IN THE wide world of cinema, film makers have an open sandbox to explore wild ideas and fictitious concepts, but while the stories they tell may seem farfetched, some motion pictures have occasionally open a rift into the future and given us a sample of how our cars might evolve.
Luck or prophesy? You be the judge.
In the 1964 feature film Goldfinger, our dashing British spy 007 appears to use a very early form of satellite navigation to guide his gorgeous Aston Martin DB5 over Switzerland’s equally stunning Furka Pass. Q may have wasted his time with knockout gas fountain pens and electrified walking sticks, but he was really on to something with this.
Ever wandered the stages of a car show and thought you could have done better than the freshly glinting designs on display? You probably can’t, as Homer Simpson demonstrated in his own inimitable style. Offered the chance to design a car for the average American by his long lost half-brother, the three-fingered loveable klutz pens a car which features everything you could possibly want in a vehicle, except aesthetics that don’t make you want to have an acid eyebath.
The cartoon episode was a poke at the Ford Edsel which fell from the ugly tree in 1958 and hit all of the ugly branches on the way down. Let us see it as a warning though.
Back to the Future II
When some car brands talk about an ‘all new’ model there’s every chance the car in question has a lightly redesigned bumper and extra paint colour choice, but when the Doc Brown gave the DeLorean time machine a mid-life update for Back to the Future II, he really went to town. Instead of a plutonium fission reactor, the second-gen car had been retrofitted with a Mr Fusion home reactor that turns any household waste into the 1.21 gigawatts required to time hop. Time travel may be a few years away, but the idea addresses the inadequacy of combustion power for the high energy demands of future cars.
In the futuristic story of one man’s fight to rediscover something he forgot, Arnie makes the mistake of commandeering a Johnny Cab as a getaway vehicle. After the robotic cabbie fails to recognise either ‘Drive’ or ‘S**t’ as actual destinations, the muscly Austrian decides to vandalise the autonomous taxi and drive it himself, highlighting the need for manual override controls in even the cleverest self-driving cars.
While one film’s vision of the future taxi is a polite self-driving runabout, Danny Cannon’s film Judge Dredd interprets it very differently, giving us a City Cab you certainly wouldn’t want to mess with. Leave a measly tip for this cabbie and its monstrous, bullet-proof shell could chase you through hell and high water. With an increasing number of yellow SUVs replacing the long favourite, but now discontinued, Ford Falcon in Australian capitals, the Judge’s Land Rover 101-based mega taxi might not be that far from a future Uber.
Early safety restraint systems used one airbag to protect just the driver from the steering wheel, but modern cars now have up to eight bags to look after occupants in all rows of seating. What’s next, one massive airbag that fills the entire car? Ha!
Actually, if that is ever a reality, the 1993 Demolition Man film was not far off with its Secure Foam concept. In the event of a serious accident such as crashing mid-air into a police station – an almost daily occurrence in Hollywood – all cabin occupants are cocooned in a rapid setting foam that spares them from even minor injuries. You do need Sylvester Stallone’s arms to free yourself from it though.
Despite being on every car enthusiast’s wish list since they were nine, a red LED grille strip that traces from side to side is yet to make it into a production car. However, Knight Rider’s loyal steed KITT 2000 (Knight Industries Two Thousand) did preview the voice control systems featured in many modern cars today.
With the rapid advance of artificial intelligence and the rise of Siri, Cortana, Alexa, and Google’s electronic personal assistant services, it won’t be long before modern systems make KITT’s personality look as wooden as his dashboard.*
What’s that? How can a cartoon about living cars possibly preview anything we are likely to see in the real world? When lighting McQueen turned out of the Los Angeles International Speedway and onto the street without even so much as a tyre or undies change, the charismatic stock car hinted at an age when potent race cars would be legal on public roads. McLaren P1 LM, BMW M4 GTS, Porsche 911 GT3 RS, KTM X-Bow, Caterham Seven 620 R, and Radical SR3 anyone?
I, Robot and Minority Report
Audi’s RSQ autonomous car might have seemed outrageous when it debuted in the 2004 film I Robot, but with the new Audi A8 now capable of level-three autonomous driving, the car maker says that reality is fast approaching. Lexus pulled a similar (and possibly just as pricey product placement) trick in the 2002 feature Minority Report with its 2054 model. We are still waiting for its biometric security but parent Toyota is a long way down the exploration of fuel cell drivetrains that are similar to the film star’s.
Speaking of wild concepts. Due for release next year, the feature film based on the 1980s computer game of the same name will feature the 2004 Ford Bronco concept, and we can’t help feeling the reappearance of the show car might be hinting at the shape of the next-gen car that is due in 2020. Either way, the performance of a 13-year old inanimate object is likely to be more charismatic than the movie’s lead role played by The Rock.
*Wood trim was an option in the 1982 Pontiac Trans Am, but KITTS’s dash was custom made from moulded plastic and more LEDs. Lots of LEDs.