James discovers what happened to the cars of the future that we were promised and how the petrol engine came to dominate the 20th century.
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This is a model of KITT,
from the 1980s TV series Knight Rider with the Hoff.
And this is the 1966 jet-powered Batmobile.
The fantasy cars of TV and cinema
were formed by our dreams of the car of the future.
We liked the idea of a car that would talk to us,
that knew where it was going, that would fly
and we wondered if it could actually drive itself.
Did anything come of the wild imaginings
of the creators of these things?
Did any of it become reality to filter down
to the real cars of the people?
This week, innovation.
Making an impression where it counts.
It's doing terrible things to my testicles.
A funny man lends me his funny car.
-So it would've made a futuristic noise and a great smell.
This is the hardest thing I've ever done.
All this, plus...a bird.
Here's a bird.
'This week, before I deal with the people's dreams,
'I want to start by talking about me for a change.'
This is a BMW i3, an electric car.
It's my car.
If you haven't driven a modern electric car, it is worth a go,
because it's mainly like driving a car, there's no gearbox,
because you don't need one and some of the controls
are slightly different, but it does feel strangely enlightened.
'And as it's my car, it's even getting to know me a little.'
I can have a conversation with it, of sorts.
-Phonebook. Please say a name.
-Did you mean world's biggest...
Yes, I did, but I don't really want to talk to Jeremy, do I? No, cancel.
There you go.
Apart from sharing my opinions, this car, like many of its rivals,
is bristling with user-friendly hi-tech.
And like all other electric cars, it's powered by a simple battery,
without the need for valves, pistons or gears.
# Just the two of us... #
You plug it in, and you plug in everything these days -
your phone, your tablet, your toothbrush.
Your ladyshave, whatever.
I don't have a ladyshave, I just know that you recharge them.
KNIGHT RIDER THEME TUNE
'It's simple, yet sophisticated.
'It'll even park itself...
'while I'm doing my legs.'
I'm not touching the pedals. I'm not touching the steering wheel.
It's doing it by itself!
Are you watching?
It's just going to go forwards a bit and then...
It's good, isn't it?
'Electric vehicles like this are at the forefront
'of a 21st-century battle
'to decide how our cars will be powered in the future.
'And although rivals include the fuel cells, solar energy,
'biofuel and liquid gas, I quite fancy its chances.'
Smooth, quiet, clean.
Or is it?
Let's go back 100 years or so.
Here is an early car from 1909. It's a Baker.
It looks a bit like a horse-drawn carriage
and, if you look inside the interior,
it's described by the current owner as a bit frou-frou,
or rather like a Victorian brothel.
But here's the interesting thing -
We modern people like to think that our electric dreams
are a product of our hi-tech world.
But in large parts of America in 1900,
the electric car was the bestselling car of the people.
It was as fashionable as top hats...
'But, just like today, it wasn't clear which propulsion method
'would drive the car of the future.
'And the electric car faced some high-pressure competition.'
This is a Stanley Model 740D Roadster,
and as you can probably guess from the chuffing sound,
Right, now this is like a car,
in that it has a steering wheel in front of me,
a rather vague one, I've got to be honest.
Everything else about it is quite baffling.
The pedals are all wrong, there's lots of lovely instruments,
but they're talking about mysterious things.
We've got fuel system pressure, boiler pressure,
cylinder lubrication, oil flow, all sorts of things.
Hang on a minute, open the regulator.
Climb this hill.
So all this stuff, this isn't steam punk, this is actually steam.
A steam car works in pretty much the same way as any other steam engine.
Water is boiled in, well, a boiler, by kerosene burners and then steam -
and I mean proper, superheated steam at 300 degrees plus,
not the poncey vapour that comes out of your kettle -
that is forced into cylinders, where it pushes pistons along.
That then turns a shaft, which drives the wheels.
That's all we've ever wanted out of all these sources of motive power,
a rotating shaft. That's it.
The brakes don't work, the steering is terrible,
and you do worry that it's going to blow up.
But, for the people of the early 20th century,
steam power was a trusted friend.
Steam had been around since the 18th century, it had industrialised us,
it powered mill engines and mine pumps and, of course,
it gave us the miracle of the railways.
Steam was understood.
A steam engine will really run on just about anything that will burn.
They can go very, very wrong and become very, very sloppy
and they still work.
Steam power, it seemed, was not only the past but also the future.
In America, sales began to outstrip electric cars.
But coming up fast in their rear-view mirrors was a rival system
destined to rule the world.
This is a Mercedes-Benz AMG DT.
It has a four litre V8, developing 510 horsepower.
Is that a lot? It is quite a lot, actually.
It does 193mph,
goes from 0 to 60 in under four seconds. It's amazing.
And it runs on petrol.
As indeed did the world's first true car.
Back in 1885, when Karl Benz ran the engine of his Motorwagen
for the first time, he described the sound it made
as "the music of the future."
He was right, wasn't he?
Because if the music of the 20th century has a dominant note,
it's that of the internal combustion engine.
'And that's odd,
'because the internal combustion engine is rather demanding.'
The petrol engine in this car has to have sophisticated electronics,
it has to have an oil pump, it has to have lubrication,
it has to have valves going up and down and springs
and it has to have a gearbox, blah, blah, blah.
So, why? Why have we ended up relying so much on this thing
when an electric motor in particular is so simple?
The answer is not to be found in the engine,
but at the other end of the car.
In here is a petrol tank holding around 80, 85 litres of fuel.
Not a very big volume, to be honest.
That much beer would only keep the production crew
of this programme going for about an hour and a half, two hours.
But as petrol, it will drive this high-performance car
all the way from my house in London
right up into the Highlands of Scotland.
That is very energy dense.
Fossil fuels were a great gift from nature.
If that were to be a battery,
it would have to be about three or four times the size of the car
to do the same job.
The energy that a few gallons of oil can yield
would send cars far across the world.
And filling stations were quick to spring up everywhere.
By contrast, national electricity grids simply didn't exist,
leaving the electric car confined to the city.
But what about the people's favourite, steam?
Railways had conquered the globe. Surely the steam car would prevail.
The steam car of the early 20th century
was doomed by several factors.
Ford's moving production line meant that his Model T,
his car for the great multitude, came down in price constantly,
so by the time this car came out, the Model T could be yours
for not much more than a 10th of the price.
And the Model T, of course,
as well as making the car an affordable proposition,
also cemented internal combustion as the accepted way.
and Ford's mass production methods, then,
would decisively tip the balance.
By the 1920s, the battle was as good as settled.
The petrol age had dawned and its god was the piston engine.
The image of an engine is quite important
to the 20th century iconography, I'd say.
Blokes in particular will stand around looking at the engine
of a car as if it will inform them of something.
It's a bit like the way they are with weapons,
it's because they know it empowers them.
Empowers them enormously.
Look at this. ENGINE REVS
I feel empowered.
And there are a lot of people in the world who say that oil is a menace,
it will destroy us, it will ruin the atmosphere
and destroy wildlife and all the rest of it.
In which case, I say, let's put it cars like this
and get rid of it.
Cos then it won't be a problem any more, will it?
Clean or not, oil had got us hooked
and had given us the mobility we craved.
And, while engines slowly grew more powerful and reliable,
the car itself became a catalyst for rapid change.
Towns, cities, even nations were built around its requirements.
-Roads are getting better.
Many highways have been designed that eliminate dangers and delays.
But, by the early '50s, there was a new kid on the block,
leaving the piston engine trailing wistfully in its slipstream.
to the jet age.
MUSIC: Richard III by Supergrass
The jet engine would advance aviation in one giant leap.
But no-one would be daft enough to suggest a jet-powered car.
-This must be one of the world's rarest cars.
-I think it is.
-Certainly one of the world's rarest production cars.
-I think it is.
ENGINE WHOOSHES It's a great noise though, isn't it?
-It must have seemed very futuristic then.
-It still does.
MUSIC: Apache by The Shadows
'This is the world's last working example
'of the Chrysler turbine car.
'And, if you haven't already guessed,
'it belongs to the superstar comedian Jay Leno.'
The car is 100% original.
Most jet cars of the period,
like, General Motors had two or three jet cars,
and they had the bubble top. And they looked like fighter planes.
I mean, the jet engine itself was still a relatively new
and remarkable thing. Most people still didn't fly anywhere,
so to have a car come down your street in your small town
that made the same noise as a fighter aircraft, that's...
'The car works by sucking in air to mix with a fine spray of fuel,
'which, when ignited, drives a turbine,
'sending power to the wheels.
'Only 55 were ever built.'
I mean, this does look outrageous to us now,
because this is a bit of very flamboyant 1960s American design.
-But this would have been
-a mainstream-looking car, wouldn't it?
You could have built this car with a V8 engine
-and it would have sold.
They weren't trying to propose that the gas turbine car
was an exotic, rarefied supercar or anything like that.
It was going to be the way your normal family car was powered.
-That was the idea, wasn't it?
-The turbine car is not a special car
designed for limited types of performance.
This is a car for people.
For doctors, housewives, schoolteachers.
Average people with average,
as well as extreme, driving requirements.
'Chrysler wasn't sure how a huge jet that could generate temperatures
'in excess of 1,500 degrees Fahrenheit
'would perform in a family car.
'So they loaned them to brave members of the public
'to try out for three months.'
Imagine, in this litigious society,
having the general public do your R&D work.
-You just... You give it to some guy.
-"Oh, tell us what happens." You know?
"Oh, I've burned to a crisp." "Well, sorry, mate."
-The point of trying something like this is to see what happens.
It's not a demonstration. You're not saying, "This is the future."
You're saying, "Maybe this is the future,
"but we won't know unless we try it."
'I'm desperate to see under the bonnet
'and to soften Jay up, so that he lets me drive it.'
Here she is. This is all air filter right here.
-This is what keeps it quiet. They're massive things.
-Yeah. They are huge.
Well, the programme ran for a long time. It started in the early '50s.
And in '54, they drove a turbine car, disguised as a regular car,
across the country. So the idea was to come up with something
that could get the job done
and still be reasonably, er...
..sensible in price.
'The turbine, however, could not compete
'with the cheap and reliable piston engine.'
This was hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars more.
And plus, the V8 had been...
pretty much perfected.
It is interesting actually, the V8 engine, well, the piston engine,
is actually a bit like the burger, cos you have other...
We started to eat Japanese food in Britain and America.
And we had Chinese food
and we experimented with Indian and wholemeal.
-But the burger doesn't go away, doesn't it?
-millions of burgers every day.
-You'll always have the burger.
The V8 is a burger.
'Now that I've managed to subtly shift Jay's attention
'onto the best baps in LA, it's time to hit him with the big one.'
This is a question one man shouldn't ask another,
I know, but...
can I have a go in your turbine car?
It's a bit unorthodox, but...
-..I guess it'll be OK.
Thanks, buddy. We won't tell anybody.
Right, quick situation report.
I'm doing 3,300rpm.
It's difficult to get your head round, isn't it?
-Listen to that!
The great advantage to this car was it could run on any fuel
that burned with oxygen.
But when they took it to Mexico, they ran it on tequila.
When they took it to France,
they filled the tank with Chanel No.5.
-Quite pleasant driving around.
-So that's actually true?
-I always thought that was a bit of a myth.
-That is true. No, no, no.
It's like a car full of hookers going down the road
with Chanel No.5. "What's going on?" You know?
So it would have made a futuristic noise and a great smell?
I can't imagine why didn't catch on.
'There was one fuel, however, that the turbine car couldn't handle.
'It was, ironically,
'the very fuel that had kick-started the petrol age in the first place.'
The disadvantage was the turbine could not run on lead,
so you couldn't fill it up at the normal gas station,
cos the only gas available in America at the time was leaded gas.
-Right, so the only thing it couldn't tolerate was the lead?
Cos that would damage the blade. That's a shame.
It's one of those things that,
given a few slight tweaks to history,
it might have worked.
-We might all have been driving something like turbine cars.
MUSIC: Tequila by The Champs
So, like the early electric car,
thwarted by an electricity grid that wasn't there,
the turbine car came just too soon for the advent of unleaded petrol.
In the end, Chrysler recalled and crushed
almost all of these experimental cars.
# Tequila! #
But surely innovation would be the way to go?
Especially for carmakers facing slow-off-the-mark competitors.
There now follows a tale of two sports car makers -
British and German.
One of them would plug away bloody-mindedly at outmoded ideas
about car design from the middle of the 20th century
and keep redesigning the same basic car over and over again
for decade after decade.
But the other, the other one was an innovator,
experimenting with new materials, lightweight design,
flexible, small volume manufacturing.
It would develop compact, powerful engines of its own
and push at the boundaries of contemporary styling
and even contemporary colour schemes.
'One would go on to greatness.
'The other would disappear.
'And you can probably guess how this goes.'
Or can you?
Because the radical freethinkers
were TVR of Blackpool.
And the stuck-ists were Porsche.
It's in 1963 that things become interesting,
because that's when Porsche revealed this -
the first of the 911s.
Now, Porsche would go on to make many different cars, of course,
but this is the one that would cement their reputation
over five decades and counting.
'For a new sports car, the 911 was already pretty old-fashioned.
'Not least the air-cooled rear-mounted engine -
'a layout that dated back to the 1930s.'
This was thought to be the right way to do it.
Engine at the back, so the drivetrain is simple.
Nice, a lot of space inside
and a more aerodynamic nose.
This layout is also...
What would be the right word?
Because the engine is right at the back, behind the rear wheels,
it acts as a sort of pendulum when you're going around bends.
This is at the root of the 911's reputation for handling trickiness.
'But what about the boy racers from Blackpool?'
This is a 1965 TVR Griffith.
I know what you're thinking -
you're thinking, "Here he goes again!
"He's going to kick the wheels off
"another great British motoring institution."
I liked TVR.
TVR are a bit left-field.
TVR were a laugh.
But, look, we're in the same year.
Porsche has given us a rather archaic and very expensive car
that does 131mph
and takes over eight seconds to get to 60.
The TVR does 160mph.
It gets to 60 in less than half the time
and it costs less.
'TVR were all about new thinking, new design
'and affordable power and performance.
'Their aim was to appeal directly
'to the young male driver of the time.
'And to do away with the old fuddy-duddy notions.
'Like clothes for its sales team, evidently.'
Blackpool uber alles!
'The cars were certainly thrilling,
'but TVR would be in a permanent state of revolution.
'There was the Tasmin, the 400, the Griffith, the Cerbera,
'the Tuscan and the outrageous Sagaris.
'Models came thick and fast,
'costing the company a fortune in start-up costs.'
Meanwhile, boring old Porsche
just continue to make the 911.
I mean, the wheel arches swelled a bit,
the engine got a bit bigger, but nothing really changed.
It took them until 1987
to fit a decent gearbox, for Pete's sake.
This one, in the 1964 car...
is rubbish. And I mean rubbish.
I can't even find it half the time.
'Finally, in 1993, it was completely restyled.
'But it came out looking exactly like a 911,
'with the engine at the back.'
I mean, this has been going on for decades.
Other people have realised the folly of the rear-engined car
and thought, "No, actually, we were wrong about that.
"It needs to be in the middle or at the front."
But Porsche would just go,
IN GERMAN ACCENT: "Nein, nein.
"Nein, should be at the back.
"We will stick with it and make it work."
And they have done, all credit to them,
but why not just...
..put it up there!
'TVR may have had the engine right,
'but that was the only part of the business plan that worked.
'The constant chopping and changing lead to confusion,
'profit warnings and a string of failed attempts to revive the name.
'The result was chaos.'
TVR folklore is a bit too good to check, to be honest.
It includes stories about windows falling out,
about the owner's dogs taking a bite out of a polystyrene styling model
and then the results being incorporated in the final car.
And then there's the one about the workforce scrawling rude messages
about each other on the bare glass fibre body works on the inside.
So that, one day, when the car came to be repaired or restored,
you'd take a piece of trim off and then, yes,
you'd discovered that Yozza was indeed a right...
'Porsche, on the other hand, would spend over half a century
'cautiously evolving the 911.
'And earning billions in profit.
'Today, a 911 is one of the world's most coveted artefacts.
'Who'd have thought it?'
Just have a look at the astonishing variety that TVR produced
over the years. Model after model.
Modification after modification, ever bigger engines.
Incredible, dinosaur-inspired paint schemes.
And, if you went back to the 1960s,
the other end of history's telescope, you would say,
"Yes, TVR is going to win this one.
"Not Porsche, with the dreary old 911.
"TVR with all its innovation, all its soul, all its spirit."
And yet, nothing has been made by TVR
'So, extreme innovation,
'as Chrysler and TVR discovered,
'could be a risky venture.
'But it's nowhere near as dicey as copying that rear engine idea
'and doing it really badly.
'This is the Chevrolet Corvair,
'a car that paved the way for some of the most important
'safety innovations in history of the car.
'Although, that wasn't Chevrolet's intention.'
This is actually the second generation of the Corvair
and it is quite a pleasant, nicely sorted car,
but it wasn't always that way.
MUSIC: Bonanza Theme
'The first generation Corvair
'was deftly launched in 1960 by Michael Landon...'
Hi, I'm Mike Landon.
'..from Bonanza and The Little House on the Prairie.
'The trouble was, the real cowboys weren't the ones behind the wheels.'
That earlier car had a couple of horrific design flaws.
One was that it had the obvious rear weight bias
that you get with a rear-engined car.
But it also didn't have a much-needed antiroll bar
on the front suspension.
And that was because that would have added a bit of cost,
so the management at Chevrolet thought...
"Well, we'll just leave it off."
'As a result, the handling was a nightmare, especially on bends.
'But, rather than fix the problem, Chevrolet simply improvised.'
They addressed this, to some extent, by fiddling with the tyre pressures.
They actually recommended tyre pressures outside of the limits
advised by the tyre manufacturer.
'And this cavalier approach meant that Chevrolet
'would start losing their customers...permanently.'
Under certain conditions going round corners, one of the rear wheels
on the rather crude swingarm suspension could tuck under
and you would suffer sudden and catastrophic oversteer.
And if you're not familiar with these technical terms,
oversteer is when you go through the hedge backwards.
'Things got so bad that even the ads for this deathtrap
'seemed to be offering you a one-way trip to the afterlife.'
-There's a car down there
that can make you feel you're way up here.
'By 1965, Chevrolet faced over 100 separate lawsuits
'from the Corvair's victims.
'But still they did nothing.
'Until one man decided to take them,
'and the entire motor industry, to task.'
Now I must bring up the most famous, or perhaps notorious,
bit of consumer campaigning in the whole of history.
Not just the history of the car.
It was the publication in 1965
of Ralph Nader's Unsafe At Any Speed.
Now, Ralph Nader believed that the American carmakers
knew about many of the dangerous failings of their cars,
but couldn't be bothered to deal with them.
He talked about all sorts of things,
from sharp edges on interiors,
to gearboxes that could be pushed into reverse
while you were going along and so on and so on.
But, most famously, he addressed the issue of the Corvair.
'And, with road deaths from all vehicles
'topping 47,000 in the US alone,
'Nader had the people's overwhelming support.
-When the New York motor show opened this Easter,
the city's doctors paraded with placards of protest
about the lack of safety features on the new models from Detroit.
What he effectively investigated was legislation covering the design,
especially the safety features, of cars.
For the first time, he forced the authorities to take an interest
in what car manufacturers were getting up to.
'As a result, the Corvair, and many other lethal cars, were modified.
'So it's thanks to Ralph that I can happily drive this one
'around this bend without the need
'for my emergency pair of brown trousers.'
What was becoming clear was that the honeymoon of our love affair
with the car was coming to an end.
It would no longer be allowed
to blunder through the world unchallenged.
'But the biggest safety innovation of them all was made by a man
'from a far-off country
'abusing eggs from his company's fridge.
'And what he'd achieve would save more lives
'than any single innovation in the history of motoring.'
The year 1959 saw a great leap forward
in the safety of a car's occupants.
Something that is reckoned to reduce the risk of death in a collision
by at least 50%.
And you ought to be able to guess what it is,
because you can see it in this picture.
Yes, man on the sofa in his underpants,
eating the takeaway pizza.
It is the safety belt.
Most specifically, the three-point safety belt.
And this car, the Volvo Amazon,
was the first car to have such a thing fitted as standard.
'Volvo's seatbelt pioneer, Nils Bohlin, thought long and hard
'about where the straps should go.
'And he'd worked out that the three-point system was the best way
'of comfortably restraining the human body during an impact.'
The inventor took a very philanthropic view of his idea
and decided not to patent it,
but to make it freely available to all carmakers.
'But, like the stubborn carmakers
'who refused to iron out a dangerous fault,
'many normal people were against an invention
'that could save their lives.'
MUSIC: Sinnerman by Nina Simone
Weirdly, there was a lot of resistance to these seat belts.
I can remember it, actually, as a small boy.
People saying that they believed they would be thrown clear
in an accident and that's what would save them.
But, actually, it is a very, very simple idea
that is reckoned to have saved over a million lives already.
'Volvo's gift to the world was a generous one, but it also created
'a new marketing strategy that the people's car hadn't known before.'
The standard seatbelt was the beginning of a peculiar initiative
by Volvo, which is...
the idea of selling safety.
Volvo would go on to produce rubber bumpers, crumple zones,
all sorts of stuff that people liked.
'Good for the people and great for Volvo's sales figures.'
MUSIC: My Silver Lining by First Aid Kit
All credit to Volvo -
they have stuck to their guns, because, fairly recently
they announced that, by 2020,
no-one would be killed in a Volvo.
That's a hell of a claim, isn't it?
Volvos invention came just at the right time.
'As the '60s progressed, car ownership was mushrooming
'and that meant rocketing accident rates.
'Across the world, the car needed more space.'
Even when the car was still quite a new idea,
there were people who realised there would, one day, be too many of them.
Henry Ford and Glenn Curtis,
who wasn't really so much to do with cars, he was an aviation pioneer.
And these people said,
"One day, the car and the aeroplane will be combined.
"You can be sure of it," said Henry Ford.
-Inside seven minutes flat,
you've got yourself an all-metal motorcar.
In America, cars are airborne.
Over here, it's only the price that's up in the clouds.
And it sort of makes sense, doesn't it?
The idea that your car would also fly.
Here is some footage of me flying a flying car
in an earlier life.
OVER RADIO: I am actually flying the aerocar.
How about that?
Hold your hands up in the air, so they know I'm doing it.
There you go.
'And, by the way, if you're expecting me to'
pull back on the stick and take off,
you're going to be disappointed.
This isn't a flying car.
'It's a swimming one.'
That's very rough.
Is it afloat? It's not quite afloat.
'At least the production team SAID this was a swimming car,
'but maybe it's an elaborate joke for YouTube.'
I am a boat.
UPBEAT BAND MUSIC
'I do believe that, in the future, we will all take to the skies,
'but back in 1961, they set their sights a little lower.'
-This looks a perfectly normal motorcar, but what its name?
This is the land animal that has taken to life afloat.
Two-way traffic on a wavy highway,
where there's no such thing as a speed cop
or a hold-up at the lights.
'You might be taking your life in your hands getting it afloat,
'but the Amphicar is actually as forward-thinking as the car plane.
'Waterways predate tarmac roads, so why not use them?
'To explain further, here's a flashback.'
Here I am earlier
and here is, basically, how it works.
The top half is a car.
The bottom half is sort of a boat, but it's more carbon boat, really.
It has all the things you'd expect of a car -
headlights, indicators, a steering wheel,
a perfectly conventional four-speed transmission and so on.
You drive it like a car. You're unaware of it being a boat as well.
But if we go to the back...
things are a bit more interesting.
You can disengage the gearbox and engage a separate gearbox,
which then drives...
Wait for it.
Can you guess what it's going to be?
Two propellers down here.
And then it becomes a boat and it steers with the front wheels,
because a rudder would make it a bit too boat-like
for people who aren't familiar with boats.
By making it steer with the front wheels,
it still retains some car-like qualities on the water.
You have two bilge pumps and, of course,
the exhaust pipe has to be up there, otherwise it would be underwater.
And, finally, when you're on the water...
..you do, of course, have to display your colours.
Which are here and that inserts in...
We're ready to sail.
'To demonstrate the Amphicar's
'ahead-of-its-time practical capabilities,
'I've asked someone to meet me
'at Birmingham's most important tourist destination -
'While I navigate the canal system,
'my friend and personal stylist, Rory,
'will tackle the rush hour traffic.
'Rory's never been to Birmingham before.
'He has no map or sat-nav.
'He has only his favourite mix tape for company.'
MUSIC: Boom, Boom, Boom, Boom!! by Vengaboys
-Ooh! There's third gear.
'The Amphicar takes its engine from the Triumph Herald,
'which is what we've given Rory to drive,
'to give him a fair chance at pipping me to the pint'.
MUSIC: Nice Weather for Ducks by Lemon Jelly
# Look, all the ducks are swimming in the water... #
'And, as the scorching British summer rolls in,
'a dip sounds like just the thing.'
Just about every town or city in the world has a river,
because that's why towns and cities are where they are.
That goes back, you know, to the Dark Ages.
And, since there's no requirement to move coal
and wood and jute up and down the canals any more,
we might as well use them for commuting.
'And, anyway, it's no wetter than anywhere else in Birmingham.'
HORNS BEEP LOUDLY
I thought there was a big junction in Birmingham
that avoided all the traffic.
"Oh, yeah, you go to Birmingham, there's a big Spaghetti Junction,
"there's no traffic."
It's all I've been doing, just sitting still the whole time.
'Not a problem for the Amphicar.'
-Just the job for a Sunday cruise
down the river and the thing is, once you're waterborne,
you really begin to believe that 9mph is quite a speed,
because, look, that Amphicar is travelling at 9mph precisely.
They do say that the average speed of traffic during rush hour
in a big British city is, typically, about 8mph.
And I'm doing four knots, which is sort of 4.5mph,
but I'm going a fairly direct route.
Come on. Go! Go!
Let's go, guys!
-And you feel you're really moving.
'And it's not just congestion solving
'where the Amphicar has its advantages.'
All right. Here we go. Hamstead, straight on.
All I have is a paper map of the canals, but it's quite simple.
To be honest, having turned right under that bridge,
now I just keep going until I get to a canal T-junction.
Then I go left.
'Sir Isaac Newton said that every action
'has an equal and opposite reaction.'
Come on. Let's go, let's go!
'The Amphicar car provides the equal and opposite reaction to road rage.'
Here's a bird.
Look at that.
You wouldn't normally get that close, would you?
Did you see him?
That is absolutely superb.
Morning, afternoon, whatever it is.
Time is of no consequence.
Right, and there is my endpoint, which is the pub,
so now just mooring up.
Can you give me a small hand to moor my car, sir?
-Allow me to buy you a pint.
'So there you have it - the Amphicar.
'A great idea that offered an answer to congestion
'and made the people happy.
'As for Rory,
'he did finally reach the pub,
'although he appeared to be legless by the time he got there.'
-Are you all right?
-Yeah, I'm good, thanks.
'Despite its quirky brilliance,
'the Amphicar was not a worldwide success.
'Maybe that was because, in America's wide open spaces,
'congestion was not an issue.
'Over there, the people still wanted speed, style and muscle.'
MUSIC: China Grove by the Doobie Brothers
This car is the Series 2 Dodge Charger RT.
And it kicks butt...
# When the sun comes up on a sleepy little town... #
'This 7.2 litre, 440 horsepower monster
'was a shameless celebration of the petrol age,
'the US auto industry and America itself.'
It was a bit of a golden era for massive cars with massive engines.
And it was all...
Well, it was rather fantastic.
MUSIC: Sweet Home Alabama by Lynyrd Skynyrd
'The Dodge Charger was a perfect car for late '60s America -
'a time when cheap oil flowed like running water.'
In 1968, gas - that's petrol -
in the US was typically 34 cents a gallon.
Now, that sounds cheap, of course, because it was a long time ago.
Actually, it was quite cheap even at the time.
And there was probably a good reason for that.
Detroit depended on the oil companies to support them.
The oil companies depended on Detroit to make a car like this
that would use a lot of their stuff up.
So everybody was happy.
Official fuel consumption figures for the Charger RT -
ten miles to the gallon, which means, roughly,
as I go past these nodding donkeys,
each one is, effectively, refuelling this car.
If more than three of them pack up, we're doomed.
I'm going to give it the berries. Hold on.
Thank you. And I'll have some more, please.
'Well over half a century since the dawn of the petrol age,
'oil was still king and the piston engines was still providing
'the soundtrack for the world.'
This car comes from a high point in the Detroit motor industry's story.
A time when all that mattered was the pursuit of power and majesty
and it didn't matter what was consumed in achieving it -
how much fuel it burned, how much raw material was used,
how much it weighed, how much space it took up, how much noise it made,
how many instruments you've got on the dashboard.
And here is a measure of just how profligate
the American motor car had become.
The average size of the four-leaf clover highway interchange
being built on American roads at the same time as this car
occupied the same area as the mediaeval port of Dubrovnik.
And you can take one down the pub and have it on me.
'The muscle car, like Detroit itself,
'had become an American icon.
'And, like all true American heroes,
'it was eulogised in song and on-screen.'
MUSIC: General Lee by Johnny Cash
# I'm a charger
# That charges through the night
# I'm thunder on the highway
# Looking bad, bad, bad. #
If you were a regular watcher of The Dukes of Hazzard,
you will know that the Charger RT -
RT is for road/track, by the way -
it could fly.
Well, it could take off, at any rate - it wasn't so good at landing,
which is why you never really saw that bit in the programme.
Now, the production budget for The Dukes of Hazzard was,
presumably, quite small, because they couldn't even stretch
to full-length trousers for Daisy,
but they did manage to find enough money
to get through quite a few Dodge Chargers.
In fact, estimate for the number of Dodge Chargers
consumed by The Dukes of Hazzard
ranges from two to seven...
'Of course, America's gleeful waste
'and conspicuous consumption couldn't last.
'The carefree days of "howdy, pardner"
'would soon be ended by their Saudi partner.'
MUSIC: Gimme Shelter by The Rolling Stones
'In 1973, after yet another squabble in the Middle East,
'the Saudis and others banned oil sales to America.
'Even when the embargo was lifted,
'petrol prices stayed high
'and cars like the Charger were left gasping.
'And, so, people began exploring cheaper and cleaner alternatives
'to their beloved gasoline.
'And that reopened the door to some old thinking.
'Remember the Baker Electric we saw earlier?
'Let's see how that idea was coming along.'
It's bad news, I'm afraid.
By the 1980s, battery technology had not really moved on
from the state it was in back when the Baker was built.
The big revolution that was brought about by mobile phones
and laptops and that sort of thing, that hadn't happened yet.
And, anyway, electric power was still for milk floats
and meals on wheels delivery vans and nutty professors.
So an electric car of the people would have to be very light
to make the most of the feeble battery technology of the time.
It would also have to be simple, it would have to be very cheap
and it would have to be cool, because being cool
was very important in making a new idea catch on.
-Imagine a vehicle that needs no petrol. Just a battery.
'Yes, in 1985, that height of cool was hoped to be achieved by this.'
ELECTRONIC FANFARE PLAYS
-The Sinclair C5.
It's a new power in personal transport.
Well, here it is.
Six foot of plastic with foot pedals and an electric motor,
not unlike the one that drives your washing machine.
This is brilliant.
I like it.
'The Sinclair C5 wasn't actually fitted with a washing machine motor,
'although it was made in a factory that built them.
'The 12-volt motor it did have could completely burn out
'on even a mild hill, though,
'so it was fitted with these user-unfriendly pedals, too.
'It might make you look like a kamikaze reject from a Tron movie,
'but it was actually the product of some incredibly forward thinking
'by its genius inventor - Sir Clive Sinclair.'
It's ideal for shopping, for, you know, going to the office,
going to the station, going to school.
Any relatively short range trip.
'He was so proud of his baby that he even named after himself.
'That C stands for Clive.
'Yes, it's the Clive 5.
'I told you it was cool.'
Sir Clive Sinclair gave many of us our first pocket calculator.
He also introduced my generation to the marvels of computing,
with the ZX81 and the ZX Spectrum, and they were brilliant.
He was a clever man.
Sorry, I mean he IS a clever man.
Cos, despite this, he's still alive.
'In fact, he wasn't just smart,
'the man was damn near clairvoyant.'
I believe firmly that all cars
ought to be electric by the next century.
Back in 1985, when this was launched,
the environment hadn't yet become a mainstream force in politics
and fashion, so this was very modern thinking.
'There were plenty of advantages.
'It was under 400 quid and five miles on this thing
'would only relieve you of one penny in running costs.
'You didn't have to tax or insure it
'and you didn't need an MOT or number plates.
'Plus, if you were a feckless youth, it got even better.'
Strictly speaking, the C5 is not a car.
In the eyes of a law, it's an electric tricycle,
which means anybody aged 14 or over can drive it.
Ride it. No, drive it. Whatever you do.
'For some reason, though,
'not everyone was thrilled about the idea of unlicensed kids
'hammering around the highways on a plastic tricycle.
I'm very unhappy
that it's being sold
without essential safety equipment.
I wouldn't like to let my children out in it.
-Are you happy at the thought of 14-year-olds
-taking this onto the road?
There are one or two other issues.
Because you are so low, a lot of people don't see you.
They only feel you as they run over you.
Your head is at about the same height as a lorry's exhaust
there's no reverse gear. Did I mention that?
It is catastrophically slow as well.
But it's quite good fun.
Because it's so small, the sense of terror at 50mph
is like nothing I've ever experienced before.
Oh, for God's sake!
Engaging pedals as well.
I can see why it's got the little drain holes in the seat.
I thought that was to let the rain out.
DRAMATIC MUSIC CONTINUES
LORRY HORN BEEPS Yes, all right!
LORRY HORN BEEPS REPEATEDLY
Oh, come on!
Agh, I can go in this lane, cos I'm technically a bicycle!
Stick that in your tipper!
HE LAUGHS MENACINGLY
'So forward thinking alone, alas, just wasn't enough.'
-The critics say it's not safe.
-The C5 has been a flop.
Whoever brought out that...
well, wants putting up a wall and shooting.
'And the reveal of the roofless C5's wet weather solution
'was the final nail in the coffin.'
-Accessories to make the C5 an all-weather vehicle
have been designed.
Waterproof side screens fit on front and rear wheel arches.
The protective cape with a hood...
'Even the actor can't keep a straight face.'
-Eight months later, retailers have slashed prices
of the C5 trike to try and shift their stocks.
THEY SHOUT Keep going.
'To try and keep his much-abused electric dream alive,
'Sir Clive even sold his computer business
'to that bloke off The Apprentice.'
-It was confirmed today that the assembly line
has reverted to producing washing machines.
'The Clive 5 was not alive.'
So, in the end, everybody suffered,
because Sir Clive lost a load of his money,
we didn't get the low-cost, electric urban transport solution we wanted,
and we also ended up with Alan Sugar barking at us from television.
What a bum deal!
One of the criticisms regularly levelled at Sir Clive Sinclair
and his Clive 5 is that he never did any market research.
Well, good for him, I say, because market research
wouldn't have given us the home computer,
or television, for that matter.
Progress, as George Bernard Shaw once said,
"depends on the unreasonable man".
If he'd done any market research, he'd never have built this
and then we wouldn't know what a daft idea it is.
THAT is progress.
The C5 was just a stepping stone.
It's a learning exercise.
But what it leads to is very much more important.
'And, fast forward 30 years, and we appear to have solved
'the feeble battery issue that bedevilled Clive's invention.
'Today, there are electric vehicles out there
'that have side-stepped the battery issue altogether.'
Now, this is something I approve of immensely.
It's a hydrogen fuel cell car.
It's the Hyundai ix35.
It's actually the first truly commercially available
fuel cell car in the world.
It will cost you £53,000, but new stuff is expensive.
Remember the first video players, the first digital cameras.
A few rich people have to buy them,
then the idea will catch on and we can all have them.
Then it becomes a car of the people.
Anyway, look, the interesting thing about a fuel cell car
is that it's really an electric car.
The wheels are driven by an electric motor.
But, instead of having a battery that has to be recharged,
it has a hydrogen fuel cell, which is...
well, you can think of it as a sort of on-board, miniature
electricity generating station.
And a very good one, because the one in this car makes 100 kilowatts,
which means you could run your house off it.
And the great thing about the fuel cell car
is that you simply fill it up with liquid hydrogen,
which takes about the same amount of time as it does to fill a petrol
or a diesel car up with conventional fuel.
And the range of this car on one fill-up,
if you drive carefully, is 350 miles or so.
And then you can fill it up again, which will take you three minutes
and then you can do another 350 miles.
What's not to like?
'How does it work?
Look, this does all get a bit "double chemistry with Mr Stink",
so I'll try and keep it reasonably simple.
Hydrogen in the tank at the back of the car
combines with oxygen in the air to make electricity.
So, in that sense, it's a bit like a fossil fuel,
it relies on the atmosphere to work. Good.
The other interesting thing is that the hydrogen in the tank
combines with the oxygen in the air to give us, as an exhaust,
er...water, which is H2O, remember.
Hydrogen and oxygen.
You can drink it.
This all sounds very Friends Of The Earth,
but there is a catch.
Currently, there are only four hydrogen filling stations
open to the public in Britain. And one of them's in Hendon.
And that's awful, because the know-how has been around
for longer than you think.
There are two bits of technology on this car that predate
the flatulent internal combustion engine in Benz's Motorwagen.
To be honest, they predate the original Rover safety bicycle,
which was the inspiration for every bike you see over there.
Now, one of them is the electric motor.
That's not such a surprise, maybe.
But the other one is the fuel cell itself.
The basic principles of which were worked out
back in the middle of the 19th century.
The technology is perfectly understood,
it's perfectly reliable, it's perfectly usable.
The only thing we are waiting for to make this
fabulous dream of hydrogen happen...
is a hydrogen infrastructure. That's all we need.
Everything else, like this Hyundai...
It's extraordinary, really,
to think that we may be on the brink of a people's car revolution.
But, despite this exciting progress,
there's still one deeply unreliable component in this.
And all cars.
That component, of course,
is me. Or you.
Whoever. The driver.
Most leading carmakers are already experimenting
with elements of driverless technology.
And tech giants Google have gone the whole hog
and are trying to eliminate the steering wheel altogether.
All you have to do is sit in it and look stupid.
Now, Audi think rather differently about all this.
They say the car will be autonomous.
It will be a robot car for all the boring bits.
So driving along the motorway, heavy stop-start traffic,
all that sort of thing. But then...
when it comes to fun time, you can take over.
I'm in my Audi RS7 with 552 horsepower
and I'm on a track day in Spain,
in Catalunya, in fact.
How did I do?
-2 minutes, 20.
Yeah, I think it'll go faster than that.
'This, if you haven't guessed,
'is the experimental autonomous version of the RS7.'
So, Thomas Muller, very briefly, please. How does it work?
James, the car works like a professional race driver.
You know, it knows the track already.
Through differential GPS and through cameras, it's a complex technology.
Depending on the stability of the car,
depending on the driving dynamics,
it's going to choose the best path to go through all this course.
But, in the end, it's like a professional race driver.
What, so it makes excuses all the time?
'So, can a car capable of analysing track conditions
'to follow the best racing line
'beat a car journo with years of experience?
'To find out if it can better my time of 2:20,
'it's going to take me captive for a high-speed lap.'
All I actually need to do is keep my thumb on that button
and the car will drive me round. That's it.
And I was about to say I'll just get the seat in the right position
for the pedals and everything, but I don't need to.
Technically, I could sit in the back and do this.
But they won't let me.
goodbye, cruel world.
Right. If I hold this button,
the car will go.
And I mustn't touch anything.
MUSIC: Lonely Boy by The Black Keys
That feels weird.
Don't brake. Don't brake. Don't brake.
It's braking for me. Excellent. That's a result.
Actually, this is the hardest thing I've ever done.
Don't touch the steering wheel. I'm not touching the pedals.
Into the right-hander.
It's drifting across. It's done that properly.
Brakes! Brakes! Argh, that's the hairpin.
That's slowed right down now.
It's going to give it the beans as it comes out of there.
Agh, I don't like this one!
Don't touch the brakes!
Oh, God. This is the long straight.
Here we go. 88, 88, 90, 91.
Now it's 100.
That's about 120.
Brake, you bastard!
Come on, otherwise I'm going to let go of the button!
Yes. Thank you.
Ooh, might have to edit some of that out.
Come on, I've just done the vorsprung.
And now on the home finish straight. It's going straight.
I'm going to take my finger off the button.
And there it is. It's a car.
I wasn't scared in the slightest.
'but the car's own lap was eight seconds faster than mine.
'In racing terms, that's the difference between
'a night out with James Hunt and a night in with James May.
'And that's a slightly depressing thought.'
A lot of people say, the autonomous car will be the end of driving.
I think, actually, it could be the end of the car, as we know it,
as a means of just getting around, because, if we can develop a system
that clever, that keeps us all apart,
why not use it to get around up there?
Because that's where all the space is.
And then the car can become a hobby.
'All right. So maybe I'm getting carried away with the flying thing.
'But autonomous technology is already with us.
'My i3 can park itself, remember.
'However, just as in 1900, we still don't know for sure
'what the people's car of the future will be.
'Even the old ideas refuse to go away.
'Remember steam cars?'
'People are still experimenting with those.
'This one does 160mph.
I am a boat.
'Amphicars now look like this.
'And could be operated by even the clinically delusional.'
I'm Mr Darcy.
'The fastest car on earth is powered by a jet engine.
'With some help from a rocket.'
'Good old TVR has risen from the ashes...'
Blackpool uber alles!
'..and has plans for an all-new car, again.
'And Clive Sinclair - he still dreams
'of an elegant, electric transport solution.
'Until that happens, he's funding this -
'the electric A-bike.
'So, where does this leave the man in the street?'
I actually think we're in a golden age of the car,
because, for about 120 years or so,
it developed very slowly.
It just crept along incrementally.
But, all of a sudden, we're looking at things
like new methods of propulsion, new materials,
possible autonomy, connectivity.
It's all really fantastic stuff, but it is very much work in progress,
because - here is a slightly depressing statistic -
the real-world range of my electric BMW i3
is about 75 miles.
The real-world range of the electric Baker
we saw right at the beginning of the programme...
it's about 75 miles.
Right, to the Batmobile.
MUSIC: Batman Theme
HE LAUGHS MENACINGLY
POLICE SIREN WAILS
James explores the wilder shores of motoring to discover what happened to the cars of the future that we were promised. From improbable steam cars and ludicrous jet turbines, he reveals how the petrol engine and the power it gave us came to dominate the 20th century. He takes to the waves in an amphibious car, risks his life at the wheel of a notorious electric scooter and takes a hair-raising trip in the fastest driverless car on earth.