Cars in Tintin.

“Herge’s Adventures of Tintin!” began the famous cartoon. Herge, whose real name was George Remi, certainly loved to draw cars and made sure they were full of intricate detail. It would take an age to show all the cars that featured in his books. Here is just a selection.

When drawing a car your mind goes into what makes a car a car. It’s the radiator, the color of the hub, the shape of the doors, the shape of the headlights (many are more than just round, they might have some decoration at the top) and so on. Some cars like a Peugeot 202 and a Land Rover which feature in the comics have a visible spare wheel at the back. It gives much more of a background style to the piece.

It’s not about drawing stationary cars, you need to look at movement. This is not about showing smoke coming out of an engine, a Lancia for example is shown which all wheels off the ground as if it going over bumpy terrain. A quick way of doing it was a squiggle shown next to car as if the car isn’t going to be at that point for very long.

The Model T Ford from Tintin in the Congo shows its distinctive canopy, side plates and visible axels.

Many cars seem to date from the 1930s, maybe this is where Tintin is meant to be set. Even comics which seem to be set in the 1960s, such as Destination Moon, include both a blue Dodge and blue Ford both manufactured in 1949.

Sadly not all the cars can be linked to real cars. There are number of cars in Tintin in America which are long enough to be Chevrolets, but not quite the pattern, the coloring is all wrong for instance. The cars driven in the part set in Chicago seem to have noticeable fenders, but there’s not that much which distinguishes them from other cars.

With a book like The Black Island you can see a noticeable love of British cars. Those who have watched the UK series Morse cannot help but recognize the hood of the Jaguar, in this case a Mark X.

Because the type of car dates a comic, when filming a book, many vehicles were replaced by other ones. Thomson and Thompson were shown driving a Peugot 201 in Black Gold, but that was changed to a Jeep.

The Calculus Affair is the comic book which features the most cars, including French cars such as 2CV (which is still recognisable as such despite being in a crashed state) and the Citroen 15 which has a noticeable sheen to the black paint.

With 205 vehicles to choose from, this is a gigantic subject and there is much more to say on the matter, including the advert that Herges made about Citroen cars. In the meantime check out François de Dardel’s website for a number of images from the comic books for a complete picture on the subject.


Car Window Oddities

Your car would be rather odd without windows but it’s not something most of us think about. Looking through the history of cars there are a few odd window choices which might be worth investigating.

History of Windshield

Most early cars were built by buckboard or wagon manufacturers. At horse-drawn speeds driver and passengers are not too worried about wind, but as vehicles go faster the idea of a windshield became quickly necessary. Windshields actually came about on cars before roofs.


The rest of the history of windshields centers on safety and is actually not very interesting. According to OTTO, In 1930 Henry Ford was injured in a wreck, which prompted Ford Motor Company to begin installing laminated glass (a piece of clear plastic between two sheets of glass). Eventually in the 1950s all auto makers moved to tempered glass.

The real issue these days is disposal. The glass can no longer be thrown in a landfill, at least in Europe, which necessitates the creation of a recycling process. By exploiting the different melting temperatures of glass and plastic the materials can be separated and reused independently.

Another evolution of Windshield was using a center column to support 2 flat panes of glass which were smaller and tougher than one longer sheet of glass. This was replaced once glass could be curved during manufacturing, which was actually stronger than flat glass.

Unusual Side Windows

We’ll start with vent car windows, also known as “ventiplanes,” when on the Pontiac Torpedo. They were triangular shaped and set in the corner of the door, probably making them more of a novelty.

These were also known as quarter windows and were noteworthy for rotating inwards. They can be seen in cars such as Buick Encore or Fiat Grande Prio. As well as many discontinued cars you probably never heard of, but they are still remembered somewhere. You could find these on several model of pickup as well.

There is a certain dated look about them, but they had a pretty long run, lasting all the way up to the 1980. It doesn’t seem immediately obvious why it suddenly went out of style. Maybe certain marketers decided it was time for a revamp?

Opera Windows

The opera window was a small round window near the C pillar in some cars. The C pillar is between the passenger part of the car and the hood. Originally the opera window was a complete circle but can also be oval or even any shape.

The Opera window has a long history. They date back to the days of horseless carriages, many of which included a round window on the side. Again, the 1980s seemed to be the end of this specific type of window. It might make sense to get rid of a round window as most windows nowadays seem to follow a certain horizontal cross section around the car that causes a circular window to stand out.

Once only used by the most top of the range cars, the power window has now become the industrial standard. Its origin lies in vacuum assists which was used in vehicles such as the Plymouth to lift the lids of convertibles. The first type was hydro-electric in the Packard. In 1947 in addition to the power windows General Motors also created cars where the seats were also adjustable by electric power.

When it comes to tinting windows there are a number of plus points such as keeping the car cool in hot weather, reduce the glare and block ultra-violet rays. Blocking sunlight will also extend the life of leather seats.

Unfortunately, different states in the US have their own laws on how dark the tint should go due to safety reasons. It should have 30-70% transparent, dependent on state and whether you’re talking about the windscreen or a side window.

If the car has a factory tint then it must comply with industrial standards. Police have the power to ticket windows with the wrong kind of tinting in the US, which is generally the result of an aftermarket customization.

If you have certain medical conditions, for example melanoma, you can have darker windows your state normally allows, but must carry the documentation with you at all times.

Is your glass laminated or tempered? Laminated glass is on the wane; only 1 in 3 cars used laminated glass. Laminated glass is designed to stay in one piece while tempered glass (also known as safety glass) shatters into hundreds of pieces.

It’s a shame that most people look for an unoriginal car window but it’s never been a selling point. Even items like vent windows were done for convenience’s sake.

Sedan Cars – Who Buys And Should It Alter?

First What is a Sedan?

Sedan, according to Wikipedia, is a style of car which characterized by a box 3 design. Box 3 is when the engine, passenger and cargo compartments are separate and enclosed.

Why are sedans shaped as they are? The design started as a box to hold the engine, the second box used for the driver and passenger, the trunk makes up the third box, which came last of all. The focus is getting the second box right in design terms, is the interior up to date? Does it have all the modern conveniences? Not that you shouldn’t ignore the hood or trunk areas.

We get the name Sedan from rather unsavory roots. The name refers to a form of transportation much older than vehicles. Royalty and wealthy people used to sit in a box protected from the elements. The box was then lifted by poles and carried by servants or slaves.

The UK name has a better connotation. Saloon car originated after luxury carriages in trains, which in turn comes to the French word saloon, a hall (the hall being the most luxurious part of a house).

The Sedan’s Fall from Popularity

For many decades, the sedan or as the call them in England, Saloon car, was the primary car displayed and sold by automakers around the world. It was either a sedan, a truck, a van, or a motorcycle.

However, the bosses of Ford and GM hinted that sedan cars are dead in the water in 2019. Is that really true? What happened is the birth of car design more tailored to purpose. Traditionally a vehicle was more than just a major purchase, it was a cornerstone of your lifestyle. You were driving or you were walking. In those days you bought a swiss army knife vehicle for commuting to work, shopping for groceries, or taking the family outings. Sedans reigned king.

Now cars cost more than ever, but if you’re going to buy one, you buy it to suit your current life circumstance. Automakers have brought us compact (and subcompact etc.) for commuting on minimal gas. They’ve brought us station wagons, which are better suited to family transportation. They’ve brought us sports cars for driving enjoyment, and so on. Then they came full circle and started offering minivans, crossovers and 4 door trucks. It’s all an attempt to let you get a vehicle that fits your custom needs instead of one that is good at everything but not great at any of them.

But is the Sedan Dead?

American automakers might be a bit myopic in their judgement of sedans. US car makers sell a lot of trucks, which has pulled so much of the market for them to one side that the SUV has become the primary showroom product in the US.

There are a number of good sedans, Germans, British, Swedish and South Korean, which sell just fine even in the US. With the big US players not manufacturing sedans the smaller US players have also stepped up. It’s worth noting that Tesla started with a sedan.

So Who in the Market Is buying Sedans?

There are some identity problems with sedans, it’s the type of car politicians and tycoons use, with higher end models used also as a chauffeur’s car. They aren’t popular at showroom but are sold nonetheless with several pockets of society.

One group of sedan shoppers is the Hispanic community. They are one of the fastest growing sedan buyer groups, and the Toyota Corolla is currently most popular among this group.

Another market segment preferring sedans are young people. There is some disconnect in that large engines mean higher insurance, but that doesn’t stop the under 30s buying them. (It is worth looking for a 1 liter engine. They can be still be described as turbocharged, but they don’t break the bank so much.)

Why Sedans might still Compete.

Sedans have bigger engines but not to the exclusion of fuel economy. 38 miles per gallon is not uncommon and some vehicles could possibly convert higher.

Another plus to that big engine to weight ratio is the power to get out of the way when you need to.

The sedan is sportier (it picks up easy and gives better vision to the driver and passengers) than SUV. They drive like a proper car, well what people suppose a proper car to be.

They’re described as better looking than SUV’s, which to some people look like a car on stilts. The SUV having a higher viewer point as a passenger/driver has some advantage but ultimately not that much.

In conclusion.

Although the sedans might not set showroom on fire they are comfortable and practical. The term reliable bring visions of not breaking down, so let’s market with words like purposeful or practical.

Crossovers might be coming up to compete with SUV and sedans. Sedans might be harder to sell, they make up 30% of the American markets, so SUVs and Crossovers maybe more about fixing something that isn’t broken…even money says that the market for sedans is long from dead.

Morgan – A British Success Story?

Morgan Runabout 1st made in 1909

From P. W. on the U.K. Desk

For those of you not familiar with “The Morgan” it is one of the oldest British car companies most famous for rebelling against the luxuries of modern motoring. In fact, the most common explanation for it’s popularity is nostalgia factor and the fact that it’s a “British” car company. In reality, not all current cars are over-engineered or excessively stylish so moving back to old ways isn’t exactly a real thing, and as of 2019 Morgan is owned by InvestIndustrial, who aren’t even British. Despite this, there is a six-month waiting list for these vehicles.

(This is not the time to go into the decline of the British motor industry, but it does seem a bit self-inflicted by the country and it might be drivers who suffer. Moving on…)

Morgan Supersport 1938

Morgan does have a long history though, all the way back to 1909, in some ways moving with the times but in most ways staying with the same, age-old methods. But for Morgan this formula seems to work.

The selling point was always to be small, lightweight and inexpensive. A great example is in the case of “The nuclear.” This small car attempted to fill the gap between motorcycles and cars, as cars at the time, were a bigger investment than they are now. While there has always been a market for a “semi-car” it usually came in the form of a kit car or a motorbike and sidecar. The Nuclear was a production model specific to this tiny niche market.

The Runabout cyclecar looks rather a novelty, but it’s worthwhile investigating. Despite being a three-wheeler, it has in its favor a V-twin engine and five speed transmission. The difficulty with the cyclecar is that it isn’t designed for long distance, especially with the ash wood frame rather than steel chassis.

1928 Roundabout Deluxe

The Runabout can’t be an easy car to market, it’s not exactly a company car or even a family car resembling as it does a tube on wheels. Morgan has sold it for several decades now, especially in the United States. Follow-ups include the 1911 Violette and 1914 La Vigne. The designs might be ancient but with an improved clutch and gears they are still being sold today. They are run by a twin engine.

The PlusFour hasn’t changed its “silhouette” (design) since the 1950s but it has added tech features. Even its name PlusFour conjures up another era. With a 65% increase in power and torque from the original model, and a top speed of 149 mph, it’s in keeping with the needs of today’s traffic.

Roadster at 76e international Motorshow Geneva 2006

Since you order these semi-custom vehicles before they’re made, you have a choice between manual and automatic (the automatic is eight speed and the manual is six speed). Another option is wire wheels or if you prefer alloy wheels in a number of finishes. Both have a digital info display.

Viewing a picture of these vehicles might make you think they’d take in a long time to start up but driving the 3-Wheeler for example is known as an immediate “get in and drive experience.” Exactly how it feels can only be realized by going throw the motions yourself, words can only say so much.

Maybe the Morgan makes a point about modern motoring being too sanitized, after all. There’s no reason why all automobiles have to be identikit versions of each other. Designers of vintage cars brought an aesthetic and feel to their work that most modern car companies don’t even try to replicate. There’s a reason why vintage cars are called vintage.

The CB Slang in the Convoy Song

For those not familiar with Citizen’s Band and its slang, the 1975 song Convoy must seem like a mass of jargon and confusion. Surprisingly, the song by C. W. McCall was a hit not only on the country & western charts, but also a crossover hit on the pop charts.

Before we get to deciphering the song, here’s a brief history of the CB Radio. It is described on Wikipedia as both as “professional mobile radio” and a “land mobile radio system” involving communication over a short wave. In many countries it doesn’t involve a license.

The Federal Communications Commission controls and allocates certain bandwidths for certain uses. This prevents radio stations from broadcasting on the headsets of commercial airline pilots and other potentially nasty confusions. In 1945 the FCC allotted a special band (or section of frequencies) for citizens to have personal communications.

In the days before cell phones this became a way for people to communicate with each other when no land line was available. This brought a lot of efficiency to things like fire lookout stations. But in at the hight of their popularity, in the 1970s, they were the bailiwick of professional drivers. CBs were especially useful to long haul truck drivers who were likely to encounter bad weather conditions or surprise road closures.

These long-haul drivers also began warning each other of speed traps. Which made them a valuable source of information to other drivers crossing remote areas, who wanted to avoid being pulled over for speeding.

CB Slang

Many bandwidths of radio broadcast picked up specific nomenclature specific to their needs. HAM radio operators, who use a similar device and operate in a similar manor, actually need to get a licence to broadcast. Part of the licence requires them to learn Morse Code though their bandwidth is generally spoken word.

CB slang developed at an accelerated pace compared to the regular evolution such devices, due in part to desire to inform on police without being blatantly obvious.

What is a Convoy?

The song concerns some kind of driver rebellion, a convoy, which travels from the West coast to the East coast without a break. Biologists refer to this behaviour as swarming, or schooling. It happens in bird or fish that will react to a predator by acting in a uniform pattern, which tricks the predator into treating the group as a whole instead of as a bunch of individuals.

What is one police car supposed to do when 15 semis barrel past going 10 miles an hour over the speed limit? At best they ticket one of them and let the rest go. There is mention in the song of a strong police presence and having to speed past a toll booth.

One reason a convoy might work is that most states only put so many highway patrol on a given freeway, which means a group of truckers could drag a train of patrol cars to the edge of their jurisdiction where they must quit the chase. Provided they obscured their identifying numbers like registration or licence plates.

Eventually police began using roadblocks and tire puncture devises, and the federal highway commission began to require upgraded identification.

Slang in the Song “Convoy.”

Because it takes in so much of America the song wedges in as many nicknames for US cities as decency allows!

Here is a glossary:

10-4: Affirmative.

10-9: Repeat.

(10 codes were a staple on CB. Currently 10-1 Unreadable to 10-33 Help Officer; but many codes have been retired).

19: The traditional channel for CB, pronounced “1-9”.

20: Location.

Bear: The police. “Heading for bear” here means heading for an area which has a police presence, which since they were speeding probably meant trouble.

Bridge: The bridge referred in the song is the Walt Whitman Bridge across the Delaware. They enter New Jersey but they do not pay the toll.

Catch you on the flip-flop: Catch you next time, whenever that might be.

Chartreuse microbus: A VW microbus, also known as a caravan.

Chi-Town: Chicago.

Chicken Coups: Truck weigh stations. These are checkpoints a driver must legally stop at.

Clover leaf: An interchange of four roads making a four leaf clover pattern.

Convoy: Three of more truck drivers going to the same place when they exceed the speed limit.

Flagtown: Flagstaff, Arizona.

Front door: The head of the convoy. They were the one charged to look for “bears” or police cars.

Kenworth: A Class 8 truck made in Seattle. The one referenced in the song was “pulling logs” or transporting logs.

Pete: Peterbilt, a truck manufacturer.

Pig Pen: The driver of a pig truck, not the most popular of people!

Put the hammer down: Put the pedal the floor, get moving!

Reefer: A refrigeration truck used to haul food.

Rubber Duck: The leader in a convoy.

Shakey Town: Los Angeles, so-called because of the earthquakes.

Sod buster: A tractor, because it digs up sods or patches of grass.

Suicide jockey: A driver of hazardous material, usually explosives.

Swindle cheats: The log book used to log a truck’s progress. They were not seen as reliable hence “swindle cheats”.


The addition of electronic log books and GPS has eliminated any thought of getting away with most of the traffic offences a convoy was intended to enable, however it’s the cell phone that has done the most to kill CB slang. For better or worse, all things come to an end.

The History of Herbie

At the time of year we gorge ourselves on movies on TV and especially Disney movies.

When it comes to car characters from Disney the most famous is probably Herbie. The majority of the population probably know that he had red, white,and blue racing stripes and the number 53 on his hood. Is that his registration number or something? No! The that was California Plate OFP 357. So why the 53? Read to the end and we’ll tell you.

He first appeared in the 1968 movie The Love Bug. He was owned by Peter Thorndyke (David Tomlinson) and although briefly owned by Mrs Van Luit it was mainly owned by Jim Douglas (played by Dean Jones). Only then did Herbie acquire his name. The name was coined by Tennessee Steinmetz (played by Buddy Hackett) and he named him after his Uncle Herb, who as a boxer acquired a nose shaped like a VW Beetle.

The car goes to Tennessee’s aunt in Herbie Rides Again Mrs Steinmetz (played by Helen Hayes, also famous for being in One of Our Dinosaurs Are Missing). It appears that Herbie now has the power to bring other Beetles to life. This is the only movie which doesn’t show Herbie as a race car.

For some reason Herbie is racing again in Herbie Goes To Monte Carlo in the Trans-France race, apparently by Jim Douglas again. The car develops a crush on Lancia Montecarlo. These were sports cars made in the 1970s and early ‘80s by Fiat. Because they had a rep of being noisy cars and susceptible to corrosion they didn’t last long. They were however more popular racing cars than the VW Beetle.

In Herbie Goes Bananas Herbie is passed to Pete Stancheck (Stephen W Burns), Jim Douglas’s nephew and is entered into the Brazil Grand Primeo, only it seems to get lost on a cruise ship and befriended by Paco (Joaquin Garay III) and is disguised as a taxi in Mexico. Paco takes to calling Herbie “ocho” which at the end of the movie is explained as “eight,” because 5 +3 = 8.

Although Herbie was used as a driving instructor’s car in the TV show The Love Bug (also featuring Jim Douglas) it is back racing again in the 1997 TV movie, also called The Love Bug. The car is now owned by Hank Cooper. The movie features an evil counterpart to Herbie in Horace, the Hate Bug. Later in the movie Jim Douglas returns and Herbie begins racing again.

In the 2005 film Herbie: Fully Loaded he is bought by Maggie Peyton (Lindsay Lohan) and is modified to a 2002-cc engine car. As well as the normal races he also enters a demolition derby. Again Herbie falls in love, this time with another Beetle.  

As well as the movies and TV series Herbie has also appeared on the Mickey Mouse Club in 1990 and in two video racing games. He has also appeared in extreme stunt shows at Disney theme parks and has even appeared on Disney on Ice and cameoed on The Simpsons. Not bad for a car which is more than 60 years old. No doubt he’s appeared in a movie over the holidays this year. Either way, “the love bug” is a great post for a car blog on Valentines Day.

So why does Herbie bear the numbers 53 on his side? According to Love Bug producer Bill Walsh was a huge Don Drysdale fan. As in the Dodgers Baseball Don Drysdale. This probably accounts for not only the 53 but the red and blue racing stripes as well.

PS: perhaps the craziest bit of trivia about the love bug is that it’s generally accepted fact that the movie is based on the book “Car, Boy, Girl,” by Gordon Buford. However, this book doesn’t seem to exist. You won’t find it on Amazon, in book store, or in the Library of Congress. It’s possible that the book was snatched up by Disney and while they adapted it for screen they never finished publishing the original novel.

Car Business Start-ups


When you consider a business start-up these days, you probably think of something like a restaurant or a clothes shop. No one, but no one, is going to think about manufacturing cars. Much like an old fashioned car itself, an auto manufacturer will likely splutter along and or come to a grinding halt.

factory-35108_1280As much as it might feel like most modern auto-makers have simply always existed, the truth is they started the same way you or I would try our hand at being a restaurateur. Imagine yourself in the olden days making a go of it at making cars. It might help to have a history of a few car businesses beginnings.

Henry Royce of Rolls Royce fame started an electrical and mechanical business in 1884. He only started manufacturing and selling cars twenty years later. Starting up in another type of machine shop and then specializing in the newest product is a smart move, and you may notice it as a theme in this post.

Daimler trained as a draughtsman before becoming a workshop inspector for the Mercedes Benz company. It’s a smart idea to apprentice before buying your own company.

Renault originally consisted of Louis, Marcel and Ferdinard Renault. The skills of working in their textile business assisted them in creating a car company, though the connection is not immediately apparent. At least get some skills in business before starting your car company.factory-35104_1280

Nissan began as a truck making company for the military. Only when the idea of the personal car ownership became possible did the founder Masujiro Hashimoto move into automobile manufacturer. It’s the old entrepreneur’s mantra of seeing a need. When you can get a fat military contract do it.

Another Japanese company, Toyota has its origins as a creator of looms, or cloth weaving devices in 1924. It was the capital gained from this that they invested in a car factory.

Porsche has some similarities with Nissan in that it started with military vehicles, though Ferdinard Porsche the founder had experience in building coaches. After that he designed cars for Daimler before coming up with the automobile which is synonymous with him.

BMW originally made airplanes before moving into – no, not cars – motorcycle engines, railway brakes and various pieces of home equipment. BMW didn’t found an automobile empire so much as buy one, purchasing Fahrzeugfabrik Eisenach in 1928.

Soichora Honda’s experience before running a factory was a mechanic at a garage for racing cars. Honda’s responsibility was to finely tune the cars to make them fit for the race.


The Eastern European business Skoda had simple origins, as a bicycle factory which in turn bought a motorcycle factory before developing cars for the Czech patron. Despite a few misstarts as a business, such as not knowing whether to concentrate on front or rear engine vehicles they are now a classic name all over Europe and beyond.

Range Rover also started as a bicycle concern, but they also manufactured tricycles. They were based in Coventry in England. John Kemp Stanley inherited a sewing machine factory. The logic for turning it into a bike factory must be there, but you might need to study how these factories work to figure it out. Again they went into motorcycles before turning to automobiles. Almost an echo of other car factory stories.

The moral of this seems to be if you want to be able to run a car factory, try running some other form of factory first. Otherwise try to work with a different type of car firm or with military vehicles of some sort.

It is probably one of the most highly competitive industries in the world and makes billions every year. Good luck.


The Powerhouse of Fiat Chrysler


(Editors Note: This post was started to be in the series of the American Story of the Car alongside Dodge and Ford, but although all these companies have become multinational, that seems to be the Chrysler model of business. As you’ll soon see, the make some good cars and have had success, but they’re harder to classify as an American car Company.)

Fiat Chrysler might be reminiscent of the Chrysler building in New York – huge, imposing and with a certain amount of style.  The cynic might also suggest that the Chrysler building has less wholesome things in common with the cars, such as being overpriced (in common with the rest of New York?) and a product of another era. But, as said above, this is a cynic’s view.

road-826965_1920.jpgThere a number of quite individualistic vehicles which come under the Fiat Chrysler brand, so how did it get to where it is?

The Fiat part of the company could be described as the oldest. The Fiat 4 HP sounds like it might be a twentieth century vehicle, maybe a SUV? But no, it was created in 1899 and looked more like a baby buggy than a modern Fiat car. A more noticeable thing is that it had no reverse gear, so parking would have been troublesome.

Standing for Fabbrica Italiana Automobili Torino (Italian Factory of Cars, Turin) Fiat soon became the biggest automobile manufacturer in Europe. In 1970 they were employing 100,000 people. As well as cars they have also built such items as railway carriages, farm tractors and planes. Outside Italy, the biggest base for Fiat is Brazil where it is described as the market leader in manufacture.

The Chrysler part took over from the Maxwell Company in 1925 when it was founded by Walter Chrysler. He spent his defining years working as a railway mechanic before going into the motor trade (his father was also a locomotive engineer). The company in turn took over such brand vehicles as Dodge, Jeep and Ram as well as Fargo Trucks. In the 1960s the brand was taking over the Spanish, French and British car

The takeover of Mitsubishi occurred in 1970s and in the late 1998 the company merged with Daimler-Benz . Both Daimler and Benz have a long history, Benz goes back to 1886 (before teaming up with the “more famous” Mercedes) while Daimler was spending that period of history converting stagecoaches with Wilhelm Maybach.

Although it was now a member of the Big Three companies, it didn’t stop Chrysler suffering losses in the crisis between 2008 and 2010 and had to be bailed out. This could be described as controversial; not all governments would top up their factories, especially for a non-nationalized company. A marketing slogan at the time was “Let’s Refuel America” but it seemed they were in need of a vital top up themselves…

The companies of Fiat and Chrysler were merged in May 2014. There is still a huge variety in vehicles under the label – foreign cars such as the Maserati and Lancia, as well as more American cars such as the Jeep or the Ram van. What they lose in a complete brand image, they make up for being all-encompassing.

What seems certain is that Fiat-Chrysler will continue to merge with and take over new car brands. It’s all about survival. And, in essence, finding what sort of car the American public wishes to own.


Virtual Roads – Part Two


I was referring to Sat Navs in the previous blog, but virtual roads come to their own in video games and simulations. Firstly, we need to mention racing games.

video-games-1557358_1920Gran Trak 10 in 1974 was confusingly the first arcade game to simulate car racing (there seems to be no Gran Trak 9, 8 and so on). It boasted very low-resolution, black and white graphics. In a mere two years violence became linked to race cars with the game, Death Race in 1976. Evidently the people at Exidy who made the game felt they were giving the public what they wanted and there was a notable jump in sales for the arcade machines.

These games didn’t create an actual world for a player to explore like games do now, they just scrolled in one direction. The first game that could be said to do this was Atari’s Super Bug released in 1976. The game name, “The Driver” might remind today’s players of Guitar Hero, in that the game required you to match the steering wheel and brake actions with the movements on screen. So it’s part, Simon Says and part driving simulator or driving aid?toyota-967011_1280

The first to include a real circuit of track was 1982’s Pole Position created by Atari in the US and Namco elsewhere. The track it used was Fuji Speedway in Japan.

vr-3460451_1920Racing games seemed to be slow lane for about a decade until Super Mario Kart in 1992. Games had now acquired 3D imagery but had probably lost a sense of reality. The big thing about Super Mario Kart that it created a genre of fun character-based race games or “Kart games.”

Vehicle combat games would begin in 1983 with the Spy Hunter series and would spawn some releases as Knight Rider and Starsky and Hutch. In them it was not enough to race, you had to cause significant damage to your opponent.

The Surprising Story of Realistic Traffic

We take for granted that we a driving game will include realistic simulation of how the traffic will act at a certain point or under certain conditions, but there is an interesting origin story of how that came to be.

girl-3959203_1920.jpgIt goes back even before video games to 1946 where the Monte Carlo method which relies on random sampling to create likelihood from which an algorithm can be built up. The Goal is to aid logistics and road planning to avoid bottlenecks. Municipalities wanted to know how fast emergency services could get to certain points, and so on. It was natural for video game developers to digitalize these algorithms so that the cars on a road or track, to have cars around the POV vehicle behave in a realistic manner in response to obstacles and road conditions.

These algorithms are still used by cities and states in 2019. Those planning a road will create computer simulations to predict traffic on roadways, bridges, tunnels, etc. and it then check them in dry, wet or even icy conditions. Perhaps these models will eventually create a map that can tell you the best time of day to make a trip. Who knows?



Virtual Roads – Part One


Where do we start with virtual roads? Well to define what we mean by the term virtual road, it’s easier to think of as a map. It could be an existing road, or it could be a route one takes to get someplace—like directions. To understand why the fancy term, virtual road, we need to consider the history of roads.

Surprising Origin of Routes & Roads

In England a traveller might observe that some roads meander about from town to city and other roads go directly from place to place without regard to any obstacle. To the citizen of the UK these are known as Saxon roads and Roman roads, because modern roads were either built on top of one or the other.

holidays-1283014_1920Saxons built their roads along the path of least resistance, which generally means a bridge ends up at the best historical place to ford across the river long before the bridge existed. It also means that a lot of the roads in England were built where a cow pushed aside the brush making it easier for humans to pass as well.

Roman roads, on the other hand, are professionally surveyed. They were an important part of the empire, not only for efficient commerce, but because the faster you could move an army the better control you could maintain. So, when Romans encountered stream, they bridged it, when they encountered a mountain, they tunnelled though it. Roman roads are straight, city to city, and they withstand the test of time.

But before anyone bothered to build a road, prehistoric man had rough directions from one civilized spot to another—most of which were built along water sources. Therefore, the earliest formal routes to get places start in about 1160 BC where the trails of seasonal rivers, also used as roads were placed on a map. The oldest road map used in a commuting sense goes back to 235BC. It shows a number of towns along the Black Sea.

Maps, Past & Future

There are other names worth mentioning in the history of road mapping such as McNally’s Road Map of New York (1904) and Michelin (their first road map was in 1910) but instead I want to concentrate on using tech to imitate the road, rather than just giving a plan of the road.

android-1869510_1920.jpgA moving map display was first introduced in the 1950s using paper chart. The only problem is that they could only navigate one specific road, so if you had to travel somewhere obscure you were out of luck. Using a cell phone as a guide to where you are has some similarities to using a moving map display, except of course you are not confined to one road. With larger devices, such as the iPad, there’s room to change the display and allow for something resembling a Sat-Nav when using Google Maps.

Ah, Google Maps, certainly one of the most used systems to work out where you are. It began in 2004 as a downloadable desktop program by Where 2 Technologies. It began by two brothers, Lars and Jed Rasmussen, and quickly added some of the processes of Keyhole, a program acquired at a similar time. Google Maps as we recognize it today began in February 2005 programmed using Javascript and XML. In 2012 Google announced it had 7,100 employees and freelancers which worked in the mapping process and in 2017 it had a billion users worldwide.

When Google Maps was created though Sat Navs had been going for a least twenty years. A Honda built with the “Electro Gyro-Cator” in 1981. Instead of using satellites it used “inertial” navigation systems, meaning that the information couldn’t be updated, Read Only Memory in other words. Cassettes allowing information to be changed would come along in 1983.

Since computer tapes retailed at $20 (the equivalent of $60 today) it is unlikely that many people paid to get their navigation device updated.

The first system which relied on a satellite came along in 1990 and wouldn’t gain a voice until two years later. It relies on a vector map which each house or street encoded as its geographical co-ordinates. The Navigation Data Standard ensures that all SatNavs use the same system and will be updated as and when needed. There are many ways to store the road database, not just ROM but also a flash memory, a hard disk or a CD.

There are other things that can be done with a virtual road. This is the subject of the next article.