In 1921 a John J Bovy applied for a patent for a paper-rolling map device to aid drivers. All we have is the drawing below from his application and some Engineer-speak on how it was supposed to work. His was the first attempt at solving a long-standing problem for motorists (and, in his case; “Flying boat pilots”) – how to read a map on the hoof. His design never made production but here are some subsequent inventions that did. We love a bit of retro-tech.

john j bovey

This (below) is the ideal antidote to the tech-heavy but style-bereft Apple iWatch. Called the Plus Four Wristlet Route indicator it is a tiny map on rollers, housed in a watch-type casing, designed in 1927 with the motorist in mind. They are exceptionally rare. This one is owned by the National Trust and comes with a set of maps covering many popular routes. Like all things retro you can forgive it’s hugely impractical design because it’s simply so ruddy cool. Steering whilst winding the route on and watching the road? Quite a challenge – but I’d happy get lost, or risk a car-ditch interface, for the pleasure of trying to navigate by this on my wrist;

In 1932 Some Italian boffins at Inter-Avto had a similar rolling map to John Bovy’s but this one was actually wired to the car’s speedo, using a little motor to crudely advance the map at a speed to match the car. There’s some fun in the detail. The road shown is the one between Turin and Milan; It’s a Roman road – not one a motorist would be likely to get lost on anyway. It’s a beautiful thing and we’d happily nail one to the dash and see how fast we could get it to scroll along on the Autostrada before busting into flames.

iter avto (1) iter avto (2)

You may have seen this before but it’s marvelous and we make no excuses for showing it again here. This is the roller-box devised by Denis Jenkinson when he navigated for Stirling Moss on the ’55 Mille Miglia in a Mercedes 300 SLR. It automated his pace notes and helped him on to a famous win. We’re big fans of Jenks (see here for more of his antics), he transcribed the entire route onto 18 feet of paper to make this little machine, but actually his traditional pace notes were even more entertaining – he described corners as “saucy” or “dodgy”. Here he is (below left) with Merc moss Neubauer and Stirling Moss.

denis jenkinson pace notes box (1) denis jenkinson pace notes box (2)

In ’81 things went digital with the Honda Electro-Gyrocator. It’s the kind of name that invokes thoughts of a futuristic single-seat aircraft but was actually sometimes found on the dash of Preludes and other up-market models from Honda, as a dealer-option fit. It uses a gas-rate gyroscope coupled with a tyre rotation sensor to calculate position and direction. The map is actually analogue – it’s a thin plastic sheet trapped in place over a CRT display, leading to alignment issues and eventual disorientation. I’d love to take one into a Honda dealer today and see if they could service it.

Satnav, as we know it today, can probably be traced to this 1983 motorshow concept idea from Ford. Called the Tripmonitor, it used satellites to determine it’s position to within 400 metres. The technology had the potential to be far more accurate, but the US military (who owed the satellites) wouldn’t let them have anything better. It was also reliant on being in range of a satellite, and (probably) having an operator with NASA training to work out what it’s myriad of buttons do. There’s potential for a joke here about the American military not getting to within 400 metres of their target for those less generously disposed to our colonials cousins than me.


Thanks for reading.

Pics: Steampunker, GNSystems, Prelude forums, Wikipedia, the Daily Diana (Mail), Ford, jsae.or.jap,,

About The Author

Rich Duisberg

Rich Duisberg* has had work published in Classic & Sportscar, Practical Performance Car, Modern Mini, Banzai, MogMag, Evo, GT Porsche, Complete Kit Car, Absolute Lotus, Alternative Cars, Classic Retro Modern, and elsewhere. Rich often appears on CBS’s XCAR and Carfection channels, and Motors TV, plus JayEmm on Cars, enthusing about historic motoring. His latest book (find his work on Amazon) was described by SniffPetrol as "hilarious", although he was also threatened with legal action by elderly DJ Tim Westwood. In his Midlands man cave is a 1972 Fiat 500, a Lotus Elise, a BMW barge and a vintage Royal Enfield pushbike. Previous machines of interest include an Mk1 MX5 (owned for 14 years!), an Alfa GTV6, a Porsche 968 and a Sinclair C5. The Metro (right) was bought for an experiment, and abandoned in Africa. "I am not getting in a car with him" -  said Le Mans winner, Derek Bell. *A nom-de-plume inspired by the BBC's League of Gentlemen.

4 Responses

  1. Gill Beaks

    Quite an interesting story on a tool we motorists now seem to take for granted so much these days. I’d be lost without mine, no pun intended.
    Keep on Motorpunking boys.

  2. James Carr

    I know this article is ancient, but I couldn’t resisist… John Bovy probably never knew his idea had already been in everyday use for sixty or so years when he filed his patent. In Australia paddle steamer captains on the Murray-Darling river system used long scroll charts (mounted in a box with a twist handle at each end) for navigation. These were mostly drawn (usually on linen) by each captain for his own use, and altered and annotated as the river changed… There are still a few around, some from as early as the 1860s. I wouldn’t be surprised if something similar was used elsewhere too.


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