That Disastrous Car Homer Simpson
Designed Was Actually Ahead of Its Time
In The Simpsons episode “Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?,” Homer is asked to design a car for the company run by his long-lost brother, and fails so spectacularly he drives him out of business. It’s a brilliant episode because, on top of being hilarious, kind of predicted the automotive future: Some of the features that made Homer’s car so terrible are actually commonplace in 21st century vehicles.
In the 1991 episode, Homer’s father Abe reveals he had another son by a carnival worker, whom he put up for adoption. After some haphazard research, Homer finds Herb Powell, his half-brother (voiced by Danny DeVito) and the head of a successful major automotive company in Detroit (a fact that shows the episode’s age a bit).
Feeling his engineers have lost touch with the common folk, Herb employs Homer because he is, Powell says, “an average schmo.” Homer is given free rein to design his dream car, a futuristic creation filled with conveniences that make driving easy and pleasant. The episode comes with nods to automotive styling history: “Some things are so snazzy that they never go out of style, like tail fins and bubble domes. And shag carpeting!” Homer says.
The result of his efforts is The Homer, “powerful like a gorilla, yet soft and yielding like a Nerf ball.” It’s uglier than anything on the real-world market and, at $82,000 ($128,000 in 2014 dollars), it instantly puts Herb’s company out of business. (There are echoes here of real world mega-flops like Ford’s Edsel and the Tucker Torpedo.)
But perhaps Homer was simply ahead of his time. More than 20 years after the episode aired, some of the things he wanted have indeed made their ways into cars, if not exactly as he expected. To see how The Homer stacks up against today’s offerings, let’s run through its highlight features and what we actually have today.
A ball on the antenna (remember those?) so you can find it in a parking lot
Antennas have been replaced with 4G LTE connectivity, so Homer’s simple solution doesn’t work anymore. But there are lots of apps and even hardware to help drivers find their parked cars, so the industry has got this one covered.
Multiples horns, all of which play “La Cucaracha”
Automakers have stuck with standard noises (good choice), but today’s steering wheels do have multiple spots to hit for the horn. As Homer says, “You can never find a horn when you’re mad.”
A separate soundproof bubble dome for kids, with optional restraints and muzzles
The auto industry has gotten more and more careful about putting kids as old as 12 in child and booster seats, but the focus there is safety, not keeping them quiet.
An engine that will make people think “the world is coming to an end”
Ridiculously huge engines haven’t disappeared—note the 707-horsepower Challenger SRT Dodge unloaded on us this week—but growing concern for avoiding actual Armageddon has pushed auto engineering in the other direction. Now we have fuel-saving systems that disengage cylinders at lower speeds, turn of the engine at idle, or make cars go silent altogether.
Gigantic cup holders for the soda cups from the Kwik-E-Mart
Some manufacturers have made bigger cup holders to hold huge cups (or mini–buckets of fried chicken), but with 12-ounce soda cans and Starbucks cups still (mostly) the same size, cup holders haven’t changed tremendously. We’re surprised, too.
Insulation from road noise has definitely improved. Active noise cancellation works like airplane headphones — they use embedded microphones to find the offending frequencies and emit a sound that counters and cancels it out. Now, they only work for engine drone and wind noise. We don’t expect to see the same technology used to quiet down children
Bonus: One Powell employee suggests a “built-in video game,” we’re not sure if this made it into The Homer
In-car entertainment systems for kids are a key feature of luxury vehicles, though in the long run the prevalence of iPads may make them redundant.
Yup. At least when you buy a Rolls-Royce.
There is one thing we’d take from the Homer that no automaker offers: its bowling trophy hood ornament.