The Automobile World's Past and Future

Down the road, the automobiles of the future, unlike the past, will be driven by AI not a buggy whip.

What would we do without our automobiles? They do not appear to be going the way of the buggy whip. The future of the automobile is amazingly bright with so much technology now and so much more ahead. Just think about some of the safety features that have evolved and continue to evolve from camera technology. Artificial intelligence will make us even safer. Think about the huge changes in power source from gasoline to electric. The all-electric cars are now with us in a big way and only getting more accepted and available. Down the road, no pun intended, the driverless car commercially will be with us sooner than we realize.

The automotive future is the happening time, but the past has been its gateway. We look forward to the future; we enthrall in the past. I still get a thrill when I insert the key into the ignition switch slot, actually turn the key, don’t have to step on a pedal, and crank up the 289 cubic inch internal combustion engine in my original 1965 Shelby Cobra roadster.

The Cobra was a masterwork in its day, created by the efforts of AC Cars Limited in England, Ford Motor Company, and Shelby American, Inc. then in California. There were only 580 of the 289 Cobras built and I was the lucky purchaser of one of them (with help from my father who lived vicariously through his three sons). I babied it, most of the time, cared for it, used it as an everyday driver and still drive it today on rare occasion. Generally, though, it is in retirement now.

But back to the Cobra in its early years. We had to fuel it with leaded fuel. There was no “unleaded” fuel. The spark plug gaps had to be adjusted with some frequency to get the right amount of spark. It was pretty much a slingshot on four 6-inch only wide wheels with Goodyear blue dot street tires. In its early days, it was much noise, much emissions, and much power. Mine came with an optional AM only (FM was more of a dream at the time) radio, which sounds luxurious, but once that engine was running, there was no way one could listen to the radio. I still get that thrill from it when the engine turns over, now on unleaded fuel, and accelerate through the gears, now watching for speed cameras instead of the police cruiser hiding behind the billboard along the highway. At speed, those normally almost unnoticed slight curves in the highway came at you awfully fast. Hold your breath. It was great fun then, it is great fun today.

Truly, though, while it may not sound like it, I did grow up. So have our automobiles. Love of the Cobra remains love of the Cobra but in very different ways.

Try comparing those autos of the 60s with the autos of today. Technology has so advanced. Environmental protection is now actually implemented. The Cobra didn’t even know what a catalytic converter was much less had one. Manufacturing techniques are now vastly improved. And, of course, design is now so influenced by the computer. It is a new ballgame, but still a ballgame played in the automotive ballpark. Nonetheless, the automotive ballpark is here to stay.

Shelby Cobra Up Close

Think about what the automotive companies are doing today. Power sources represent a huge change. Hybrids came about; now the all-electric vehicle is the direction all the auto manufacturers are moving in. Old-line manufacturers have adjusted to the new direction. New manufacturers are right there with them. Vehicle safety features are a huge trend today. When the Cobra was manufactured in 1965, no one was thinking about blind spot warning or pedestrian detection. Airbags: what was an airbag? I was lucky the car had windshield wipers, even though in heavy rain rainwater could flood into the compartment. Things have certainly changed for the better, from a quality and safety standpoint.

But I still smile about my Cobra. As the World Registry of Cobras states, “as of [2004], the original owner was still smiling.” That might have been meant as a reference to the then-burgeoning values of Cobras.

What do we think will happen to values of the earliest all-electric cars? It would be nice to hang around to see the values of some of the original electric vehicles 50 years from now and since we still have such a great interest in power and speed, it would be those vehicles I’d be most interested in. Today’s millennial may get the same sort of thrill I still experience starting up and driving my gas propelled limited production 1960s auto just by starting up their quiet vehicle with a foot on pedal and something that now passes for a key nearby, which might just become a fingerprint ahead. Of course, they will have to pay more than my original $6,000 Cobra for their collector automobile and will have to store it for awhile, but it too may become an ancient and very valuable artifact.

There is a lot ahead in the automotive world. Stay tuned. We all should revel in the automotive future as I did and continue to do today.

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The Automobile World's Past and Future