Anyone Remember. . . ?

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Time passes – things change. Here’s a quick look at some of those things, for instance:

Once upon a time, you had two car keys – one to unlock the doors, the other to start the engine. Two keys went out of style sometime in the late 1990s/early 2000s. Newer cars have just one key that unlocks the doors and starts the engine. But they’re on the endangered  species list, too. Physical keys are becoming fairly uncommon. Most new cars have a transmitter fob instead – and a button you push to unlock the door (and start the engine). Probably within a year or two, physical keys will be history. And in 20-something years, people will say, “do you remember when you had to put a key in the ignition switch?”

Heck, in 20-something years, probably the transmitter fob will be antique, too.  My guess is they’ll key the car’s locks to the owner’s  fingerprint – or some other “biometric” identifier.

How about a choke? That’s going back a but farther – to the late 1980s. Back when car engines got fed gas via carburetors, you usually had to set the choke when the engine was cold in order to be able to start the engine. The choke temporarily richened-up the incoming air/fuel mixture and was engaged manually either by pulling a knob out or by pushing down on the accelerator pedal, which tripped a mechanical linkage on the carburetor. Then, you’d have to let the car “warm up” for a minuet or three before it was ready to drive off. Otherwise, it would often stall out on you. Ah, the good old days!

Today, you just turn the key – whoops, push the start button – and off you go. Fuel injection systems have a cold start enrichment circuit, but no choke – and they do it all for you, automatically. Just get in – and go. No need to warm up the car. In fact, idling the engine will delay its warming up, wasting gas as well as keeping you cold  because the car’s heater is also taking longer to “warm up.”

Cars without a Third Eye. Remember them? As Elvis used to say sometimes, it’s been a long time… .

All cars built during the past quarter century have the Third Eye – formally, the Center High Mounted Stop Light (CHMSL). The Feds require it – so we get to buy it. But the CHMSL was once a novelty item that some people added to their cars. You could buy them in the JC Whitney catalog.

Some studies claim the Third Eye has reduced accidents – especially rear-enders, because people react faster to the higher-mounted CHMSL than they did to lower-mounted regular brake lights. That’s probably true. It’s also true that the CHMSL is an aesthetic atrocity – and sometimes, adds a significant unforeseen cost to cars so equipped. Some CHMSLs have shockingly pricey bulbs – often, five or six (or more) of them – at $10 or $20 (or more) per bulb. As OJ used to say, look out!

Today, you can immediately spot a pre-modern car by looking to see how many brake lights it has. If it’s just the two, it’s pretty old. At least 25 years old – because the newest car to leave the factory without the CHMSL was built back in 1986. Anything after that ought to have the CHMSL.

Ok, how about … automatic seat belts?  For a few years starting in the mid-late ’80s and into the 1990s, new cars came without air bags – but with seat belts that strapped you in automatically, as soon as you got in the car. Unlike air bags – which are also known as passive safety devices – automatic seat belts were very active safety devices.  They were also very annoying and awkward – and probably few of us were sad to see them retired in favor of air bags.

Flat car floors. Here’s one I do miss.

If you grew up during the ’60s or ’70s, you grew up with rear-drive cars. They had a big hump right down the centerline of the floorpan, in order to make room underneath the car for the driveshaft that ran longitudinally from the engine/transmission up front to the drive axle in the rear. This hump ate up a lot of the available interior real estate – neatly dividing the two sides of the car. It also left little in the way of legroom for the person stuck in the middle seat, who got to ride all hunched up, fetal-style.

Then came the first wave of mass-market FWD cars in the ’80s. Many of these had nearly flat floorpans – because all the running gear (the engine/transaxle combo) was up front. Now three people could sit comfortably side-by-side, with plenty of legroom for all – including the man in the middle. But it didn’t last – even though FWD did and remains the dominant layout today. Instead of a hump for the driveshaft, as in a rear-drive car, most current-era FWD cars have a hump for the exhaust system, to tuck it out of harm’s way. Many modern cars sit pretty low to the ground; if the exhaust pipes ran directly underneath the floorpans, they’d be in danger of bottoming out on dips in the road, potholes and so on. To avoid this, the floorpan hump returned – at the expense of middle seat legroom.

Here’s an item that’s been “thrown in the woods” . . . flow-through venting.

Cars built before the early-mid ’70s typically did not have air conditioning. In those days, AC was a pretty high-end option, not the de facto standard equipment it is now. To deal with the heat, most new cars in those days came with a system of air vents that relied on flow-through air, not an electric fan (like today) to circulate air through the cabin. You typically pulled a knob that opened (and closed) these huge vents that ducted a big chunk of the outside slipstream directly into the car. At highway speeds, this was usually quite sufficient to maintain a reasonable level of comfort for passengers. So, why did they disappear? Partially, because nearly every car built in recent years comes with AC – including low-end economy cars. The other probably has to do with body integrity issues. Having those big openings for air also means that water (potentially) and wind noise (certainly) get in, too. And in the modern era, people don’t want noise – much less water – inside their cars.

On final item for today: Radio antennas built into the car’s windshield. GM pioneered this idea, for both aesthetic as well as practical reasons. Embedding the antenna in the glass eliminated the ugly antenna mast – as well as the then-common problems associated with the antenna masts of the day, which typically were not powered (and if they were, the powered part broke down early – and often). And those not powered fell frequent victim to vandals, or automatic car washes. The embedded antenna eliminated those problems – but unfortunately, also eliminated most of your AM/FM reception, too. If you weren’t very close to the transmitter source, forget about it. Then you had to rely on your 8-track…

But that’s a subject for another time!

Throw it in the woods?

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  1. I like the old vehicles and I still have my 35 year old Ford van and I love it. Original engine and all. Lost track of the miles on it after it went over 300,000 miles. If I could afford ti I would not get a “modern” vehicle because of all the new junk on it especially those killer air bags – I refuse to have those things or the GPS so govt can track you everywhere ! I hate a car that talks to me ! To have that stupid voice commanding my every move would drive me insane ! I also would not have one because of the black boxes DC govt has on them so cops can stop you at will by killing your engine ! I have no heater and no AC and I’m in Florida – but I don’t’ care. The older vehicles give you a sense of independence and privacy – something DC has worked hard to destroy .

  2. one other thing my T/A has that my newer cars don’t, gas tank access in the back behind the license plate. I like it there, don’t have to remember what side the tank is on…my brain forgets stuff like that

    • Concerning the gas filler behind the licence plate.

      I had a 1968 Dodge Coronet. It looked a lot like the Superbird or Charger. Having the gas cap behind the licence plate did make it easy to fill the tank from the pumps on either side of the car. I would lay the cap on the folded down plate holder.

      There was a time or two when I forgot to put the gas cap back on. Spirted acceleration or driving uphll could empty my tank rather quickly. I used to see the same problem with other cars of that era.

  3. The best vehicle I ever owned was my 74 Jeep CJ5. Straight six with a 3 speed tranny. And ABSOLUTELY no thrills whiz-bangs! It did not even have a radio. I added one and had to cut two 4″ holes in the vertically flat dash for the speakers.

    I was the second owner (bought it in ’80) and the original owner gave it the poor man’s rust proof treatment: sprayed used oil all over the bottom of it and then drove it down a dusty road! Kept the rust off of it for over ten years.

    And I remember having to get out and lock out the front hubs prior to putting it into four wheel drive. But that thing got me (and others I would tow out of snow banks) through some really bad Ohio winters.

    Do not know if anyone else mentioned it but I remember cars you could take the keys out of the ignition after you started it and while it was still running.

    Great post Eric. But, God, are we not all dating ourselves?!

    • I visit the first car shop I worked at back in the day a couple times a year to get my state inspections done. While I was there today my buddy Jerry, who still works there, was performing an oil change and state inspection on a vehicle. Usually when I visit there I learn a few new things. Just so happens that lately the stuff I learn is all bad and depressing. Let me explain.. I watched him check the air filter on a SUV (can’t remember the make). Anyhow, the air filter housing was a complete bitch to get at. Took a ratchet to get the bolts off (a few of them) and all kind of shit (wiring) was stuck to the intake that needed un-clipping to move it enough to get the filter out. Then Jer started the vehicle up and accidentally left one of the clips off and set a code and ended up having to disconnect the battery to clear it (he didn’t wanna mess with hooking up the code clearer). Then I found out that EVERY state inspection must be entered into a computer at the EXACT time it’s done. Fifteen minutes MUST pass before the next inspection can be entered! Gibbs me a fucking break.

      Tell me someone… Is it technologically advanced when the shit is so overly complicated/engineered that the simplest task becomes unnecessarily difficult?

      This is not advancement, it’s complete ridiculousness.

      • Dude, I just found out the same thing! Took the truck (the one without the inspection sticker) to my bud’s shop to get the sticker (and a set of fresh tires). He showed me the computerized shit he has to deal with now, just like you described. It goes straight into the DMV database! And he has to have a printer – that he pays for, plus the ink – to print out each receipt, instead of the old carbon copies you used to get.

        There must be some kind of way outta here….

        • Seriously mang. I was absolutely shocked! Then to stand there and see the $70,000 emission machine that the government forced them to buy to do emissions tests just sitting unused. The whole system has changed.

      • It’s more then ridiculous – it is meant for TOTAL COMPLETE CONTROL !
        if the people keep putting up with it, it will just keep getting worse. It’s the PEOPLE who make changes happen and THEY HAD BETTER BEGIN THEIR PROTESTS AGAINST ALL THIS COMMUNIST CONTROL !
        Whatever happen to those brave men who gave this land the name of “home of the brave” ?
        When you are silent and obey – that is the same as agreeing and condoning what is being done !
        It’s also cowardly, not American.

  4. Having owned cars with all these features over the years, I have to say I do miss some of them. One thought, though. New cars these days come with so many electronic gee-gaws, fully automatic gadgets and government mandated “safety” equipment, the simple art of really driving is disappearing. All these expensive goodies tend to isolate the driver from his vehicle. I always feel a bit less in control when I drive these newer cars. So much more fun to drive my old ’50s era trucks. I feel like I’m part of the process, not just part of the cargo.

  5. First car was an 84 Cutlass Supreme (gak!, I know). No third eye. Two keys. Crank windows with front wings (though, for some reason, I’m remembering power locks?). And an engine packed so tight replacing a timing belt was an all-day job.

  6. I liked the dimmer switch on the floor, even though all my cars were stick. Wing windows were a liability though, thieves always broke them to get into the car.

    Does anyone remember vacuum-operated windshield wipers? Ramblers had them. That was a really bad idea. If you were in stop-and-go traffic during a rainstorm, you’d better hope that you had stick so you could mash the clutch pedal and rev the engine.

    • I had 2 cars with vacuum wipers, both early 60’s Fords. I remember the opposite, if you backed off the gas (because you couldn’t see), the vacuum increased and the wipers sped up.

  7. My ’89 Cherokee has

    1. Roll down windows
    2. Front wing windows
    3. Electric rear defrost.
    4. Two keys (Some newer cars come with a master key and a valet key. The master key operates everything and the valet key does not work with the trunk or glove box)
    5. Rear wheel (on road, four wheel selectable) drive.


  8. Remember these things fondly because in a couple of decades cars will change drastically and will be affordable by far fewer. The end of cheap energy via cheap oil is upon us and there is, as yet, no substitute nor a likely one on the horizon.

  9. I remember (not necessarily miss) Chevy’s from the 50’s and I think into the early 60’s that had 2 keys, but you did not have to use the ignition key. If you turned the car OFF, but not all the way to LOCK, you could take the key out and then turn it on or off without the key in the lock. Of course this lock was just for the ignition/starter. Did not lock up shifter or steering as now.
    I do also miss vent windows.
    When dimmers first moved to the column, I thought it was great, because I drove sticks back then. But then they went overboard, putting all sorts of controls on those pods – wipers, including multistep delays, cruise. My TDI Sportwagen even has settings/switches for the dasboard readout on the right stalk.

  10. A real downer on the 50s-60s vehicles was it seemed like I was forever fixing exhaust systems. Wonder if they still make “Muffler Bandage”? Today I have a 95 F150 with 235k miles that has been in salt water. But still has the factory exhaust! What do they make them out of today?

    • Low alloyed steel, rather than carbon steel. Slightly more expensive for the material, but they save on it by not needing to paint it. No paint means a more even layer of corrosion as well that ends up being a protective coating in itself. This is also how drive shafts are treated now as well.

      Carbon steel is problematic because it ill rust very easily (I dont need to elaborate on that), and old carbon steel was less well produced so it would pit more deeply when it did rust (due to uneven composition, causing preferential areas from an electrochemical standpoint). Furthermore, the systems were painted, and when you get a ding in the paint, rust under the surface tends to be far worse than if it were allowed to evenly corrode due to the difference in electrochemical potential being concentrated on one spot.

  11. My ’65 Galaxie is my daily driver. The body is straight and I’ve repainted it original twice so far. . I’ve rebuilt the engine and trannie. It’s now got over 300K on it
    Love the back seat( got plenny there).
    My other car is a 2004 Xtrail. Love My Gal!

  12. Ah, the hump. In high school we’d make the girl in the short skirt sit in the middle seat…

    Our 73 Dart had big doors that you’d open. Our dog’s head was just small enough for her to fit inside the vent, so that’s were she sat all the time. If it was closed she’d bark and whine until we opened it, even in winter.

    My favorite thing I miss though is the 1970s wrap-around dashboards. All the controls, ALL OF THEM were under the exclusive control of the driver. No center console heat or radio. In fact the heater controls were next to the driver’s door! If you had power windows there was a lockout switch so the driver could override anyone else! They’d even design in a big shroud to make sure no one else knew what was going on in the vehicle.

  13. My first vehicle was a ’57 Chevy 3/4 ton PU. Not only did it have a choke, but a throttle also. It also had a single tail/brake light and no turn signals. Seat belts? What seat belts?

    • My 58 1/2 ton also had a single master cylinder under the floor board. Worked so well I never checked the fluid level … till it was EMPTY! Real excitement then commenced!

    • I had a 1979 Dodge Lil Red Express truck with the dimmer switch on the floor. That might be my most favorite feature on a car that is now gone. Well, that and the side vent windows.

  14. God, I remember it all.

    Pushing the accellerator down all the way for the choke to kick in, the dimmer switch moving from the floor to a stick on the steering wheel, the powered antenna on my acura (i though that was cool) and the two keys. I do miss the little windows. My dad’s scout had those.

    But you’re forgetting REAR WINDO DEFROSTERS No more scraping. Push a button.

    • My ’76 TA actually has the electric rear defrost – a rare option!

      Of course, it also has the floor-mounted dimmer switch, which like others here I really miss in modern cars.

      • My ’78 has the electric rear defrost also, alas it doesn’t currently work. I was surprised it had it, cause it doesn’t have power locks or windows.

        I love having the dimmer switch on the floor!

        • Yeah, that is weird! I would have expected to see power windows/locks in your car, too.

          Mine has almost every option it could have had back in ’76: The “custom” interior (Horsecollar seats), exterior Decor Group (chrome/aluminum window moldings), power windows and locks, AC, tilt wheel, electric defrost, Honeycomb wheels. But, no power trunk release or intermittent wipers. I’m not sure these were even offered in ’76 (they definitely were by ’79). Also, no cruise control.

      • My ’76 TR-6 had a manual rear defrost: a rag I kept on the ledge behind my seat. lmao

        Regarding keys, my ’02 Avalon has a clever set. Two regular keys that work on everything, and a valet key that just does the doors and ignition. The dashboard trunk release can be disabled with a switch inside the glove box. Then you can lock the glove box with one of the regular keys, and anyone you give the valet key to can only get into the trunk by breaking in.

  15. I used exactly the two keys you pictured in the headline photo driving to work this morning! I have a 1969 Corvette with ‘Astro Venilation’ and a pair of levers you can use to open them up. They are useless, but the levers look reasonably cool on the console.

    Used to have a 1993 Mercury Cougar with the self-applying seatbelts. Didn’t mind them from an ergonomic standpoint, but they had a nasty habit of catching the rubber stripping that surrounded the tracks and chewing it up. Mercury fixed the stripping a few times until it was out of warranty, at which point they shrugged their shoulders and I let it go.

  16. I remember :) And yeah, my old Fiat 126p has a choke…and flow through venting…

    I just love the simplicity of it. However, it’s so tiny I feel like a cross between Mr. Bean and a sardine.


  17. Precisely why I bought my 15 year old daughter a 63 F-250.
    Manual steering, inline six, three on the tree, & more cabin
    Ventilating options than you can shake a stick at. No sense in
    distracting them with a bunch of wiz bang crap at a time when
    they should be concentrating on basic driving skills.

  18. This article reminds me of something that still makes me chuckle today…

    Walking along one day with a friend, he spots one of those magnetic ‘hide your spare key under the car’ boxes.

    “Oh cool!” he says, cleaning it up. “I can use this under my Capri.. Oh look, it’s still got the previous idiot’s key in it!”


  19. Whenever sad sacks car broke down I would gladly offer to push him out of the way, and all cars could pull a trailer using bumper hitch, recall when every car had chrome bumpers?

  20. Our 1974 Fiat 124 had, as stated in the owner’s manual, a Variable Illumination Intensity Adjustment Potentiometer (aka Dashboard Dimmer Switch)

    And how about the center part of the rear window that rolled down? early sixties Fairlane

  21. Let me echo the first comment: the side vent windows. They allow air in at your torso, not your head, so you don’t get head-blasted. And you can turn them toward the dash if you want your air even more indirect. Wonderful idea, the next best thing to AC at about 1/500th the cost, and far more comfortable than rolling the main window down.

    Aside from emissions control and maybe air bags, all of this electronic complexity and crap are superfluous. Fortunately, when an electric window failed on one of my cars it was during the summer; an open window in the frozen north would have posed a real problem. You pay for the gadgets, then you pay to maintain them.

    • Emission control, too: it’s purely a function of traffic density. All the emissions that are controlled consist of stuff that is so unstable that it’ll break down all on its own if there were no State/corporate-engineered mobility treadmill to keep adding more.

      • Emission controls double as people controls. Gets people used to complying with idiocy. Try putting a performance enhancing (whether it reduces emissions or not is irrelevant) on a vehicle that requires a “visual inspection.”

        Oh, and if your air pump grenades, and you defeat it and plug the holes, you’ve just violated Federal laws.

        It’s about control, but has little to do about pollution.

        Great handle there, Ned.

    • I’ve dealt with the same number of broken power windows as broken crank windows in my life. They have the same basic mechanism and that’s where the failures occurred IME. So long as the motor and switch live longer than the mechanism (and they should unless someone screwed up or intentionally was really cheap-ass about it) there is no drawback durability wise.

      • Yours has definitely not been my experience with power and manual windows. Electrical components add a considerable level of complexity to just the mechanical, and that usually means more maintenance and money.

        • The motors may be cheaper in newer cars, but in older cars like my ’76 Pontiac, they cost about $100 each. The main switch costs about the same. So – roughly – about $300 in parts, if you had to replace them all. If you had manual windows, all you’ve got to deal with is the physical mechanism – which (in my experience) almost never breaks and when it does, is for obvious reasons cheaper to repair.

          In older cars, the bigger issue is weight. Those old electric motors were heavy!

          This is why you tend not to find them in most of the old muscle cars…

  22. Funny you mention the in-glass antennas. Didn’t know those were going extinct. They’re all I’ve ever known. Is reception much better with an external antenna?

    • Hi Brandon,

      I’m pretty sure they’ve been extinct for decades! Yes, the reception is much better with an external antenna. And – most new cars now have a small “shark fin” or similar – a body-colored little pice of plastic that serves as a receiver for satellite and conventional radio as well as other “telematics” such as OnStar.

      • Ah, I see. In my youth (even today actually) I thought the in-glass antenna was such an innovative, cool thing. The change back was a good one though.

        And, I don’t really listen to the radio anymore either. I just use my FM transmitter and listen to my own music,

      • Not quite decades, my ’96 crown vics has one and I’m pretty sure my ’04 crown vic sport and ’07 police vic had it. Maybe they were the last to use it.

    • My car has a shark fin and uses the rear defroster as a diversity antenna. Basically there are 2 tuners and whichever one has a stronger signal gets to the speakers.

      It works, but who listens to AM/FM radio anymore?

      • I love music and used to love listening to it on the radio. Nowadays, instead of memorizing and learning new melodies I find myself memorizing and learning new commercials. I listen to books on cd, or the sound of the road. I can’t do the radio anymore… Sad!

  23. Crank-up windows?

    I remember living in Germany one summer and riding in stripped Mercedes with crank windows (still had those crazy hydraulic locks, though).

    • YES! Before too long I’ll break the plastic “multi-function switch” from all the light-dimming. In my old ’67 Buick it was so much easier to just give the floor switch a little tap.

      Another thing that car had – ashtrays. Yes, plural. One for every seat. I’ve never been a smoker but it was handy storage for little things like headphones, change, etc.

    • Ditto! How convenient to have an otherwise do-nothing left foot while traveling the highway working the hi-beams. Now I have to drive with my left hand always in the same position to work the headlights. What a drag.

      • I need my left foot for the clutch!
        I find the foot highbeam switch annoying usually.

        The multifunction switch on my ’97 had a problem well over a 150K miles. Nothing dis-assembly and soldering iron couldn’t fix. Problem was it kept breaking and more wires would fail. I fixed it one last time and ordered a new one with an improved design. I’ve got the original on a shelf somewhere should I need it.

      • True. You could trick your ride with a chromed “barefoot” gas pedal and a matching “goofy foot” on the dimmer switch. That as well as, if, horror of horrors, the car has a 3-spd manual with a “three on the tree”, you saved up for a Hurst Shifter kit. Nobody but an old man shifted on the tree!

    • YES. In high school we called that “the smoker window” because you could open it in cold weather and vent your cigarette smoke outside.

      And I laugh and laugh at people who own modern convertibles who put the top down and then roll up their windows, all for want of the quarter window. Kick them out a bit and the gusting wind in your hair becomes a gentle breeze.