Commentary – Can Cars of the Future Be Classics, Too?

by contributor Kristi Burns…

At Classic Cars Today Online, our interest and focus  gravitates towards classic cars.  However, at one time all of these classics were “cars of the future” that someone dreamed up and pushed the proverbial envelope to make them production models.  Someone thought the car of the future should have  all of the accessories/options that we take for granted such as remote entry, air conditioning (standard), and more.  Of course, some advancements never made it to the driver’s seat or under the hood.

During the “Space Race” of the 1950s and ’60s there were many predictions about how cars of the “future” would look, drive, or operate.  Would they be flying space ships similar to the family space shuttle featured in the 1950’s popular animated TV show The Jetsons?


The Jetson family in their family space shuttle.

Even as small, self-navigating drones are becoming more popular during this decade, flying space shuttle cars and jet packs still remain a dream.

One thing is for certain: Everyone had a prediction about the future, and some came true.  What are vehicles capable of now, and where are they going?



The Connected Car

For years, the average car owner without a great deal of mechanical expertise could open their car’s hood, identify parts, diagnose a problem quickly, and fix it themselves.  Now, the majority of us may be able to put in a quart of oil and add windshield-wiper fluid, but that’s about all.  Most externally mounted mechanical items, fuel filters, and even spark plugs that are not actually inside the engine block are encased so the untrained find it difficult to access them.  Modify anything and you’ve voided the new car warranty which covers functions of said item, and all items related to it.

When taking your car to a dealer or independent shop to get it looked at, part of looking under the hood of any modern vehicle usually entails the use of a diagnostic scanner and computer uplink to the vehicle manufacturer.  Diagnostics will clue a technician what readings are failing, and each system until the problem is tracked down by the technician.  Sometimes it’s easy, other times diagnosis can be challenging.

Often, a technician need to update your vehicle’s software from the manufacturer to improve glitches weren’t noticed in the original programming, which could cause anything from a sporadic engine misfire to poor radio reception.  Software updates are uploaded at no charge if the vehicle is under warranty, and often times after that depending on the manufacturer and the dealer’s discretion.  Think of it as your vehicle version 2.3.

Over the last three decades, more and more vehicle systems have become controlled by computers and sensors than by mechanical parts.  In some cases, it’s a benefit.  An engine control computer can retard or advance spark timing to run smoothly on poor quality fuel that may be illegally spiked with too high a percentage of ethanol.  Accelerator pedal and brake pedal position sensors measure how hard you’re applying either one, and change shift points of an automatic transmission.  If you’re going downhill with the brake applied, it will hold a lower gear to help slow the vehicle.  The new-for-2014 Mercedes S class can even read the contours of the road ahead in order to prepare the air suspension for a more adept reaction over unevenly paved surfaces.

Other features that require computers include:

  • Sensing cars or objects in front of you so the car will brake for you. Your car can even sense the lines on the side of the road to keep you inside the lines.
  • Auto-brightening and dimming of headlights depending on the ambient light or vehicles coming your way.  No more blinding an oncoming driver because you forgot to click the stick.  This feature is actually an oldie, appearing as the  “Twilight Sentinel” option on Cadillacs in the early 1970s.
  • Automatic parking – who needs to know how to parallel park any longer?
  • And, perhaps your car and another vehicle can “talk” to each other to avoid an accident.

The “Smarter” Car Owner

As a consumer, it’s possible to download diagnostic apps that ease the complicated ordeal of “pairing” a vehicle to your smartphone or tablet so you can determine what’s wrong rather than taking it to a mechanic all of the time.  Apps for both Android devices and for iOS (Apple devices) allow you to  track your vehicle’s operating systems from anywhere.

Hand-held scanners that are pre-loaded with software can be uploaded into your engine management computer (ECM) that changes fuel mixtures, turbo boost, etc.  Dial in full power for sprints, towing, or maximum economy if you choose.  Aftermarket air suspension systems feature cellphone apps that allow the vehicle to change ride height or perform stunts when you’re standing away from it.

And since cars are effectively become like giant moving computers, they can even be hacked like computers, instead of being car-jacked.

Manual vs. Automatic

When we hear “manual” or “automatic,” most of us think of a car’s transmission.  In the not-so-future, this may actually refer to whether you are driving the car or letting it drive itself.  Cars can do so much now that an actual driver may be unnecessary – and not too far in the future.

This Google video shows how self-piloting vehicles could be a reality.  For some, this would mean a lot more freedom for those physically unable to drive.  The video touches on this, featuring a man who is 95% blind.  Cars of the future could serve as chauffeurs to allow these folks to travel as easily as any “able-bodied” person without relying on others for transportation.

For others who enjoy the driving experience and fiddling with parts under the hood, this seems an anathema to the whole point of liking cars in the first place.  However, I’m sure this would ease commuting – especially long ones.  Perhaps the car fanatic who doesn’t enjoy driving after being behind the wheel 400 miles going to and from work would feel more connected to their vehicle when they only have to drive it for pleasure on the weekends.  More alive.

Even engineers the 1950’s dreamed about cars that drove automatically:

Social Media Goes Mobile

Changes are taking place inside the car as well. Integrated video screens built in to the car seem as passé as hardwired mobile phones, and in this economy, paying for an expensive option package from the factory that includes one doesn’t make as much sense when when you can connect your smart phone or device to a Netflix or Hulu account.

Pandora, a personalized music app, can  connect to your car’s in-dash system as well.

According to the Kicking Tires blog on

“Pandora said recently that 23 vehicle brands currently integrate Pandora internet radio apps into their infotainment systems, so you should find many cars to choose from.

Among the brands that offer Pandora connections are BMW, Chevrolet, Ford, Honda, Mercedes-Benz, Mini, Nissan and Toyota.

Pandora is installed on’s 2013 Honda Civic LX long-term test car, so it isn’t found only on high-bucks cars. On the Civic, you can change tracks through the car’s stereo controls and sort through playlists on the dashboard multimedia display. Don’t assume that every car available with Pandora will do everything you desire. You will need to ask questions and check them out yourself to discover their capabilities and limits.”

Here’s a picture of a BMW dashboard from Bimmerpost of the different apps that can be connected to BMWs, and this video shows how to connect devices to late model BMWs…


Shown here is a typical BMW dashboard that allows a driver or passengers to connect to social media such as Facebook, Twitter, Pandora, and others.  Updating one’s status while driving may prove to be a worse temptation than texting.


Update your Facebook and Twitter statuses in the car – in real time?  Really?  At 60 MPH?  Many car makers block certain driver-only functions from happening unless the vehicle is stationary.  Please use electronics with care and only when it’s safe.

Auto executives can see the value of these apps and where the future of “smart” cars are headed.  They’re concerned about safety issues, too.

Ford global marketing chief Jim Farley told reporters at the Los Angeles Auto Show that the automotive and technology sectors are “at a tipping point” where they need to work together better than they have to speed the roll-out of the services in cars that allow consumers to drive safely and interact with their favorite apps or other technologies.

“The car companies have to change and the tech companies have to change,” he said to industry officials at the auto show. “For the car companies, it’s pretty clear that the mobile digital economy is not in our hands.”

Farley said automakers must acknowledge that the real value for consumers comes from outside the auto industry and they must create an open architecture that allows outside providers. Meanwhile, tech companies need to stop imposing their user interfaces on drivers in a way that makes driving unsafe.

For example, Google Inc’s (GOOG.O) Tarun Bhatnagar, director of Google Maps forBusiness, speaking after Farley, described using the navigation app on his smartphone that sat in his lap as he drove a rental car in Los Angeles.

“I can’t help but wonder why is it that beautiful screen in the instrument cluster of my rental car can’t provide me with a connected and safer driving experience? That needs to change,” he said.

Connected Vehicles on the Job

Technological “improvements” aren’t just for fun.   A mobile office is now truly mobile.  AOL Autos’ slideshow recommends cars based on professions.  For example, real estate agents might appreciate how an Audi A7 is “connected to the Internet via Audi Connect, a literal hotspot in the cabin of the car.   The client can view details of the house as Google Earth is displayed with a 3-dimension visual on the car’s touchscreen on the dash.  Up to eight devices can connect to the hotspot at one time.”

Ford vans can track how long employees are at a location, when they get there, what they do, and how long it takes before they get back on the road…and to another job or back to the office.  Forget punching the time-clock, you are punching a satellite tracking system.   Verizon Wireless* partners with many companies to bring new “machine-to-machine” enhancements to help companies improve efficiencies.

The Future

Well, we are not riding in flying cars…yet.  However, we can and will soon be able to do more now than ever possible while we are IN our vehicles.  More than watching videos, listening to standard analog radio stations, or even receiving subscription satellite radio signals.  Will any of these cars vehicles from the 2014 Consumer Electronics’ Show become classics?  Sometimes, vehicles of different makes that have been early adopters of technology are more collectible as a result.  However, this usually applies to mechanical advancements such as fuel injection, disc brakes, or other technology that makes the car more enjoyable to the user to operate.

That said, when a car does reach collectible status, vintage electronics that were considered advanced for their  day but have become dated enhance the overall appeal of the car – especially if the vehicle itself is in show condition.  A factory original 8-track player is more enjoyable to see inside a 1977 Chevrolet Camaro at a car show than an aftermarket CD player.  Likewise, it’s hard to argue a factory original built-in factory mobile phone accessory in a 1988 Mercedes 560SL really adds to its “80’s” appeal.


As younger generations grow up with more and more advanced levels of portable technology in the palm of their hand, use of electronics may become a more desirable pleasure in itself than the mechanical working of automobiles.  Only time will tell, but it’s hard to imagine myriads of electronics lasting ten years, much less until the cars they’re in become classics.  How long did your last couple of laptop computers last?

We’d like to know do you own a car that has any “future” technology, and what do you think of it?  What functionality would you like to see added to cars in the future?


About Kristi Burns

I've been married to a car fanatic for 20 years, and together for over 25. He and I share a passion for owning classic cars, working on them, participating in car club events & shows, and writing about things automotive.
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  • Total Car Care Center

    It’s hard to know what car swill be future classics. Oh sure, some of them are obvious — damn near any exotic will certainly go up in value eventually, and it’s hard to go wrong with a limited-edition ride like the Porsche 911 Sport Classic.


    The Mercedes-Benz W124 was – formany – a reliability and build-quality high point for its maker. The saloonsand estate versions were solid and great to drive, but ultimately a little dull. The pillarless Coupe is incredibly elegant, but it’s the Cabriolet that’s the star of the range, and easily the most likely to hit the classic car price guides sooner rather than later.