In today's age of planned obsolescence and flashy competition, the thought of keeping automobiles over half a century is a dying tradition. As times get tougher perhaps we should look back on some earlier "maverick" car designs that could serve as examples of more sane transportation. Some of the early American autos were simply amazing.
My father had an altered '29 Dodge that ran around every summer until the '6Os. Across the water, the Brits had their unstoppable Trojan Utility cars that lumbered along on ten horsepower all through the '2Os and '3Os. Their huge flywheel drove their wheels without any of the usual gears. They got along quite well with solid rubber tires due to their unique springing design.
It wasn't until the later French 2CV Citroens came out in the '50s that cars had the ability to just float over the bumps. These later ten-horsepower "poor-people's cars" were such a surprise success that they usually had to put out several hundred a day just to keep up with demand. Many Frenchmen simply ignored later more modern bodies in favor of this "ugly duckling beetle" design. Over 50 million were sold before its huge popularity declined and the Volkswagon Beetle design grew more popular. I owned two of these wonderful little machines and am still driving one.
Various similar designs have been tried in the U.S. with little success. The Bantam minis of the '3Os were a durable example that sold for less than $500. Unfortunately, times were tough and it was too tough to compete with the larger Fords and Chevies. I remember going to drive-in movies in a friend's Crosley but this little mini's engine didn't hold up well enough to give the larger brethren a run for their money.
A number of early ATVs and mini cars used tiny industrial engines with mediocre success. The King Midget produced around 5,000 units between 1947 and 1969. It could squeeze up to 85 miles per gallon from its tiny motor. Under today's complex federal performance standards it would never be allowed on the road - yet some states are beginning to let the new breed of larger ATVs on the back roads when equipped with proper lighting and a license.
With higher and higher speeds required on most highways, the days of the small horsepower minis are probably gone forever.
Are there any alternatives? Oh yes!
Around the turn of the century, a lot of air powered railroad engines and mini cars existed. Dozens of patents later refined the concept down to a reasonable efficiency in autos. The earlier pistons got replaced with turbines and closed-cycle systems. This evidently bothered the corporate oil/fuel empires enough to put heavy pressure on the experimenters and builders. A typical design that used air pumping shock absorbers to increase efficiency is found in Pat. #3847058, and one using an auto engine in #4292804.
Steam cars were around for a time, but the start-up time was too slow to keep them competing with their internal combustion brethren. Doble developed an upgraded design that solved the usual problems but it was too expensive to sell during the great depression. Newer designs with turbines, flash boilers and even better mileage got nowhere. The Lear models that worked perfectly later got completely rejected by the entrenched fuel moguls - who outwardly professed an interest in alternative systems and fuels.
Electric cars have seemingly been crippled by the battery shortcomings and expenses. However, their potential has hardly been tapped. General Motors put out a good-looking electric that lessees loved. Then they rounded them all up and scrapped them. This of course was the same outfit that sold thousands of buses to Los Angeles and similar cities after pressuring the corrupt politicians to get rid of the cheap reliable electric trolley-car systems.
Exotic fuels & fuel mixtures could fill a whole book. One example was the simple ultrasonic vibration devices some experimenters used to run engines on 15% water. The water-gas emulsion let the water mist explode into super-heated steam.
Any combustible will usually explode when in a dust form and given a spark. Engines have run on flour and powered sugar.
The idea we are stuck with our oil-based locomotion systems is a cruel joke on us. We are little more than pawns.
Numerous high-efficiency drive systems could easily upgrade the usual auto-drive systems. Several inventors have simply attached hydraulic aircraft pumps to their vehicle's wheels and tripled their efficiency. These closed-system hydraulic cars needed little more than lawn-mower engines to propel them.
I just bought another French Citroen 2CV that gets about 50 miles per gallon. It's easy to fix and get parts for since there have been 5 million produced in Europe. It can go 60 miles per hour and holds up better than most of the cars that are three times as expensive. Most Americans want the bigger, flashier gas guzzlers so that's what they're stuck with.