Planned Obsolescence: 30 Years of Evolution in Car Accessories

How technologies and goods have changed since 1986


Alain Prost won the 1986 Formula 1 championship wearing a Bell XFM-1, one very similar to the white helmet here, which is still sold as part of Bell’s Classic series. The XFM-1 was one of the first auto racing helmets to have a lightweight carbon-composite shell and a fire-retardant interior. The aerodynamically shaped Bell HP7 worn by reigning Formula 1 champion Lewis Hamilton meets the FIA’s latest “super helmet” standard with high-strength carbon-fiber construction, titanium hardware, an optical-quality fogless visor, and a slew of air ducts for cooling.

Video Games

In 1986 Sega released OutRun, an arcade game that put the player behind the wheel of a Ferrari Testarossa. Believe it or not, OutRun was pretty snappy for its time, what with modern hardware and, uh, dazzling graphics. Today there’s Forza Motorsport 6 for Xbox One, in which a player can choose from 460 cars—including more than 30 Ferraris—and drive around 26 different tracks, all from the comfort of the couch. And, yes, Forza’s graphics are a little bit better than OutRun’s.


Radar Detectors

Escort Radar launched in 1978 under the name Cincinnati Microwave Inc. and made its reputation with the original Passport radar detector in the early ’80s. Featuring X- and K-band detection capability, the $295 unit was one of the best radar detectors on the market. Though Cincinnati Microwave later went bankrupt, it came back to life in the late ’90s under the Escort name. Today’s $650 Max 360 has Bluetooth connectivity, a GPS-based “false alert” system, and detection for X-band, K-band, Ka-band, Ka-POP, and laser through its front- and rear-mounted radar receivers.

steering wheels

Steering Wheels

The simple three-spoke steering wheel in Ayrton Senna’s McLaren MP4/4 Formula 1 car had two buttons: a green one to turn on the radio and a red one to give the car’s turbocharged Honda V-6 a bit more kick during overtakes. The steering wheel in current F1 cars, such as this one from Jenson Button’s McLaren MP4/29 with its turbocharged Mercedes V-6 from the 2014 racing season, features a large LCD display, an LED rev counter, and a whole lot of colorful buttons that control pit lane speed, increase passing speed, control energy recovery, and the like.

12V Charging

The 12-volt, in-car power outlet, originally designed to heat the metal coils inside of a cigarette lighter, has stuck around even though a lot of automotive manufacturers don’t even offer cigarette lighters anymore. Most people use 12-volt outlets to power USB adapters, such as this $25, two-port reVOLT pro model from Scosche, assuming their car doesn’t already have standard USB ports. (Remember, smoking kills, but so does texting while driving.)



“Thirty years of tire development is equivalent to eons of human evolution,” says Woody Rogers, product information specialist at Tire Rack. Continental in 1986 sold the SuperContact CV41, a “high-performance tire for the high demands of drivers of powerful, fast cars with speeds in excess of 121 mph.” Hell, now a 78-hp Mitsubishi Mirage can almost hit that speed. A tire today, like Continental’s high-performance ExtremeContact DW, “delivers high-speed capability, dry and wet traction, and wear life [at speeds up to 186 mph] that were unimaginable back then,” according to Rogers.

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