They don’t make ‘em like they used to – and in many cases, not at all. Have you ever wondered what happened to them? And why?
Station wagons –
You can still buy a wagon, of course – but not like they used to make ‘em. Because no one makes a rear-drive/V8-powered one that can seat nine people (two or three of them seated facing backwards) that pulls a 5,00 pound trailer and cost about what people pay today for a mid-size/front-drive car that seats five – and doesn’t pull anything.
Like the great herds of sauropods that once roamed the grasslands, it was once the case that every second or third car you saw was a big wagon – and that was because (in those days) almost every car you saw was full-size, rear-drive and powered by a big V8. The wagons were a stretch job based on these cars – and pretty much every car company that sold one of the former also sold one of the latter, too. They were the SUVs of their era – before there were SUVs.
While the great sauropods were done in by an asteroid the size of Everest that slammed into the Earth just off the coast of central America, the great wagons were done in less naturally – by the first round of federal fuel economy fatwas, which were enacted back in the ‘70s. For the first time in the history of the country, the government decided that the people would no longer be allowed to decide for themselves how important (or not) gas mileage was. The risible idea being that the evil car companies would never build cars that used less gas unless forced to build them – because the car companies would never respond to market demand for more fuel-efficient cars.
Anyhow, the government decided on behalf of car buyers – and without having asked them – that they would have cars that got good gas mileage . . . whether they wanted them or not. And the big cars that they did want didn’t get good gas mileage – and so they had to go. The V8s were too thirsty, the body-on-frame construction too heavy.
The wagons that were based on them were, of course, even worse – and so they went, too.
Hilariously – tragically – the “thirsty” wagons have been replaced by even thirstier SUVs – which came into existence because of a “loophole” in the gas-mileage-uber-alles regs (since closed) that applied a less-onerous MPG standard to what were then styled “light trucks” rather than cars. So – because the market still very much wanted big rigs with big engines, no matter what the government wanted – the car companies built them out of “light trucks” and called them SUVs.
And they still roam the roads today.
Small trucks –
Today, the smallest truck you can buy is a mid-sized truck – and that truck is nearly as big as the full-size trucks of the 1990s. Hilariously – tragically – the mid-sized trucks of today can’t haul as much as the small trucks of yesterday.
You can’t get a new mid-sized truck with fewer than four doors, which usually means no more than a five-foot bed. The compact trucks of the not-so-distant past were available with two doors – and came standard with a six-foot bed. With the tailgate dropped, you had an almost eight-foot bed, the same length bed as a full-size truck . . . but without the full-size rest of the truck.
These little – but very useful – trucks were immensely popular. Examples included the Ford Ranger (not the current Ranger) and the Nissan Frontier (not the current Frontier). Some of them were available with four-wheel-drive . . . with a four cylinder engine. You weren’t upsold to a V6 to get 4WD.
Which brings us to why they’re not around anymore.
The margins were too low. Ford could (and does) make more money selling you a full-sized F-150 than a (no longer available) Ranger; same goes for Nissan – which would rather sel you a $35,000 full-size/4WD Titan than a $22,000 compact-sized 4WD Frontier (old model).
There’s another reason, too. Something called the “chicken tax” – which dates back to the ‘60s and a trade war over . . . chicken. In retaliation over tariffs applied to exported chicken, Congress imposed a tariff on imported small trucks. This made it more expensive to sell compact-sized trucks made overseas over here – and so they stopped selling them.
Once again, brought to you by Uncle.
Economical economy cars –
There hasn’t been much progress, gas-mileage-wise, since the ‘90s – insofar as gas mileage goes. Check the stats if you (cue Scotty from the originalStar Trek) dinna believe me. A 1995 Toyota Corolla rated 28 city, 34 highway. A quarter-century of not-much-difference later, a 2020 Corolla rates . . . 30 city, 38 highway.
A big whoop it’s not.
This is true generally – because all new economy cars are much heavier than the economy cars of the past; which were above all light cars . . . in order to be economical, as the less a car weighs, the less engine (and power) it needs to get itself from A to B. This is why even without technology – not even fuel injection – some of the carbureted (and not-computer-controlled) economy cars of the late 1970s like the Honda Civic CVCC – which weighed 1,000 pounds less than a new Corolla – used less gas than new Corolla.
But why do today’s economy cars weigh so much?
If you said – Uncle! – go to the head of the class.
At the same time the government has been demanding ever-higher-MPGs from new cars, it has also been requiring ever more sssssssssssssaaaaaaaaafety – defined (by the government) as being capable of absorbing ever-greater impact forces in the event of a crash.
This adds . . . weight. Which requires more engine to move the heavier car from A to B . . . which results in lower gas mileage.
And that’s why today’s economy cars aren’t really.
. . .
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