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April 2017

I am Charlotte Gallant, the Deputy Archivist. In the March 'Document of the Month' blog, it was mentioned that we recently sorted out the rather eclectic Motoring Ephemera section of the Archive. This contains a vast array of different types of material, from personal pieces such as driving licences, to books and pamphlets that, despite being associated with the motor industry, don’t quite fit with the wider collection. While we were working on this material, I stumbled across what I knew would be my next Document of the Month.

'Transport in the year AD 2000': a discussion arranged by the Automotive Division of the Institute of Mechanical Engineers and held at the Institution on 22 February 1965. This book was donated by the Rover Company Technical Library.

Why This Document?

Having recently read two books by H G Wells, who describes in great detail what Earth might be like in the future, I was intrigued to know what educated men from 1965 with expertise in their different fields thought the future would hold for the motor industry in the next 35 years.

This discussion about the year 2000 AD had a number of speakers from around the UK, including professors of physics, engineers from Rolls Royce and several officials from London Transport, the Air Pollution Research Unit and the Road Research Laboratory. Each gave a brief lecture about their predictions for the future, not only for transportation but for society at the turn of the century.

There are many predications in this publication that we can now, in the 21st Century, agree were sensible and well thought out, including some which have actually taken place during the subsequent 35 years. Speakers from London Transport expected more use to be made of the London Underground, more multi-storey car parks and in some areas the return of trams to supplement buses – something which has happened in Sheffield, Nottingham, Manchester, London and Birmingham. Each of these speakers also agreed on the growth of the population (by around 20 million), as well as the expansion of towns, cities and houses to accommodate more people. They also predict a ‘saturation’ point in car ownership – where everyone who desires to own a motorcar has the means to possess one.          

Another key area was communications, particularly for business. One speaker claims that commuting to the workplace from Monday to Friday will be replaced by electronic communication. While he is not entirely right, video conferencing (which was already in use around the mid 1960s when this discussion was arranged) has dramatically increased, culminating in the introduction built-in webcams and free internet services such as Skype.

Others, however, expected a great deal to have been achieved in 35 years and their predictions even now seem a bit too futuristic. For example, the striking cover picture is an artist’s impression of the Ford Levacar, an idea that was first proposed in 1930. Eventually a full-sized concept vehicle was produced in 1959 along with a 'Levascooter' in the same year. In the artist’s impression the vehicle is wheel-less and supposed to slide along rails on a thin film of air, capable of speeds of up to 500 miles per hour. By the time the concept vehicle was built the idea had changed. Instead of rails, it would ‘levitate’ off the ground via the use of three powerful air jets on the bottom of the chassis, powered by a small scale turbojet engine. Unfortunately this design never became reality and instead a scale model version was released in 1962 for enthusiasts and toy collectors.

Diagrams from the Roxbee-Cox Committee for a design of vehicle that might be 'a little unstable'. The buses pictured above were produced as a light-hearted distraction from serious matters – a design that was different, but somewhat flawed.

There were other slightly overambitious predictions such as moving pavements or 'travelators' for pedestrians, special automated tracks to deliver goods and parcels, nuclear powered supersonic air liners (with passengers being anaesthetized for the duration of the journey), more hovercrafts for sea freight, personal aeroplanes (although this particular speaker did concede there might be issues with this idea in terms of aeroplane parking) and elevated monorails along city streets.

When it came to the types of cars that might be around in the year 2000, the majority rightly agreed that cars had to eventually become smaller and more environmentally friendly, especially in the big cities. When it came to serious ideas, however, they were a bit wide of the mark. Some speakers favoured the thought of small two-person electronic bubble cars for transport around towns. Others expected automatic vehicle control would make it possible for a car to drop off its owner at work and take itself back to the garage, therefore entirely eliminating the need for street parking.  

Yet despite some of the more outlandish predictions for the beginning of the 21st Century, interesting points were raised by the speakers attending, about not just the future of transport but of society as a whole. Much of what was suggested – the increase in population (and therefore cars) and the need for cleaner, more efficient types of travel are still the subject of debate today. Who knows what the next 35 years will bring and what transportation in the year AD 2052 will be like?

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