CC TV: Cars Of The Flintstones

Today is a good day as any to attend pending matters at CC. While a good deal of automotive history has already been covered in these pages, there’s been a gross oversight; to this day, there’s nary a mention on the pre-history of the automobile! I’m not finger pointing here; the lack of enthusiasm is understandable, as most of those long-gone vehicles lacked combustion engines, and animal / human powered transport is far from CC’s mainstay.

The subject is long overdue though. We might as well get it over with, regardless of how much dyno manure may get in the way.

Where to start? The very beginning of course! It may have been an orange spinning down a hill, or a rolling boulder crushing a few hominids. Somehow somewhere, by happenstance, the idea of the wheel came up and mobility was conceived.

With wheel created, it didn’t take long for humans to ponder the obvious: “Wouldn’t it be nice to have a cool little roadster for the weekends?” More prosaic matters may have been at play too: “What if we carried all this mammoth meat in a van rather than on our backs?”

As we all know, The Flintstones show serves as our main source for this car-related past. And from the show’s intro one can see old automotive technology was creative and varied; wood, rocks, fabrics and animals were used in surprising ways. Craftsmanship was essential in this pre-industrial past. That and a lot of muscle; shaping rocks into cute roadsters had to be a lot of work! Then again, human physique and endurance was something else back then.

Most episodes take place in the town of Bedrock, which recent archeological diggings have located in South California, around the San Fernando Valley. In Latin America a competing theory argues it was located in Spain, crediting the visible arid surroundings. It’s an absurd notion that I hope fades soon, as it’s obviously inspired by some poorly dubbed episodes.

Fred’s car is The Flintstone’s main automotive star. In a lot of ways the simplest of all, being just a ‘roller.’ For carmakers to get buyers to pay hard cash for feet-propelled-vehicles (not even pedals!), shows those were much simpler times. Yet, we can assume that to offer a seat and a canopy was an enticing enough ‘sales pitch.’

On the other hand, the technology used on those ancient wheel bearings has never been surpassed; once in motion, that boy rolled nonstop! Miles and miles of kinetic energy used in the most efficient of ways.

There were additional pluses to Fred’s basic machine; as episodes progressed, a novel ‘modular’ capability was revealed. There’s no mention ever as to how complex these conversions were, but Fred’s car could switch from two to four seater, and to roadster as well. The dashboard would also switch from wood to stone, but it’s hard to tell if they were replaced due to wear, or were updates á la Fiero.

In the scientific community there’s much arguing about the materials used in the period. Most theories agree redwood was commonly used for frames, but endless discussions swirl around the kind of stone applied on wheels. A group favors granite, as it was a common material with long lasting qualities. Detractors argue against granite’s heaviness (but hey, Fred was a hefty guy!), supporting limestone instead; though it isn’t feather light either.

A controversial hypothesis has recently appeared, supporting pumice as the stone of choice. It’s truly far lighter, but detractors point pumice wouldn’t be able to handle the task’s pummeling. To this, pumice supporters claim the rock was rather common, and that wheel replacements would easily be available at any gas station. That may have been true, but looking at The Flintstones, I can see wheel sizes varied as widely then as they do now. Good luck finding the right-sized replacement during an emergency!

For some reason, Barney Rubble’s log-mobile kept shifting in shape ever so slightly throughout the show. There was never any explanation for this, and one can only speculate: Was wood poorly sealed and rotted quickly? Or did Barney carved and chopped it to keep it up to date with styling fashions? Were log-mobiles just very low cost and purchased at a moment’s whim?

In either case, this early version’s poorly-proportioned front overhang is our best cue it was a front-wheeler. Not a great looker, but if Subaru and Saab had trouble getting proportions right thousands of years later, we can cut some slack to this little log-mobile.

This version of Barney’s car is also bestowed with really tiny wheels. Pundits contend its dynamics must have been awfully poor, with a dangerous propensity to rollover. Good thing Barney was a prudent driver! How come this model never made it into Ralph Nader’s book? Rollover tendencies, fire proclivities, pedestrian-impaling front end; the vehicle was nothing but a rolling menace.

A later version shows better sized wheels and proportions, although predating the ‘coming or going’ styling of Studebaker’s Starlight. Log-mobiles probably had the advantages of being lighter and easier to handle, and one can see why puny Barney preferred them. On the other hand they must have required tons of maintenance, with constant waxings and varnish coatings. With only a few weeks of neglect rot, mildew and splinters would undoubtedly appear. That without mentioning birds, vermin and insects hoping to find a home in the bodywork. Must have been quite a sight trying to restore a ‘found in a barn’ log-mobile.

For some reason the gals’ cars kept switching throughout the show’s entire run (The only brand-loyalist was Fred). Car leases must have been rather accessible (not to mention Bedrock was enjoying its ‘exceptional age’ too), while assembly and materials were probably not long lasting either. Swapping must have been rather common.

In any case, in this shot Betty is driving a nifty little number, in most likeliness a European import. Don’t deny it, this rock-mobile carries an elegant dowdiness that exudes Britishness through every pore. No idea why the need for a fake radiator, as combustion engines didn’t exist and no cooling was necessary. Either it was a water deposit for a thirsty lizard serving as ‘propulsion,’ or a ‘radiator’ shape just happens to be an ‘inevitable’ idea in car styling.

Wilma also drove a variety of cars throughout the seasons. This one looks pretty spiffy, more sophisticate than most of Bedrock’s vehicles. How did she get stingy Fred to plow down cash for it? That was never addressed in the episode, but we can safely assume Fred ‘owed it’ to her after one of his many failed dimwitted schemes.

According to recent studies some distant ancestor of Bill Mitchell was behind this car’s styling. Seems likely, the color palette is well thought out, and the dapper looking canvas is a sophisticated take on what is nothing but a mundane log-mobile. Some careful thinking went into making this look far more than it actually is.

Sadly, Bedrock’s ancient freeway system is long gone, with no evidence of it ever existing found… so far. Naysayers vehemently argue humans could have never built such systems back then. Poppycock! Humans used DINOSAURS for construction in those days! Think of it, with a few dozen trained stegosauruses, the wonders we could do in modern construction! It’s just too bad they were hunted to extinction by ancient human’s lust for bronto-burgers.

As it’s clearly seen on the image, echoes of the Roman Aqueduct can be seen, techniques that somehow remained ‘ingrained’ in our collective consciousness (the only possible explanation for its later use). Also, don’t get too jealous with the desolate roadways; the shot clearly belongs to a slow weekend.

In reality Bedrock had infernal traffic, much like what we endure nowadays. Build a road and humans will flock to it, first cautiously, then in droves. The quest for greener pastures -and Palm Springs- is as old as humankind, literally.

While Bedrock’s inhabitants were years-ahead from the rest of humanity, it’s also true a lot of their ancient ‘technology’ is rather questionable today. The strings holding this stop sign would be a ‘lawsuit in the waiting’ in today’s litigious landscape. Indeed, the pole itself could rot and fall on some unsuspecting pedestrian. Bedrock either had less lawyers, a better health system, or its inhabitants had thicker skulls.

Animals were used in ways that would leave PETA workers in conniptions. ‘Gas stations’ had nothing but mammoths, stuck in place, serving as dispense tanks. Fred seems pretty casual in this shot, and the mammoths seem Ok with the proceedings; but on the whole this is just a big ‘no-no’ today, and we can all agree as to why.

Horns, engines, turntables; anything Bedrock’s inhabitants didn’t find a way to make function was met through the use of animals (On this shot, Fred’s nifty parrot-horn can be seen).

Besides being ethically questionable to our more attuned sensibilities, these animals often gave ‘attitude’ and truly knew how to ‘throw shade’ if wanting to do so. Serious drawbacks of the system.

A very icky ‘animal-powered’ vehicle appears here; some kind of giant cockroach-centipede thing. Yuck! Sensibilities have changed much in the many centuries in between, and maybe Bedrock’s residents didn’t mind riding what’s basically a giant bug… But in all, I’m VERY glad I was born after the industrial revolution.

As Betty’s car showed earlier, Bedrock’s landscape wasn’t just filled with American makes. Yes, the ‘import invasion’ menace is an ancient one, being as misunderstood then as it was centuries later. Here’s a tiny rear-engined log-mobile of probable Eastern European origin. On this shot another interesting precedent; Fred’s car appears to be surrounded by nothing but large SUVs.

Sticking to imports, here’s an interesting one. Its apparent lightness is no accident; researchers have found direct links to a Colin Chapman ancestor. The obsessive attention to light weight must be a family trait carried in their genes ever since. No register on the vehicle’s dynamics or track record, but rumors abound regarding the cash bag in the shot; most point to a desperate payment to some loan shark in an effort to keep assembly lines going.

These import influences created some unusual results at the time, just as they did centuries later in the US industry. Here’s an example: the weird overhangs, the opera windows, the ungainly proportions; obviously an older platform dressed up to look ‘European.’ Most likely with questionable white-marble accents to project an ‘Italian’ look.

Here’s an infamous one, another American trying the ‘Euro’ thing. No mere log-mobile, but a chiseled chunk of redwood aping the best works of ancient Modena. Indeed, it looked fast just by standing still. Meanwhile, the unusual ‘opposite-angles’ suspension is thought to be of French inspiration.

There were problems though, as it often happens with early appropriations; the carved shape was improperly sealed and splinters were common. Also rot tended to appear after a short few months, even in Bedrock’s dry climate (those overzealous car wash places!). Finally, the odd full-sunroof roof pleased neither roof buyers, nor cabriolet seekers. Talk about a feature over-analyzed by marketing honchos.

By this point, I can imagine a number of CC readers wondering: Where were the Japanese? Well, under water of course! The island had yet to emerge! In those Neanderthal days the fame of those industrious people was in naval matters. On the other hand, the methodical Asians were already making ‘car loading’ tests that would prove essential by the time the 20th Century arrived.

Back to American cars, as it was Detroit’s wont, they tended to stick to conservative engineering and eschew risk as much as possible. Traditional log-mobiles were their mainstay, generally enhanced with endless ‘special editions’ that brought a hefty profit. Trim and decor, that was the trick! While some European pundits refer to them as ‘somewhat crude,’ their fans truly relished their well-proven traits. Also, Americans’ knowledge on cantilever-technology was unsurpassed; look at that roof loaded to the gills! Even to this day, no other nation compares to American know-how in specialized stuff-hauling.

Good thing hauling capabilities were good; with paper invention centuries away, just to carry a Rand MacNally map required a whole trunk for doing so.

The show brings an endless stream of vehicles: Trucks were invariably built out of rock, little roadsters favored wood, and cop cars came in all kinds of build materials. Regardless of style, it’s obvious all these vehicles were made for fair weather. There are no hints anywhere as to what transport was like in less fortunate climates. What about a downpour? Or a snow blizzard? Researchers are working hard to unlock such mysteries. Then again, buyers had different standards back then. We’re talking centuries difference in buyer’s expectations, you know?

I can also hear some wondering: What about racing? Fear not speed fans, competition was an active and vibrant scene. Predictably, researchers traced Chapman’s relative to a few racing seasons, where his team even reached the podium on a few occasions. Evidence suggests it all ended dourly though. With a few drivers’ lives lost, the team was sued for poor assembly, with prosecutors claiming Chapman’s ‘overzealous use of pumice suspension bits’ as the reason behind the fatalities. In his defense, Chapman’s relative blamed the drivers’ ‘Neanderthal brains’ and poor driving skills for the ill-fated collisions.

In recent times a few cynics have pointed out to the similarities between The Flintstones and The Honey Mooners, a mid ’50s comedy show starring Jackie Gleason. Oddly, it’s another series about pals sneaking around their spouses to get into some convoluted scheme or another, always ending in hijinks. That after centuries such similarities can be found in both shows is only proof that regardless of lifestyle, human behavior is a constant.

It’s time to put a granite-lined brake to this first Flintstones post. Much has to be explored in this area of automotive history, and I can only hope this humble effort gets the ball rolling (no pun intended) in this much neglected issue. Think of it all: the chiseled and hand carved interiors, the types of lizards and dynos at work in those engine bays; endless knowledge to be rediscovered and re-applied in our age! Just think what a Tesla could do with those astonishing wheel bearings of yore!