The 1970s transformed the automobile industry in countless ways, many of them similar to the changes that came over the US after the frontier was settled. Sanity prevailed over exuberance, adventure took a back seat to safety, and government made its presence known like never before. One way that it did so was by announcing the Experimental Safety Vehicle (ESV) program in 1973, a program designed to encourage automakers to develop new safety technologies.
Responding to the challenge, companies came forward with vehicles that ranged from the brilliant to the ludicrous. In 1972, GM was already working on a vehicle with an enhanced front bumper and steel side beams in the doors. Large B-pillars provided rollover protection and allowed for wraparound windshields to increase visibility. A cutting-edge device called an air bag also made an appearance in that vehicle. Designed to protect the driver, it deployed during crashes with speeds exceeding 30 MPH.
Volkswagen introduced its first ESV in 1972. The car was designed to ensure survivability for passengers at speeds of up to 50 MPH. It included forward-thinking innovations like anti-lock brakes and three-point safety belts with force limiters and pretensioners. On the other hand, it also had features like an overhead “safety blanket” that dropped down on the heads of passengers in case of an accident.
The ESV program has continued into the 21st century, spawning ongoing developments such as rear-facing cameras, collision sensors, and seats that push seats inward in the event of a crash. Looking towards the future, ideas currently being tested include sensors that detect when the driver is tired and cars driven entirely by computers. None of this is as exciting as a 1960s muscle car with 4-barrel carbs, of course. But, as even cowboys must admit, it’s worth giving up a little excitement for safer roads and a better world.
Photo Credits: Car & Driver, Mad4Wheels
- Experimental Safety Vehicle