Secret Life of the Car

The second series of The Secret Life of Machines started with a look at the car - like this Ford Ranch Wagon, photographed at a dealership in Tallahassee, Florida, USA in May of 1957. (From The Tallahassee Democrat Collection, State Library and Archives of Florida, no known copyright restrictions. Original photograph cropped by author).
The second series of The Secret Life of Machines started with a look at the car – like this Ford Ranch Wagon, photographed at a dealership in Tallahassee, Florida, USA in May of 1957. (From The Tallahassee Democrat Collection, State Library and Archives of Florida, no known copyright restrictions. Original photograph cropped by author).

Series two of The Secret Life of Machines debuted on Channel 4 in 1991, three years after the first series. In the opening episode, hosts Tim Hunkin and Rex Garrod set about to examine the history and development of the automobile, specifically the steel body shell (the engine gets its own episode next week).

After an interesting aerial opening shot of a “carhenge” (think Stonehenge, but made from dilapidated car bodies), Hunkin progresses quickly through the early experimentation of Gottlieb Daimler and Karl Benz–both of whom should be relatively familiar names. He also demonstrates a 1902 Wolseley to show that, by that early date, most of the components of a modern automobile (steering wheel, pedals, etc.) were already in place. This portion of the program also makes extensive use of archival footage taken from a film created by the Morris Motors company.

Hunkin uses the next portion of the program to pay homage to an American engineer named Edward Budd, to whom Hunkin refers as a “one of [his] heroes.” Budd’s techniques of stamping and spot-welding thin steel sheet metal into a car body “shell” enabled the nascent automobile industry to move beyond the more tediously-constructed wooden carriage bodies and toward mass production.

The latter portion of the program examines the rise of front-wheel drive and other recent advancements in automotive construction and safety. (Hunkin has an unplanned radiator blowout around this point, and the front end of a Mini drives off without its body.) Garrod performs another rollover stunt (much like the one from the Secret Life of the Washing Machine, when he demonstrated solenoid valves), and the pair close the episode at a scrap yard where they watch the demise of a Ford Cortina in a compactor.

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