Tall Boys

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The other day, I rolled my 1976 Pontiac Trans-Am out of the garage for a drive. As I backed it out, I looked left at the brand-new Nissan Sentra “press car” (review here) that was parked on the pad.

It made my antique muscle car seem small.

In part because the Sentra – like almost all new cars – is very, very tall.

We are not talking inches difference here, either.

But feet.TA camaro1

Well, almost.

The Nissan – which is a nothing-special “compact” sedan (in air quotes because by the standards of 20 years ago, the “compact” Sentra would be mid-sized halfway to being full-sized) stands almost 60 inches tall at the roofline (58.9 inches to be precise).

The Trans Am is 49.6 inches tall.

This is a gap of 9.3 inches.

And it looks like much more because of the visual distortion created by the modern car’s much higher beltline and door tops, with concomitantly abbreviated door glass. If you’ve sat in a newish car recently you will know what I mean. You feel small because the doors are so tall. It’s like you’re ten-years-old again, trying to look out at the great big world. The bathtub effect.

In the TA and cars of its time, in contrast, you sat low – but tall. I can, for instance, roll down the window and rest my left elbow on the top of the door.

Even better, I can see.

Well, I could – were it not for all these slab-sided over-tall new cars blocking my view.lurch images

I wrote recently (here) about the surging popularity of what’s called crossovers. These are basically cars dressed up to look like SUVs, with the chief characteristic being they ride high and tall. Why do you suppose this is so appealing to people? Could it be on account of the fact that it’s damned hard to see anything out there because of all the over-tall cars (and crossovers and SUVs) out there?

The point is truly rammed home if you take a car like my TA out and mix with modern car traffic. You feel as though you are on a skateboard. In a well. Looking up at the distant circle of light above.

Tallness begets more, in a kind of Lurchian feedback loop. As the average car – and truck – grows upward, those that don’t become increasingly uncomfortable to drive amongst these giants. And so, become less popular.

Unless they, too, grow taller.'15 F-150 ladder pic

I had a new Ford F-150 pick-up to test drive recently. I’m a 6ft 3 man – and this truck made me feel like Mini Me. Because it (the truck) is so got-damned tall. To the point of absurdity. Ford builds a collapsible step-ladder into the tailgate, because the bed is otherwise inaccessible. Even for a six-foot-three man.

More numbers.

The 2015 F-truck is 75.2 inches tall. A 1980 F-truck was 69.1 inches tall (see here). The new truck is 6.1 inches taller than its ancestor. This is difference enough to make the new truck awkward to get into and out of even for an exceptionally tall man like me. Fewer than 10 percent of the general population is taller than 6ft 3.

Who is this truck designed for? The starting lineup of the Chicago Bulls?

And it’s not just Ford. They (all current trucks) are just as silly tall. And because they are so tall, it makes the typical car seem really small. Which is why they, in turn, have also grown so tall. And will grow taller yet, if this demented trend does not abate.

Which it won’t.side crash pic

Because the pressure to Go Tall has a great deal to do with the necessity to make new vehicles compliant with the latest side-impact standards. Which aren’t suggestions but mandates. The government has decreed that new vehicles generally be made stout enough that passengers inside them can survive being T-boned by a vehicle traveling at 30 MPH. This requires steel.

Thicker – and taller.

In part because of the potential for “intrusion” by a taller car – like an SUV or truck. Glass won’t cut it. So the steel rises higher. This is also why the ass ends of modern cars are so bulbous – and tall. And why the rear glass is – typically – so small, with concomitant reduction in rearward visibility (and the necessity for back-up cameras, now also mandatory).fat ass car

Ironically, the feedback loop is also a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy. The government mandates that cars (and trucks) be made “safer,” so the car companies make ’em taller (and bigger and heavier). Which makes them harder to see out of (and see around) and also more of a threat – in terms of the basic physics involved – when one pile-drives into you.

Bigger and heavier being innately more destructive than smaller and lighter.

That’s the logic of government – which is, of course, only trying to help.

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  1. How do think I feel – I own a souped-up Fiat X 1/9! Trans-Am? That’s a full luxury car. (I also drive an Audi…)

    Contemporary cars are perfect reflections of their owners: gray, drab, obnoxiously large, taking up more space than necessary, unheroic, fat.

  2. Wanting to buy a new car. Bu i will NOT. THE INSURANCE industry weedled its way into automotive design. And ruined them. The corvette, mustang, challenger… All hideous. Small is the new cool. Coupes rule. Cayman s is the car for me…. No bigger.

  3. This bugs me too. I have a 2014 Ram 1500. I got a 2WD partly because the 4WDs were so tall, but now it appears the 2WD’s are being built as high as the 4WDs. Getting into the bed of a truck like this is pretty crazy when you are 65 years old. I hate it.

    My neighbor has a BMW 2002 tii. It looks like a toy today, and the visibility from the driver’s seat is to die for. Modern cars are like caves.

    I don’t know if the government can take the blame on this one. My wife got her SUV to be able to see better. Everybody is getting taller and taller. It’s an arms race.

    Same weird shit with motorcycles. A Norton Commando used to be a large bike, but compared with today’s behemoths it is pretty small.

    • Keep in mind, modern car roofs have to be a lot thicker for the moon roofs. Older cars did not have these silly things. I hate moon roofs too. They add weight (high up, the worst place to do it) and complication. And as mentioned below all the pillars now have idiot bags (air bags).

      • I know what you mean. I have a moon roof on my Sportwagen, because I wanted a TDI, and at the time (Nov, 09) my choices were take it or leave it. Given what I have since learned about ULSD, etc., I should have left it.

    • PJ,

      The 2002 tii was a nice looking car. My uncle had one and I had the chance to sit behind the wheel. That was a revelation to me. I discovered that I would never drive a 2002 tii. I was “too tall” in the torso so my head would press against the roof of the car. (I have had that occur in other cars throughout the years.) A shame, since it would have been nice to drive.

  4. I drive a 2009 Nissan 370Z. EVERY vehicle is tall as hell to me. But on those long road trips back east, or to SoCal, that little “mammal” is really good at dodging the semi “dinosaurs”. Self defense. It’s just that now the big SUVs and monster pickups are also becoming part of the problem. I don’t know why, in this economy, people are pissing away money on those hogs.

  5. Eric, regarding the comment: “The government mandates that cars (and trucks) be made “safer,” so the car companies make ’em taller (and bigger and heavier).”

    I thought cars were being light-weighted to comply with CAFE standards? It seems that steel is being increasingly replaced by aluminum and engineered plastics, making the car lighter and less safe in a crash. Not true?

  6. My landyacht of a ’14 Ram 1500 is huge. If it wasn’t for the side rails, I’d have to take a running start to get into the thing. Even with the rails, you need the pillar handles to hoist yourself in.
    As for the bed: I don’t try to get in via the tailgate. It’s too damn high. I go up over the wheels.
    And one of the reasons I like it is because of all the SUV’s and crossovers. In a car, you can’t see dick. In the truck, I can at least see through them, if not over them.

  7. I own a Honda Fit. The car is 1500mm (~60in) high, which is a lot. Passenger cars used to be around 50-55in high. I like it. I am also well over six feet tall. I like the comfortable seating, front and back. I appreciate the efficient use of space. There seem to be a hole class of cars like this, including the Nissan Versa, which has a limo-like back seat. I have not been in any of the others.

    The car in your photo obviously is a new Camaro, not a Nissan Sentra. The old muscle cars were built on compact car chassis. The new ones are built on the smallest chassis/platform is able to mount a V8. Nowadays, this makes for a very big car, as is clearly shown in your photo.

    Is the Camaro’s high window line a functional necessity, or is it a styling affectation? The view out of my Honda fit is Fine to the front and sides, although the rear window is small, as you note.

  8. Car roofs are now made not to collapse into the passenger compartment during the highly unlikely event of rolling over. I have no idea what tiny percentage of all vehicles manage to flip up side down just once but 100% of everyone and all the freakin’ time find it impossible to see through the outlandishly bulky roof supports that now contain air bags as well.

    Consumer Reports used to down rate cars with poor sight lines but now they applaud. It’s for the children. Except for the ones you can’t see because of the freakin’ mandated safety stuff.

  9. Even in a k5 blazer, there are lots of other trucks out there which are much taller- as Eric says the new fords and so on. I am even starting to blend into traffic more with blocked view. I never drove a blazer in it’s heyday, so you must have really felt like king of the road in the 80s

    • anchar, I really lament those tall trucks. GM finally got into that mode although not nearly as tall as their competition. It’s all about(for me)what they’ll pass over which doesn’t have much to do with the height of the vehicle these days.

      I drove several K5 Blazers in the day(70’s mainly and some 80’s). They stood well above the crowd prompting idiots to buy them. I worked with a guy who didn’t hunt, fish or do anything outdoors, just slugabeded with his wife and kids when offwork. He was a real genius since he lay in bed as a level 5 tornado came at his house and didn’t bother to do anything, not even get out of bed till the entire roof was gone. If you have any sense at all you can feel the low pressure of these things a long way off, far enough to get up and run.

      But he buys a new K5 and I ask him why he’d spend all that money on one when he obviously had no use for it. He said “Well, we live on a hill and it’s hard to get into the driveway when it’s icy….the wife wanted it”. Good enough reason I guess unless you take into account it’s icy here a couple days a year normally.

      But those old Blazers with full-time 4WD had limited slip front and rear, unlike many of the K5’s. Those full-times would climb a tree. Of course the K5 with limited slip front and rear would do some amazing stuff.

      Back in those days we partied and worked in Blazers and sometimes Brats, which would get in places too narrow for a Blazer.

    • I have been noticing that too. At a car show I was at recently there was a 1930’s Buick sedan parked next to a late model Chevy Suburban. They are about the same height.

      Often cars and trucks were on the same platform so they were both about the same height. My great grandpa was a home builder at the beginning of the auto age and he had ford model T’s for his business. All but the one he drove were set up as “pickups” at least in the old photos of his shop. Most of his competitors were still using horses and wagons then.

      Many cars of the 1920’s and 30’s still had the proportions (and appearance) of horse carriages. Since many of the bodies of cars were made by people who had once made carriages. It wasn’t until the 1940’s that non truck autos began to get shorter.

  10. Eric,

    Amen regarding tall cars.

    One reason I tend to drop back a bit more (of tall vehicles) or move to another lane is to get a better view of traffic.

    It is harder (for me) to look through the windows of vehicles to see the road ahead due to the smaller windows of newer cars.

  11. I thought a ‘tallboy’ was one of those beverages in a 24 oz. aluminum can, so you don’t have to overexert yourself on those pop-tops.

    • PtB, those are 16 ounce cans. I don’t remember what the 24’s are called but now, some are 25 ounces, like the Clamato. I don’t do cans…..of any sort but I’m around people all the time who do. If anyone is at the yard when I get in(rarely, they have already gone home), i used to always have a cold one stuck out to me. Nobody bothers anymore since they know I don’t do cans. I sometimes break “another” law, geez, I break laws left and right like stop signs and such, but I stop at the local liquor store and get some Shiner Bohemian Black for the 8 mile trip from the yard to the house. It’s often slow and takes a couple beers, even if I decide to take the truck home. It’s a back road in the shinery that most avoid since it’s pure sand. I can settle out and be sorta smooth by the time I hit the house. It’s anybody’s guess what I’ll find when I get there so the more beer the better.

  12. In the last 10 years, I have noticed the same thing. Cars these days are huge. A subcompact Civic is now larger than a full sized Mercedes from the 1970s. Today’s cars are ugly. They block the view of everything, they hog up freeway lane space. The proliferation of tall vehicles has not increased the number of rollover and angle crashes (where a blindspot comes into play), but I think that is because recession driving levels have suppressed car accidents overall. If the economy ever does improve, we will see these numbers climb significantly. The solution? More safety equipment will be mandated. People can’t protest the actions of government and their corporate tools effectively on issues like these. We will continue to hear more about gender equality and the mating habits of transgender hermaphrodite elves before this issue ever is addressed.

      • Those little Honda’s were fav’s of people I knew who worked on the road all week. The had to buy their own fuel and those cars got some great mileage. One friend could get 50 something mpg from his CVT Civic. I think it had 80 odd HP or so. A few of them used to have top speed races coming off the caprock, might even get of 100 mph. The cars were rock steady and the only bother at that speed were the tiny tires, no sound insulation, etc. Otherwise they’d just keep going and turn the speedo over and over if you kept them service.


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