Hooniverse Asks: What’s the best failed automotive tech?

The Turbonique Rocket axle is one of the coolest and most insane pieces of tech to land in the automotive realm. It’s a rocket-powered rear axle aimed at the drag racing set. One of the best examples of a vehicle to wear this is the Tobacco King Galaxie, which remains one of the coolest cars ever built. But the rocket axle obviously didn’t take hold since most didn’t want to Wiley Coyote themselves into a fireball at the end of 1,320 feet.

What are other examples of amazing automotive tech that didn’t stand the test of time?

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17 responses to “Hooniverse Asks: What’s the best failed automotive tech?”

  1. FastPatrick Avatar

    Citroën’s hydraulic suspension. Glorious in action, but too complex and weird for widespread adoption. Magnetorheological dampers have rendered the idea obsolete.

    1. Rover 1 Avatar
      Rover 1

      But good enough to be used by Rolls Royce, Bentley, Mercedes Benz, and Maserati, all of them using actual Citroën parts and materials so you’d think that Citroën’s marketing people might have made something of that.

      The rot set in with the Peugeot takeover and came to a head in 1980 when Art Blakesee caught Jean Giret and the other designers at The Bureau d’Etudes at Velizy designing the CX replacement without the permission, knowledge or any design brief from the head of PSA, Xavier Karcher. Projet E was destroyed with only photos left. The Citroën ‘quirkiness’ was to be slowly expunged over time with all platforms being Peugeot designed with extra Citroën bolted on, with less of the original engineering remaining until the last C5 and C6 had a bastardised version of the original hydropneumatique concept. The highlight for effectiveness of the system was probably the Xantia Activa with it’s 1.2 g cornering with no roll meaning the sidewalls on the Michelin tyres had to be strengthened. The Activa is still the fastest car through the ‘moose test’ that nearly killed the first Mercedes A-class, and which Ford’s new Mach E electric car just failed. The second fastest car through the test is a Porsche 997 GT3 , behind the Xantia.

      Complex and weird? I don’t know, both my CX and BX have not needed anywhere near the work of my neighbour’s Audi Allroad with it’s leaky air suspension and VAG electrics controlling it, and they can’t break springs like so many BMWs do as their mileage gets up.
      The suspension on both of my funny french cars continue to work problem free with just normal servicing and the self levelling and height adjustability are things that no magnetorhealogical dampers can even do.

      Rant over. Carry on.

      I think that the problem is that PSA wants to give up the Citroën in Citroëns in favour of making slightly left wing Peugeots while launching DS as a sort of ‘lifestyle brand’ like some sort of sport shoe in car form.

      Remember ‘The Most Reliable Car Ever Made’ the Mercedes Benz S124 wagon had this system as standard and it causes far fewer. problems than the Bosch developed air suspensions on later MBs.

      So no, not obsolete, just given up on by accountants now they are in charge of the engineers.

      Bonus picture of Giret et al’s Projet E.

      1. nanoop Avatar

        Now you got me looking at the only Xantia ad nationwide.. yes, it’s an Activa…. 2kUSD, like 90kmls from 1996. The ad is reproducing your claims about moose evasion and 911, so they must be true!

        1. Rover 1 Avatar
          Rover 1

          I’m not in the habit of claiming things are true when they are not. I own Citroëns but I still retain contact with reality.

          1. nanoop Avatar

            Oh, I didn’t want to imply that you were claiming anything untrue, my apologies!

            It just struck me that the ad was using exactly the same story line to explain why this was an interesting car for track days (a plan the current owner gave up upon, after all). I didn’t know about this at all – until you told me, and now that I know what to look for I keep finding it everywhere!

            The ad, just in case if this is interesting for anyone (25-years-rule?):

      2. Salguod Avatar

        As a design engineer I’d say part of the job is staying within budget. A fantastically engineered vehicle that can’t be produced for a price that people are willing to pay isn’t really a success (I have no idea if that was the case with Citroën). On the other hand, it’s product planning’s job to scope out the project and budget to account for that. Sometimes they miss how much people will pay for some features and kill cool things that would have been a success.

  2. Lokki Avatar

    Cough!Tesla’s ‘Autopilot’ System Cough!

  3. OA5599 Avatar

    Power vent windows.

    1. rustylink Avatar

      I’d throw in the Lincoln branded thermostat mounted on the mirror! I have never seen that before!!

      1. Slow Joe Crow Avatar
        Slow Joe Crow

        Those were common on 70 luxo barges, I recall seeing them on Cadillacs and possibly top spec Buick Electras. Along with the fiber optic rear turn signal repeaters on the parcel shelf these the more cleverest US luxury car features. Of course there’s the bean counter pleasing aspect of having external temperature with a single bolt on part. I think most modern cars need an air temp sensor anyway for the engine management so it’s easier to simply add it to an existing display and tap it from the OBDII.

  4. mdharrell Avatar

    It would be a rush to judgment to call it “failed” but I will admit that the grindstone capstan drive hasn’t yet been adopted to quite the extent Joseph Spalek might have hoped.

    1. Sjalabais Avatar

      And you’d think the wheelbarrow tire magnates would be all over this tech, doubling wear on all applications

    2. I_Borgward Avatar

      So, 200 grit for the highway, 60 for an off-road excursion?

      1. mdharrell Avatar

        Far coarser. The particle diameter is about two millimeters.

    3. skitter Avatar

      The fact that two of them exist should exceed anyone’s wildest expectation.

  5. Turbobrick Avatar

    Optispark! Compact packaging, superb data resolution, combines several functions into a single component.

    Very 80s retro futuristic take on the problem of getting better ignition timing data, which ultimately was total overkill in some aspects (resolution), stuck in old tech (rotor with cap) and managed to swap old problems for new ones (ozone buildup and water penetration). But interesting evolutionary dead end for distributors.

  6. wunno sev Avatar
    wunno sev

    Mazda’s supercharged Atkinson cycle engine. classic Mazda innovation for its own sake, with no actual net benefit yielded (c.f. wankels). the cycle sounds great on a T-s diagram but ended up yielding no real performance or economy benefit. I just love that someone looked at their thermo textbook and decided, “that’s obviously better, let’s build that”, and never let up until it was on the market. I also think the Millennia was a really good looking car, but it doesn’t really stand out otherwise.

    along the same lines, Nissan’s variable compression engine is a super cool piece of technology that you can go buy right now. the only reason our heads aren’t all exploding at how cool it is is that they put it in the blandest possible wrapper. but it hasn’t failed yet, so I can’t list it here.