We mentioned that the most exciting new feature of the new Silverado was the heated cloth seats (automatically heated, not gastro-manually Dutch oven-style of seat heating), and that got me thinking about heated seats. Specifically, who had them first?
As it turns out, the answer isn't really surprising: Saab did it first. You'd think it was because Saabs come from a perpetually wintery wonderland, where wood gnomes are the most common roadkill and windshield ice scrapers are probably built into the car's keys. But it actually turns out heated seats were developed for a different reason. According to the Saab History site:
The electronically heated seats were designed as a precaution for driver's backaches, ensuring better driving pleasure and ultimately more safety.
So, how about that, it was for backaches. I guess they have all those saunas for their heat-related pleasure needs. Here's what Saab's 1972 press release for the 99 said about them:
The electrically heated driver's seat, standard in both the Saab 99 and 95 and 96 models, is another exclusive Saab feature for 1972 . Built into the seat pad and backrest of the seat, the system heats up automatically and quickly when the ignition is turned on and the interior temperature is below 58 F. A thermostat turns off the heat when the seat temperature reaches 82 F.
The heating system is completely safe from electric shock and is not affected by dampness or water that might come in contact with it.
I like the "not affected by dampness" part in there, because that's automaker code for "Go ahead and wet your pants! You won't die! Enjoy!"
So, okay, Saab had the first heated seats. Well, the first intentionally heated seats. I'm pretty sure early proto-cars like the Gurney Steam Carriages, which had boilers and hot-water pipes beneath the seating areas, also managed to heat up some Victorian asses quite effectively.
Plus — and I may have just made this up right now— Peugeot had an option in the '50s and '60s on their 203 for heated seats that used replaceable cans of Sterno. There was a little drawer and everything! I heard it worked great, but required the use of special Peugeot-branded Teflon pants.
Also, I made that up.
UPDATE: Commenter Smithonius mentioned that heated seats seem to have been an option on 1966 Cadillac Fleetwoods. The picture sure seems to back that up, but it looks like this option was very, very rare. According to this page, back in the day it was a $60.20 option. Based on this comment from Cadimec on the image of the seat heater control:
It was as sophisticated as it was a rare option: It only operated with the engine actually RUNNING by means of detecting generator-output to control a relay; secondly, this relay was shut off once a water temperature sensor indicated the car's coolant was warm enough for the heater to provide "adequate heat". Limousines (both Series 75 Sedan & Limousine) had this option only available for the rear seats. Only available from 1966 to 68, I have heard tell that the carbon-heat pads eventually wore through after a few years, blew the fuse & the systems just never worked after that.
So it sounds like it actually ran off the normal, coolant-heat based heating system?
Anyway, let's amend the Saab to be the first electric seat heater sold in any quantity, and thanks to our all-knowing readers for pointing this out.