Daimler claims to have invented both the car and the truck, but Nicolas-Joseph Cugnot beat them to both, having made working, self-propelled cars and trucks starting in 1769, with three and four wheels and both steering and brakes, some in tractor-trailer form.
The steering wheel (1898-1902) if you include Jeffery/Rambler (Packard also claims this)
Steel (no wood) bodies, across the line (Dodge Bros.)
Full test course for developing cars (Dodge Brothers)
According to a 1973 brochure, Dodge firsts included:
The first all-steel sedan (1919), made by Budd
The first full front seat (1921)
Windshield washer/cleaner (1921)
All-steel coupe body (June 1922)
Zeder, Breer, and Skelton—themselves or their era
Maxwell was innovative, but the “Three Musketeers” (Zeder, Skelton, and Breer) under Walter Chrysler had pretty much everyone beat. After that, there would be another sudden spurt of innovation as electronics specialists were brought back from the Huntsville aerospace/military headquarters, and then another when AMC’s methods and people were adopted.
Oil filters with replaceable elements (1924). They were first optional, then standard in the 1930s. It took GM decades to make them standard across the board.
High-compression engines were an ironic first, since General Motors had invented leaded fuel to allow higher compression; but Chrysler was first with an actual high compression engine (1924).
Rubber engine mounts as part of a system to stop engine vibration (1925) (Others had used rubber engine mounts, but not as part of an engineered, researched system, which was far more effective.)
Overdrive: four-speed overdrive manual transmissions were created at Chrysler. Borg-Warner was asked to supply it, both to Chrysler and to competitors, to avoid tooling costs within the company, according to Carl Breer.
Integrated antifreeze temperature gauges (1930?); according to Carl Breer, while it destroyed the Boyce MotoMeters business, Boyce himself said it was worth it!
Downdraft carburetors (first use in a mass production car) (1929)
Automatic spark control, using centrifuge and vacuum (1931)
Floating Power (1931): There had been rubber mounts before, but Floating Power placed front and rear engine mounts equidistant from the engine’s center of gravity, letting the engine rock on its axis.
Automatic overdrive (1934)
Full range crankshaft impulse neutralizer and vibration damper (1928)
Automatic choke (1932); Carl Breer worked with Sisson on this, and had some amusing stories. The system used a bi-metal thermostatic coil to gradually open the choke; they also applied exhaust heat to the fuel-air mixture when it was cold, to warm up faster. Oldsmobile also used an automatic choke on their 1932 cars, so this might be a “close second” or “shared first.”
Roller bearing universal joints (1932)
Exhaust valve seat inserts (1932); these were made of tungsten alloy, which was pretty advanced for the time
Air filters as a standard feature (1946, via Beer)
Full-flow oil filter (1946)
Fuel filter in the gas tank (1946)
Pressure vent radiator cap (1949)
Ignition-key starting (instead of turning the key and pressing a button; 1949)
Rotor oil pump (1940)
Resistor spark plugs to avoid radio interference (1949)
Splash-proof ignition (1949)
Water-jacketed carburetor throttle body (1950)
Functional hood scoop (1952)
Was this a first? FluidDrive semi-automatic, which used a torque converter and manual shifting, may have been the first transmission that did not require the driver to use the clutch from a standing start (via Scrounge).
The big news for the new 1924 Chalmers and Chrysler (it was used on the Chalmers first) was four-wheel hydraulic brakes, introduced at a time when Ford ran two-wheel mechanical brakes. The system was based on work by Lockheed, which turned out to be totally impractical; it didn't pass any of Chrysler's tests. But the idea was good enough that Breer had a team completely redesign it, and then, to save lives, he passed the patents to Lockheed. Two other cars, at least, had tried hydraulic brakes (Duesenberg and Rickenbacker) but only a few cars got them, and the Rickenbacker system, at least, was not reliable. Chalmers and Chrysler were the first to make it standard, and the first to make it work.
Power hydraulic brakes (1932), eight years after the first standard hydraulic brakes
Dual-cylinder front brakes (1940)
Bonded brake linings (instead of riveted; 1949)
Self-energizing hydraulic disk brakes (1949 Imperial)
Plastic steering wheels, developed with Dryden Rubber, were created so the driver would be safer in a collision
Integrated defroster vents (1936)
Electric windshield wipers for greater reliability (1939)
Safety padding on the front seat-backs (1937) and dashboard (1949)
Safety-rim wheels (1940) kept tires on the wheel when they blew out—in an era when tires were not so reliable as they are now
Two-speed windshield wipers (1940)
Dual leading shoe front wheel brakes (1940) followed by four-wheel, self-energizing hydraulic disc brakes (1950) cooled by forced air (1950)
The silly stuff
1924 roadsters had the first known factory triple-tone paint job
The first single-piece curved windshield (1934), though Chrysler went back to split windows, and ended up being one of the last to return to single-piece windshields
Fender skirts (1934)
Power-operated convertible top (1936)
Nylon upholstery (1949 Chrysler)
The rest of the car
A new painting process, dubbed Bonderite, eliminated oil from the body panels so paint would adhere better
Rubber spring shackles (1926) isolated the chassis better
Adjustable front seats (1926) — a surprising first
Rust-proofed sheet metal, including the fenders (1929)
Synchronized front and rear springs (1934)
were a major part of the Airflow design, and later were used in Chrrysler train cars; they were designed to stop pitching and rolling
Popup/hidden headlights in a mass-production vehicle (1942; the first car with popup headlights was the not-mass-produced 1936 Cord)
Weight distribution based on engineering principles (1934) were another Airflow advance that later went into trains
Convertible rear windows that could be lowered (1941)
Electric power windows (fully electric) (1950)
Rubber-isolated steering gear (1938)
Full time power steering (1951).
Roll-down tailgate window (1950)
Duane D. Hughes wrote, at allpar, that the 1934 Airflow had a unitized body, as Chrysler claimed, but it still had a frame; the frame was not as strong as usual, and the bodywork was welded to the chassis for stiffness. The first true unibody was likely the 1941 Nash 600; this can also be claimed for Chrysler after the acquisition of AMC (which was Nash and Hudson).
The first two-door hardtop is said to be the 1949 Buick, but Chrysler built seven Town & Country two-door hardtops in 1946—the same year Chrysler claims credit for a hardtop convertible.
Hardened valve seats: Actually, hardened valve seat inserts, these were unique at the time. Other automakers had the valves close on a machined part of the block or head, so owners needed valve jobs by 30,000 miles. Chrysler’s inserts allowed 80,000 miles before the first valve job.
Later, in the 1940s, Chrysler started using a “Superfinish” process on bearings which reduced friction and increased longevity; with this process, grinding marks were less than one millionth of an inch. Oil consumption was extremely low on the Chrysler engines, compared with, say, the 1936 Ford V8, whose owners manual told people to put in gallons, rather than quarts, of oil over the course of a year.
From 1952 to the end of carburetors
Chrysler used the first modern fuel injection system in 1958 (dubbed Electrojector by DeSoto); it was extremely similar to the systems used today. However, they did not develop the system, and due to materials issues, it turned out to be a major failure.
American production engine with 1hp/cid: 1956 Chrysler 300B (355 hp, 354 cid Hemi engine), a full year before GM
Four wheel drive with an automatic transmission (Jeep, 1963)
Independent front suspension with four wheel drive (Jeep, 1963)
Choice of independent or beam-axle front suspension (Jeep, 1963)
Tin added to cast-iron engine block material (1963)
Trip computer (EVIC): second use (1978), just after BMW launched the first trip computer in any car; Chrysler’s was home-grown by former rocket telemetry engineers
Hall Effect electronic distributor (1978)
Electronic beam welding of aluminum die-cast intake manifolds (1978); these early units were not entirely reliable
Water-cooled turbocharger bearing housing (1984)
Hardened nodular iron camshaft (1988)
Communications network with arbitration and non-destructive collision detection (1988)
“Beehive” valve springs (1989)
Variable-nozzle turbocharger (first use outside of diesel car engines, 1990)
Brakes, tires, and wheels
Antilock brakes (Jenson had done this on the high-tech 1966 Jensen FF; Chrysler was one year later, in 1967, on the rear wheels only.)
Four-wheel antilock brakes (SureBrake, 1971). Mercedes claimed this as a first from their use in the late 1970s.
Stamped aluminum wheels (1979)
Standard radial tires on all cars (USA-only first 1979)
Four-wheel anti-lock brakes with four wheel drive (1989)
Solid state radio (no tubes), sold in 1955 for the 1956 cars, a year before GM claimed credit for the first solid state radio
Media player: “Highway Hi-Fi”—using special records (1956)
Radio that electronically searched for stations; it also had pushbuttons to enter radio stations directly (1978)
Electronically tuned radio (1984)
with a built-in digital clock (1984)
Axial flow blower for HVAC (1962)
Second automotive air conditioner, in the 1953 Chrysler New Yorker, following the 1940 Packard’s “first.” Chrysler had advertised an air conditioning option before the war, but the wartime production stoppage ended that plan (and apparently it was forgotten when the war ended). The 1953 system was well engineered, using flush-mounted grilles, with a small compressor under the hood; it took around two minutes to cool a big car from 120°F to 85°F. It used fresh air, while competitors tended to cool interior air; and had small ducts blowing air onto the ceiling, to gently fall upon the passengers, instead of blowing the air right at them (via the Imperial Club).
Comfort, safety, and such
Curved door windows (1957)
Cruise control (1958), with speed set by dial until 1966
Swivel seats (1959 and again in the 2008-2009 minivans)
Automatic-dimming rearview mirror (1959), now common
Electroluminescent instrument panel lighting (1960) and again in 1999
Standard alternators (1960); standard alternators in all cars (1961, but USA only)
Cold-extruded axle shafts (1960)
Tailgate window washer (1968)
Weight-saving chrome-plated plastic grille (1968)
Auxiliary driving lights using quartz-halogen bulbs (first in the US, already old hat in Europe, 1969)
Permanent-memory digital odometer; digital PRNDL (transmission gear display) (1981)
Digital voice for the car (1983) (using pre-recorded messages)