Appreciating Then – And Now

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There’s Ford vs. Chevy. Import vs. Domestic. And of course, Old vs. New.

Some people, for some reason, have difficulty accepting the bad – along with the good. That no car from any era was (or is) the perfect car. They idealize – and sometimes, mythologize – their chosen favorites. In fact, cars from every era were (and are) good in some ways … and not-so-great in one way or another. Usually, several ways. Let’s run through a quick survey of the some of the high – and low – points, Old vs. New.

The Good (old cars):

* More individuality – and personality…

The farther back in time you go, the less government interference there was with car design. The wild fins of the late ’50s, for example, would be impossible (or at least a lot less likely) to ever see the light of production today because of the need to comply with federal crash standards – which have imposed a stricter set of design parameters on today’s cars. Which is why they tend to look so much alike.

Also, the older stuff was just wilder – less controlled, dangerous sometimes, too – even though they weren’t actually quicker (or faster). But they sure felt it. Sounded it, too. Old muscle cars, for example, shake and rumble threateningly. You could hear the air and fuel being sucked into the engine through the open element air cleaner – and the open to the atmosphere carburetor. Modern cars – even the extremely quick and powerful ones – are deceptively docile and quiet in comparison. They’re more civilized – but there was something neat about the animal rawness of the old stuff.

* Easier service …

Because they were simpler – and usually, more physically accessible – it was usually easier to work on the older stuff than the new stuff. Especially with regard to the old stuff built before the 1980s – before fuel injection and lots of electronics. They were more “hands on” for the average home mechanic – and it was kind of nice to be able to do most of the necessary routine service yourself. The spark plugs were right there; the air cleaner was under that lid with the single wing nut holding it down. You could remove the entire fuel system – which meant the carburetor – by loosening four nuts and maybe a spring for the throttle cable.  Not like today, with engines stuffed tightly into the bay – and frequently, stuffed sideways into the engine bay, making it an ordeal to get at the other half of six (and eight) cylinder engines.

* Lower buy-in cost …

Car payments were once stretched out over three years – not five or six, as is common today. While it’s true that there are many very affordable new cars out there, most of these are economy-type cars. In the past, cars that were more middle-echelon (medium and even full-sized, with V-8 engines and rear-wheel drive) were still within reach on the three-year payment plan – and the average Joe. That’s pretty much out the window now. While you can buy a new car for around $15,000 or so the typical car sells for closer to $25,000 or so. And medium-large cars with V-8s are typically well into the $30Ks – if not the $50Ks.  

This, in turn, has resulted in longer-duration loans. Otherwise, many people simply could not afford to drive a new car that wasn’t a very basic, compact economy-type of car.

* Lots of potential

The ’60s and ’70s muscle cars were quick in their day – and could be made much quicker, pretty easily. A weekend cam change, for example, could yield spectacular results. And such an upgrade was also within the skill set – and budget – of nearly anyone. A reasonably competent home mechanic could do a cam swap with basic hand tools – at a cost of less than $250.

And as much potential as the powerful cars of the ’60s and early ’70s had – the factory de-tuned cars of the mid-late ’70s had even more potential  locked up in them. A cam swap (and some tuning) could turn a stone stock 200 hp V-8 into a 350-plus hp V-8, making its owner King of the Road for little coin.

And now, the flip side of the coin…

The Bad  (old cars):

* More frequent service …

While servicing older cars was (generally) easier, it was also something you had to do much more often. It was typical, for example, to do a tune-up in the fall and then again in the spring. Spark plug changes were a once a year routine – not a once every ten years routine like today. Ignition timing had to be set at least once a year; point gap checked and adjusted, too. Oil and filter changes were necessary much more as well – in part because the oil back then was much lower quality than we have today, in part because the engines of that time didn’t operate nearly as efficiently. Raw gas would contaminate the oil – and so on.And even if you were pretty meticulous about maintenance, the old cars were much more prone to stalling, hard-starting and overheating. Flat tires were more common, too – because in those days, tires just weren’t as tough as they are today.

* Good performance – or decent driveability…

But not both in the same car.

Back in the late ’60s and early ’70s, if you wanted a really fast car – you had to accept a car that was balky, rough and difficult to drive. It would typically have a very choppy idle and poor low RPM/part throttle performance. Hard starting in the cold, usually. A tendency to overheat when it got hot. For the most part, forget about air conditioning – and often, an automatic transmission. Many of the more aggressive calassic-era muscle cars didn’t work well with automatics because their peaky, high-RPM engines didn’t make enough low-speed torque. You had to be able to rev them into the powerband to get them going – and for that, you needed a manual. The original (1967-’69 Camaro Z-28 is a good example.)

The manual models, meanwhile, had extremely stiff clutches without the hydraulic assist that is standard equipment in modern cars. This made them – the old stuff – a handful to drive, notwithstanding all the shaking and vibrating.

You also had to choose either “highway” gears – and decent gas mileage. Or performance gears – and awful gas mileage, as well as  limited highway driving capability, because the engines would be revving at uncomfortably high RPM even at moderate road speeds.

* Shorter lives …

Partially because build quality (and body integrity) was poorer then than it is now. It was typical for an engine to show obvious signs of tiredness, such as a smoky blue exhaust caused by worn piston rings – by 70,000 miles or so, if not sooner than that. Body integrity (and rust-protection methods) was/were also vastly inferior to what’s typical today. It was routine, before the 1980s, to see cars no more than four or five years old with extensive bubbling along the rocker panels. Few made it to ten years old without showing obvious signs of body rot. Modern cars rarely show signs of rust-through before they’re at least ten years old. Like blue smoke, Swiss-cheesed body panels are a pretty rare sight nowadays. Cars now routinely run reliably for 15, 20-plus years with their original engines – and without requiring extensive welding to keep their bodies (and frames) stitched together.

All this, of course, is just for openers. This is a conversation that could go on for a long, long time!

Throw it in the Woods?

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eric

Author of "Automotive Atrocities" and "Road Hogs" (MBI). Currently living amongst the Edentulites in rural SW Virginia. 

  65 comments for “Appreciating Then – And Now

  1. Mithrandir
    September 5, 2012 at 7:57 pm

    Nice write up.

    Now I have a better understanding why you (and others) have stated that most muscle cars from the 60s & 70s would not be good as a daily driver.

  2. Blake
    September 5, 2012 at 8:55 pm

    Another thing that has gotten much better now: Seats.

    Drive 4-6 hours in a 60s – 70s car. The seats are designed to be about as confortable as a lightly padded folding chair. And lateral support – forget it (not that many car seats needed much lateral support back then).

    However, I kind of miss bench seats, which are generally not available at all (probably thanks in some part to “smart” airbags).

    If the car “designers” at NHTSA, DOT, and the EPA would just die a slow, painful death, we could have lightweight, reliable cars that you wouldn’t need a loan to purchase, and could have comforable seats, no (or one, or two, or however many you decide you want) airbags and good brakes as well (good non-antilock brakes that is).

    But what about the CHIIIIIIIIIIIIILDREN?

    • Tre Deuce
      September 6, 2012 at 1:03 am

      Reg; “If the car “designers” at NHTSA, DOT,”

      No manufacturer would expose themselves to that kind of liability, Blake. And today’s designers do not have the free artistic range that designers before 1972 did.

      It is amazing that we have a domestic car industry at all, considering how litigious our society has become. Look what happened to our light aircraft industry, due too lawsuits.

      If you wish a people “a slow, painful death”, maybe you ought too look at the liars/lawyers who facilitate this deep pockets suing. Even then, you would be denying those with a legitimate case, regress through due process.

      All of the global and hemispheric ‘Trade’ agreements already deny US citizens due process against a foreign manufacturer, and most of us don’t even know it. Lawyers, and law and constitutional scholars, have made tangible, executable progress against these laws, so careful who you slip the excruciatingly painful poison to.

      Regards….Tre

      • Blake
        September 6, 2012 at 6:09 pm

        Tre:

        “Lawyers, and law and constitutional scholars, have made tangible, executable progress against these laws, so careful who you slip the excruciatingly painful poison to.”

        I’m not poisoning anyone. I’m just wishing they die a slow, painful death. Nothing wrong with that.

        If the loser of a suit was made to pay for the winner’s legal defense costs and fees, the problem with deep poket corporations “settling” ridiculous lawsuits since “it’s cheaper to just settle” would be over.

        When any loser with nothing to lose can bankrupt anybody by dragging them through the court system regardless of actual fault or harm done, we have a problem.

        The legal problem we have is made worse by those that claim to have power over us are also generally lawyers.

        If loser paid (and the NHTSA, EPA, and DOT leeches all dies a slow, painful death as mentioned)- I truly believe we’d have cars with no airbags as an option.

        If a car company can be sued for offering a no airbags option, why can’t the same car company be sued for “allowing” one of its used vehicles to be sold without airbags?

        Oh no – a slimy lawyer’s gears are probably turning if they read this.

        I’m an engineer at one of the “big” 3. I know my industry’s days are numbered. I need to find a new gig. You wouldn’t believe how expensive (and unenjoyable) cars are going to be with the new CAFE and “passive” safety requirements.

        The lawyers and do-gooders are killing my profession.

        Peace

        Blake

        • BrentP
          September 6, 2012 at 8:46 pm

          Engineering has already been largely destroyed as a profession in the USA. The corporate structure is as much responsible as the state.

          • phil
            September 7, 2012 at 3:29 pm

            That is a mixed truth. Most modern engineers are glorified priests of the engineering codes, there to ensure interpret and follow. From a risk averse investor standpoint people following those codes has value. The codes are changed with technology though, and that technology comes from engineers out there who take risks and experiment. It is worth noting that the engineering codes are one of the best and most well hidden examples of non-governmental regulation. Nobody actually has to follow them, (an argument could be made that tertiary requirements sometimes force ones hand, which is true) but many people do because they are a safe and proven standard that will work if you are not trying to pioneer on part of your industry.

          • Hot Rod
            September 7, 2012 at 6:15 pm

            In my opinion large corporations are a suffocation of engineering talent. Venture corporations and small business encourage new ideas and new ways. Once a company is around for 10+ years its usually lost its innovation. The problem with U.S. automotive is that its all old big companies. The same thing is now happening in Asia. I agree with everything you said.

          • BrentP
            September 7, 2012 at 7:35 pm

            What you speak of phil sounds like civil engineering and branches there of.

            I’m talking about product design and development. In what other profession can someone make their employer 30 times his annual salary or more and still be downsized?

        • libertyx
          September 7, 2012 at 7:06 am

          We essentially have a lawless government – doing whatever, and forcing the taxpayer to foot the bills. My vehicles have an available repair manual – the government’s “manual” is the US Constitution that is ignored.

          We had a “Luxury Tax” that destroyed the US boating industry and crippled the production of Detroit’s once sought after large luxurious
          cars. Currently, the Gas Guzzler tax remains and it imposes a fee on the purchase of a Camaro ZL1 automatic of $2,300.

          “Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did, and it never will. Find out just what people will submit to, and you have found out the exact amount of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them, and these will continue till they have resisted with either words or blows, or with both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they suppress.” – Frederick Douglass

        • Andrew Fischer
          September 7, 2012 at 2:33 pm

          You’re absolutely right about “loser pays.” No question about it.

    • Eric_G
      September 6, 2012 at 12:49 pm

      Ugh! Black vinyl on a hot day, on the way home from the swimming pool.

      ’nuff said!

      • Rob
        September 6, 2012 at 1:00 pm

        HAHA so true. I just gutted and redid my ’78 Trans Am in black vinyl. Stuck to the seats a lot this summer. But it was still fun in a way

        • September 6, 2012 at 1:15 pm

          Morrokide! Not mere vinyl…

          • GW
            September 6, 2012 at 9:03 pm

            Morrokide! – ??
            Never heard that term – is it like “Naugahide’ ??

          • September 6, 2012 at 9:07 pm

            Yup!

            It’s just the name Pontiac came up with to make its vinyl seem special – like Chrysler and Corinthian leather!

          • Rob
            September 6, 2012 at 9:26 pm

            At least I can pronounce Naugahide and Corinthian. Not sure about Morrokide. My vinyl is whatever Classic Industries sold me this summer…there Deluxe Vinyl.

  3. paul
    September 5, 2012 at 9:09 pm

    I remember my dad’s 57 merc (his pride and joy)in upstate NY. Had less then 90k on it. One night his seat fell through the floor. He took the tag off and walked home

  4. Tre Deuce
    September 5, 2012 at 9:57 pm

    ^… LOL!,

    Reminds me once of a car I was sent to pick up. When I was in HS I worked part time for Grand Forks Auto in Puyallup, Wa. I was sent out with the wrecker to pick up a car on River Rd… it was a 58′ or 59′ Rambler wagon.

    I hooked up and started to raise the car when I heard an odd sound, stopped, checked everything and continued the process. When it was all the way up I was talking to the owner when the car broke in half. Only the roof held it together.

    The guy was moving from Michigan and the car was full of stuff, a lot of which was spilled onto the wet road. I radioed for a pick-up to get his stuff, as we couldn’t tow with all of his stuff under and in the car. I had to run chains from the rear axle to the front suspension and bind it all back together to tow it.

    • Scott
      September 5, 2012 at 10:18 pm

      Funny, I always called it Pullyaup and pronounced it “Pull ya up!” I was about to correct your spelling when I figured out you had it right…

      For what it’s worth, I was born in Washington.

      • Tre Deuce
        September 5, 2012 at 11:10 pm

        Hi! Scott,

        Pretty funny.

        I get a lot of different reactions when I say the word ‘Puyallup’. It is the name of the local Indian Tribe.

        The Puyallup drag strip saw a lot of storied action in the day. It was finally shut down due to nearby developments. Yup! Buy a house near a drag strip, motocross track, and airport, and then complain about the noise.

        I actually grew up on a farm/orchard in North Central Washington, near the Canadian border, and moved to the Puyallup/Tacoma area when in HS. I was born in Eastern Washington, near the Idaho border, when my dad was going to college.

        I have lived in Oregon, for the most part, the last 40 years.

        Regards…Tre

        • Scott
          September 6, 2012 at 5:06 am

          “I was born in Eastern Washington”

          Not Coulee City?! My grandfather built the Grand Coulee (he had some help :).

          • Tre Deuce
            September 7, 2012 at 4:48 pm

            Coulee City is in Central Washington, just South of where I grew up.

            My grandfather helped your grandfather build the dam. He ran the compound forming unit.

            His prodigious talents for formulating numbers and turning them into forms, kept him busy on all the Major NW projects. I think he worked on every dam built on the Columbia except the Revelstoke, and his talents were in demand until his early seventies.

            I remember visiting him for a few days when he was working on the Chief Joseph dam in the mid fifties, and then Rocky Reach.

            In his early days, grandpa was a dirt track racer, until grandma put her foot down after a racing incident. After that he was terror on the hiways in his hot rod Hudsons, then ‘Y’ block Fords and 327″ AMC’s. He always had the local dealer put the latest stuff on his cars, so I was introduced to Paxton Superchargers and Dual Fours at an early age.

            Thanks for bringing back some precious memories Scott.

            Regards …Tre

      • Harry
        September 7, 2012 at 2:38 pm

        A little something for a bit of humor about Puyallup :

        http://seattle.mariners.mlb.com/sea/fan_forum/commercials_edgar.jsp

        Now back to topic . . .

        I can remember my first car, a 62 VW Beetle. I loved working on that car, it was fairly easy to remove the engine, do work on the engine, overhaul it even. I could overhaul an engine in 3 days easily, 2 if I didnt think about drinking, but that is another story. The wiring harness was about a dozen wires that originated outside the dash and was easy to get to and fix.

  5. September 5, 2012 at 9:59 pm

    I know that a lot of your readers don’t like automatic transmissions. “Back then,” I didn’t either. The slush boxes of the 1950s and 1960s robbed most cars of any performance pretensions. You got three speeds…at best. If you wanted an automatic in the first generation Pontiac GTO, you got a TWO SPEED. Ditto for most of the other GM cars of that era.

    Many of my high school contemporaries (1961-1965,) with big V-8 General Motors “mommy’s cars” slunk away from impromptu drag races in shame. They always lost to the 390 cubic inch Ford mommy’s cars, with those 3 speed automatics. Even when the other driver was a girl, you rarely could launch well enough to overcome a missing forward gear.

    • Eightsouthman
      September 7, 2012 at 8:03 am

      Yep, those 390′s sure at up those 427 Impala’s and if you believe that I got some good ocean front property right here in west Texas. Same for that old 425 Buick with just no power at all seeing it only had 11/1 compression ratio. Ditto for that all aluminum little Olds, it really gave it all up to those no revving, non-adjustable, horribly carburetored 390′s. Ford guys, they just can’t give it up. I had a ’67 Malibu Sport with a 425 hp 327, yeah, you read that right, all GM parts. I thought about trading it for a new Z-28 302 and the guy selling them told me what I really wanted was his 428 Shelby Mustang. Oh yeah, I’ll bite so we went for a ride. What a dog. My Malibu would have eaten it alive and thrown it a tow rope. But yeah, Ford had it all over everybody, just ask that guy in that old 389 Pontiac Le Mans, what a dog. While the Ford guys were waiting for the Ford mechanic to tune their cars, the GM guys were working on theirs and making them even faster. I just LOVED people who thought their Fords were hot. It was a second income. And those MOPAR guys with 440′s and about 1,000 more lbs. to move than me were just totally miffed when I smoke ‘em. No way Jose, I wanta see that motor. There it is bud. Pay up to the Mouse that Roared.

      • September 7, 2012 at 4:17 pm

        As of my last reading, ’67 AC Cobra 427 side oiler is still the fastest production car ever, from 0 – 100 – 0. Found On Road Dead, HA!

        • September 7, 2012 at 6:39 pm

          Hi Bobby,

          The Cobra held the record for decades, but has been eclipsed by several cars, among them the Ferrari Enzo, the Ferrari F35, the Viper SRT-10, Porsche 911 turbo and Aston Martin Vantage.

      • September 8, 2012 at 1:43 am

        It’s fun to see someone so brand rabid just go foaming at the mouth. In your knee jerk response, you totally overlooked my point, which was not about engines, but transmissions. Did your 67 Malibu Sport with a “425 hp” ;-) 327 have an automatic transmission??? No? Than I’m not talking about you. If you were to re-read my post, you would see I was talking about the relatively tame V-8 sedans bought by the parents of the mid 1960s. Kids raced their parents cars before they were able to buy their own. Usually full sized sedans with V-8s and Automatic Transmissions. Bonnevilles, Galaxys, etc. And it is a FACT that at that point in time, GM was behind the performance curve, by offering mostly 2 speed autos, to the Ford 3 speeds. The GM buyers (those parents,) really didn’t care about that, and I don’t think the Ford buyers were all that involved either. They didn’t buy them to race. But we did.

        For that time and market segment, those are the facts. And the FACT is that in that context, the Fords kicked ass!

        But since you think in generalized, simplistic concepts, let me leave you with a message you can understand…….

        Chevvies SUCK! Mopars ROCK! ;-) ;-) ;-)

  6. eidolon
    September 5, 2012 at 11:41 pm

    I miss bench seats too! Driving with your arm around your girl was the best.
    But I feel compelled to rave more about my favorite old car, a 1965 Citroen ID19:

    Not a muscle car by any means, but more than capable with just a 1.9L four banger.
    Hydraulic assisted clutch – front wheel drive, 4 on the tree
    Hydraulic power steering (and a single spoke steering wheel designed to throw you towards the interior of the
    car if you crashed and weren’t wearing the belt.)
    Hydraulic 4 wheel independent suspension – like on a Rolls Royce. 4 different height settings.
    Hydraulic power brakes – and remember how cars back then would stand on their nose if you had to slam the
    brakes? The Citroen’s suspension would actually sit the rear end down in this situation – had the shortest stopping distance of any contemporary car, I think.
    Lower drag coefficient than a Porsche 911 – incredible mileage and just a crazy quiet & smooth ride for 1965.
    Front “axle” was significantly wider than the rear – that car just loved winding mountain roads.
    The independent suspension meant that you could drive the car on only 3 wheels – I had a blowout driving up Interstate 5 once, and could only tell by the noise it made, the handling didn’t change – I drove it to a mechanic to get a new tire just fine with out stopping to put on the spare.
    But I had to change a tire once driving to a final exam – took 5 minutes. Car didn’t come with a jack, just a jackstand – raise the suspension, attach the stand, then lower the suspension and both wheels on that side lifted off the ground.
    Finally, if your battery or starter died, you could use the same tools for changing a tire to crank the engine over by hand – a feature I used more than once.
    1965…. and it was 20 years old when I was driving it. no body rust at all, though we lived on the beach.
    Thanks for your indulgence.

    (2nd favorites – my 68 Datsun 510 and 81 VW GTI)

    • eidolon
      September 6, 2012 at 8:09 am

      Oh yeah – and who needed a V8 back then?

      I guess I’m the threadkiller.

    • eidolon
      October 10, 2012 at 6:24 am

      The main problem with the car, aside from needing a Citroen mechanic, (only 3 in the state of CA; San Diego, Costa Mesa, & SF), was that it was a cop magnet. I’d get pulled over just so that the LEO could get a closer look at what I was driving; of course they had to make up some infraction to excuse this. I beat every ticket except the one time when I did have a tail light out, a fix it ticket. Even that time, the cops took 20 min going over the car like it was a flying saucer. I’d have been fine with being pulled over just to satisfy a cop’s curiosity and talk about the car, but having a bogus citation on top of that was a PITA. There’s your Libertarian angle, and sorry none of my fav cars were Detroit’s overpowered little red wagons. I drove some of those too.

  7. jeff
    September 6, 2012 at 11:49 am

    Great photos included on this one, Eric. Really drives home that the old cars were things that were both worthy of your time (to maintain), and needed your time just as much. Cars do clearly last longer now. When I was in high school and college (90s), people were dumping chevys, oldsmobiles, and dodges (70s and 80s cars at that point) because they were getting expensive to fix and the car was still considered crappy after it was fixed. The 90s cars started to offer lots more performance and reliability, but I remember thinking that the ‘character’ was kind of bleeding out of them.

    • September 6, 2012 at 11:55 am

      Thanks, Jeff!

      I agree, too – new (modern) cars are brilliant appliances. They are much better by that measure (more reliable, comfortable, fuel efficient) than the classic stuff. But they come up short on the intangibles: Personality, style – how they make you feel.

      A new ZL1 Camaro would cripple my old Trans-Am in every category of objective performance – but I’d never trade that TA for the ZLI.

      My old TA makes me smile, just looking at it.

      Few new cars do that for me.

      • Eightsouthman
        September 7, 2012 at 8:07 am

        403 Olds with a different cam? Screamers and not bad handling either if you changed to radials. Funs cars those T/A’s and you never saw anything else that looked like it.

        • September 7, 2012 at 9:50 am

          For a few years, Pontiac used the 403 Olds as the default standard V-8 in the Trans-Am. Other than the (non-functional/decorative) shaker hood scoop that sat on top of it, it was identical to the 403s used in other GM cars of the time, with no special cam or performance parts.

          But you could (in ’77, ’78 and ’79) upgrade to the optional high-performance Pontiac 400, option W72. This gave you 200 hp in ’77 – and 220 in ’78 and ’79. This engine can be quickly identified by the decal on the shaker scoop: “T/A 6.6″ (vs. the 403 – and regular 400′s – “6.6 litre”) and also by the factory engine dress up kit, which included chrome rocker covers.

          • Eightsouthman
            September 7, 2012 at 10:48 pm

            Other than the compression ratio, admittedly giving greater HP, the Pontiac 400 tunnel ram of later years was nearly as powerful as the 70 year model with cam and exhaust changes. The old original 455 Pontiac HD was a monster and would twist the whole car when installed in T/A’s. That was a two year motor seems like and then 72 saw it with regular fuel pistons and not as hot a cam but they were still crazy strong.

          • September 8, 2012 at 12:19 am

            Hi Eight,

            Not sure which engine you’re referring to. Pontiac did build a race-only tunnel port (303) engine; it was never used in a production car. There was also the RA V – which was a crate engine.

            The SD was available in ’73 and ’74. It had the high-flow round port heads and a number of other enhancements, including factory provisions for dry sump oiling. They were rated initially at 310 hp, SAE net, then 290 after (reportedly) a cam redesign to meet federal regs. In any case, you’re right – this was a great engine. Its power/performance would stand unmatched (by Pontiac) until the late 1980s, when the turbo 3.8 TA came out.

        • Rob
          September 7, 2012 at 12:19 pm

          my ’78 has the Pont 400 with the W72 option that Eric refers to. Also got the better rear-end gears for that year.
          Nothing compared to some of today’s cars. but still fun to drive, look at, and listen too

  8. Eric_G
    September 6, 2012 at 1:05 pm

    As you pointed out, with platinum sparkplugs changing the plugs goes from a once-a-year chore to a once in the life of the car chore -but remember to change out the wires and maybe the coil pack too.

    But I disagree that cars are hard to modify these days. There’s a huge aftermarket for many cars, just not American made. I can bolt on larger intake manifolds, modified (street legal) exhaust, bypass oil filter systems (it’s a diesel), etc. And the best part: it’s a fairly simple process to re-program the factory computer settings to get better performance without spending a lot of money on programming systems. There’s been Windows software called VAG-COM (for Volkswagens) that lets you modify just about any parameter you want, even to the point of destruction if you’re not careful.

    However, Audi has begun checking for software modifications every time you take it in for dealer service and they WILL void your warranty if they see any changes. Considering the warranty period is longer than most of the old cars ran, it won’t be worth changing for long time.

    • heathroi
      September 7, 2012 at 5:56 pm

      To really mystify the people at the state vehicle testing stations, flash the stock program just before its tested, whole outfit couldn’t understand why there was no data to examine.

  9. Edwin
    September 7, 2012 at 4:07 am

    Well, I can relate to this. I had a 91 Chevy Cavalier that had 276,000+ miles on it when the engine finally conked out in 2003, and the rest of it was starting to get banged up to the point that it was not worth fixing. And although I had to get periodic repairs to various things on it, I never had any trouble out of the transmission. It was an automatic. But I gotta wonder how many cars back then you could have gotten that much use out of.

  10. Joe Tittiger
    September 7, 2012 at 6:58 am

    I’ll take a 70′s vehicle that I can work on any day of the week. Instead of paying a $75 an hour technology tax to have a mechanic work on it.

    • September 7, 2012 at 9:54 am

      Hi Joe,

      Me too – with a caveat.

      Guys like us can work on cars, so the routine maintenance/tuning older cars need is no big hassle (or expense). But it is a hassle – and an expense – for the people who can’t do their own service.

  11. Hal
    September 7, 2012 at 7:29 am

    Once again this is due to the endless bureaucracies and regulations. This makes it impossible for small businesses (usually hot rodding companies) to take thier ideas to the mass market. Take artmorrison.com for example. Their frames make it possible for old cars to handle like brand new sports cars. Instead of destroying old cars in programs like cash for clunkers, they could be retro fitted with new products designed by small, local companies to work like new cars for a fraction of the price of a new car. Of course only if the government decides the large bloated quasi-governmental corporations called “the big 3″ are no longer worth protecting.

    • methylamine
      September 9, 2012 at 4:48 pm

      Can you imagine how many small, artisan car companies will spring up and provide dozens of new, interesting cars…when we eliminate Leviathan?

      The costs of engine development are too high for a small shop; so you’ll see a huge market in OEM engines designed to be sold as crate motors, with greatly simplified and quasi-open-source ECU’s to permit installation in these artisan cars. Ditto with a whole range of other drivetrain parts.

      Market forces will drive the manufacturers to provide standard-based interfaces.

      In fact such a market already exists–in computers! Free of any stupid regulations or oversight, computers today are a marvel of interchangeability. Thousands of component manufacturers for everything from memory, to video cards, to disk drives and CPU’s interact seamlessly. I can go to the store and pick up two dozen components from different companies and stitch together a computer that kicks the crap out of a supercomputer only two decades old!

      Those standards are voluntary; the interfaces (bus specifications, etc.) are consensual.

      It’s the best example of libertarian principles applied to a chaotic market, and resulting in order.

  12. Chris
    September 7, 2012 at 8:51 am

    Parents owned a VW Sqaureback, a Dodge Aspen, and an ’86 Cutlass Supreme with wire rims and T-tops, albeit only the V6, not the V8. The first 2 were POS. In retrospect, the Cutlass was the only thing worth keeping, yet Dad (master machinist) swore up and down b/c he couldn’t work on it. Then I talked them into an ’89 Acura Legend coupe, their very first import — and they still thank me to this day.

    At 16, lucky me gets a used Honda CRX. I sure do miss that thing. It was light, quick, barely sipped gas, and cornered like it was on rails. Since: Integra (stick), Supra Turbo targa (stick), Accord (auto), Prelude (stick), and now an IS350 (manumatic).

    The Supra Turbo got me laid, but a blown (no pun intended) head gasket and 3-time oil burner taught me a lesson. Sold it to a very happy SoCal kid for $1500. Amazing machine, but the IS350 is in a league of its own — and hopefully the last car I’ll ever buy.

    • Harry
      September 7, 2012 at 2:46 pm

      Can I assume .. A manumatic is a car that you can shift like an automatic and a stick? Or a car that you need to shift out of part to 1 then 2nd ? then the automatic takes over ? Thanks

      • Chris
        September 7, 2012 at 7:28 pm

        You got it, Harry. Manumatic is just a lazy neologism. The automatic has another selecter to the left of “D” that puts it into “S”port mode — which makes it a very quick shifting manual, sans clutch.

        The gear selectors though, are F1-style paddles behind the 10 and 2 o’clock positions of the steering wheel.

        With 306HP and power everywhere in the band, the IS350 is an absolute blast — the performance on par with 90s supercars, yet the most plush, quiet ride I’ve ever experienced. The IS-F adds yet another 100+ ponies with a 5-liter V8.

        I figured, not necessary. When I want to go faster, well that’s what my Yamaha R6 is for!

  13. Wilhelm
    September 7, 2012 at 10:55 am

    Lots of fun for an old man to contemplate. I owned a 1947 Chrysler coupe in the late 1950s with the ultimate in “slush boxes.” You had your choice – shift or not. My brother and I timed her: 0 to 60 mph in 26 seconds. As for seat comfort, we drove thousands of miles – coast to coast and then some in a stock 1955 Chevrolet Bel Air in those days. The seats seemed fine to us, although we were young and supple. We stayed cool with those wire cushions that allowed air to circulate between you and the seat AND with those great old air-vent windows that directed air right at your face. Thanks for stimulating the memories…

  14. tom
    September 7, 2012 at 1:10 pm

    Let’s not forget the A/C too! Even into the mid eighties, car A/C’s didnt work well at all. They lasted a few years and needed constant maintenance. My 98 Ford van, however, has meat locker A/C and I have not done anything to it in the 10yrs I’ve owned the car.

    • dc.sunsets
      September 8, 2012 at 1:22 am

      Even early 90′s. My 1991 Sedan de Ville went through 3 A/C compressors in the 15 years I had it. Ouch!

  15. Dutch
    September 7, 2012 at 3:30 pm

    I love old muscle cars as much as the next guy but the fact is as soon as you add turning to the equation even the best 60′s-70′s era muscle car wouldn’t outperform today’s Honda Civic.

    And if we’re only talking about straight line performance, then a steam locomotive is still capable of going faster.

    Why not an article harkening back to those good ol’ steam locomotives? Now THOSE were the good ol’ days…

    • September 7, 2012 at 6:43 pm

      Hi Dutch,

      Mostly, this is true.

      There are a few exceptions, though. The mid-late ’70s Trans-Am is actually a very capable car, in terms of cornering. Even with the stock (crap) tires. With a decent set of modern tires, a WS6 TA would surprise you. These cars handle very competitively, even today.

      Now, the brakes were sorry all around.

      On steam: I dig ‘em, but IIRC the fastest of them managed about 100 MPH, all out. Took a while to get going, too!

      • Rob
        September 7, 2012 at 6:48 pm

        I hear you on the good corner and on the crappy brakes. My car had new brakes put on all the way around last year before i bought it, and they Suck. But she corners and handles real nice

        • September 7, 2012 at 7:59 pm

          The WS6 cars with four wheel discs are slightly better. But not all that much. Either of the stock systems is adequate for just driving around. But for aggressive/performance use, they’re just not up to the job.

          If I were going to put my car on the road with the intent of really driving the thing again, upgraded brakes would be one of the “must do’s” … also the tires. Much as I love the appearance of my factory Honeycombs, there are no performance tires available anymore for the 15×7 wheel. A BFG Radial TA is about the best you can do. And this is just a pretty-looking basic radial all-season tire, not a performance tire at all.

          BFG used to make an “H”rated (130 MPH) version of the Radial TA but I think they stopped making them 15-plus years ago at least.

          I replaced all the bushings in my car with polygraphite – including the subframe bushings.

          The car’s pretty tight. But it’s dramatically limited by the tires – and the brakes.

          With the worked up 455 under the hood and the overdrive transmission behind it, I bet it has the legs to do 150, probably… but I have yet to take it much above 100 because I’d like to live to tell the tale!

  16. Conquistador3
    September 7, 2012 at 4:59 pm

    I partially agree with all this. I have a Honda bought new in 2000: since I drive around only sporadically it has less than 100,000 miles on clock, most of them clocked by mother whom I lent the car to after her divorce left her car-less. Now it’s back in my cares.
    That car is a technological masterpiece. It’s rugged, reliable, easy to work on, extremely well put together.
    In its lifetime it only needed a new O2 sensor (which lasted exactly as the manufacturer said), new shock absorbers and a new windshield courtesy of a lorry driver who lost part of his load in front of me.
    For the rest it’s just ordinary maintenance: the OE battery (a Yuasa, a pity they don’t manufacture car batteries anymore) lasted a whooping eight years. The OE Honda brake pads last long, work well and don’t wear the discs more than they should. It has never used a drop of oil or coolant.

    More recent Honda’s are completely different animals. Some engines use a lot of oil, electronics and gearboxes are always giving troubles and there have been a few very serious quality control issues. And don’t think it’s just Honda: pretty much all manufacturers are going backwards. My brother recently considered buying a brand new Volkswagen but walked away after he was told the optional extended warranty only covers the car up to 40,000 miles. VW engineers aren’t fools and if the extended warranty covers such a measly mileage they must be expecting serious troubles quite soon afterwards. I run the ordinary checks on my mother’s Mini and I just cannot believe how much oil that car, with such an unstressed engine, uses. And a BMW technician told me the diesel version is even worse.

    Cars are becoming very much like consumer electronics: they may be great while brand new but they seem designed to break down as soon as possible after the warranty expires to entice you to buy a new one.

    • dc.sunsets
      September 8, 2012 at 1:18 am

      I’ve a 2005 V6 Camry that has only 53K miles on it, most of that accumulated when it was my leased fleet car.

      The car looks and operates like it’s brand new. 8 months after the last oil change (yes, not a lot of miles) the oil looks like I just poured it into the engine. The anti-freeze also looks like it just came out of the jug.

      At the rate I’m going, I figure I’ll still be operating this car (assuming I’m still around) in 2030.

  17. September 7, 2012 at 5:37 pm

    I went through 2 spools of flux-core welding wire restoring my old Cyclone GT.

    Would love to put in a TBI and electronic ignition and get the kind of mileage my V6 truck gets, at least, but I like have a nearly EMP-proof vehicle to wander the wasteland in.

  18. Bob Robertson
    September 7, 2012 at 5:42 pm

    This reminds me of firearms.

    I like the style of the 74-ish Dodge Charger, and did before Bo and Luke Duke got on TV.

    I greatly enjoyed the mechanical simplicity of my 1975 Saab fuel injection.

    There’s no question that the intervening years have improved in materials, techniques and engineering. If only the government could have been removed from the system, I would love to see what engineering freed from regulation could accomplish.

    • Hot Rod
      September 7, 2012 at 6:16 pm

      Exactly

  19. Hot Rod
    September 7, 2012 at 6:27 pm

    The masses always calling on more regulation of industry do not understand how counterproductive to their own good such attitude. Wright Bros. would never have been allowed to prototyple their plane in today’s government. That may sound way out there but I’ve thought about doing medical instrument design and backed away simply because the government protects the established players with layers upon layers of laws.

    • September 7, 2012 at 6:31 pm

      I don’t think it’s the least bit “out there.” Motorcycles, too, would never be allowed today if they had just been invented.

      • Hot Rod
        September 7, 2012 at 7:18 pm

        Motorcycles are even a better example. I agree they’d never be allowed in todays world if new on the road. I think one can determine what the overlord are most likely to impede, based on how many ordinary peoples lives would be affected. Since planes are less used than motorcycles the government has much more opposition interest in controlling that market. Automotive being larger than motorcycles even more burdensome. Hence why a small businessman can only enter into new markets in today’s market. Because once technology influences people’s lives my any measure the more government regulation/resistance becomes. Something like an equation government resitance is proportional to public influence and wealth.

  20. dc.sunsets
    September 8, 2012 at 1:11 am

    In inflation-adjusted terms, the Camry Hybrid I test-drove the other day costs far less, and is more powerful, drivable, comfortable, and phenomenally economical compared to the last car I bought brand new, a 1988 Pontiac 6000 LE V6. The new Camry’s 4cyl+electric boasts 200 net HP (at the “crank?”), the same as my 1991 Caddy de Ville V8.

    Cars have come a long, long way from the 1972 Dodge Polara we had to plug in (engine block heater) lest it crank but never start on a typical January morning near Chicago. My 2005 Camry V6 is way more comfortable, and probably quicker, too. Surely it’s much safer than when I took that beast-of-a-Dodge up over 100 MPH (not that I’ve tried 100+ since I turned 17). I’m sure the Camry can do it easily.

  21. October 13, 2012 at 11:24 pm

    For body rot the 1958 Fords were as fast as Japanese cars of the 1970′s. A ’58 Ford sedan rotted out in the upper fenders after 30 months. Rocker panels gave up at ten months earlier.
    Studebakers were fast rotters vying for oxidation velocity with Fords’ full size models.
    When Studebaker died they had giant warehouses full of body parts that made them very cheap to restore, excepting the coupe/hardtop models where the body panels were somewhat pricey as the 53/54 versions were 100x better looking than any of the contemporaries.

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