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9 unlikely autos that changed cars forever

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Old 12-14-13, 11:36 PM   #1
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Default 9 unlikely autos that changed cars forever

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At first glance nothing about these cars and trucks jumps off the page. Yet they were the proving ground for car tech and car-building techniques that influence how our autos are built.

1984 Jeep Cherokee: Unibody

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The much-beloved Cherokee was the first large-production unibody truck. A new welding process kept this light body together for great on- and off-road dynamics and a stiff chassis, with much less weight and floppiness than competitors from Nissan, Toyota, Mitsubishi, Ford, and GM. Nissan was the next to follow suit with its Pathfinder, but not until 1996.


2001 Nissan Pathfinder: Autonomous Off-Roading

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Electronic ascent and descent control eliminated some driver skill (and human error) from off-roading. The Pathfinder's antilock brake system was tuned so that the driver need only hold the brake when descending steep hills, which previously was a dangerous no-no for off-road driving. Accelerating up dirt hills always required a deft touch of the throttle—prior to the Pathfinder's carefully tuned traction control system, that is. It worked best if the driver floored the gas pedal, a definite counterintuitive move in any other off-roader at the time.


1989 Toyota Celica: Rounded Design

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The end of the Toyota Celica coupe's square, angled shape was not merely a styling decision. In '89, not one panel on the new Celica had a crease or a sharp angle in it. Reason: Toyota quietly said that while all previous metal stamping presses and brakes at its factories had been set up to make perfect angles, the company was anxious that budding Korean carmakers would easily copy its square cars. Toyota developed complex, compound curve stamping because it accurately predicted that would-be imitators would have a hard time copying the shape.


2005 Chevrolet Corvette: Automotive Neurology

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A 22-gauge twisted-pair cable, more commonly found in computer labs and wired offices, spanned the length of the C6 Corvette when it debuted for 2005. It opened the door for connected body and component computers to monitor and control the entire car, bringing on the computerized nervous system that's common today.


1994 Oldsmobile Aurora: Origami Sheet Metal

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The use of sheet metal folded, layered, welded into complex boxed sections, as opposed to using simply heavy beams, brought two things to car design: First, the body became much stiffer, and second, parts of the car previously used just to keep rain and wind off the passengers became useful structural components—part of controlled crush zones for energy absorption in a crash.


1983 Audi Quattro: Get a Grip

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Although Subaru was known for sending torque to all four wheels of a passenger car and using modern suspensions (as opposed to a truck's live axles), that company's driveline systems remained part-time and clunky for drivers to use on dry pavement, requiring an extra transfer case shift lever. Audi's Quattro system was a full-time tech and demonstrated the benefits of all-wheel drive for sports and performance cars


1984 Lincoln Continental Mark VII: Stopping and Illumination

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The first volume-produced American car to have antilock braking, the loaded Lincoln two-door coupe was also first to feature nonsealed-beam flush-molded headlights. This had a dramatic influence on the styling of all American cars since.


1988 Mazda RX-7 Convertible: Open Top for Snow Season

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Before his fantastic success guiding Mazda to a Le Mans racing win in 1991, Takaharu "Koby" Kobayakawa was an engineer and manager for the RX-7 convertible in the mid-1980s. He also loved to ski. He thought it would be fun to show up at his favorite ski resort in a convertible with its top down but in warm comfort, a desire that led him to invent the wind blocker. Carefully aimed heater vents helped the car achieve Koby's wish. The design was later imitated by Mercedes for its 1990 SL roadster and by almost all convertible manufacturers since.


1989 Nissan Maxima: Imports, All Grown Up

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Back in the 1980s a Japanese excise tax limited cars marketed there to a maximum of 66.5 inches wide. That hurt Japanese automakers' attempts to sell luxury cars in America, where, for example, the Acura Legend wasn't taken too seriously because it was smaller than luxury cars from Europe and the U.S. That changed with the 69-inch-wide 1989 Nissan Maxima, which led to the breakout of Japanese cars to worldwide sizes.
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Old 12-14-13, 11:48 PM   #2
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I would have to argue with the Jeep being the 1st mass produced unibody vehicle - maybe of the modern era of vehicles, but I'm positive that they weren't the 1st.

Lincoln always seemed to incorporate leading edge tech on their vehicles - hell the Mark VIII was the 1st car with LED tails and HID headlights, and it took the rest of the manufacturers a while to catch up. Really sad that they didn't keep it up.

I didn't know this about the RX7 Vert. My quest towards Top Always Down in my S2K owes Mr.Kobayakawa a debt of gratitude.
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Old 12-15-13, 12:56 AM   #3
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My old '61' Plymouth Valiant was a "monocoque" that rather than utilizing a separate frame, offered a welded unibody with a front sub-frame and stressed body panels to produce an exceptionally strong body. About ten minutes after I bought it in the summer of '63, while parked at the curb, a wreck in the intersection behind me caused a '63 Impala to rear-end my "new" car. Damages? The Chevy struck my left rear corner, its bumper collapsed and the engine was knocked off its mounts. My car suffered a bent taillight and a 3/4" twist to the body. Fortunately no one was hurt, and the damage to my car while apparently slight, was expensive. It took a couple of days on a frame rack to pull everything back into line, but it was fixed perfectly.

The Valiant/Lancer body of the '60's was still not the first unibody - that distinction goes to the Chrysler Airflow, introduced in 1934 - which was probably the first unibody design to reach full production. The unibody was recognized early as a way to attain light weight and superior structural strength, but the unusual design produced a market failure for the technologically outstanding Chrysler. The Cherokee would come along 50 years later.
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Old 12-15-13, 01:18 AM   #4
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Some good choices but these all are from 1983-2005. Thread title is a bit misleading, open to thinking older innovative cars
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Old 12-15-13, 01:32 AM   #5
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The 1986 Ford Taurus should be on top of this list. It changed directions for Ford and create a copying frenzy from everyone else.
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Old 12-15-13, 01:35 AM   #6
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Originally Posted by Fizzboy7 View Post
The 1986 Ford Taurus should be on top of this list. It changed directions for Ford and create a copying frenzy from everyone else.
Was just thinking of the Taurus.

I'd also like to add the Chrysler Minivan in 1984. Essentially killed the Station Wagon and forced other automakers to rush their own to market
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Old 12-15-13, 06:44 AM   #7
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Originally Posted by Fizzboy7 View Post
The 1986 Ford Taurus should be on top of this list. It changed directions for Ford and create a copying frenzy from everyone else.
I agree. And I would credit the 84 Audi 5000, not the Celica, with starting the trend towards curvelinear designs.
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Old 12-15-13, 09:59 AM   #8
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Originally Posted by Harbinger View Post
I would have to argue with the Jeep being the 1st mass produced unibody vehicle - maybe of the modern era of vehicles, but I'm positive that they weren't the 1st.

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The much-beloved Cherokee was the first large-production unibody truck. A new welding process kept this light body together for great on- and off-road dynamics and a stiff chassis, with much less weight and floppiness than competitors from Nissan, Toyota, Mitsubishi, Ford, and GM. Nissan was the next to follow suit with its Pathfinder, but not until 1996.

The Jeep Cherokee was the first unibody SUV, not first unibody vehicle.
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Old 12-15-13, 01:47 PM   #9
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The 90 300zxtt should of made that list and also the 1998 GS 400 both of the cars made a huge impact on the automotive world. I still remember seeing both of these cars.
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Old 12-15-13, 04:22 PM   #10
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One thing that put the unibody on the structural map was the advent of the the "jellybean" design. All of those compound curves gave the body tremendous strength - like an egg. My Valiant wasn't exactly attractive by today's design standards, but it was unique, and incredibly tough, thanks to all that curved sheetmetal.

Click the image to open in full size.

The damage to that Chevy that hit me totaled his car. I don't think there was a stronger point on the Valiant's body he could have hit - that corner rammed its way through his bumper valance, radiator, and hit his engine block with no more than a ding just below the taillight about the size of a silver dollar. Physics being rather unforgiving, the collision did rack the body a bit, but there was no lasting damage to the car . . . I drove it for four more years - all through college and grad school.
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Old 12-15-13, 04:54 PM   #11
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Originally Posted by Lil4X View Post
One thing that put the unibody on the structural map was the advent of the the "jellybean" design. All of those compound curves gave the body tremendous strength - like an egg. My Valiant wasn't exactly attractive by today's design standards, but it was unique, and incredibly tough, thanks to all that curved sheetmetal.

Click the image to open in full size.

The damage to that Chevy that hit me totaled his car. I don't think there was a stronger point on the Valiant's body he could have hit - that corner rammed its way through his bumper valance, radiator, and hit his engine block with no more than a ding just below the taillight about the size of a silver dollar. Physics being rather unforgiving, the collision did rack the body a bit, but there was no lasting damage to the car . . . I drove it for four more years - all through college and grad school.
I had a friend in high school whose dad had a Valiant with the old slant 6 engine. Interesting car for its time.
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Old 12-15-13, 05:22 PM   #12
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I had a friend in high school whose dad had a Valiant with the old slant 6 engine. Interesting car for its time.
I learned to drive on old Slant-Six Valiants.....one with a Torqueflite automatic and the other with a three-on-the-tree stick. My late father loved Slant-Six Valiants and Barracudas. The engine and three-speed automatic were tough as nails (the engine, supposedly, was designed and built to military standards of durability). But the rest of the car (body, interior/trim, hardware, manual transmisison, and especially the fade-prone non-power drum brakes, without the later-model disc-brake opton), was not impressive.

I'm undecided on the actual benefits of Valiant's unibody itself. True, it eliminated some squeaks and rattles by requiring fewer attachment nuts/bolts and produced less body-flex, which (along with the torsion front/leaf rear suspension) improved handling. But Chrysler had a number of quality-control problems with the unibodies of that era, they were sometimes rust-prone, and were often harder to repair after a significant accident than frame-rail vehicles,

Slant-six Plymouths, and Dodges, like the old Checker Marathons, were popular with taxi drivers for their economy/durability and long powertrain life....in an age when the typical Detroit engine showed serious signs of wear around 80-90K. Slant-sixes with automatics would often go well over 100K miles,
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Old 12-15-13, 05:37 PM   #13
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To be fair, I don't think that ANY of the designs on the OP's list changed the future of auto design as much as Sir Alec Issigonis's classic 1959 Mini. He was a Greek auto designer working for the British government and the Austin/Rover companies, and came up with the idea of a space-efficient shoebox design with a small four cylinder and transmission /final-drive unit mounted sideways under the short, stubby hood. The result, packaging-wise, was a stroke of genius, and much of the auto industry, eventually, went on to copy it in designs from economy-cars to luxury cars, crossover SUVs, minivans, and, of course, everyday family sedans. Today, for the majority of vehicle-designs, it is the accepted practice.
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Old 12-15-13, 08:55 PM   #14
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Originally Posted by ruizyouxie View Post
It took a couple of days on a frame rack to pull everything back into line, but it was fixed perfectly. [img]http://*******.com/12ce1.jpg[/img]
Welcome to CL. I see you are a new poster.

"Perfectly", as applies to unibody-repair, is a relative term. Metal bent in an accident undergoes fatigue and loses some of its trensile strength....and, of course, it loses more strength when bent back into its original shape on a frame-rail machine. Once or twice, though, doesn't necessarily make it unsafe.....how many times the metal can be bent back and forth and safely maintain at least adequate strength is determined by the engineers who designed it.
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Old 12-15-13, 09:14 PM   #15
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Originally Posted by Lil4X View Post
My old '61' Plymouth Valiant was a "monocoque" that rather than utilizing a separate frame, offered a welded unibody with a front sub-frame and stressed body panels to produce an exceptionally strong body. About ten minutes after I bought it in the summer of '63, while parked at the curb, a wreck in the intersection behind me caused a '63 Impala to rear-end my "new" car. Damages? The Chevy struck my left rear corner, its bumper collapsed and the engine was knocked off its mounts. My car suffered a bent taillight and a 3/4" twist to the body. Fortunately no one was hurt, and the damage to my car while apparently slight, was expensive. It took a couple of days on a frame rack to pull everything back into line, but it was fixed perfectly.
Sorry to hear that happened to your car...especially just after buying it. Also, see my unibody-repair comments just above to ruizyouxie...though I think he just copied that one line of your post.


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The Valiant/Lancer body of the '60's was still not the first unibody - that distinction goes to the Chrysler Airflow, introduced in 1934 - which was probably the first unibody design to reach full production.
The first unibody rear-engined air-cooled VW Beetle was developed in **** Germany just about that time (1934)...and, of course, went on to be one of the most successful designs in history, though, because of the war and other factors, didn't really get going until the late 1940s. The original Beetle took some cues from an even earlier rear-engined, air-cooled Czech design called the Tatra, but I don't know if the Tatra was unibody or not.

Preston Tucker also used unibody on the advanced but ill-fated Torpedo of 1947-48, but, of course, that car didn't make it into actual production outside of 51 samples.
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