Automotive Eras 2
Vintage Era (1919 – 1929)
A vintage car is commonly defined as a car built between the start of 1919 and through to the stock market crash at the end of 1929. There is some debate about the start date of the Vintage period—the end of World War I is a nicely defined marker there—but the end date is a matter of a little more debate. While some American sources prefer 1925 since it is the pre-classic car period as defined by the Classic Car Club of America, the British definition is strict about 1930 being the cut-off. Others see the Classic period as overlapping the Vintage period, especially since the Vintage designation covers all vehicles produced in the period while the official Classic definition does not, only including high-end vehicles of the period. Some consider the start of World War II to be the end date of the Vintage period.
After the war, military plants were quick to retool for automobile production and the lack of government regulations for safety, the environment or employees gave it a sense of the wild Wild West. Industrial accidents were all too common and compensation was at the discretion of the employer. As such there were no vehicle requirements like windshields, doors, lights, turn signals or seat belts.
The Vintage period in the automotive world was a time of transition. The car started off in 1919 as still something of a rarity, and ended up in 1930 well on the way towards ubiquity; in fact, automobile production at the end of this period was not matched again until the 1950s. During this period, the front-engine car came to dominate, with closed bodies and standardized controls becoming the norm. Development of the internal combustion engine continued at a rapid pace, with multi-valve and overhead cam engines produced at the high end, and V8, V12, and even V16 engines conceived for the ultra-rich.
Cars became much more practical, convenient and comfortable throughout this era and the following were some of the technologies that were introduced; car heating, in-car radios, antifreeze allowing water-cooled cars to be used year-round and power steering. The braking system also improved measurably with the introduction of four-wheel braking from a common foot pedal with, if you were lucky, hydraulically actuated brakes. Towards the end of the Vintage era saw the system of octane rating of fuel allowing comparison between fuels.
Throughout the vintage car period, most industrialized nations built a nationwide road system, with the result that towards the end of the period, the ability to negotiate unpaved roads was no longer required. Society began to adapt to the car, Drive-in restaurants were introduced, as well as suburban shopping centers, and motels began lining major roads in the United States.
Henry Ford may have kicked off the industrial revolution with his assembly lines, but the automotive industry was truly born after World War I in this vintage era, where the likes of Ford, Chrysler, Daimler, DeSoto, Dodge, Hudson, Olds and Studebaker became household names.
Pre-War Era (1930 – 1944)
The pre-war part of the classic era began with the Great Depression in 1930 and ended with the recovery after World War II, commonly placed at 1948. It was in this period that integrated fenders and fully-closed bodies began to dominate sales, with the new sedan body style even incorporating a trunk at the rear for storage. The old open-top runabouts, phaetons, and touring cars were phased out as wings, running boards, and headlights were gradually integrated with the body of the car.
By the 1930s most of the mechanical technology used in today's automobiles had been invented although some things were later "re-invented", and credited to someone else. For example, front-wheel drive was re-introduced by Andre Citroën with the launch of the Traction Avant in 1934, though it appeared several years earlier in road cars made by Alvis and Cord, and in racing cars by Miller (and may have appeared as early as 1897).
After 1930, the number of auto manufacturers declined sharply as the industry consolidated and matured. The Great Depression of 1929 all but brought the once rapidly increasing automobile industry to its knees. In 1910 there were over 500 companies competing for industry dominance but by the time of the Great Depression only 60 had survived - a further twelve years after that (1941) there were less than 20. The build up of military plants for World War II paved the way for an all new generation of automobiles..
Post-War Era (1949 – 1980’s)
Automobile design finally emerged from the shadow of World War II in 1949 when men and machines were once again available and technology was at an all time high. It was a time when pollution control, economy and safety regulations had yet to become design and production issues.
United States in 1949 saw the introduction of high-compression V8 engines and modern bodies from General Motors' Oldsmobile and Cadillac brands. The uni-body / strut-suspended 1951 Ford Consul joined the 1948 Morris Minor and 1949 Rover P4 in waking up the automobile market in the United Kingdom. In Italy, Enzo Ferrari was beginning his 250 series just as Lancia introduced their revolutionary V6-powered Aurelia.
Throughout the 1950s, engine power and vehicle speeds rose, designs became more integrated and artful, and cars spread across the world. Alec Issigonis' Mini and Fiat's 500 mini cars swept Europe, while the similar keicar class put Japan on wheels for the first time. The legendary VW Beetle survived Hitler's Germany to shake up the small car market in the Americas. Ultra luxury, exemplified in America by the Cadillac Eldorado Brougham, reappeared after a long absence, and GT cars, like the Ferrari Americas, swept across Europe.
The market changed somewhat in the 1960s, The Cold War, the communist threat in Cuba, civil rights and Vietnam brought new strife to the American people and with it new concerns for Detroit. As foreign automakers imported a new breed of compact and more efficient cars, American automakers responded by dropping their trademark fins. Consumers eagerly accepted General Motors' all new Corvair, Fords' Falcon and Chryslers' Valiant. The smaller cars went faster and the introduction of the Big Block V8's assured Americans that the horsepower war was still on.
The European makers adopted ever-higher technology, and Japan appeared as a serious car-producing nation. General Motors, Chrysler, and Ford tried radical small cars, like the GM A-bodies, but had little success. Captive imports and badge engineering swept through the US and UK as conglomerates like the British Motor Corporation consolidated the market. Eventually, this trend reached Italy as niche makers like Maserati, Ferrari, and Lancia were acquired by larger companies. By the end of the decade, the automobile manufacturing world was much smaller.
In America, performance was the hot sell of the 1960s, with pony cars and muscle cars propping up the domestic industry. The Muscle Car Era featured cars and trucks built between 1964 and 1972. They evolved from the feverish consumerism that followed World War II, when bigger and faster were always better. As the national highway system grew and gasoline became plentiful, Americans wanted more power and more speed. Muscle Cars evolved by accident at a time when Detroit was trying to stop the invasion of imported cars with new, light-weight models like the Corvair, Falcon and Valiant. In 1964 Detroit bowed to consumer pressure by putting big block V8's on mid-sized chassis, and giving them names like Mustang, Camero, Firebird and Barracuda, common household names of the Muscle Car Era.
However, despite America's love for horsepower, the Clean Air Act of 1970 called for pollution control devices that hampered performance which killed the use of high performance engines over the next few years. Followed was the oil embargo of 1973 which limited the supply of gasoline and encouraged Americans to conserve energy. By the time congress passed the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) rule in 1978 the Muscle Car was gone forever.
Japanese and European imports, and stagnant innovation wreaked havoc on the American industry. Throughout the 1970’s small imported cars outperformed large American ones and the domestic auto industry began to fail. Small performance cars from BMW, Toyota, and Nissan took the place of big-engined cars from America and Italy. The gas-guzzlers of the past were replaced by smaller, more efficient vehicles modeled after the ever-present imports and an all new race for fuel economy supremacy began.
On the technology front, the biggest developments of the era were the widespread use of independent suspensions, wider application of fuel injection, and an increasing focus on safety in the design of automobiles. The hottest technologies of the 1960s were NSU's Wankel engine, the gas turbine, and the turbocharger. Of these, only the turbocharger, pioneered by General Motors but popularized by BMW and Saab, was to see widespread use. Little Mazda had much success with their "Rotary" engines, but was critically affected by its reputation as a polluting gas-guzzler. Other Wankel licensees, including Mercedes-Benz and General Motors, never put their designs into production. Rover and Chrysler both produced experimental turbine cars to no effect.
Modern Era (last 25 yrs)
The modern era is normally defined as the 25 years preceding the current year. However, there are some technical and design aspects that differentiate modern cars from other eras. Without considering the future of the car, the modern era has been one of increasing standardization, platform sharing, and computer-aided design.
Some particularly notable advances in modern times are the wide spread of front-wheel drive and all-wheel drive, the adoption of the V6 engine configuration, and the ubiquity of fuel injection. While all of these advances were first attempted in earlier eras, they so dominate the market today that it is easy to overlook their significance. Nearly all modern passenger cars are front wheel drive of a uni-body design with transversely-mounted engines, but this design was considered radical as late as the 1960s.
Body styles have changed as well in the modern era. Three types, the hatchback, minivan, and sport utility vehicle, dominate today's market yet are relatively recent concepts. All originally emphasized practicality but have mutated into today's high-powered luxury crossover SUV and sports wagon. The rise of pickup trucks in the United States and SUVs worldwide has changed the face of motoring, with these "trucks" coming to command more than half of the world automobile market.
The modern era has also seen rapidly rising fuel efficiency and engine output. Once the automobile emissions concerns of 1970s were conquered with computerized engine management systems, power began to rise rapidly. In the 1980s, a powerful sports car might have produced 200 hp (150 kW), just 20 years later, average passenger cars have engines that powerful, and some performance models offer three times as much power.