Technological Progress

Over at ChicagoBoyz, someone made an observation that in transportation, most of the progress was made in a 50 year period by 1969.

Which got me thinking.

The cars that many of us baby boomers idolized, such as the Jaguar E-Type, Corvette Sting Ray, Shelby Cobra – all came out about 50 years after cars first started making inroads with the Model T.

Another 50 years later, due to improvements in metallurgy and electronics, cars are far more efficient, handle better, and get far better gas mileage. Four cylinder engines are doing the work of 6 cylinders just a few years earlier,  6 cylinders are what powerful V8 engines were, and V8 engines  – 450-500HP seems to be the new normal. To do that in the later 60s you needed a big block V8 (like a 427) and a supercharger which pumps more air into the cylinders, allowing more fuel, allowing more power.

Bill Cosby, in his better days, had a funny routine about 1 of the 2 Cobras Carroll Shelby made with a Paxton Supercharger. It was 900 hp and capable of 200 mph. In 1969, that was unheard of. Today if you want to spend the money, dozens of cars can do 200. Including certain Corvettes. (Why you would want one is the subject for another post 😉 )

I remember reading a track test a few years ago comparing a modern stock Mustang GT with a 1966 Shelby GT350 – and the stock Mustang of today beat the Shelby handily.

In the 60s 0-60 in 6 seconds was high performance, now econoboxes with 4 cylinder engines are doing that.

We’ve made progress, to be sure, but not in the manner of the 1st 50 years.

Same with aviation.

I was surprised – looking at general aviation today, of the change in avionics. What was the gold standard, Collins, seems to be gone and Garmin – those people who make your car GPS – have given small general aviation aircraft navigation tools that even the airliners of the late 60s didn’t have.

I remember going to an open house in San Diego at North Island in 1980 – and someone telling me that for the F4 Phantom, 20 hours of maintenance were needed for every hour of flight.

Some years ago, I was at the Reno Air Races and about 50 feet from one of the Blue Angels FA-18. I was watching them change an engine.

It took all of 30-40 minutes for them to pull out the old engine and install the new one.

But actual performance differences with the Phantom?

I am sure the Hornet could turn quicker – other differences?

Compare the top speed of a Boeing 707 (540 knots) to a Boeing 787 (510 knots). (Source Wikipedia)

Don’t get me wrong, there have been tremendous improvements in things like efficiency, range, engines, avionics but I think the improvements were incremental for the 2nd 50 years.

Progress in the first 50 years was exponential; incremental in the 2nd 50 years.

At least it seems that way to me.


Update 05-11-19 : Here is some more information on the Cobra “Super Snake” (1 of 2 built) Bill Cosby bought. 900 HP, no electronic driving aids of any type…Sadly, the man who bought the car after Cosby was killed in it going off a cliff. 

Reminds me a bit of this specially built Mercedes I drove going back from Mendocino years ago. It was a 1972 350SL with the drive train of a 600 limousine. It was, I like to say, a German Cobra. 

They way that car was going I thought – like a half-wild horse – that it would kill me unless I was constantly aware. 

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