With modern automobiles, we haven’t seen any crazy or outlandish inventions because automakers now know what works well and what doesn’t.
But it wasn’t always that way. So today, let’s take a look at some of the craziest automotive inventions you’ve never heard of.
#1 Turbo Axle
You’ve heard of adding a turbo to your engine to increase its power output, but what if I told you in the 1960s there was a company that produced axle-mounted turbos?
Well, not turbos technically, but rather turbines. Literal rocket power for your rear axle.
What I’m talking about is the Turbonique Drag Axle, a weird mail order part that was essentially a rear differential with a small turbine attached to it, making up to 1300hp for the top-dog model.
And what’s crazy about this idea is that it allows you to have a daily drivable car, and when it comes time to hit the drag strip, you can simply turn on the turbo axle and instantly add absolutely insane amounts of power to your car.
And because the entire thing is separate from your engine, you don’t have to worry about upgrading the internals or if your transmission will handle the power.
But in the 1960s, rocket technology was, well, bad.
And as a result, the turbo axle had a tendency to explode, particularly if you went wide open, let off the throttle, and then went back wide open again.
Unfortunately, the company behind this product ran into trouble after a few years of operation, with the company owner being arrested and charged with fraud because the turbo axle was way harder and more expensive to install than advertised.
Also, it was pretty expensive at $4,695 for an assembled model DS-28 Drag Axle, which was nearly double the price of the Ford Mustang at the time.
After that, we never really saw this idea come back to the automotive market, although smaller versions of this turbine system were fitted to Go Karts.
In fact, the world record-holding Go Kart is powered by a Turbonique turbine, and it ran the quarter mile in the five-second range at over 240 mph.
#2 Chrysler Turbine Car
But the turbine-powered madness didn’t start there.
In fact, let’s look at something which started development in the halls of Chrysler as early as 1953, when they began testing a 1954 Plymouth that was stock on the outside, but underneath it was powered by a turbine.
Throughout the 1950s, GM, Ford, and Chrysler were all spotted and reported to be testing turbine-powered cars, but Chrysler was supposedly the farthest ahead with its development.
And on May 14th, 1963, in New York City, Chrysler unveiled their newest car, a little bronze car that was set to go through a 50-car production run strictly for the purpose of having normal people drive day to day and get the reaction and real-world data to know if the idea was worth pursuing further.
Some of the cars went to families to use as their daily drivers, some of the cars went through cross-country testing.
And in terms of performance, it the Chrysler Turbine car had about 130hp and 425lb-ft of torque.
And very interestingly, this turbine-powered car was actually a hybrid fuel engine with the ability to run on gasoline, kerosine, or diesel.
Honestly, it probably could’ve run on Vodka.
But, unfortunately, that awesome torque output and hybrid fuel capability don’t matter because there was one major problem with this whole thing: the US government wanted to charge import taxes on all cars made by Ghia.
This put Chrysler in quite the pickle because the body was constructed by Ghia, meaning they could’ve potentially faced pretty big import taxes on these 50 cars, and as such, they crushed most of these cars, but not all of them.
Chrysler kept two of these cars for themselves. Six of them ended up in museums across the US, and interestingly enough, Jay Leno owns the other remaining model. So, in total, there are nine remaining Chrysler turbine cars left.
#3 Ford Nucleon
In the late 1950s, the world was captivated by the possibilities of nuclear energy, and Ford took advantage of this by releasing a concept car that pushed the boundaries of automotive engineering, and that’s the Ford Nucleon.
The idea with this car was to replace traditional engine with a much smaller nuclear reactor in the rear of the car. This reactor would then generate steam to drive a turbine, which in turn power the car.
Who needs gas stations when you have a compact nuclear reactor to generate steam and drive the wheels?
It was like having a miniature power plant on wheels.
But unfortunately, safety concerns surrounding nuclear energy were at the forefront of the Nucleon.
And for good reason.
The idea of driving around a car with a small nuclear reactor in the back sounds pretty terrifying, especially in the 1950s.
On top of that, nuclear reactors at the time didn’t work well in small form, so this concept was developed on the premise that reducing reactor size would one day be possible, even if it wasn’t possible at the time.
With that in mind, theoretically, the range would’ve been pretty much non-existent.
Can you imagine driving a car down the road and seeing a low nuclear fuel warning?
If this ended up working, I could already imagine all the stupid license plates that say “nuke.”
That’s just as dumb as the Tesla fans with their plates.
Understandably, it never made it past the concept car stage, and to my understanding, they only ever built a scale model of the car but never anything past that.
#4 In-Car Toilet
Alright, how many times have you gone on a road trip and had to stop to go to the bathroom? It always seems like be like right after passing a rest station too.
Well, what if I told you that in the 1950s, one madman drove across the country without stopping to go to the bathroom or refuel?
This is Louie Mattar, the man who took a 1947 Cadillac and modified it solely for the purpose of driving across the country without stopping.
These modifications are just about everything you need on the road: a toilet, oven, refrigerator, radiotelephone, and even a special rig that allows them to change a tire without having to stop.
Can you imagine having all those things in a modern car? It’s like an RV, but it’s a sedan. Honestly, that would be pretty cool.
That gives me a new project car idea, a car you can poop in while driving.
Anyways it only took them seven days with three men to cover the cross-country trip, which totaled about 6,000 miles.
Two years later, Louie Mattar did the same thing, driving from Alaska to Mexico in one go to try the non-stop Alaska-Mexico trek.
Today this Cadillac is a permanent exhibit at the San Diego Automotive Museum. So be sure to go check it out next time you’re there, don’t use the toilet inside the car.
#5 Fifth Wheel for Parking
Parking assists might seem like a relatively new feature, but it’s actually a lot older than you think.
And what I’m talking about is the fifth-wheel parking system patented by Brooks Walker in 1938.
And the idea behind this system was to use a vertically mounted spare tire as a way to rotate the car into a parallel parking spot because if you thought most people couldn’t parallel park today, I can’t imagine it was much better in the 1930s.
He first installed this invention on his four-door Packard and later installed it on his 1951 Cadillac.
As to why this system never caught on, it’s not exactly clear. The most likely reason is that automakers believe it to be too cost prohibitive to sell as a feature on their cars.
There’s also the problem that this system took up a massive amount of your trunk space, making your car significantly less useful in the real world.
That’s a lot of trade-offs for having the ability to tell the world you can’t parallel park.
Louie continued the development of this system through the 50s and 60s and into the 1970s. Continually improving the design and refining how it works.
But he continued to get turned down by automakers and unfortunately passed away before he was able to see it through.
So next time you drive a car that parks itself, thank Brooks Walker for starting the trend all the way back in the 1930s.
#6 Horsey Horseless
This next car takes us way back to 1899.
During this time, there was a big transition from the horse and carriage to the motor vehicle.
But, cars were loud and could very easily startle someone else’s horse, causing them to fall off or worse.
So, how do you make the transition from horse to automobile easier? You make a car that looks like a horse.
That’s the idea anyways, and a West Michigan preacher and inventor took it upon himself to make that idea happen, and what he created is the Horsey Horseless.
God, it’s such a dumb name. I love it.
Anyways it’s completely unknown whether any of these cars were actually built, as the only evidence of the car is a patent in 1899 with these design photos and one vintage rendering.
The horse head was constructed of wood and even included a full mane and everything.
And Man, this thing would’ve been weird to see in 1899.
Someone should build a car like this for YouTube. Just don’t give it to WhistlinDiesel after.
#7 Air Conditioning Before Air Conditioning
Before refrigerant-based air conditioning systems became a thing in cars, keeping the cabin of any given car required some innovative solutions past just rolling the window down for airflow.
Of the most iconic and quite popular solutions is the Car Cooler. And no, it’s not a rocket launcher, but that would definitely be cool.
Rather, it’s simply an evaporation cooler, something humans have been using for a long, long time.
But, this evaporation cooler is specifically designed to be used with cars, but not any specific car.
These were generally made as universal fitting items that you’d sandwich between the window frame and the window.
It’s not exactly a safe solution considering it could break the glass or fall into the road, but nothing about cars was safe back then.
A handful of different companies made these products, including Thermador and Firestone.
We first started seeing these in the 1930s, but by the 1960s, they fizzled out.
Part of the problem with these swamp coolers is that they needed very dry air to operate at their maximum capacity, and since they held water, they were also prone to rust, which meant these things only worked in the southwest of the US.