Here's how your car has changed over 40 years

Doesn’t time fly? Although sadly our cars don’t… yet.

TECHNOLOGY, EH? YOU can’t deny it’s changed how we live immeasurably.

And it’s definitely changed how we drive.

We decided to take a look back over the last forty years and see how many innovations and changes have been made to your car. Changes that probably bordered on futuristic when they were mooted and are now standard or almost standard.

Doesn’t time fly? Although sadly our cars don’t… yet.

Bigger and brighter headlights

BMW 435i M Sport (F32) headlight n0hav0cyet94 n0hav0cyet94

When headlights were first introduced to cars in the 1880s (believe it or not, they weren’t a mandatory feature – or even a feature at all), they were an acetylene and oil mix lamp, similar to gas lamps. But the high cost of oil meant a new system quickly needed to be introduced. Along came electric lamps – although they weren’t without their problems. For a start the filament kept burning out, so the car manufacturers kept working away on a solution.

In 1962, halogen lamps were introduced and became mandatory in many countries – although the US still used non-halogen lamps until 1978.

Enter xenon headlights which gave an even brighter light than halogen and were introduced in 1991. Again, there was some controversy around xenon – who knew car headlights had such a chequered history? Not only is it an expensive way to produce headlights, there’s way more glare from xenon headlights than previous iterations, so new technology had to be developed to counteract that.

Anti-lock braking system (ABS)

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It goes without saying how important your brakes are and even since ABS have become standard improvements have been made.

ABS, which were developed for aircraft way back in 1929, works by helping to stop the wheels locking in order to avoid uncontrolled skidding.

In normal driving conditions, on tarmac rather than snow or ice conditions, ABS has been proven to improve braking distance (making it shorter) but in snowy conditions the reverse actually happens. While the wheels of cars without ABS would lock and dig in, the ABS prevents this happening. However, measures have been taken to fix this such as calibrating the ABS to slow down the cycles allowing the wheels to lock and unlock, briefly.

There you are now.


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It’s far from airbags you were reared, but they’ve become a (welcome, logical) safety standard.

Around since 1941, if you can believe that – although air-filled bladders don’t have quite the same ring – two patents were given for airbags in 1953, one in Germany and one in America. It was quickly found that the German airbag didn’t inflate fast enough for maximum safety.

Airbags have developed since then with a breakthrough in 1967 involving airbag sensors that would inflate an airbag in under 30 milliseconds.

Now, there are airbags in all sorts of places – side airbags, seat airbags, rear curtain airbags and a knee airbag – although they’re not standard in all models.

Fuel injection

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Those poor carburetors are a thing of the past.

Carburetors were a device that blended air and fuel for an internal combustion engine, but they’ve been forced aside since the late ’80s by the superior fuel injection.

The main difference between a carburetor and a fuel injection is that the fuel injection atomises the fuel through a small nozzle under high pressure, while the carburetor uses suction.

The benefits of the fuel injection is a smoother throttle and it generally increases fuel efficiency.

Hybrid engines


Nowadays you can get engines that are part electric and part petrol/diesel. These fancy-pants engines are the way of the future, with their ability to conserve fuel while the car is idling by switching to the electric part of the engine.

While the technology has been around for some time the costs of hybrid energy prohibited them being used in smaller vehicles such as cars and trucks, but that has been overcome and more and more hybrid cars are becoming available on the market.

Computers computers everywhere

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Probably the most epic change in cars is how much technology there is everywhere. From your side mirrors being motorised to your mechanic almost needing some sort of PhD in electronics just do to a check up of your engine, there’s definitely more pros than cons in having so much computerised technology in your car. Being able to pinpoint exactly what’s wrong with your car surely beats tinkering with the engine for hours on end, right?

BMW 3 series is celebrating its 6 generation release in 40 years. With design innovation and cars that are ahead of the curve, this classic car that epitomises sporty, agile handling, an enthusiasm for innovative technology and an appreciation of premium quality. Go to BMW to find out more. 

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