I recently noticed a new Mercedes-Benz that had a USB-C to power electronics, rather than the more common USB connector used by most mobile devices. And I started reminiscing about some of the once-popular car features that have since faded away.
Most notably, cassette players, 8-track players and even CD players that were once factory-installed or purchased as add-ons have been replaced with Bluetooth connections that play music from our phones. The cigarette lighter, once a mainstay that most kids burned their fingers on at least once, is now a 12-volt power point — if it’s present at all. Every car used to have multiple ashtrays, but they’ve been replaced by cup holders, not a bad thing in my book.
Back in the day, nearly every car had window cranks, not power windows. My first car had vent windows: small windows that bent outward to gain ventilation in the cabin without opening the actual window. I miss those! Glove compartments used to be big and roomy, and the door would double as a serving tray for drive-in food. Nowadays, some of these barely fit a pair of gloves, let alone a burger and fries. The Mazda Miata and Chevrolet Corvette were two vehicles that had pop-up headlights. This is a feature we’ll likely never see again, due to the design advantage of LED lighting that is gaining in popularity.
Most new cars that I road test don’t come with conventional keys. They all use a push-button start and a key fob. In the not-so-distant future, these “high-tech” key fobs may be replaced by an app on your phone, as several manufacturers are testing this with success right now.
My last count revealed about 135 makes and models of cars that don’t come with a spare tire as standard equipment. Many of these cars replaced the spare with a weight-saving tire repair kit. Personally, I wouldn’t own a car without some sort of spare tire; our Northeast roads are too rough to feel safe without one.
Remember bumpers that looked like bumpers? Big, brash and chrome. Today’s bumpers are integral to the car, and while they don’t work any better, they ARE more expensive to repair.
Most sedans used to have bench seating in the front and could comfortably seat three people across and six total in the car. I believe the last sedans to come with bench seats were the Chevrolet Impala, Mercury Marquis, Ford Crown Victoria and Toyota Avalon. When the bench seat disappeared, so did the column-mounted transmission shift lever.
The radio antenna that mounted on the fender is still around but is nowhere near as popular as it once was. The retractable antenna disappeared years ago. There was also a time when the radio and climate system were controlled by buttons and knobs. These disappeared as controls became part of the infotainment systems, but thankfully manufacturers have realized that buttons and knobs are easier and safer to use and are reintroducing them, even in high-end vehicles.
I may be nostalgic, but I miss some of the classic features.
However, the one constant is the change in car manufacturing…whether due to cost, technology, or simply because it’s new and different. The biggest — and most welcome — change in my book are the safety systems that are becoming standard equipment on most vehicles. When you’re purchasing your next vehicle, evaluate the technology just as you evaluate the rest of the car to see what’s new, and what still may be missing.
What do you remember from cars when you were a kid, or even your first car? What was your favorite feature, now gone? Email the Car Doctor at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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