Being A Kid Was Just A Little More Fun Before Parents Really Cared If You Lived

Illustration for article titled Being A Kid Was Just A Little More Fun Before Parents Really Cared If You Lived
Illustration: Popular Mechanics

As an old-ass mough-fough, I grew up in the era just prior to when parents actually started to really care if their kids lived or died. It was a different time! No one wore seat belts or helmets, and if you were stuck in a car seat, it was to keep you contained and out of the way instead of actually safe. It sounds awful now, but I promise, it wasn’t all bad. Like this, for example: back in the day, you could be a kid on a road trip in a Beetle and have your own cool-ass little play zone.

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These are old plans from the February 1963 issue of Popular Mechanics, and it’s really a pretty clever solution to a problem that’s just not allowed to exist now: how to give your kids space to play in a small car on a long trip?

The problem can’t exist now because, even though everyone has massive SUVs with a good amount of hypothetical play-volume, nobody will do this, anymore. It’s illegal, even.

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Kids now have all kinds of awesome tablets and hand-held game systems that would have seemed like absolute fucking black magic to these 1960s kids, so I guess it’s pretty much a wash.

Here, check out the plans, though:

Illustration for article titled Being A Kid Was Just A Little More Fun Before Parents Really Cared If You Lived
Image: Popular Mechanics

So, you remove the rear seat and build a new, smaller rear seat in the luggage well area, right against the firewall there. Actually, about a decade and a half, after this was published, I myself used to ride in the luggage well of my dad’s old ‘68 Autostick Beetle, with five other people in the car. It was nice and warm back there in the winter.

The rest of the plans involve making an upper padded floor over the back to form a nice, flat playing floor, and, while it’s not mentioned here, I bet you could work in trapdoors to access some storage space in the former rear footwells.

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There’s a surprising amount of room in the back half of a Beetle with the rear seat removed; I helped Raph build a similar setup to this for his Beetle a few years back, and it was quite a good amount of space back there.

I know it was dangerous, but, really, what kid wouldn’t rather tumble around back there doing whatever instead of being lap-belted into a seat for a long drive? I mean, pretty much everything was a deathtrap back then, anyway, so may as well live it up when you’re not wrecking, right?

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Cars today are absolute marvels of safety and that’s unquestionably a wonderful thing. But I think it’s okay to engage in a bit of carefully-curated nostalgia for the reckless motoring of the past, at least sometimes.

Illustration for article titled Being A Kid Was Just A Little More Fun Before Parents Really Cared If You Lived
Illustration: PopMech
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I just looked at that top picture again and noticed two fascinating details: the author’s name, Huc H. Hauser, is amazing, and holy shit, dad looks fucking pissed. I bet he spanks the shit out of those kids for the slightest provocation. Be careful, kids.

Senior Editor, Jalopnik • Running: 1973 VW Beetle, 2006 Scion xB, 1990 Nissan Pao, 1991 Yugo GV Plus, 2020 Changli EV • Not-so-running: 1973 Reliant Scimitar, 1977 Dodge Tioga RV (also, buy my book!)

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DISCUSSION

Not trying to excuse the lack of safety, but back then, cars weren’t exactly cruising highways at 80. Studies and statistics of the day aside, I can get why *they’d* think this wasn’t a terrible idea.