What We’ve Gained . . and Lost Along the Way

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When every new car comes standard with air conditioning – and an LCD touchscreen – such things become given things.

It becomes harder to make a case for more expensive things.

Why buy a $40,000 car when the only meaningful difference between it and the $25,000 car is the price? For that matter, why buy the $25,000 car when the only meaningful difference between it and the $15,000 car is . . . the price?

Similarly, performance – also a given thing. It was once considered very impressive for a car to capable of reaching 60 MPH in six seconds – or to be able to exceed 130 MPH – and to get to that level you generally had to buy a high-performance car, which made such capability exclusive to high-performance cars. Which made them something special – fantastic, even. Alluring and awesome as much by what they could do as by the fact that they were largely out of reach. Like the best-looking girl in your high school class. You could look – and imagine – but only a few would ever get to experience.

It is now common for family crossovers to get to 60 in about six seconds – and some family sedans get their faster.

It is no longer anything special when everyone has – or can – experience it.

It becomes almost boring.

Even exotic levels of performance – zero to 60 in less than 4 seconds – are available for a great deal less than six figures, which was once not the case. A new Corvette that can be bought for just a little bit more than half of six figures (about $58k) equals or surpasses the performance of cars that do cost six figures – making their chief allure the fact that only a few can afford them.

Not what they are capable of.

And there is the Fear Factor to consider as well.

There is not much thrill doing 120 when doing 120 is as uneventful as doing 80 used to be. When almost any car can take a curve as fast as elite sports only used to dare to take them. Without much in the way of ability required of the driver.

When there is no sense that you’re pushing it – the car and your luck – when you’re doing either thing.

It becomes no big deal.

It becomes boring.

Almost anyone can drive fast today because fast cars are so easy to drive fast. This was once not the case. Fast cars were both scary to drive fast and took some skill – or at least, nerve – to drive fast. A 300 horsepower carbureted V8 engine with a lumpy-idling cam and clutch behind it that was like doing leg presses at the gym with 300 pounds of plates on the rack, that shook menacingly and required a death grip on the wheel to keep it straight was not a car that just anyone could get in and drive.

Today, anyone can drive a Corvette – through the quarter mile in 11 seconds. It practically drives itself. It actually does drive itself. Launch control, traction control, stability control.

Speed – and the amenities once considered luxuries – are today what having windows that rolled up were once. We have gained greatly – but also lost.

The adventure, the challenge . . . the fist pounding the (cracked) dashboard.

The stories.

A trip to the undiscovered country in the Golden Hind  . . . vs. a Carnival cruise.

Cars used to be exciting, especially the not-run-of-the-mill. To get the same thrill today takes an injection of something much more potent, in the manner of someone who has built up a tolerance and needs more of the same to get the same effect.

The humor is lost, too.

Cars used to be routinely balky. Pieces would sometimes fall off. They would refuse to move – or buck like a recalcitrant donkey. It made driving colorful, memorable. I used to own a ’69 VW Squareback wagon. It was one of the very first mass-produced cars with electronic fuel injection (Bosch). It sometimes worked. When it did not, I discovered – purely by accident – that if you kicked the driver’s side rear quarter panel just right, it would start.

I had another VW – this time, a Beetle – the hood latch of which came unlatched at 60 MPH, resulting in the hood clamshelling up against the windshield with the result of that being a non-instrument-rated landing that turned out ok, lucky for me.

There was also the first time I drove a Shelby Cobra – which instilled in me a respect for Carroll Shelby that watching a movie about Carroll Shelby cannot replicate. That car is scary, just driving it across the parking lot. It was even scarier than the time I was piloting a high school friend’s ’71 Plymouth GTX with the 440 cube “Commando” V8 in a street race and felt the air under the front end and the steering going away at 120. Lucky for me there was room enough to pray and bleed some of that speed, the front tires regaining their connection to the asphalt and directional control re-established – after a few seconds that felt like a lifetime.

And then there was freezing in the winter in cars without heat – and roasting in summer in cars without AC. LCD screens? How about a light that read “oil” – which when it came on might as well have said, “You Lose.”

That kind of fun is absent from new cars, which seem to always start and usually just run – without requiring a kick in their sheetmetal kiesters.

. . .

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22 COMMENTS

  1. Ha Eric,

    I am going to tie a couple of posts together. You know I love our VW Sportwagen, even though it’s “boring” by these “back in the day” standards.

    Here’s what is exciting in vehicles today. https://ecells.com/product-category/ebikes/

    Dual-motor electric bikes, designed to get you anywhere that you want to go. Ride over anything, bugs in your teeth. At a price that a teenager can save up for. . . now we’re talking.

    • “At a price that a teenager can save up for” ???

      My last two vehicles (Jimmy, F350) combined cost less than all but one of the bikes shown. Sure, used car vs. new bike but, $1700-$4500 for a bicycle?

      Used 400cc dual-sport motorbikes often go for far less than $2000 around here. Can’t see a limited range, heavy bicycle competing with those. I know which teenage me would have chosen, and did.

      • Yeah, that’s a great way to get around at that age, for sure. Instead of getting a bike that’s “practically” a motorcycle, why not just get the motor cycle?

  2. I’m very happy with my Cherokee. I took it out to the Bookcliffs in Utah on Sunday on a nice dirt road through Thompson Canyon. Pretty easy to get it going faster than recommended, and the back end went all cattywampus on the washboard to remind me that tires only work when they touch the ground. Then kicked it into low range coming off the ridge and… threw a warning light, went into neutral. Pucker factor and wondering how far I was from civilization. Stop, shut down the engine, wait. Start it back up and still get the warning light, but at least it’s engaging now. Drove back to the highway, decided to take the old Cisco Highway instead. Stopped to get a few pictures of the sheep herd, and the transmission warning light goes out. Still a mystery why it happened but there’s a recall for the transmission. I might have bounced when hitting the 4wd low button and triggered it a few times, but that’s just a guess. Back on the highway it has a boulevard ride as good as anything Cadillac ever made.

    Dirt roads and two wheels are the future of driving.

  3. Eric, I had to laugh about you kicking the left rear quarter panel to get the old VW Squareback going. IIRC that’s where the injection electronics were located. And it reminded me of how I bought a number of VW 411’s and 412’s. They were Bosch fuel injected, too, and two I bought were “dead” according to the owners. I’d buy ’em cheap, tow them away, and then repair the common injector ground, a big kludge of a ground terminal in the center of the case. These were ALWAYS greasy and dirty. I’d clean them up and tighten them, and they’d start right up.

    • My pleasure, Bill!

      I love the Squareback; it was extremely practical and had much better body integrity than my Beetle. And the “kick start” was fun, too!

  4. the curves – yep. I commonly take them 15 mph faster than the warning signs without a bit of strain on the car or truck. Wonder how fast I could really take them.

    Like a few have stated below, the lack of required tinkering is nice, but it does lead me to a certain “disconnect” with modern vehicles.

    But I do not miss vinyl seats in summer with no a/c

  5. Hey, “my” first car (’60 Valiant with pushbutton transmission) had a great heater. All summer. Had to turn it on full blast in order to drive 65MPH without overheating. Otherwise, I overheated at 55. Never got to enjoy all that great heat in winter, because I only got to use the car when school was out.

  6. ahhh, been in pickups for 30+ years. the 80’S units would start getting scary at 60, 90’s was 65-70, 2000’s was 75-80, now, could cruise at 90-100 if your paying attention.

  7. And, the new cars don’t need a wrench put to them very often. Which is a good thing. Because although the old cars DID need a wrench put to them fairly often, you could actually work one. I remember changing the water pump on a ’67 Dodge pickup with a pair of channel locks and maybe a crescent, in a parking lot, in less than an hour. On late model cars, forget it. You do well to change spark plugs without breaking motor mounts loose and jacking up one side of the engine. If you can find them.

  8. You made me go look something up. My family fleet of 3rd generation grand caravans have always impressed me with their performance. The 3.8 pushrod V6 is 205 HP, top end is 119, and 0-60 in 10.2. And the handling is not bad with a nice stiff unibody box and low unsprung weight 4 wheel independent disc brakes.

    This is historically quite respectable performance, better than average in the musclecar 60’s and early 70’s and vastly better than the emasculated late 70’s early 80’s stuff. And they get 25mpg all day long at 75 on the highway.

    All in the reviled, (but insanely comfortable and practical) minivan.

  9. ‘It becomes harder to make a case for more expensive things.’ — EP

    Yet Bubblemeister John Law Powell of the Federal Reserve criminal gang is still talking tough, saying he will digitally print counterfeit dollars for years to come — damn the consequences!

    Rational adults understand that ‘free money’ wrecks the economy in a hurry. Today the price of lumber has rocketed to $1,374 per thousand board feet, quadruple its level of 10 months ago. Chart (viewer discretion advised):

    https://ibb.co/ZJ9szLN

    Thanks to the epic scale of fedgov counterfeiting, soon it will cost thousands of Third World Biden bucks to build a freaking chicken coop.

  10. A luxury car to me would be any modern vehicle with the old triangle vent windows!

    AC makes me sneeze after the first year or so.

    Shit flying around in the cabin with the windows down is the most annoying thing. Reminds me of doing barrel rolls in a plane that hasn’t been inverted in over a decade. With everything on the floor falling down and getting in your eyes.

    If you leave the change from the slow food joint on the seat, by the time you get up to speed your paper money is back at the last mile marker.

    My sister is always complaining about having to use the AC in the winter in her mobile greenhouse.

    Fresh air is awful hard to get these days.

    Ever change your cabin air filter? Some kind of Petrie dish with all that black shit growing on it. But at least you can buy one with baking soda or febreez.

  11. I would drive my old Charger 440 daily if it was practical. It’s not very comfortable, not easy to steer or stop, corners terribly, has no air conditioner, heater is broke… in other words, it’s a car with personality that demands attention. It’s so much more enjoyable to own and drive than my newer vehicles.

    What keeps me from driving it daily is of course gas mileage. I spent $60 filling up the tank last weekend after we had a stretch of nice weather causing me to burn through a tank of gas in a few days.

    Also, it’s just too damn nice of a car to put so much wear and tear on it.

    I’m itching to get something similar in rougher shape with maybe a 318 to make a daily driver.

    • Hi Philo,

      “What keeps me from driving it daily is of course gas mileage. I spent $60 filling up the tank last weekend after we had a stretch of nice weather causing me to burn through a tank of gas in a few days.”

      Yea, but did you have fun? Have you ever thought about an aftermarket FI system? It might get better MPG. My 1965 VW Bug with its 2017cc engine and dual 44mm IDA Weber carbs, making around 120 hp is a blast to drive. If I stay off the throttle it gets around 25 MPG. I don’t stay off the throttle, it’s just too fucking fun!!! I can drain my fuel tank just as quick as you can.

      “Also, it’s just too damn nice of a car to put so much wear and tear on it.”

      So what if stuff wears out. Everything you need to repair the car is available by a click of a mouse, just like any other car.

      “I would drive my old Charger 440 daily if it was practical. It’s not very comfortable, not easy to steer or stop, corners terribly, has no air conditioner, heater is broke… in other words, it’s a car with personality that demands attention. It’s so much more enjoyable to own and drive than my newer vehicles.”

      Same with my Bug. Though I would have say that my Bug is comfortable, sitting in the seat. but everything else, brakes are stock, corners terribly, has no air conditioner, heater don’t work (on purpose).

      ” It’s so much more enjoyable to own and drive than my newer vehicles.”

      I agree! Although my VW R32 and Audi TT are fun cars to drive, the Bug rocks! If the Mopar it is so much enjoyable, THEN DRIVE IT!!! Eric, this means you too. Drive that T/A!
      All you out there that have classic cars… if you don’t drive them, they’re worthless, why have one?

      Fuck the 318! How about a Al Bundy Dodge with a built 340?

      • Hi William,

        You’ve got 120 hp in the ’65? That is “too much fucking fun!” Superb! And – you’re right – fun matters. I need to get the TA out. It’s been too long. I think today. Good for the soul… much obliged for the reminder!

      • “Yea, but did you have fun?”

        It’s one of my joys in life, driving this car.

        “So what if stuff wears out. Everything you need to repair the car is available by a click of a mouse, just like any other car.”

        I’m not made of money. I got 3 kids! Seriously, the car looks like it’s a year off the showroom floor. I have fun with it while taking care to keep it in pristine condition.

        “Fuck the 318! How about a Al Bundy Dodge with a built 340?”

        Haha, funny you say that. I learned to drive in “Al Bundy’s car”. It was a car I inherited from my great grandpa when I was 16. It was a 1975 Dodge Dart Sport with a slant 6. It started my love of cars and especially Mopars. I actually heard people yell “Al Bundy!” occasionally while I was driving it.

        I want an older car in rougher shape that I don’t have to worry about scratches and door dings or keeping the value. I’m looking for a Roadkill car.

  12. ‘… new cars seem to always start and usually just run – without requiring a kick in their sheetmetal keisters.’ — EP

    But not so much EV pickups, which remain mysteriously scarce despite the e-bros’ and gov-bros’ best efforts:

    ‘The Lordstown Endurance skateboard, dressed up in the finest off-road racing body and gear by Brenthel Industries, was only able to complete 40 miles (64.3 km) of the San Felipe 250 race in Baja California before retiring.

    Before the 40-mile (64.3-km marker), GPS tracking on the Endurance showed the e-truck slowing down. Shortly afterward, it veered off the racecourse to meet up with the Lordstown truck carrying the charging station on a nearby highway. TFL Truck reports that it stayed in the same spot for 2.5 hours, recharging and/or undergoing repairs.

    https://www.autoevolution.com/news/lordstown-endurance-retires-from-san-felipe-250-after-40-miles-is-it-a-fail-159546.html

    Subsequently Lordstown issued a cheery, upbeat Faceborg post thanking ‘our champions.’

    Since when did the word ‘champions’ come to mean ‘feckless clowns’?

  13. Not even racecars are immune. I have a feeling that putting “I know how to heel-and-toe” on my resume won’t help me land a ride in Formula One.

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