Remind me to fix those rear shocks. Photo: Raphael Orlove

My 1974 Volkswagen Beetle is, by modern standards, a complete pile of garbage. But every time I get into a car that is up to par for a new vehicle, it feels like trash, and I think my VW is to blame.

“There’s Too Much Car”

The first problem I see in any new car I get into is whoa why is there so much... so much car everywhere? My old Beetle has no air conditioning, no surround-sound audio system, no dual-zone climate control, no infotainment screen. There’s not much to the dashboard other than a metal board with some gauges and a broken radio screwed into it.

The transmission of the VW is in the rear, and it doesn’t intrude much into the cabin itself.

What this means is there’s not a lot in front of you other than space.

When I took the seats out of my car for a good cleaning. Gives a good sense of how much space there is inside these things. Photo: Raphael Orlove


From the front seats, you’re basically in a big box. I can drive the car from the passenger seat with ease, having little trouble at all stretching a leg across the whole car.

New cars are filled up front with filters and hoses and giant dashboards and transmission humps. It’s, uh, cozy, I guess, if you don’t immediately think of it as cramped.

“The Steering Wheel Is Too Small”

When I took the seats out of my car for a good cleaning. Gives a good sense of how much space there is inside these things. Photo: Raphael Orlove


Look, I don’t even have a good steering wheel for a Volkswagen. I have the ugly one. I probably have the ugliest one. The four-spoke blocky 1970s steering wheel my ‘74 has is probably the least-handsome steering wheel VW ever jammed into a Beetle, and mine is even in bad shape for it. The front cover doesn’t like to snap all the way in, so it rattles all the time, and the plastic rim you actually hold has cracked over its metal ring in places.

But it is wonderful in that it is so large I can easily rest my hands in my lap and still have a good hold on the wheel itself, making road trips super comfortable. And on top of that the rim is thin and delicate, so after the car’s most recent alignment it’s direct but still light.

New cars all have much much smaller-diameter wheels with hugely thick rims. Adjust a new wheel down to your lap and suddenly the airbag is ready to punch you in your gut and the top of the wheel cuts off the top half of the instrument cluster. You can see 0-35 on one side of the speedo and 90-135 on the other, but the important part is blocked.


Adjust the wheel up and you don’t have anywhere to really rest an arm while you drive. The windows are too high to rest an elbow on the sill, unless you push the seat all the way up, in which case your head is bumping against the ceiling.

“Everything Feels Cheap”

I will conclude this rant here, as it very desperately puts me into Old Man Yells At Cloud territory. I shouldn’t even be complaining about this stuff! I grew up driving 1990s Toyotas and 1980s Volvos and Hondas. These are plasticky cars, not exactly beacons of luxurious feel.


And my ‘70s VW isn’t either.

These were just very sturdy, robust designs meant to last.


And that messes with my brain that even when I get into the most expensive cars, the little buttons and switches and under-the-dash hard plastics all feel kind of disposable and weak.

And this shouldn’t really be a dig at new cars. It’s just that my horrible, no-good, awful, loud, slow Volkswagen tweaks my brain into thinking it’s normal and everything else is strange. It’s probably the gas fumes leaking into my brain.

I am this close to saying “they don’t make them like they used to.” I need to stop.