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> Experimental Safety Designs
 
1948 Tucker sedan with safety interior
1948 Tucker sedan with safety interior

In 1948, Preston Tucker, a former race car builder and defense manufacturer, introduced a “totally new” car and emphasized its novel safety features. Tucker built 51 cars with interior door buttons that couldn't snag clothing, knobs clustered away from motorists, dashboard padding, and an area under the dashboard where the front passenger could crouch in the event of a collision. Other safety features included a pop-out windshield that yielded on impact, a center headlight that turned with the steering wheel, and a rear-view mirror made of shatterproof, silver-plated plexiglass.

Tucker considered installing seat belts in his cars but rejected the idea. Philip Egan, one of the car’s designers, recalled that Tucker “felt that they would imply something inherently unsafe about the car…too vigorous, too fast for anyone’s good.” Car production stopped following a federal investigation of Tucker’s business practices, but some of his safety ideas appeared on mass-market cars in the 1950s.

In the 1930s, several inventors received patents for steering columns that collapsed on impact, sparing the driver from being impaled in a crash. Their concepts incorporated various designs that used a spring, scissors mechanism, or a hydraulic piston.

In 1959, General Motors began developing the Invertube, a steering column that turned inside out when force was applied. This design did not enter production, but in 1967 GM began installing steering columns with mesh that compacted under pressure. Chrysler adopted a similar column in 1967, and Ford introduced its collapsible design in 1968.

Prentis Erickson's patent for a 'Safety Steering Post,' 1938.
Prentis Erickson's patent for a "Safety Steering Post," 1938.
General Motors ad for its energy-absorbing steering column, 1967.
General Motors ad for its energy-absorbing steering column, 1967.
A collapsible steering column was standard equipment on all General Motors cars beginning in 1967. This example is from a Chevrolet.
A collapsible steering column was standard equipment on all General Motors cars beginning in 1967. This example is from a Chevrolet.
When force was applied, the GM column telescoped and the mesh housing compressed, absorbing energy.
When force was applied, the GM column telescoped and the mesh housing compressed, absorbing energy.
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