Motorists have never had it so good. Today’s cars are as comfortable as a boutique hotel room, feature more gadgets than a brand of Maplin (RIP), and will do their level best to keep you safe in the event of an accident. We’re also perilously close to a world in which cars will render the driver obsolete. Shudder.
We’re not here to say things were better in the old days – whisper this, but they were (shhh) – but here’s a selection of things you’ll no longer find as you climb inside the semi-autonomous extension of your living room. Fluffy dice not included.
Video didn’t kill the radio star, but fuel injection and emissions regulations certainly signalled the end for the humble choke. Most drivers under the age of 25 will have no idea that a choke even existed, while for older drivers, the little pull switch will rekindle memories of flooded engines and possibly even the odd clothes peg. If you get this reference, you’ll understand.
Some children will look at that strange object on the door and laugh. Others might shout at their parents for failing to invest in the ‘luxury’ of electric windows. The humble wind-up window isn’t dead – the Suzuki Celerio, for example, features ‘keep fit’ windows on the SZ2 and SZ3 models – but you have to wonder how long it has left. For a new car dealer, it’s a useful tool for up-selling purposes. For a used car dealer, there’s less to go wrong in a car with wind-up windows.
Remember the days when buses featured a smoking area? Then you’ll no doubt remember the days when a car featured not one, but several ashtrays. One below the dashboard, one ahead of the rear seats, maybe a couple on the inside of the rear doors. The one in the front would feature a cigarette lighter – or cigar lighter if you dad drove a posh motor – along with a handy rest for his Pall Mall, Marlboro or Camel (other cigarettes were available). Today, the ashtray is commonly known as a storage compartment, but manufacturers will sell you a so-called smoker’s pack. Not that you need an ashtray if you’re smoking an e-cigarette.
Ah, the joy of making a holiday mixtape to while away the hours on your annual pilgrimage to the coast. Ah, the horror of hearing the same song over and over again, as you queued for what felt like an eternity at Stonehenge, Honiton, Okehampton, Temple and Indian Queens. It was almost a blessing when the cassette player chewed the tape, leaving you to enjoy the sound of ‘Ooh, Gary Davies’.
The cassette player was rendered obsolete by the CD player, but it didn’t go down without a fight. If you were lucky, a new car came with an in-dash CD player, but for true luxury you need a CD autochanger, which tended to be mounted in the boot, below the seat or in the glovebox. Like the wind-up window, the CD player isn’t dead – hello, Suzuki Celerio – but it faces a battle to survive the digital age.
We need to save weight, said the manufacturers, so we’ll remove the spare wheel. Genius – improved efficiency and extra luggage space to boot, if you’ll excuse the lame pun. Which is all well and good, until that time you’re left stranded on the inside lane of a smart motorway – that’s another story – with nothing more than a can of tyre foam for comfort. We know the spare wheel isn’t dead, but you might want to check your boot to find out what’s lurking in the tyre well.
Coin holders made perfect sense in countries with a network of toll roads, where quick access to loose change was essential if you wanted to avoid a stream of angry commuters filling your rear-view mirror at the tool booth. They were less essential in the UK, although they provided a useful visual indication of when your car was in need of a clean. Once the coin holder filled with fluff, dead skin and remnants of Golden Wonder crisps, it was time to break out the Electrolux.
According to Halfords, the anti-static strip “reduces static stocks (sic) when you open your car door and reduces radio interference. It is designed to be aerodynamic with an attractive style.” An attractive style, really, Halfords? In the 1980s, former Top Gear presenter, Tony Mason, was busted by Trading Standards for selling imported rubber strips that simply didn’t work. He was fined £1,000, but claims sales increased following the negative publicity.
Rear window louvres
Rear window louvres first appeared on the Lamborghini Miura, so you can understand every Tom, Dick and Harriet wanting a little slice of Italian exotica on their Ford, Datsun or Vauxhall. For a while, having the automotive equivalent of a venetian blind attached to the rear window was all the rage, but although aftermarket kits are still available, their appeal is more niche.
Who doesn’t love a nodding dog? There’s a certain kitsch charm associated with having man’s best friend attached to your dashboard, but today’s road surfaces are so bad, the head wouldn’t so much nod as it would fly out of its socket, fall into the footwell, get lodged below the brake pedal, causing a catastrophic accident. Stick that in your dashcam.
“I want to love you on a Silverado bench seat, fogging up the windows while we’re parked down by the creek.” If Granger Smith is to be believed, romance is far from dead, especially if you own a Chevy pick-up. Today, the chances of loving someone on a bench seat are slim, but a pre-facelift Citroen C4 Cactus automatic is a pretty decent option. That said, loving somebody on a Cactus bench seat sounds uncomfortable. #prickly
The quarter light window was like a small vent, allowing a nice flow of air into the cabin, without any wind noise or disruption. They were popular in the 40s, 50s and 60s, but less so in the 70s and 80s, with air conditioning putting the final nail in the coffin.
Today’s motorists demand a great deal, like staying safe in an accident. Which is why pillars have grown ever larger, hampering forward and rearward visibility. Narrow A- and C-pillars meant that you could reverse into a parking space or emerge from a junction without the need for cameras, safety systems and sensors.
Tax disc holders
The tax disc – or Vehicle Excise Duty disc – has been consigned to the automotive dustbin, falling victim to the digital age. Sadly, while the disc has gone, the need for payment hasn’t. On the plus side, you no longer have to spend an entire lunch hour queuing at the Post Office, listening to the pre-recorded “Checkout number one, please” message.
Majestic, grand and opulent. No, not the house, but the Ford Cortina, looking resplendent with its black vinyl roof. This was a must-have accessory for the man on the up. If your neighbour arrived in a car with a layer of vinyl on the roof, you knew he was doing well at work and could probably afford a week in Lanzarote and a meal out at the Berni steakhouse. A panoramic sunroof doesn’t have quite the same effect.
Once upon a time, yellow headlights were an integral part of driving in France. Their use became law in 1939, but they fell victim to a united European in the early 90s. For the Brits, who were required to paint their lights before heading across the Channel, they acted like a beacon, alerting the neighbours to the fact that you’d been driving on the continent, like a suburban Judith Chalmers.
When the Lotus Esprit and Corvette C5 died in 2004, so too did the pop-up headlight, a victim of new pedestrian safety regulations. As every kid will tell you, there’s nothing cooler than a pair of pop-up headlights. Even Volvo got in on the act.
Old car aerials
You’ll have to excuse the semi-erect nature of this specimen, because old car aerials were far more ‘standupish’ in the old days. For the ultimate indulgence, some were powered. Today’s aerials are merely token efforts and are in serious need of some Viagra.
Ventilation ain’t what it used to be, guv. Back in the day, you could enjoy the feeling of warm air from a heater and non-heated fresh air from dash-mounted vents. Indeed, as is the case in the Mercedes W123, the fresh air vents were so effective, you wouldn’t need to splash out on air conditioning.