NSU RO80. If we’re going to have rotary engines then they should be in futuristic cars. The first car to make the DS look dated.

  20. '76Mini Avatar

    What? no mini?!?
    Monocoque – Check
    Transverse engine and FWD – Check
    All independent suspension – Check
    Fuel efficient – Check
    Room for four adults – Check (I am 6ft+ and a 42-44 jacket and I CAN sit in the back just fine)
    Plenty of interior space for luggage, etc – Check
    Cheap to buy and run – Check
    Sporty, modern driving experience – Check (an 850 would handle much the same as a Cooper, just less power)
    There was even serious talk of having something akin to a hatchback ala the A40 Farina , but that was deemed too risque for the British market, and would make for a higher production cost.
    It is the genesis of all FWD hatchbacks that would come to follow, how can it not be the most ahead of its time?