By Bob Blake
Cars are comfort cocoons…but isolate us from the world. Air ride shocks and computers smooth the road…plush seats snuggle to our body shape – and all the while we stay warm… and soothed by 6-speaker sound!
For early motorists, staying warm was a priority. The first “cars” were merely motorized open carriages exposed to dust, dirt and COLD air! Even the next era of enclosed vehicles were simply un-insulated metal boxes with gaping seams that leaked frigid air and gas fumes.
These early riders simply nestled under blankets and covered their feet with hot water bottles – a carry-over from buggy days. Thomas Ahearn, a Canadian, received an 1892 patent for an electric water heater for streetcars, but even today’s batteries could not withstand such a power drain!
The 1902 catalog from Chicago’s Clark Company offered a metal charcoal box for the floorboard. Remember… heat rises. Their enthusiastic advertisement said “covered with rich plush velvet and ventilated” – all for four dollars! Pre-heated bricks were layered into the oblong container. The company claimed the radiant warmth lasted “three to five hours and without flame, smoke or odor.”
The 1934 Ford V-8 offered a $14 dealer-installed heater that warmed the outside air as it flowed thru a metal cylinder on the engine exhaust pipe. I wonder how many people got headaches or carbon monoxide poisoning from tiny leaks in the system?
The South Wind heater, an unusual invention of the 1930s, actually burned gasoline! The raw fuel from the carburetor entered a finned oven. A controlled glow plug ignited a flame to give instant heat. An electric fan distributed the toasty warmth in seconds – like gas logs for the car! Our military used a variation in airplanes and vehicles during World War II and the Korean War.
Some memorable South Wind advertisements featured a classy lady, sitting in a cozy car, with the caption, “Come in here and get warm with me!” They were popular until the late 1940s.
As circulating water heaters improved, they became the industry standard. The units were safe and practical, but required a long “warm up” period. Thankfully, improved heat transfer systems have lessened the annoying blasts of cold air!
Heaters remained optional until the mid-1950s. Early automobile magazines featured pages of ads for add-on units built by major manufacturers such as Arvin and Tropic-Aire.
Thankfully… progress! – Now we can even warm our bottoms with heated seats!