Runnels | Independent School, Baton Rouge


Vintage Car Showcases Evolution of Automotive Technology for Runnels 2nd Graders


The second graders in Katherine Phillippe's science classes have been learning about changes in technology through the years. To show how automotive technology has moved forward, she invited her students to look back -- at a 1963 Citroen Safari Break Station Wagon.
Her husband, Wayne Phillippe, owner of Wayne's Collision and Restoration, and his mechanic CJ Todd, drove the vintage car, which they had restored to mint condition, to campus on Tuesday, traveling a stately 56 miles per hour on expressways.
"This car was very advanced for its time," Mrs. Phillippe told her students as they flocked around to see the mint green mid-century ride. "Back in its day, this car was like the Batmobile!" 
Among its innovations were a push button starter (most cars of that era had key entry) and a brake button instead of a brake pedal. "The brakes have a button to press that senses how much pressure to apply by the speed you are going so there's no need for a brake pedal," she added. 
The car also showcased typical mid-century automotive technology such as crank windows, individual locks on all of the doors, and outside mirrors you have to move with your hands. "You had to use a key to get in the doors," said Mrs. Phillippe. "And you couldn't push one button to lock all the doors at the same time." 
There was no "infotainment" system, not even a radio, and there were only four gauges on the dashboard -- all in French because the Citroen was manufactured in France. The speedometer read out is in kilometers. 
For safety, there are two seat belts but only up front, and, of course no airbags. The steering wheel, however, was made so it would break off in an accident to help protect the passengers from injury. 
"If something went wrong with the car, you couldn't turn to computer diagnostics," Mr. Phillippe explained to the children, "you had to have a mechanic." 
The only climate control was provided by rolling the windows up and down and two front air vents that channeled fresh air into the passenger compartment. "They work pretty well when the car is moving," said Mr. Todd. 
Instead of a GPS to help you find where you needed to go, the Citroen featured a map pocket where you could store all those bulky, impossible to fold, giant-sized paper maps we used to rely on back in the day.
The students enjoyed learning about the Citroen. They rolled its windows up and down using the crank handles, piled in and out of its rear bench seat, inspected its spare tire, interestingly located at the front of the engine compartment, and marveled at the two little vinyl covered pop-up seats in the very back of the vehicle. They also enjoyed watching the body of the car go up and down because of its hydraulic system, which gives it a super smooth ride. "The hydraulic system lifts the car when you start it using a vacuum system that pulls air from the engine. The air suspension gives the car a smooth ride. There's a lever to pull when you want to lower the car," explained Mr. Phillippe.  
Students learned that the car was originally intended for camping -- or maybe "glamping" -- since it's clearly a luxury vehicle. It has roomy leather seats in the front and a plush bench seat in the back. That back seat could fully recline so there was sleeping room in the rear cabin if the two folding seats were down. If the convertible top was lifted off, you could go to sleep under the stars.  
Though avant-garde for its day, the Citroen Safari offers a rare glimpse of where we were in automotive technology around mid-century. 
"It's so cool for the students to look back and see how different it was then and how far we've come," said Mrs. Phillippe.