If you’ve never driven an old car – as opposed to a used car – you have probably never experienced certain things that were once part of the experience of driving a car.
Like turning on the AC – assuming the car had AC; many did not before AC became a given thing in the ‘90s – and feeling the engine stagger under the load. It was as if someone had just hooked up a heavy trailer to the bumper and you were trying to climb a hill.
In old cars – the cars made before the ‘90s and especially before the ‘80s – most engines weren’t very strong while AC compressors were very demanding. If you looked under the hood of a circa ‘70s-era American car that had AC, you’d see a compressor almost as big as the engine. And it took a large chunk of the horsepower made by the engine to turn it. So when you turned the AC on, you felt it.
Not the cold breeze – the drag, on the engine.
They had a light – which came on when the engine was already overheating.
But – the good thing – those old car AC systems all used Freon and that stuff has never been equaled in terms of its ability to cool you. A General Motors Harrison AC system from the ‘70s was fully capable of turning the interior of a car into a meat locker. If you weren’t there, you’ll never know what cold once meant.
But this wasn’t necessarily bad.
In high performance driving schools – today – they often rig the ABS-equipped cars they use with an Off switch, in order to teach the student the things you can do in a car with brakes that can be locked up. For example, dramatic directional changes. Lock ‘em up, crank the wheel hard over, then let ‘em up. Shazam! You’re headed back the way you came.
That was fun!
It was less fun, of course, if you skidded into something – like the car ahead, that suddenly braked, leaving you not enough time to brake, without skidding. But that was chastening – educational. It taught people to leave enough room to brake and to not expect the car to save them from the consequences of their poor driving, including tailgating – of which there is more today than there was yesterday.
Arguably because of ABS. Skids are fewer, but driving skill – and courtesy – are lower. It’s also a lot less . . . fun.
I took my ’76 Pontiac Trans-Am out for a drive yesterday. It is an old car. But it is a connected car, in ways that no new car will ever be.
The first thing you do – before you turn the key – is push the gas pedal down to the floor and then let it up. This sets the choke, a kind of air valve on top of the carburetor that restricts airflow when the engine is cold, to richen up the air-fuel mixture – so that the engine will start. You can feel the process, because your foot is connected to the carburetor via the pedal, which is connected to a cable, which pulls on the throttle arm of the carburetor, triggering the choke – and also spritzing some fuel into the carb’s throat.
New cars are disconnected. Your foot is connected to nothing – other than the pedal. It sends a signal to a computer, which then sends a signal to the engine. And instead of turning a key and holding it turned until the engine starts, you push a button in a modern car – sending electronic signals to the starter motor.
Speaking of keys . . . remember when you unlocked the doors with a key rather than a push?
Sometimes, the door locks would freeze – also literally. A little water would get in them. Then it got cold. Then you were locked out, since an old car’s locked door won’t open no matter how many times you press the key.
A little isopropyl alcohol spritzed inside the lock would usually unlock the frozen lock. And there was the upside of being able to get a new key cut at any hardware store for $5 or so – which you can still do today – as opposed to going to a dealer and paying many times that sum for a fob and the reprogramming thereof.
Different times, different problems!
Were things better then – or worse, now? Probably some of both. Nostalgia can be a one-way street.
But the future isn’t always an improvement, either.
. . .
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