If in the 70s of the last century electronics made giant steps, in the following decade it revolutionized society, culture and industry in developed countries and, gradually, also in developing countries. New technologies burst with force also in automotive sector, which has always been a land of great innovations, finding many fields of application. From engines, which are becoming more and more complex and efficient, to aerodynamics and safety, aspects that have never been so central in the design of new cars. Here, in rigorous chronological order, are seven inventions from the 1980s which, in various ways, marked a turning point.
The first with deactivable cylinders (1980). Incredible to say, but the first cylinder deactivation system dates back to 1905. A Boston company that lived too little to not be half-forgotten today, Sturtevant, developed with little luck a mechanism that allowed the driver to “switch off ”Three cylinders out of six while the car was running. Seventy-five years later, aided by the surge in fuel prices in the United States, the idea became topical again and was revived with the best of intentions by General Motors, which modified the Cadillac V8 engines of the 1981 range to allow it to run even at six and four-cylinder. The control electronics, however, were still rudimentary and the system, not working as well as hoped, was abandoned just a year after it went into production. Alfa Romeo had also been working on a similar device for some years, which between 1981 and 1983 built a dozen prototypes of Alfetta CEM for as many taxi drivers in Milan who undertook to provide the company with timely reports on the functioning of the engine. modular with electronic control. For reasons of cost, however, the “Electronic Engine Control” will never experience large-scale industrial use, equipping only 991 specimens of the Alfetta 2.0 and, in a simplified version, the Alfa 90 2.0 V6 Injection.
The first with remote central locking (1982). Opening and closing the car with a click from a distance is now the norm, but in the 1980s, before the advent of the Renault Fuego, cars with central locking did not have a remote control. The system, named “Plip” in honor of its French inventor, Paul Lipschutz, was based on a coded signal that was sent through a radio transmitter.
The first diesel with a particulate filter (1985). In the mid-1980s, as the production of the Mercedes W123 was drawing to a close, the house of the three-pointed star decided to equip the diesel engine of the 300D with a particulate filter. The device, mounted only on models sold in California, where the anti-pollution regulations were already very strict, was not very reliable and was soon abandoned. Fifteen years will pass before another European car manufacturer, the French Peugeot, will be able to design a filter capable of retaining the polluting particles present in the exhaust gases.
The first with the heated windshield (1985). The first experiments with a heated windshield on Ford Thunderbird and Lincoln Continental date back to 1974. The heating system, powered by a separate 110V alternator, proved unreliable and was soon discarded. The blue oval engineers returned to the drawing board in the early 1980s by developing the famous Quickclear rapid defroster, which by pressing a simple button on the dashboard allowed to remove frost, ice and snow from the windshield in seconds. The first model equipped with this technology, in 1985, was the Ford Granada for the European market.
The first with the retractable spoiler (1986). It is the Lancia Thema 8.32, which with its 215 HP Ferrari-derived 3.0 V8 remained famous for being the most powerful front-wheel drive sedan of the 1980s, the first production car with active aerodynamics. The rear spoiler, which in the rest position remained flush with the bodywork, to increase the aerodynamic load could be lifted by the driver by turning the rod on the right side of the steering wheel which also controlled the wipers.
The first with the fuel filler flap indicator (1989). Who has never failed to remember on which side the refueling cap of their car is located, perhaps in torrential rain in an uncovered service station? This is exactly what happened to the Ford designer Jim Moylan, who on the basis of that experience decided to enrich the Escort’s on-board instrumentation with a small arrow which, in correspondence with the fuel level indicator, indicated which side to approach the car from. petrol pump. A simple and very useful idea adopted in the same year also on the Mercury Tracer, but which subsequently did not find many applications.
The first with the automatic roll-bar (1989). In the 1980s, the concern of government authorities for the safety of the occupants of convertible cars in the event of an accident grew to the point that in the United States, for a certain period, it was even thought of banning their marketing. Some manufacturers, such as Porsche, responded with the refinement of the Targa configuration with detachable hardtop. Mercedes-Benz, on the other hand, has developed a solution capable of increasing the safety of the passenger compartment without weighing down the line of the newborn SL R129. The sturdiness of the windscreen pillars was joined by that of an innovative retractable roll-bar, which in the rest position housed in front of the compartment that housed the hood. Virtually invisible because perfectly integrated into the bodywork, the steel bar was activated by snapping upwards in just 0.3 seconds as soon as a special electronic control unit “read” an anomalous extension of the rear shock absorbers, a signal of a possible overturning.
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