One of the more ridiculous things our parents in Washington (i.e., the government) did to try to get us to not drive faster than they thought was “safe” was to require car companies to install speedometers that read no higher than 85 MPH. That way – so their thinking went – we’d not be tempted to drive faster than that and we’d think we were really moving when driving 60, since that was two-thirds of the way to pegged.
Naturally, this egged us on to wind the needle all the way around back to 20 MPH – assuming the car was capable of it.
But this column is not about our parents trying to control our driving in a manner similar to the way abusive parents sometimes try to prevent their young children from learning how to tell time – so that they can trick them into going to bed early. It is about how easy it used to be to end-run our parents’ parenting.
The government’s, that is.
If you had a car that came from the factory with the parent-mandated 85 MPH speedometer and wanted to know how fast you were going – when you were driving faster than 85 MPH – all you had to do was replace the factory 85 MPH speedometer with one from an older model from a car similar to yours that registered higher. It was what was once known as a bolt-in.
Because you could do exactly that.
If the part fit, it would probably work – or could be made to, with a few modifications. There was no programming involved. Each part of a non-electronic car was a part that could be installed in another car – and not even necessarily the same model. So long as it physically fit (or could be made to). That’s why it was once not-uncommon to encounter a V8 Vega.
Chevrolet never factory installed a V8 in the Vega, which was a four cylinder powered economy car as it came from the factory. But people with a need for speed would sometimes put a V8 (any of several) into one because they could and because the result was a ferociously fast Vega.
It was common, once, to upgrade a car’s interior by replacing the factory installed steering wheel with something different. Maybe spoked. Maybe leather wrapped. Maybe made of welded together chain link (this was actually popular). Car parts stores used to display these options that anyone could install on the store wall. We no longer have the option, because our parents decided we ought not to have it. It is dangerous to try to remove an air bag-equipped steering wheel if you don’t know very well what you’re doing – and even if you do, all you can do is replace it with another of the same type because nothing else will work (and even if you could get it to work, it’s illegal to mess with a parent-mandated “safety” device).
Forget changing out your electronic, computer-controlled car’s speedometer with one you like better – as was easy to do with a car such as the 1980 Camaro I once owned. It came with the parent-mandated 85 MPH speedometer. It soon had a proper 130 MPH speedometer – from the gauge cluster of a 1978 Camaro picked from a parts car at the salvage yard. A 1978 Camaro was basically the same car as a 1980 Camaro and every other Camaro made between 1970 and 1981. Almost every part from any Camaro made during that period of time would fit any other Camaro made during the same period of time.
Not just the speedometer.
One could (and many did) swap out a two barrel carburetor and intake for a four barrel carburetor and intake (or an earlier-year four barrel that offered better performance because it had fewer parent-mandated restrictive “features” such as less-adjustable idle mixture screws) or a distributor from a newer model that was transistorized (as opposed to having points).
Things like seats were easy – because it was just bolts and tracks. Unbolt the seats that came with your economy or base trim car and bolt in a set of nicer seats from a fancier parts car version of your car.
Today, there is almost nothing that can be changed from the way a car came from the factory – because our parents have decided not to allow it. Not even the seats – which are now also an integrated part of the “safety” system our parents have decided we’ve just got to have. They have air bags of their own built into them and aren’t merely bolted to the floor. They are wired and connected to the computer.
It’s one-size-fits-all and it’s all for our own good.
. . .
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