How Times Have Changed

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Not only did cars used to have ashtrays – they often had several. My ’76 Pontiac Trans-Am has three. One up front for the driver and front seat passenger, two in the rear for the backseat occupants. A fancy car made that year – a Cadillac Sedan deVille, say – would have had four, Two up front and two in the rear.

New cars have none. They have multiple cupholders – and power points instead of cigarette lighters.

It’s a metric of the changing times.

Some cars used to have their gear shifters on the steering wheel column. Not a gear selector – for putting an automatic transmission into Park (or Drive). A shifter, to engage first, then second and third. There was no fourth. Else it would not be three on the tree. Today, this form of controlling the shift action adds an additional layer of unfathomableness to the operation of manual transmissions, which many under-30s have never learned how to shift at all – nevermind via the tree.

Turning the fuel reserve valve. If you owned an early VW, you could drive it until the engine began to sputter, which was the engine telling you it was running out of gas. The good news was there was still some in the tank. Just turn the valve to keep it flowing, so you could keep going.

Something newer that’s disappearing is the dipstick – which isn’t (necessarily) your idiot next-door-neighbor. It was a means for checking the engine’s oil level; if the car had an automatic transmission, there was probably one for that, too.

Emphasis on was.

The automatic transmission dipstick is already a near-relic in that many new (and recently made) vehicles with automatic transmissions do not have them anymore. They have gone the way of the ashtray – and for similar reasons. Most people don’t smoke anymore. And most people don’t check fluid levels anymore, either. They depend on a dealer – or electronics (in the form of “check fluid” lights in the dashboard) to do that for them. A few luxury brands – e.g., BMW – have electronic dipsticks that tell you the level (of the oil) from inside the car.

Glass headlights used to be standard equipment in all new vehicles. Few vehicles made since about 20 years ago have them anymore. Instead, they have plastic headlights. This is interesting, because new vehicles are more expensive – yet plastic is cheaper than glass. Except, of course, it isn’t – when you need to replace it. A sealed beam glass headlight still costs about $25. An inexpensive plastic headlight assembly often costs several times as much and it is likely you’ll need to pay that cost sooner, because the plastic yellows and cracks. The glass only cracks if you hit it with something.

It never yellows.

Outside hood latches. Almost all cars used to have them back when it was (generally) safe to have them. Because – for the most part – you didn’t have to worry about someone popping the hood of your car to steal parts from your engine compartment. Maybe if you lived in the ghetto. Today, all cars have hoods can only be opened from inside the car – because it’s no longer safe to leave your car anywhere (just about) without locking it up – including the engine compartment.

Gas caps behind the rear license plate. It’s surprising that this once-common way of hiding the gas cap is no longer used. Not only did it eliminate the need to cut a fuel door into an exterior body panel – thereby marring the lines of the bodywork – it also eliminated the need to line the right (or left) side of your vehicle up with the fuel pump at gas stations. Either side was just as good when the gas door was behind the rear license plate in the back and center of the car. And when you’d finished fueling, the gas cap was invisible – hidden behind the license plate.

A spare tire. Not the one around your middle. The one that used to be in the trunk, back when most cars had them – because most cars were cars (rather than crossovers, which have largely replaced cars). Crossovers may have a temporary use (rather than a spare) tire. The difference is you should not drive very far (or fast) on the space saver while you can drive normally – as far and as fast as you usually do – on the spare, which is full-size tire the same type as the others on the car. The temporary use tire is much skinnier and only meant to limp you to the closest tire store.

Many new (and recently made) vehicles don’t even have the temporary-use spare. Instead, they have an inflator kit. This is fine, if all you have is a flat tire. If you have a tire with a damaged sidewall, you can’t inflate it – because the air you put in just comes right back out. Then you’ll need a tow truck.

It’s the price of change – which isn’t always for the better!

. . .

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  1. When I started driving (1983), any gas pump you pulled up to had regular and unleaded gas. I guess the phase out of regular was well underway but many cars that could take leaded gas were still on the road. I think cars that were unleaded-only had a ring in the gas port so you could only fit the smaller unleaded pump nozzle in it.
    Mine, a mid-70s Malibu Classic, could take either. It did not have a catalytic converter and the sticker above the gas port said “regular or unleaded.” So as regular was cheaper, that was what I bought. The gas port was under the license plate and large enough in diameter to stick the regular pump in. One of the stations I always went to had some old bat working there who would refuse to turn the regular pump on for me every single time. I’d have to re-explain that my car could run on either one, so I chose regular. She even came out to check out the gas hole to see it was large enough, look at the sticker, etc.
    I never could figure out why she even cared about that. Just do your job: turn on the pumps and collect the money. The rest of it is none of your business.
    On hindsight, I think I remember some public health nanny fretting on TV that people were taking the ring out of the gas port so they could put leaded gas in the tanks of their unleaded cars (naughty! naughty!) so maybe that was what that old battleaxe was worried about. I guess she was on a mission to change the world one old clunker at a time.

  2. If I remember correctly, the most recent vehicles with the fuel neck behind the license plate were the 1988 AMC Eagle station wagons. My friend’s parents had a 1983 AMC Wagon, and that’s one feature I remember well about it

  3. Uncle (via the US DoT) has banned glass headlights in the US. i can’t blame this one on the automakers.

    The lack of spare tires is really frustrating. Not all of us drive near tire shops all the time. When I was shopping for SUV’s, with AWD, I was shocked to discover that many don’t have a spare tire at all and no provision to spare one, big cars too.

    I ended up buying a used Cayenne with a space saver spare and a glorious V8, and noticed the lack of dip stick when changing the oil. It’s even worse, because the electronic oil level indicator doesn’t show you the oil level for at least 20 miles after the hood has been opened and closed. There is no way, without specialist tools, to check the oil level as you fill the engine. I had to buy an $500 tool to scan a few sensors for basic things. You also need this damn thing to retract the automatic electric parking brake to service brakes or to bleed the fluid.

  4. Eric, thank you for providing a respite from the insanity of our age. Love your site!

    Speaking of juvenile insanity from 50 years ago . . . in my teen years, ubiquitous ash trays (with handy cigarette lighters) made it easy for my buddies to toss lit firecrackers out the window. No need to fumble with matches (which always blew out with the windows down).

    Ash trays were also educational. I remember learning at a very early age — before kindergarten — that those lighters get VERY hot. Later in life, I would learn this was what a “2nd degree burn” was.

    And whatever happened to wing vents? Cheap, effective, poor man’s air conditioning.

  5. New cars are more reliable…hahaha

    The newest cars…the EV’s and plug in hybrids… are the most unreliable cars ever made…..

    The American’s used to make the most reliable cars in the world…back in the 1950’s, 1960’s…etc…

    BMW used to make the best car in the world….not anymore…..

    I had a 1984 BMW Euro 2 door, E30 320i m20b20 6 cyl. 5 speed…it was the best car I ever owned….totally reliable, fantastic handling, built like a tank, great suspension…smooth ride, one of the best engines ever made…..the E30 is collectible now….

    I have a 1988 Porsche 924S 5 speed Le Mans…it is simpler, more reliable, then the new cars, it is galvanized…no rust, handles better then the new cars or any car…it is a front engine rear transaxle car….50/50 weight balance…

    I had a 1963 Volvo PV544…it was simpler, more reliable, built like a tank, more unbreakable then any new car…some of the old Volvos went 1,000,000 miles….the new EV’s go 100,000 miles…the battery is dead…it is then scrap polluting the landfill with lithium…lol

    An old Volvo lasts as long as 10 new EV’s….that is called saving the planet….

    I have a 1978 Super 7 clone, Fiat/Lancia Lampredi 4 cyl. 2.0 lt twin cam hemi engine, 5 speed, …it is very simple, reliable, easy to fix, no doors or windows, no power steering, no computer, fully analog, no vacuum lines…less things to fail/break, fiberglass and aluminum body….no rust….it weighs 1200 lb…it will out handle the new cars and will change direction quicker then these huge overweight whales…the new cars….The Super 7 is a 1957 design….

    some of the old Volvos and diesel Mercedes… went 1,000,000 miles or more….

    the new cars ….just plastic crap…..are so complicated and full of electronics …. which have a short life span, they will never go one million miles…..cell phones on wheels…

    • The new cars are quicker…the EV’s are so quick….

      In 1968 there was a car quicker then the EV’s……..and it didn’t need 1000 hp and a 1000 lb battery….lol

      The Porsche 909 “Bergspyder” was a spyder sports car designed and built by Porsche in 1968

      The 909 Bergspyder was equipped with the 2.0 L, 275 hp (205 kW) Type 771 flat-eight air cooled engine, derived from Porsche’s earlier efforts in Formula 1.

      The power unit was coupled to an extremely lightweight spaceframe chassis made of aluminum. The car also featured non-magnetic, exotic, and dangerous metals like beryllium, titanium, silver, and magnesium in the pursuit of shaving weight. Steel was not used in the 909.

      To give an idea of what lengths the engineers went to with the 909, the fiberglass body weighed just 10 kg (22 lb), and instead of a fuel pump, the car utilized a pressurized titanium ball that delivered fuel to the engine in order to save weight.

      This is only a summary of the long list of innovations that Piëch and his team of engineers made for the 909. The car weighed an astonishing 385 kg (849 lb) and was capable of an incredible 0-60 mph time of 2.4 seconds….

      it did wheel stands…lifted the front wheels off the ground….EV’s can’t do wheel stands….

  6. Funny, I was just having a conversation with my brother this AM about the loss of dip sticks.

    On my VW’s, when changing out the “lifetime transmission fluid”, I must pump in new fluid through the drain in the pan. I then must warm up the fluid to a certain range, then open up the drain plug until a steady stream just stops…then quickly screw the in the plug once again.

    Speaking about gas tank fills, has anyone else noticed how sluggish the pumps have become at the gas stations?
    Quite slow!

    • RE: “has anyone else noticed how sluggish the pumps have become at the gas stations?
      Quite slow!”

      All. The. Freakin’. Time. FrankieTooz

      I’ve been told numerous times by gas station attendants, “Take your hand off the handle & Just wait 60 seconds for the pump to catch up” or some such. Sometimes it works, sometimes it does not.

      …Ya know, I don’t Ever recall that happening before ~ 1990. Not once. …Ever. All the way back to 1982 or so. …Maybe some older guys can fill us in of that happening in the Way Back years? …Is it due to some kind of goobermint regulation of the pumps? Idk.

      • The last few times I was filling up at my favorite station (91 octane, no ethanol), the gas was trickling out infuriatingly slow. I’m not one to complain, but I went in to ask the attendant why. She came out and showed me a trick that works every time. She said the hose can get bubbles in it.

        You look silly while doing it, but if you take out the nozzle and hold it up in the air for about 60 seconds, then try again, it starts flowing fast again.

        Don’t know why, but it works. Never have a slow fill up again.

    • Serviceability is the one area Toyota still shined in the 2000’s. Changing out the transmission fluid on my old TC was as easy as doing an oil change.

  7. Top three cars sold at the 2024 Barrett-Jackson auction in Scottsdale:

    1956 Mercedes-Benz 300SL Gullwing Coupe … $3,410,000
    2018 Bugatti Chiron … $2,970,000
    1937 Mercedes-Benz 540K Special Roadster … $2,420,000

    Not one of them has a Clownscreen, or receives OTA updates.

    Good taste never changes.

  8. I had a Dodge Monaco, maybe 1974 year, that had the license plate fill hole. Had to have it towed, the yoke broke on the driveshaft. The tow truck lifted the front end and gasoline began to spill out of the fill hole and onto the pavement.

    Had a good strong 318.

    You can hardly look at the sun during a bright sunshiny day, the brighter than the sun headlights are off the charts.

    Driving at night is next to impossible with those blinding headlights. Get rid of them.

  9. Anyone remember the high-beam switch being a robust heavy duty switch in the upper left footwell?

    I loved those and cursed the lousy American ratchet stalk that replaced it. Luckily the Krauts came up with the push-the-stalk forward that is superior….

    • Yes, worked dandy. My 1979 Pontiac was the first I owned with the ratchet stalk. And the switch it controlled at the base of the steering column wasn’t up to the amp load resulting in a fried 12v supply side terminal on the switch and plug. After the 2nd replacement, 3rd time I clipped the connector off and soldered to the switch terminal forget the Bakelite plug. No more overheating.

  10. The bad thing about still owning a car with the gas filler under the plate is that modern gas stations aren’t designed for these cars anymore. To get the nozzle to reach to the back of the car, I have to pull up further than normal, and by that time, I’m either blocking another pump or sticking out into the drive lane.

    Keep the classic car articles coming, Eric. Love ’em.

  11. Thanks for the trip down memory lane Eric. I had forgot, and you had me reminiscing about to old center gas fill spouts – behind the license plates. What funny is, all manufacturers just do the same thing and make the same changes. None seem to break from the norm and do something different that the consumer may prefer. Herd mentality!

  12. Re: Many new (and recently made) vehicles don’t even have the temporary-use spare. Instead, they have an inflator kit.

    This has bugged me a lot, living in the rust belt, with poor road conditions, and worse in the winter/spring. Add in the ever diminishing tire sidewall size and you’re playing with fire, unless you are OK with waiting 3-6hrs (or worse) calling a service to get you on your way (if they can?)
    There are a couple on-line companies making solutions such as Modern Spare, which I bought for my wife’s CT4. We fight over it’s space in the small trunk, she takes it out, I put it back in.
    And my son had a little Ford hatchback, and it also had no spare, and he had to drive 5+ hrs each way back and forth to college often late at night (in the rust belt). so I did a lot of research to find out it’s bolt pattern (it was a Jag bolt pattern, car made in Europe). So I figured out his OEM stock tire dia., found a compact tire profile/size that fit the Jag compact rim (that I got from ebay/junkyard), and it worked. I then ripped out his trunk floor covers, and hacked out all the formed foam underneath it, and made it fit, and it only stuck up 1-2″ over the original height. He used it.

  13. The mention of ash trays in cars made me think of a story my husband told me about a trip to the beach with his kids. Given his kids ages, this must have been back in the mid-90s, so there were still some higher end vehicles that had those ashtrays behind the front seats and in the arm rests – as well as the one in the console. His daughter was digging up sand diggers, which are tiny clams that burrow into the wet sand where the surf hits the shore. She had a whole bucket full of them and wanted to take them home. He told her no, and to put them back.
    Well, unbeknownst to him and his kids mom, the daughter sneaked those clams into their station wagon and stuffed all the ashtrays in the back full of them. They all went home that night, and it wasn’t until about 3 days later (in the August heat, which the station wagon had been sitting outside in) that my husband opened the door. He said he about lost his lunch, as all those little clams had died and started to rot in the ashtrays….
    Of course now the story generates laughs, but clearly my husband didn’t find it the least bit funny when it happened.

    That story aside, I don’t miss ashtrays as I never smoked. But, a few years ago we had our 2011 Dodge Ram in the shop for over a week, and (back when dealers provided loaner vehicles for no extra charge) the loaned us a 2018 Ram. It was fairly similar to ours, but what griped me about it was the lack of a shift knob on the steering column. I kept reaching for it, swiping at empty air so many times. All it has was just a knob on the dash, with the familiar park, neutral, drive, etc symbols on it. I told my husband how much I hated that, and he replied that since there is no longer a mechanical linkage to operate those gears, the shift stalk isn’t necessary. To which I replied that I am used to it being there and I much prefer it that way.
    And then not long ago, I drove a client’s car (a 2016 Honda HRV) and that drove me nuts as I kept wondering where the keys were…..Were they in my purse, did they fall down between the seats, did I set them on the console? Sorry, I much prefer a car where you put the key into the slot on the steering column and start it. I know exactly where the keys are. No worry about fishing around in my purse or fishing around under the front seats looking for them.

    • ‘All it had was just a knob on the dash, with the familiar park, neutral, drive, etc symbols on it.’ — Lee R

      Such controls remind me of my grandma’s 1959 Rambler. It had little square push buttons, left of the steering wheel, to control its 3-speed automatic transmission. They looked like this:

      Notice the crude gaps, loose fit, and pronounced misalignment of the buttons, as well as the ugly exposed Phillips screws on the escutcheon. It all spelled ‘cheap and nasty,’ and sent the car to the shop at least once. Grandma replaced it with a 1967 Buick, with a shift handle on the column, which she much preferred.

      Like a child retching at green peas, I still react the same way to push-button ignition and shift controls. I’m not having it! *bangs spoon on plate*

  14. Try to find a CD player on the new cars! They are not even offered as options. I have a large CD collection but now I guess I have to transfer my CD’s to a USB memory stick which is a tedious process. They are forcing us into streaming services which of course you need a monthly subscription fee. I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore! I’m joking of course as there is very little we well fed, well entertained peasants can do about it.

    • I mentioned below that my first brand new car was a 2000 Mustang. It came factory equipped with both a cassette deck AND an in-dash CD player. I thought I’d REALLY arrived! 😆

      I think the last car we bought with an in-dash CD player was our 2010 Mazda 6. The 2018 Challenger and 2019 Sonata we own have none. My el-strippo 2003 Chevrolet S-10 had an in-dash 1 CD player.

      I’m stunned cars still have radios with knobs. Then again, I remember when cheap cars came with AM only radios. And not because FM didn’t exist. I am not so old I can recall radio delete options.

      • My toy car is a 2001 modified Mustang Cobra convertible. It has the original 6 cd changer integrated with the radio. I’ll keep that car till I die. Itz my first hot rod and my first convertible. I like to take the car out for a Sunday drive, warm it up and rev it up to 5, 6 thousand RPM’s. Itz a sweet sound especially with the Magnaflow exhaust. My previous everyday driver car (2019 Outback) had a CD player and I thought all cars would come with a CD player. I’m not buying another Subaru as they have gotten rid of their 6 cylinder engine and plus they are some super Woke people.
        Now I have to RIP my CD’s to a digital format which is nice once done as I can store at least 100 albums in lossless format on a 32GB stick.

    • Hey Europeasant,

      Yes, streaming is some bullshit. I don’t care for someone making a profile out of what I listen to, as well as the commercials, etc. CDs are great for sound reproduction, but MP3s are better for portability.

      Unfortunately, people almost completely rely on streaming music from their twonkies these days. I feel sorry for the kids who will never bring home an album and check out the artwork and read the lyrics and whatever the band had to say, and listen to it from beginning to end.

      • I’m not giving them anymore money. The only streaming services I get are Netflix and Amazon Prime but I’ll be re-thinking those as they sure have a lot of woke bullshit tying to feed me.

        “I’m like a mushroom, They keep me in the dark and feed me Bullshit”

  15. The old headlights were a DOT requirement. Manufacturers could select square or round. Then try to jam it into their design.

    As pointed out here ( popup headlights were basically outlawed due to daytime running lights -although GM’s DRLs in the 1990s were separate lights from the primary headlights, something that has carried through to the goofy patterns of LED running lights today. But before they went away they were to get around the standardized headlights and to slightly improve aerodynamics.

    The rise of quartz-halogen bulbs meant smaller fixtures and I’m sure a good bit of lobbying relaxed the rules. But variety means no standards, and less volume. I imagine all the spare lenses and light assemblies are made in that model year then put on a shelf. And each side is a unique SKU, so they have to be tracked, stored and inventoried. Someone probably gets paid to keep track of how many of each get replaced every year (some accidents are more common than others) so maybe they have to make more passenger lights than driver side lights. That costs money too.

    But one thing that got better was reliability. You’re more likely to have issues with the wires and socket powering the headlight than the lamp these days, although they do still sometimes fail. Unfortunately that means manufacturers don’t have to design for maintenance so replacing a failed bulb or assembly becomes a whole thing.

    The rise of LEDs hasn’t really worked out all that well for running lights either. An LED panel is only a few mm thick, and with a diffusion sheet could easily just be stuck on the back fender for a taillight. But manufacturers continue to build complicated one-off lens assemblies that are prone to intake water, causing the LED circuit boards to rot and fail. Another complicated repair and expensive part that should cost almost nothing.

  16. I find it appalling that many baby boomers never learned proper blacksmithing skills. And don’t even get me started on the number of people who can’t shoe a horse or butcher a pig. /s. Things change, that’s the way it goes. Who cares how you put a vehicle in gear, or where the gas fill is? If you still smoke, then buy an ash cup and stick an old fashioned cigarette lighter in the power point. And I’ll take a modern LED headlight over an old sealed beam any day of the week. Seems that some of us are turning into old farts who just want to bark at the clouds. Now get off my lawn!

    • Hi Floriduh,

      Yeah, but . . . and here’s a case-in-point: I currently own an ’02 Frontier; I used to own a ’98. They are both essentially the same truck, with a few small “updates” made to the ’02 vs. the ’98. On is that the ’02 has a set of composite plastic headlight assemblies; the ’98 had sealed beam headlights. I hit a deer (or – rather – a deer hit me) with each. The ’98’s driver’s side headlight had to be replaced for $25. The ’02’s “assembly” had to be replaced for $100. The latter also yellows within two years from new. What’s the upside, again?

      Also, the ’98 had an exposed metal bumper, which I was able to pull back into place using a come-along and a tree. For free. The ’02’s entire front “fascia” (made of cheap plastic, easily torn) had to be replaced at not a small cost.

      Sometimes “new and improved” isn’t.

      • Hi Eric. The upside is that a a plastic lamp with a halogen bulb gives off ten times more light, and an LED probably ten times more than that! And they don’t necessarily yellow in two years if treated properly. My frontier is a 2017 that I bought new. When I got it I used a spray on treatment, and I wash it weekly. Even sitting outside in the blazing FL sun my lights are as clear as the day I bought it. The wife’s car is a 2018. It’s garaged all the time, so again, clear as a bell. Point being that things change. Always have, always will. Sometimes it’s not better, but sometimes it is. Most of us here are car guys (and girls), so our mindset is a little different regarding cars. For the average schmuck who just sees a car as transportation, lower maintenance, more convenience, and cool doo dads are a good thing. As you get older, you just want to do whatever makes life easier. I don’t want to shift my own gears anymore. I don’t want to struggle with parallel parking a whale with no power steering. And I’ll take anything that helps me to see better at night. Hell, I don’t even want to tie my shoes anymore, thus the switch to Skechers slip ons! I understand the nostalgia for the good ol’ days, and yes, life overall was probably better back then. But, nothing much we can do about it, just learn to roll with the punches.

        • Sorry bub, the glass, rectangle, halogen four lamp setup on my 1979 Grand Prix would light up the road like daytime on high beam and saved my hiney several dark mornings from deer and elk crossing my path. My 36 mile drive into work was sans streetlights for most of the way. Glass DOT rectangular halogen around $20 in the ‘80s. All four individual adjustment.

          The plastic POS lamps on my 2018 Jeep are lame low beam and barely adequate on high. My grandson grazed the plastic headlamp on their 2015 Mazda 6, over $600 to replace with OEM. A Mazda CX-30 assy is $1403.60 – you can look it up, I just did. Oh you can get ChiCom knockoffs like I did for the yellowed OEMs on the ‘91 Silverado, slightly worse light diffusion than the OEM, since I’m retired I don’t drive the truck at night much anymore so meh.

          The absolute worst is the daughters 2009 MDX with HID, now aged out and a hours long project to get the ballast replaced.

          • Sure Sparkey. The sealed beams on your 79 Pontiac gave off better light than a 23 Honda Civic, Toyota whatever, etc. Must have been those rose colored glasses you were wearing.

            • Four (Detroit Iron) beats two (Oriental peasant cars).

              Tooling along in the Pontiac, 1985 or so, the 5 year old daughter looks over at the Toyota next to us with an American sized family of four crammed into a car designed for skinny little people. “Dad, they don’t look comfortable or happy?” “Well kiddo, this is why you want to study in school, so you can be successful later on and afford a comfortable car!”

            • Hi Floriduh,

              I can testify a bit about this particular example because I know second gen Firebirds like I know my own smell (per El Guapo). Sparkey’s not exaggerating. The ’77-81 ‘Birds had quad headlights. Light up all four and you had a pretty impressive swath of light, especially relative to the pair of round headlights my ’76 has!

              • Sorry, done arguing with luddites. Eric, i was born in 1950. I had way more cars with quad headlights than all of the cars you’ve ever owned. They don’t even begin to compare with a modern LED headlamp. I don’t understand this fetish that everyone here has, thinking that old cars were better. Are they cool? Yeah. Do they have more character, more style? Absolutely. Less complicated?
                Check, check and check. Would I love to have one as a weekend toy? You betcha. But are they objectively better than current vehicles? Are they a more reliable means of daily transportation? Especially when one considers that the essential purpose of a car is a means of transportation? Get the fuck outta here. Current cars are safer. They brake better. They accelerate better. They handle better.
                They have better lighting. They have more creature comforts. They’re quieter. More luxury. They are (generally) more reliable. Yeah, yeah, I’ll get a bunch of anecdotes about your 73 whatever that went a million miles on the original tires, or your brand new 2024 whatever that caught on fire as you were leaving the dealer. But, MOST new cars today are very, very reliable, and MOST cars up until the late 80’s were poor quality, poorly engineered, unreliable, badly built rust buckets. Period, end of story. You think cars from that era, including Trans Ams and Firebirds, were so awesome because they are so simple and you can just keep fixing them forever, right? Well, according to Google, Pontiac made almost a million and a half them over the course of their production. If they’re so durable/ reliable/awesome, where’d they all go? Oh wait, I know. The scrap yard with all the other junk from that era.

                • RE: “Well, according to Google, Pontiac made almost a million and a half them over the course of their production. If they’re so durable/ reliable/awesome, where’d they all go?”

                  A sheet Ton got crashed. Then, smashed for scrap. Same as any plastic crap today when it gets a tiny fender dingy.

                  Guys back then lived on the Red Line more. Being as how you’re all 1950 and all, I thought you’d knows.

                  Not to mention, rust never sleeps.
                  It doesn’t sleep with the new high Dollar fancy vehicles on the road today either, just with all the brittle plastic sheet in them it’s not as obvious, but on the frames & side fenders, it’s there.

                  I dunno, “the late 80’s were poor quality” cars didn’t get totalled in 10 m.p.h fender benders, the pansy new stuff does.

                  Loved my 1970’s Ford trucks. Reliability, was there.

                  • Kind of goes to my point, Helot. If you’re roughly the same age as I, than you know damn well that most cars in the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s were rusted out pieces of junk after 4 or 5 years. Sometimes even two or 3. I had a new 78 Nova that had serious rust around the wheel wells after 2 years. When’s the last time you saw a 5 year old car, a 10 year old, or even 20 year old like Eric’s frontier that had serious rust issues? How were the 70’s cars better? And sure, minor accident, current car is totaled. But guess what? You’re still alive. My brother was killed on a rainy night while driving a 65 Chevy nova. According to witnesses, a tractor trailer pulled out in front of him. He slammed on the brakes, lost control and went into a tree. At 35 mph. The engine wound up on his lap, and the steering wheel crushed his chest. In a modern car, with ABS, airbags, traction control, etc? He’d still be alive. Would his car have been totaled? Yeah, sure, but who gives a fuck. Cars can easily be replaced. You want an old car to play around with, or have weekend fun? I’m with ya. I too love old American metal. But please, don’t try to tell me that they were in any objective or material way better than what’s made today.

                    • My answer to this is: today, and all the time, “When’s the last time you saw a 5 year old car, a 10 year old, or even 20 year old like Eric’s frontier that had serious rust issues?”

                      In rural America people often drive on muddy gravel roads & then salted highways, the result is rusted vehicles which look pretty much the same as any rusted vehicle from the 60’s or 70’s. High Dollar pickups with rusted rear side beds, rockers & cab corners are all over the place and the frames underneath are not pretty.

                      Back before the 80’s, the State or City put down sand or black cinder to add traction on the road ways in Winter, a giant sandblaster was the result. I haven’t seen black cinders on the roads in 30 yrs, and rarely do I see sand.
                      The cities didn’t have the fancy expensive street sweeping machines back then either, more sandblasting material for the underside of vehicles.

                      I grant, having plastic fender wells & better undercoating makes a difference today, however; seems less sand, vac machines & more gravel roads being paved over is the real reason rust is not as visible on vehicles today.

                    • I forgot to mention the proliferation of car washes everywhere. And, they’ve gotten much better.
                      My old hometown didn’t have an automatic car wash until the mid-80’s and even then, not many people used it.

                      Some people say washing a car makes no difference, I dunno, if I don’t wash my simple bare steel garden spade it gets rusty real fast. Wash it each time & it stays sparkly new-lookin’. Clay is The Worst, helps grow rust faster than any other dirt. Lotsa clay in the South, I hear.

                      Another factor, the State using brush sweepers to clear off loose sandblast material from the shoulders of highways. When I was young (before the State used those sweepers) I walked back from fishing alongside a highway, each time a semi-truck drove by at 50 m.p.h. it felt like being hit by a sandstorm. That same walk today, there’s near nothing flying through the air.
                      Paint, cheers.

                • Hi Floriduh!

                  The main reason those millions of ’70s era Firebirds are mostly gone now is because we mostly took them for granted. We assumed such cars would always be available and so used ’em up. I think more and more of us are beginning to regret this. Same as regards the basic trucks made circa mid-late ’90s through the early 2000s. Imagine being able to buy a new half-ton V8/TBI/manual transmission 4WD truck for $28,000 or so. As opposed to a twice-turbo’d/hybrid V6/ten speed half-ton truck (with $400 each LED tail-light “assemblies”) for $60k.

                  As far as headlights: I’ve driven thousands of new cars; almost every make/model produced over the past 30 years – so I think it’s fair to say I have a lot of experience with modern cars. Yes, they have powerful headlights. But these come at a cost. And what is the cost-benefit? A ’79 Firebird with four Halogen headlights has ample “see where you’re going” illumination. Unless you can’t see well anymore; in which case maybe glasses are in order. These lights are inexpensive and easily replaced; they never yellow and only crack when physically struck with sufficient force. Now we have plastic assemblies that are more fragile and expensive; that are more easily damaged and that often leak internally. Some are so complex – tied into a computer – that it requires hooking the vehicle up to a computer to change them out.

                  What’s the advantage, again?

                  And my core point here is that all of this is forced on us. It is not something that just evolved organically.If the government hadn’t gotten involved, I suspect there would still be simple, inexpensive new cars for those who want that – and expensive, fancier cars for those who can afford that.

                  I see nothing wrong with that!

                  • “we mostly took them for granted. We assumed such cars would always be available and so used ’em up.”

                    That’s so true. They were just ordinary new/used cars back then. Guaranteed, all of them that are still around today are loved and taken care of. Who can honestly say they love their modern car, that it has a personality? Who loves and names their microwave?

                    Sure, a microwave can reliably heat up your meal, but does it compare to the “old technology” of a steak thrown on a fire? You dang luddites still cooking with fire! Get with the times!

                    • Hi Philo,

                      Yup. I had a buddy in high school back in the ’80s whose dad spoiled him by buying him not one, not two but three second generation Trans-Ams. One after another (that is to say, after he wrecked one, his dad bought him another). One was a ’79 10th Anniversary TA with the 400 and the four speed. I cringe when I think about how that car was used, abused and – ultimately – thrown away.

        • RE: “I used a spray on treatment, and I wash it weekly.”

          It takes, maybe five or ten minutes to do so, I imagine, then add in time for taking the bottle out & putting it away, plus time (& money) spent buying new ones… let’s see:

          10 minutes a week, times 40 weeks, as I image you don’t wash your headlights every single week, equals 40 minutes a year.

          Let’s say you manage to keep your vehicle for 25 years, 40 minutes times 25 years equals 1000 minutes, that’s a bit over 16 freaking hours you spend washing your headlights.

          Not including what you’re spending on spray bottles, That’s the kind of invisible, insidious, rip-off theft, ‘technology’ takes from people. Time. Opportunity cost.

          …/Carry on.

          • For our vehicles with plastic lenses, whenever we are at the gas station, I always wash the lenses too when I wash the windshield. Keep them clean and they will stay clear longer. As the plastic heats and cools, it develops micro fractures in the surface which traps particles of dust, causing it to become less clear over time.

          • That’s really stretching it, Helot. I used the treatment ONCE, when I bought it. I wash it every week anyway and always have, regardless of yellowing headlights. Sorry, your math doesn’t add up

            • Nahh, it’s not stretching it, Floriduh. My maff adds up.
              While there may have been some kind of miscommunication & you only used the treatment ONCE, it’s a good bet there’s At Least 50,000+ guys out there in the world who do just that: spend all that time, cleaning headlights.

              It’s one example, out of countless, how so-called technological improvements don’t increase the quality of our lives, but diminish it. A.k.a., a big rip-off.

              …Think: all the time people wasted peering into the little tiny triangle of a sthmart phone trying to learn how to tweek it, just right. …Imagine all that effort put into something – perhaps – more productive, more rewarding? With more human interaction.

              I’m not bashing guys who spend 16 hours cleaning headlights, OCD + they want nice shit, … Got It.

              …It, Just. Didn’t. Have. To. Be. That. Way.

              Imho, things could have been, 10x better.

              Clear glass + sometimes, simple, is better.

            • I always remember why I don’t look at this site all that often anymore: it’s a dick waving contest.

              Eric (and his followers) keep trying to insist that everything old was better and anyone who disagrees with them is a retard and should die.

              I like many of the articles here, but the amount of “guh, it was awesome to have to work on the car every frigging weekend” comments is ridiculous.

              • Hi Good luck,

                What in the world does “dick waving” have to do with the subject of this article; i.e., that it would be a good thing if there were more affordable/interesting cars for young people to buy?

      • Hi Eric,
        Doing a deep cleanup of my garage a couple years back to get rid of all the parts I no longer had cars for I came across a couple of the rectangular sealed beam headlights still in the box. Price sticker attached – $10.00, a bargain compared to just a single bulb for today’s headlights.

    • “If you still smoke, then buy an ash cup and stick an old fashioned cigarette lighter in the power point.”

      My first brand new, fresh off the dealership lot car, so new that the seats were still covered in plastic, was a 2000 Ford Mustang coupe. Which came with a “smoker’s package”. A lighter and an ash cup that fit in a cup holder.

      Ford charged me $15 for it. In 1999. 🙄 And would NOT delete it from the car or the bill of sale.

      I can’t remember the last time I saw a real, no fooling cigarette lighter in a car.

      Oh and Eric, having owned both 1970s and 1980s era Cadillacs, not only did you get multiple ashtrays front and rear in the armrests, each ashtray had its own cigarette lighter too. Such luxury. 🧐

      • The 2008 Scion TC came with a cigarette lighter. It didn’t come with an ashtray, but had an indent in the dash where the ashtray was to go. I suppose they offered a smokers package, and that was the ashtray location for it.

    • Floridah Man,

      The LED lights can go to hell. Sure, they let you see like it’s noonday in front of you, but the goddamned things blind everyone else, including me. If you can’t see at night without those unholy, eye-burning, magnesium-fires in your grill, you’re too blind to drive at night. I’m not blind yet, so stop blinding me and drive in the daytime.

      Rant off. 🙂

    • You are describing literally about 80% of the comments section posters here bud. 😎

      I’m in agreement with you, all change is not bad. But a lot of it is though, -especially- forced mandates like “EVs” and clot shots. If you want an EV, it is your right to have one if someone is selling it. If you want an untested mRNA frankenstein mix in your blood, go crazy. But don’t -force- that shit on anyone.

      That’s my general take on most things, but is simply not caring what you want anymore.

    • Dear Floriduh man:

      Sparkey does have an LED confession to make.

      The 2018 Harley Road King, I converted it to ALL LED about a week after I bought it January 2018. Had the lights on, walking around it noticed the license plate light looked really white. humm. It was LED, the only LED light on the bike! WTH? Got on the Harley forum did lighting research. The 2018 has a CANBUS system that actually plays well with LED lighting. Bought aftermarket LED turn signal boards, LED passing lamp bulbs, LED brake light bulb, and two LED replacements for the high and low headlight bulbs. Here is the real advantage- way better visibility fore and aft since the turn signals are now white running lights/amber turn signals up front and the rear red running, red brake, amber turn in the rear. The rear is much better than the one lame stock incandescent brake lamp bulb, now three really bright brake lights. Thanks modern tech! The CANBUS smart enough to sync the turn signals just hit the four way switch for a couple cycles all set, one and done. Whew. Confessional complete.

      • RE: “Here is the real advantage- way better visibility fore and aft”

        I wonder about that. I’ve never had ANY problems seeing a bike at night before LED’s, …did you?

        …The idiots slamming into the back end of a bike, perhaps, maybe, it makes a diff? I dunno. …Maybe, not?

        The phrase, “way better visibility” reeks of the word, “saafety”. Like it’s an amulet, or something. Double so, when attached to a ‘Harley’. Imho.

        …Live safe, die easy? …Softly? …Old?

        ‘Do you wanna live forever? (Conan the Barbarian)’

        • Yep, I like to better the odds of being seen by being annoyingly bright on the scooter! Also weave approaching busy intersections so that bright headlight dances, again to better the odds of not blending into the busy background. See tip number 2:

          Frankly the best advantage is living here in Central WA, way less traffic equals way less chance of getting smacked. Wide open spaces too, open highways less vegetation you can see that deer or elk out and about.

      • Gott in Himmel! A CANbus on a bike? I’m going to keep living in the past. My bikes have generators or magnetos and kick starts. The newest have alternators. No computers on my bikes!
        My BMW R75/5 will still be running in 100 years with regular use and care.

        • Oh I know, it was quite a leap from the gravity fed carb on the 2004 Road King! Electrics in the 04 were still pretty basic except the ignition was computerized even back then, with “ion sensing” feedback via the spark plugs for knock control.

          The new bikes are car systems in miniature. Emissions requirements I’m surprised air cooled cycle engines are still available in new bikes, not for long I’m sure.

  17. The 12V “cigarette lighter” outlet is also an endangered species.

    Since most people just use the outlet to plug in an adapter to charge their sail phone, the manufacturers can skip the 15 A circuit with associated fuse and separate wiring in favor of a USB 3.0 port which specifies a maximum current rating of 900 mA.

    The USB port also opens the possibility of the sail phone being “assimilated into the collective” of the car’s “infotainment” systems if the vehicle offers Apple or Google’s integration features.

    The vast majority of owners won’t hesitate to plug in regardless of the privacy issues.

    • Hi Roscoe:

      Use a USB cable that is for charging only, hopefully they won’t be able to access your phone then. For music I use a FM transmitter to get the tunes from a MP3 player to the radio.

      • The last time I encountered that situation in an unfamiliar vehicle, I used the USB port to charge my jump start battery. A separate cable from the battery’s USB port charged my phone.

        I didn’t know “charge only” cables existed, but I will pick one up. Thanks!

  18. So many points to consider. Car manufactures now feel a quart of oil consumption in a thousand miles is acceptable but don’t see fit to provide a dipstick. As Spock would say; “Fascinating”.

    Early Beetles didn’t have a gas gauge hence the reserve setting on the fuel shutoff, just like a motorcycle but you had to stop to use it.

    Headlight; remember when you could buy them any where and they all interchanged. Sure the light output sucked but chances are a headlight from a ’55 would fit a ’75.

    License plate filler door; a bit of a knack with filling with that one as gas can gush out filling the tank and a real pain to fill from a Jerry can. One of my car’s has that door and I’m told it flops down when you floor it.

    The quest for higher fuel economy killed off the spare tire. Now they give you a can of “fix a flat” and save money by not giving you a spare tire, jack and a tire iron. Probably just as well because most drivers are no longer competent enough to change their own wheels and tires.

    • ‘by not giving you a spare tire, jack and a tire iron’ — Landru

      One thing which changed for the better, temporarily, since the halcyon days of yore was the end of the ludicrous ‘bumper jack’ — a three-foot post with a traveling ratchet that hooked the chromed-steel bumper.

      To get a wheel off the ground, the body had to be lifted at least a foot to reach the spring’s free height. With l-o-o-o-o-n-g trunks like a Victorian woman’s skirt bustle, the rear bumper could end up chest high before the back wheel saw air.

      And that stupid jacking post, anchored about two inches deep in a rectangular steel plate, could easily tip over if the ground was anything other than dead level. Yes, people died! But Joan Claybrook didn’t speak up. Ralph Nader didn’t speak up. Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me. 🙁

    • The 4.0 V-6 2012 Pathfinder maybe uses 8 ounces of engine oil in 7500 miles to the next oil change. It’s like getting 200 mpg with gasoline, you gotta knock on wood.

      Cam sensors went haywire, another sensor had to be replaced, can’t remember which one, all related to the functioning of the engine, replace all three. For 400 dollars, the truck runs like new, original spark plugs, time for a new serpentine belt.

      Be sure to replace the cabin filter.

      You can ramble, musings count a lot.

  19. Remember when you could put in the stereo of your choice? Now forgetaboutit. All you can do is plug in your phone as an accessory to the current useless crap radio. Blah. Anyways I guess I’m old because I’m talking about over the air radio.

    • ‘I guess I’m old because I’m talking about over the air radio.’ — Pug

      Over-the-air radio hasn’t forgotten about you, though — buy a new Tesla, and it’ll perk up its furry little ears to receive automated updates of ‘self driving’ [sic] in the dark of night, while you snooze unknowingly in your bed.

      We should patent a Faraday cage car cover.

    • Not everyone did it, but there was a standard hole for radios. Wiring harnesses were simple enough for aftermarket audio to sell adapters. Things got difficult when steering wheel volume controls started showing up, and got much worse as touchscreens started to take over the center console.

      In the US, factory stereos were always a high margin option, so making it hard to install your own became a profit center for the big three. European carmakers weren’t so tied to their own products, outsourcing to Telefunken and Blaupunkt and so making DIN standard equipment. Unfortunately the trend went the way of the Americans.

      • Ready:

        You have to miss those aftermarket under dash “EQ/boosters” from the eighties.

        They somehow managed to squeeze “600 watts per channel” through a 10 amp fuse.

        So assuming 14.4V and 2 channels, they were making 1200W output with a mere 144W of input. That’s not even counting all the power used by all the illuminated sliders!

        Class D efficiency has nothing on the 80s. These 80s vintage amps were already boasting 833% efficiency!

        Sarc off.

        • With one of those Craig “boosters” and a magnetic alignment fuel line clamp and you’ll actually make your own gasoline!

      • The ‘71 Nova – remember “under dash” !

        Realistic (Radio Shack) 8 track slung under the dash, add a rear speaker plus the wires under the carpet, ohh baby the hot setup. She liked The Supremes, I was partial to The Doors.

        The ‘70 Firebird got one better, 8 track with FM tuner, just fit in the cubby at the front of the center console. Under dash was the CB radio! Antenna mounted to the front edge of the trunk lid, borrow a standing wave meter set that mast length just right.

        • Hi Greg,

          Hubby tore out the backseat of his 1989 Escort (hatchback) and installed four 12″ Kicker subwoofers, an M-100 Phoenix Gold amp, and he had the motorized flip face Kenwood stereo. We taught we were bad ass. We were those teenagers that people glared at during traffic light stops. Because all they could hear was boom, boom, boom.

          Good memories. 🙂

  20. I’d heard (and correct me if I am wrong) the fuel filller moving from the middle of the back end to the left or right fender was safety driven. After fears of the fuel filler neck pulling out of the fuel tank in a rear end collision the filler was moved to either side of the car. Further, I’d heard automakers studied crash reports and found the right (passenger) rear quarter panel was the least likely to be hit statistically. Could be an urban myth, could be a fallout from the Pinto bad publicity.

    On column vs. floor shifters note bench seats have gone the way of the Dodo bird. Back when cars could have automatic or manual transmissions it was easier to route the shifter through one hole in the floorboard. Now customer preference is probably individual bucket seats. The last vehicle I owned with a column shifter was my 2003 Chevrolet S-10 with an automatic transmission. Ironically with a 40/60 split bench seat. That had a cutout for a floor mounted stick shift.


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