To see what we’re in the process of losing it’s helpful to go and see it.
We did exactly that yesterday. By going to see the cars at the Duncan Car Museum in Christiansburg, VA. Here you will see decades’ worth of what no longer is. Row after row of interesting cars.
When they were new, they were a dime a dozen, almost.
Here’s a ’79 Honda Civic. Over there, a Datsun B210. Nearby, an Opel GT. Over there, a Chrysler Cordoba – and yes, it has “fine Corinthian leather.” How about an Aspen station wagon? It’s parked not far from an AMC Eagle that was near a Subaru Brat I found myself wanting very much to drive home.
Probably because I drove one just like it when it was brand-new, back circa 1984 – when I was a high school kid working part-time as a lot boy at a Subaru store. T-tops, jump seats in the back and a five speed on the floor. Not fast but interesting.
Like the beige VW Squareback wagon parked near the Thing – a name that’s interesting, all by itself. Both of these were permutations of the Beetle everyone knows about that not many know about. The Thing was a kind of German Jeep with Beetle running gear. The windshield folded down and the doors could be taken off. You could get it with a removable hardtop or a soft-top. You could not get it with carpet.
It was very . . . interesting.
So also the Squareback, which had a fuel-injected Beetle engine decades before most mainstream cars had fuel-injected engines.
Of particular interest – to me, at least – were the numerous Japanese home market vehicles that were never sold here, including right-hand-drive micro-trucks such as the Subaru Sambar pick-up with fold-down bedwalls. How about a Daihatsu Midget Mini?
Most Americans have never seen a truck like this because Americans aren’t allowed to buy them.
New, that is.
There are a number of trucks on display that are representative of the trucks Americans could once buy, including a Rabbit pick-up with a diesel engine – these were capable of 50 MPG some 40 years ago – and models like the nicely preserved ’78 Chevy LUV, which stickers today for about five times what did it back in the day. This isn’t a measure of what a classic costs.
It’s a measure of what it has cost us.
Little trucks like the LUV – and the Datsun 620 not far from it – were cheap as dirt, almost, when they were new. Because they were designed to be just that. Chevy built lots of them and lots of people bought them – just like lots of people bought old Beetles and Squarebacks, too. Keep in mind that cars – and trucks – like this were new when cars like the ’71 gold Corvette on the Duncan showroom floor was new, too. The point being that while there were Corvettes – and mighty Cadillacs, like the magnificent ’76 Coupe deVille that’s parked not far from the gold ’71 Stingray – back in those days, ordinary cars were also interesting cars.
The quirkiness and variety that once existed is almost unbelievable in the context of our now. Consider the pair of Pacers parked on the floor. One of them a wagon. These cars are hilarious, almost cartoonish.
How about a Merkur XR4Ti? Or maybe a a Nissan Figaro? They are – what’s the word? – interesting.
There’s even a low-miles Chevette on display, to showcase what an economy car once was.
That being economical. Which was possible when new cars were not required by law – or rather, by regulation – to be equipped with things people didn’t ask because they didn’t want to pay extra for them, such as air bags. If people has asked for them – and had been willing to pay extra for them – they would have been available without any need for the government to require them; the free market works like that.
Well, it did once.
If you’re interested in seeing what that was like, it’s worth spending a couple of hours touring the museum. It will remind you – if you remember – what it used to be like visiting a new car showroom.
As opposed to what it’s like, now.
. . .
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