New cars have everything going for them except fun. Most are suffocatingly “safe” – and as entertaining as anything else with that word attached to it.
Here are some things that were lots of fun, when cars weren’t “safe”:
The three-across bench seat –
New cars with two rows of seats only seat five – one of them (the occupant of the middle seat in the second row) uncomfortably. This is so because all new cars have bucket seats and (up front) a center console separating the driver and “shotgun” seat.
In the past, most cars except for sporty cars seated six – comfortably – because there was no center console socially distancing the driver and front-seat passenger – making it possible for the passenger to snuggle up to the driver (no forced seat-belt-wearing in those days, either) and making it feasible for a very sociable three-across up front as well as in the back.
It was cozy – or comfortable – and sometimes both. It was also practical because you didn’t need to by a vehicle with a third row to carry six people.
So why did it go away? For saaaaaaaaaafety! Harder to keep people cinched in place and facing their designated dashboard claymore without buckets to keep them cinched in place.
Even trucks have bucket seats now.
Idiot lights –
Practically every new car has a full set of gauges – to keep you apprised over what you have little, if any control over. A tachometer, for instance – to keep track of how fast the engine is spinning even though over-revving is no longer possible because of rev limiters that cut fuel and spark if the redline is reached and because of the near-ubiquity of the automatic transmission, which shifts at the RPM it is programmed to shift at and won’t let you shift at an RPM its programming doesn’t like.
Back when almost no new cars except for high-performance cars had gauges, they had idiot lights – and you had more control over the car. It was very possible to over-rev the engine if you weren’t paying attention to the tach – assuming you had one. If not, you learned to rev by ear.
This was fun!
Also fun, the sudden, with-no-warning illumination of the idiot light. The oil light, for instance, which came on to let you know you now have no oil pressure. It was fun to sound the klaxons, call red alert and shut off the engine right now and coast to the side of the road, hoping it was just a bad sender or disconnected wire and not a spun main bearing.
Idiot lights were like Forrest Gump’s box of chocolates. You never knew what you were going to get.
Brakes that locked up –
This was before ABS (anti-lock) brakes, which became common in the early ’90s and ubiquitous today.
But skidding could be fun – especially if you meant to do it. If you can’t do it – because of ABS – you cannot perform the art of locking the wheels up, cranking the wheel around and then letting off the brakes to end the skid and send the car pirouetting in the desired direction. Which was all kinds of fun, if you knew how to do it.
Yes, yes . . . ABS is “safer.” But maybe not. People unafraid of uncontrolled skids that no longer happen tend to ride too close to the car in front of them – and all the ABS in the world can’t counteract the physics of not enough time to stop.
PS: Pull-up emergency brakes were fun, too. They’re still around – but rapidly disappearing. Have fun with them while you still can.
The power mast antenna –
Modern cars still have antennas, but they’re built into plastic “shark fins” mounted on the roof. These are not nearly as fun as the mast that rose whenever you turned the radio on – and sometimes, not. Then you had the fun of fishing the thing out of the fender. There was also the fun of forgetting to lower it and coming back from dinner to your parked car to find someone had bent it into a right angle for you.
Lots of fun!
Another kind of antenna was the one embedded in the windshield – so as to keep it from being bent at right angles by curbside customizers. It left a clean look – even cleaner than the “shark fin” – but without much reception. Still, it was fun in a way to try to keep tuned in while moving.
Fast-moving power windows –
Before the Safety Cult ruined the fun, you could trap a belligerent squeegee man’s hand in situ using the power window to so. There was no sensor to cut off the fun if someone’s paw was in its path. It was also possible to roll the window down – or up – exactly as far or not as you wanted it rolled up or down.
It stopped moving when you stopped pushing the button.
Modern power windows are automatic and “one touch” and trying to get them to stop in transit is a not-fun exercise in back-and-forthing. Plus, they’re useless for dealing with annoying squeegee men.
. . .
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