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
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
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
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
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
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 aeroplane 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.