Driverless Dodge? Blackbourn 451

By: Rob Blackbourn

Presented by

dodge dodge

Cars and the open road used to be about freedom, adventure, discovery and skill building. Now, not so much...

With the brave new world of autonomous vehicles coming into clearer focus as it advances steadily toward us, all I can do is look away and hope the whole thing is a bad dream that will disappear when I wake up. If only…

You could kind of see it coming, though, with opportunities for drivers to exercise individual skill and judgement being progressively diminished. In-car technology is displacing many traditional driving skills and measures like right-turn arrows that stay red on empty roads, kilometres of continuous double-lines on country roads and the punitive control of highway speeds combine to minimise the scope for driver decision making.

So the happy days of matching speed to conditions on an interstate trip and tackling your favourite mountain roads for the sheer joy of it are behind us. And if the car in front of me on the freeway starts petering out when my mirrors are full of the grille of a loaded B-double, I don’t want to have to fight autonomous braking and "lane-support" systems while I swerve to safety in the emergency lane.


So you could say that the drivers’ role has been sharing the pot with the frog while the water temperature slowly comes to the boil – poor old froggie’s final croak might well mark the end of driving and the commencement of the compulsory autonomous-vehicles era.

Clearly not everyone’s running worst-fears scenarios like me about what’s to become of our beloved Driversworld. Many can’t wait to be relieved of the tedium of having to drive their vehicles from A to B each day. Then on the far side of the spectrum are some who’ve jumped the gun, believing the happy time is already upon us – like the guy in the US who crashed his Winnebago after allegedly popping into the kitchen to make a coffee after setting the cruise control. Okay, I know this incident has been labelled fake news, but a similar report about a retired UK librarian from Suffolk whose van crashed while she was making a cuppa seems to be standing up. She apparently assumed that the combination of cruise control and sat-nav would handle the navigation duties.

Anyway, enough of that malarkey – let’s visit a time way before autonomous vehicles were a thing and well before someone lit the gas under froggie’s pot.

It was late one night in the 1960s when my travelling mate Andy briefly believed that a 1937 Dodge sedan had suddenly taken the autonomous option.


The old Dodge belonged to two itinerant bricklayers from Perth who were giving us a lift from Camooweal to Tennant Creek. She had tools and a wheelbarrow tied to a rack on her back bumper. Ladders, planks and camping gear travelled on the roof-rack and a huge plywood storage-box holding the rest of their supplies and gear filled what would have originally been the back-seat area. Fortunately for Andy and me there was about 30cm of headroom between the top of the box and the car’s headlining – the double-bed sized area provided enough room for the two of us to wriggle into along with our bags.

It was damned hot as the Dodge plodded west along the Barkly Highway with the poor-man’s cruise-control (the hand-throttle) set to about 65km/h, while the feeble yellow glow from the 6v headlights picked out the lonely road ahead. We were all weary and Andy soon nodded off. Needing some air, passenger-brickie climbed out on to the running-board, before deciding to move to the roof-rack. Driver-brickie wanted some as well so he got out on his running board and steered the car through the open window. Keen for a bit of coolth myself, I got out on to the passenger-side running board and held on to the rack. With riders on the running boards we must have looked like Elliot Ness and his team heading to a raid. Or maybe Al Capone and his boys. Who knows? Anyway this novel Northern Territory approach to air conditioning was working for me…

Then came an unholy scream as Andy awoke to find no one at home, before scrambling over into the driver’s seat to grab the tiller to save himself.

After a few interesting, wobbly moments during which driver-brickie and Andy sorted out who was in charge we managed to pull up without losing anyone overboard.


 From Unique Cars #451, April 2021

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