Sometimes I’ll be researching something for a story, and then find I get distracted by a number of other fascinating things in the process. This is why as a kid if I had to look something up in an encyclopedia (yes, by whale-oil lamplight) you could pretty much count me out for the whole afternoon. That’s what happened to me today as I was learning more about Pontiac rope drives; I ended up looking through a September 1960 Popular Science, which was so crammed full of little interesting things that it completely derailed me, so much so I’m now writing about the distractions. I figure if they were good enough to distract me from my work, maybe they can do the same for you, and I can achieve my goal of impairing the productivity of the entire workforce! Let’s do this!
Vintage FWD Shit Talking
Being an owner of a front-wheel drive car in 1960 would have pegged you as quite the iconoclast back then. America was still a vast sea of front engine, rear-wheel drive land yachts, punctuated with the occasional rear-engine/rear drive Beetle buzzing by. FWD cars had to be as rare as halved cherries in a can of fruit cocktail, so you can forgive these DKW and Citroën owners for spoiling for a fight, at least a bit. They’re the underdogs, and they know in the right circumstances, like “snow, mud, or ice” they could properly embarrass a RWD car, and they just want a chance to prove that. I wonder if anyone took Arden and his DKW or Claude in his Citroën up on their little challenges?
Also, love that Citroën DS cartoon there.
More DKW Fun
For a marque that’s all but unknown to Americans today, and is pretty much extinct from roads, it’s surprising to see how much DKWs get mentioned in this randomly-chosen issue of PopSci. In fact, I was really shocked to see that DKWs even merited a nickname here: “Deek!” A pretty obvious nickname, sure, but the man says “don’t buy a Deek unless you like attention,” like it’s A Thing.
Plus, this is a pretty positive take on a tiny, 750cc two-stroke car! He even seems to enjoy mixing oil and gas, and notes that the engine only has seven moving parts! Dude must be in the pocket of Big Two-Stroke.
Autonomy, 1960 Style
This is pretty amazing; a joint project between RCA and GM was this autonomous driving quarter-mile track in New Jersey that was a great example of the infrastructural approach to autonomy. They pretty much made what we would now consider a Level 4 system, in that it’s restricted to a particular area, but the people in the car there do not need to do any driving whatsoever. And they did it all without a single digital computer!
Of course, this is far more simple than modern AI-based automated driving systems, but let’s not be blind to a key fact about this experiment: it basically works. The automated car is getting signals from the lead car, sent via the in-road communication network, so it’s arguably remotely-driven, but the experience of the person in the automated car isn’t any different than sitting in a modern AI and camera-controlled car, at least in the context of what’s required of them.
This sort of infrastructure approach I think will once again become relevant, working with AI-driven automated vehicles and especially assisting them in getting out of active traffic lanes in situations where the AV becomes impaired or unable to properly operate.
Mobot Stands for Murder Robot, Maybe?
I saw this and realized that the go-to joke about robots, that they will one day overthrow humanity and murder us all, has been around a long, long time. Also, I love how huge and clunky Mobot there is. I bet today you could replace the operator and their three CRTs with a little Arduino or Raspberry Pi computer and make Mobot truly autonomous. And, with the right programming, murderous.
All Hail The Midget King
Perhaps the smallest car built and sold in America (well, other than an Eshelman), the King Midget was advertised via these tiny, black-and-white ads crammed into the back of magazines. Kind of like the 1960s equivalent of a programmatic banner ad, those things on our page you should click every now and then so I don’t have to eat dog food. Even if it is delicious, fantastic Ol’Roy, where each can is a delectable mélange of unexpected ingredients, like the peas and carrots in Ol’Roy Country Stew, and yes, this is the second time I’ve praised the rich, tangy flavors of Ol’Roy dog food, because I really want Ol’Roy to come on as a sponsor for the site, because I’d be remiss in my duties as, well, your friend, were I not to let you know you need to savor every tender morsel of mammal meat and gravy in those cans!
Oh yeah, King Midget. These were kind of like the Changlis or Citroën Ami of their day, minimalistic, cheap automotive transportation that somehow managed to still be charming and fun. Read that ad; a buck would get you a 32 page brochure, service and repair manuals, and 16 5×7 photos of the car and factory! That was a physical website, people!
Anyway, I hope your productivity has now ground to an absolute halt. Take that, economy!
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“I wonder if anyone took Arden and his DKW or Claude in his Citroën up on their little challenges?”
Sounds like a challenge for the Ski-Klasse
Didn’t every illustration in Popular Mechanics have a guy in a flannel shirt and one of those earflappy hats?
The Eshelman link points to a seemingly unrelated lighting site article. Was that intentional?
Cool stuff. I love old magazines like those.
The Murder Robot thing reminded me of a great book series I discovered last year: The Murderbot Diaries, by Martha Wells. Fantastic series and not nearly as violent as the title would lead you to believe. Her take on self-aware robots is very interesting.
If I were stuck back in the 1960s I’d be running FWD or 4WD, with the crap tires they had at the time I definitely wouldn’t want RWD.
Here’s a twofer, a Citroën DS *and* early autonomous experiments, also from 1960:
The article might be paywalled, though, so here’s a picture of the DS with a “driver” with the requisite beret and also the requisite book to read while driving:
Too bad the “driver” isn’t smoking to complete the Frenchness of that photo.
So much to comment on here
1. Is it FWD that makes a Citroën good in snow or its 12 hp absolutely no torch you couldn’t do a donut in that thing if you were driving on oil covered ice.
2. DKW mentioned often in random stories? REALLY S/. Not sure about this magazine but in publishing you didnt use to have to mark something as an ad but you did have to put a box around it as these stories have. I would guess paid placement.
3. I would like more on Pontiac Rope drives. But did you know Jensen used rope and tar for its transmission gasket up to 1974 much like a boat uses? Yeah not one of their best ideas.
4. I dont think MOBOT needs help looks like he is capable of strangling that guy on his own.
5. Oh poor Jason want us to feel sorry for him eating dog food. I notice your are eating wet dog food. The premium and most expensive dog food. Call me when you are reduced to the dry stuff. Heck you could be eating shower spaghetti it costs less than the wet dog food. Box of dry generic pasta 1lb 85 cents, jar of spaghetti sauce 4 for $5 cost $1.25. This should feed 4 auto journalists for $2.05 providing you have a big enough shower. Now Sauna Stroganoff yeah that is a bit more expensive.
Who’s stroganoff in the sauna? No wonder it smells so weird in there.
Thank goodness it wasn’t a Mechanix Illustrated. Those are hard core.
Was there ever an “Unpopular Mechanics?”
featuring only the finest british electrical offerings next to the highest-quality, most-reliable italian mechanicals?
As it turns out, yes. It had its own version of Mobot, too:
I drove a 1969 King Midget from 1971-1973. It was a hoot to drive and, perhaps, even slower than you would expect a one-wheel drive car with a single-cylinder, 12 horsepower industrial engine to be. IIRC, it had a two-speed transmission with a centrifugal clutch, a similar arrangement to the 1960 Cushman Eagle scooter that I rode a few years earlier.
My parents had originally bought this car to use as a golf cart. For two years, they drove it a few miles to the golf course and just drove to the first tee.The only differences between the Golf Car model and the street model was grass tires and a rack on the back that would hold two golf bags. I got to use this car when my parents moved and their new golf course would not allow golfers to use their own carts.
My Dad showed this car to an auto shop teacher who remarked that it had everything a car needed and nothing it did not. I have seen Jason’s Pao and it is a deluxe vehicle compare to the King Midget.
The Pao is a real car (Nissan Micra) dressed up in retro clothes. The real King Midget analogue in Torch’s fleet would be the Changli.
“Anyway, I hope your productivity has now ground to an absolute halt.”
Waaaaay ahead of you: after one of your other articles, I actually bought some early 1990s JC Whitney catalogs to revisit more of their fantabulous offerings.
However, my dollar is now on its way to “Athens 2, Ohio”. I will let you know when the photos and service manual arrive.
I just hope the mail isn’t routed to Athens 1 or Athens 3 by mistake.
Was Athens, Ohio, big enough in 1960 to have more than two postal zones?
That is a very good question.
*rummages around on the internet*
It looks like the population in 1960 was 16,740 and the town is 10 square miles. If we assume a uniform population distribution, that give us 1674 people per square mile, or roughly 16654 square feet per person.
So that means… I still don’t know how many zones that would be. Maybe they called it “Athens 2” because there was already one in Greece, making theirs a sequel.
I live real close to Athens so I just had to look it up. 1960 pop 16,000, 2010, 24,000. I wonder if they count all of the students at OU? If I had to guess, I’m in Athens 3.
Is it possible that enough people sent for info that King Midget had its’ own “zone”? More likely all street addresses were one postal zone and “Athens 2” was post office boxes only. It’s like that in my home town of Burlington, VT at least in the ZIP code era- 05401 for street addresses and 05402 for PO boxes.
I doubt Midget Motors attracted enough mail to get its own zone but I suspect you’re correct about the street vs. PO box distinction, as was the case in many places big enough to justify using zones but not big enough to justify imposing multiple geographically-based divisions.
Initially, quite a few zones were converted to ZIP codes by just adding the appropriate leading digits, so Burlington 1 (street addresses) would have become 05401 and Burlington 2 (PO boxes) would have become 05402.
“…but the man says ‘don’t buy a Deek unless you like attention,’ like it’s A Thing.”
In the microcar community we still call them Deeks, so to the extent that we are the arbiters of what constitutes A Thing, it’s A Thing (nothing to do with something being a Thing, of course; that’s for the air-cooled VW folks to decide).
Can confirm that the DKW two-wheelers are also called Deeks in the motorcycle community.
Good to know but also a bit disappointing, as it’s a missed opportunity for another version of the whole Beamer/Beemer/Bimmer controversy.
One of the radio hosts I used to listen to was fired- officially for cold calling a TV station without letting them know he was putting them on the air, but actually for talking shit about McDonald’s while executives were at the radio station to buy advertising. This is me saying I’m currently picturing David meeting with Wal-Mart fancy people and having to explain mammal-morsels in gravy to them…
Don Imus had to make a public apology for mocking the 1-877-KARS4KIDS commercial while it was playing, unaware he was still on a hot mike
What no reference to FWD being a tool of the Illuminati ?