The other day, I started up my old muscle car. This involves something more than pushing the “start” button – which is how you start pretty much every new car (the battery powered devices called EVs have an “on” button, kind of like a microwave or toaster).
The first thing was to set the choke.
This is something probably nine out of ten drivers under 30 have never done – because cars haven’t had chokes in 40-plus years. They have cold start enrichment circuits. A choke does the same thing (enrich the air-fuel mixture; i.e., more fuel relative to the air) but it generally has to be done manually – by pulling a choke knob out or by depressing the gas pedal before you try to start the engine (by turning the key, another thing we don’t do much anymore).
Pulling out the knob or pushing down on the gas causes mechanical linkages to close the choke – which is a metal flapper door guarding the primary air inlet to the carburetor.
You also push some gas into the engine by pushing down on the gas pedal, which connects mechanically (via a cable) to the carburetor. In which liquid gas sits – in the bowl. Some gets squirted into the engine by this action, so there’s gas to burn (so the engine will start when you turn the key). You generally pump the gas pedal twice – to set the choke and squirt some gas into the engine.
In a fuel-injected car, electronically pressurized injectors automatically spray finely atomized fuel into the engine. This involves a lot of electronics – and a computer to govern it all. It usually works really well – until the day it doesn’t. A choke might stick. But you could unstick it.
Once the engine (in the old car) starts, you’d let it idle for a minute or so – to warm it up enough so that when you tapped the gas pedal again, the idle would settle down to normal rather than fast idle. Tapping the gas (after the engine’s had a minute or so to warm up) causes the choke to open, causing the engine idle speed to settle down to normal.
Now you’re ready to drive!
As you backed up out of the garage, you’d probably make adjustments to the heat – or AC if the car had AC. Until about the mid-90s, many new cars didn’t. AC was considered a luxury option. Only a few luxury cars had electronically controlled AC (and heat). If you didn’t have it, you moved a slide from “cold” to “hot” to adjust the temp. You could not specify exactly 72 degrees, say. But you also didn’t have to scroll through menus and it was easy to make close-enough adjustments without looking at the controls.
If you didn’t have AC, you might have had wing vent windows, which were triangular shaped sections of moveable glass you could open (and close) by hand to direct airflow into the car, which worked like a poor man’s AC.
Maybe you wanted to listen to some music. Turn on the radio – it might not have been a stereo – and up went the power antenna mast. These received radio signals; they didn’t receive “updates.” Or transmit anything, at all.
If you were driving at night and it was very dark, you might have used your left foot to turn the high beams on. The switch was located on the driver’s side floor, to the left of the brake and clutch pedal. So – in traffic – you’d sometimes have to do a little dance, engaging and disengaging the clutch and turning on and off the high beams.
Headlights generally didn’t come on at all – unless you turned them on. They also did not generally stay on when you turned them “off” (as they do with cars that have Daytime Running Lamps).
Back when we had a high trust society, most cars had exterior hood releases. You reached in the grille area, found the latch – and popped the hood. Then you’d be able to see the engine, which was not hidden underneath a plastic cover that made it look like every other engine. (It’s interesting to speculate whether the practice of covering engines with black plastic covers was conceived as a way to acclimate people to the homogenous look of battery powered devices.)
If the road was slick, you might have had to pump the brakes – so as to avoid a skid. The latter was something that happened when the brakes locked up the wheels and they stopped rotating. When they did, the car would skid in the same direction it was going – unless the driver had the presence of mind to let off the brakes and then steer the car out of the skid. Avoiding the skid in the first place was a matter of avoiding locking-up the brakes (and so, the wheels and so the tires) by applying them just shy of lock up and easing up before they locked up.
This was pumping the brakes.
That is now done by an ABS pump – and all the driver does is stand on the brakes. The pump prevents the car from skidding, but it does not prevent the car from failing to slow down fast enough to avoid running into the rear end of the car ahead the driver was following too closely. Many people have been encouraged to do that because their car has ABS – and they aren’t afraid of skidding into the car ahead of them. It doesn’t mean they won’t still hit the car ahead of them.
Which brings us to the main thing people used to do in their cars that many no longer do.
They drove them.
. . .
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