The Ten Strangest Automotive 'Firsts'

The things we take for granted about cars today almost all started out looking a lot weirder than they do now, and often come with even stranger backstories. These are Jalopnik readers' picks for the strangest starts of all.

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Photo Credit: University of Vermont, Special Collections via aflightyabroad.tumblr.com

10.) The First Car Crash

Suggested By: Kenny Starr

Why it's bizarre: Pronouncing any particular invention as the first automobile is a foolish and impractical exercise. The details are too murky and the history isn't precise. Still, many claim that the first self-propelled vehicle that could be classified as a car was the 1770 two-and-a-half-ton steam wagon built by Nicolas-Joseph Cugnot.

In 1771, Cugnot's second full-size vehicle crashed straight into a wall, often called the first automobile crash.

I would call this story horseshit because there is no way a giant un-steerable steam wagon is an automobile, but that's history for you.

The Ten Strangest Automotive 'Firsts'

9.) The First Joystick Steering

Suggested By: Honda_Hooning_Daily_Driver

Why it's bizarre: If you had been an aggressive buyer when Saab's museum was up for sale, you could have bought this piece of history. It was a joystick-controlled 1988 Saab 9000, with technology lifted from the company's drive-by-wire planes. The joystick controlled the steering, brakes, and accelerator.

Photo Credit: Saab

The Ten Strangest Automotive 'Firsts'

8.) The First Two-Section Body

Suggested By: hexagonist

Why it's bizarre: Two-section bodies aren't what you would call widespread or normal, but they do have a start with the 1958 Sir Vival (get it? survival), designed to take front-end collisions. The front section carried the engine and the back carried the passengers. It was somehow rear-wheel-drive. Despite its handsome good looks and fetching brown paint, it was not a sales success, despite being touted as the safest car in the world.

Photo Credit: Walter C. Jerome

The Ten Strangest Automotive 'Firsts'

7.) The First Mobile Telephone Call

Suggested By: Drachen

Why it's bizarre: In 1946, a team from Bell labs successfully made the first mobile telephone call, using a phone mounted under the dashboard of a car. This wasn't just the first car phone, this was the first mobile phone whatsoever. The system was primitive at the time, able only to take three calls at a time in a metropolitan area.

Photo Credit: AT&T

The Ten Strangest Automotive 'Firsts'

6.) The First Talking Car

Suggested By: F150HD

Why it's bizarre: Our iPhones have only just started talking to us, but cars have been talking to us since the 1980s. While we have built-in GPS giving us directions, the 1981-1985 Datsun 810 Maxima and the contemporary 280ZX, had an optional shock-resistant phonograph that carried six individual spoken messages: "Left door is open," "Right door is open," "Parking brake is on," "Fuel level is low," "Keys in the ignition," and "Lights are on."

It didn't give Siri-like levels of interaction, but it was something.

Photo Credit: Datsun

The Ten Strangest Automotive 'Firsts'

5.) The First DUI

Suggested By: GR1M RACER : Wrong Most of the Time

Why it's bizarre: Drunk-driving seems to be as old as the car, and the first DUI arrest happened in 1897. A London cab driver crashed his electric taxi while drunk and was arrested and fined 20 shillings.

Photo Credit: English Heritage National Monuments Record

The Ten Strangest Automotive 'Firsts'

4.) The First Hybrid

Suggested By: Sean Jordan

Why it's bizarre: Hybrids are much older than the Toyota Prius and the Honda Insight. The very first gas-electric hybrid car was an 1899 Lohner-Porsche called Semper Vivus. A 25-year-old Ferdinand Porsche was an employee at the Viennese carmaker Lohner, and he developed a system where two gasoline engines behind the driver and in front of the rear passengers would recharge the car's batteries. The car was powered by electric motors in the front wheel hubs.

Photo Credit: Porsche

The Ten Strangest Automotive 'Firsts'

3.) The First Crash Test Dummies

Suggested By: hexagonist

Why it's bizarre:I n the 1930s, researcher Lawrence Patrick at Detroit's Wayne State University wanted to test the human body, and he used himself as the test subject until he wanted to test what happens when a body is thrown, so he needed to drop a body down an elevator shaft. For this test, he used a human cadaver.

The very first automotive crash testing used corpses as well, done by Cornell University in 1952. The car industry still uses corpses in crash testing today, but they don't like to publicize it.

Photo Credit: Cornell University/Liberty Mutual Insurance Company/Steve Hayes

The Ten Strangest Automotive 'Firsts'

2.) The First Pedestrian-Safe Car

Suggested By: hexagonist

Why it's bizarre: This was the first car built to protect pedestrians from injuries. This is common today in car design, with softer, rounder, higher front ends. Back in the mid 1950s, when Father Alfred A. Juliano built this, the Aurora, it meant a "cow catcher" front bumper to scoop passengers out of the way.

In spite of other features, crumple zones, hydraulic jacks, and seatbelts, the one-off Aurora was a devastating failure and lay in rot until it was restored in 2005.

Photo Credit: Andy Saunders

The Ten Strangest Automotive 'Firsts'

1.) The First Drive Across America

Suggested By: Klic

Why it's bizarre: In the Spring of 1903, Dr. Horatio Nelson Jackson, Sewall K. Crocker, and Crocker's goggles-wearing bulldog set off from San Francisco for the first drive across the United States. There were roughly 150 miles of paved roads at the time. The interstate highway system was still a glint in the eye of some young designers in Germany and Italy, but they somehow made it across, even beating Packard and Oldsmobile, who both sent cars of their own from California to beat them to New York City.

What makes it strange is that Jackson took up the idea of America's first cross country drive on nothing more than a $1.50 bet.

Photo Credit: University of Vermont, Special Collections