Cars are a part of American culture. We grow up in them, live in them, love them, but like the culture they reflect, cars change over time. Here's ten things you experienced your kids probably won't.
Air conditioning, to the city-dweller, is often the line separating a rugged existence from a civilized one. In the past, what you had instead was the vent window, a magnificent triangular piece of glass in the front door windows which rotated to funnel air into the cabin and cool the occupants. Crossing large expanses at high speeds means lots of fresh air, but as we transitioned to an urban population, those high speeds were replaced by sweltering traffic and air conditioning has completely replaced the vent window.
Nearly everyone reading this post probably grew up with a car featuring crank windows. They're cheap, they're reliable, they're light weight and they make you exercise to get at that sweet, sweet fresh air. All reasons they're being naturally selected out of the automotive gene pool. It doesn't help that even on the most beautiful days, everyone stays bottled up with their air conditioning humming.
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The idea of a key to operate your car was first implemented by Cadillac, since their cars featured the Charles Kettering starter, making ignition so easy anyone could steal your car. As time progressed thieves upped the ante with master keys or bypassed the key entirely by hotwiring. Since computer technology and the commonization of keyless entry have advanced, the metal key finds itself succumbing to the digital one. These days its common to find cars with a short-range radio frequency transmitter in the key fob and a push-button starter. They still come with emergency metal keys, but its only a matter of time before those disappear.
If you're old enough, the searing pain of hot vinyl bench seats turning your thigh into a roast is one of your earliest car memories. You learned quick to sit on your shorts and ease down on the bench, otherwise those vinyl covers, hot as the surface of the sun which baked them, would inevitably bake stitch marks into you. Unsurprisingly, as material costs dropped and buyers decided not to maim their children, vinyl seat options are becoming scarce. Believe it or not, they can still be had on the ultra-base Toyota Prius.
Manual Transfer Cases
Driving off-road used to be a test of manliness. You had to know things; what a low range meant, how to roll a truck back and forth to get the manual lockers to engage, and most importantly, you had to be a master of the secret handshake of the non-synchro transfer case. Electronic, on the fly, fully synchronized and push-button transfer cases have made the second shifter next to the gear selector an anachronism. It will survive with the rock crawlers, but it'll never see the light of production again.
When the man killed the folding jump seats in the Land Rover Discovery, a little piece of us all died. How many grew up facing the back of a Country Squire watching the world evaporate behind them at a Federally mandated double nickel? Oh sure, we're all technically "safer" without the jump seat, but are we happier? Probably not.
Used to be if you wanted to get anywhere, you had a Rand McNally road atlas and your sense of direction. It required spatial awareness, planning, paying attention to the road signs and at times a little luck. Now Navigation systems are becoming standard equipment on even the most basic models. In a few years, it'll be hard to avoid finding a Navi in any decent used car you look at. Discounting preinstalled Nav, portable units are crossing the magical $100 barrier, making them accessible to the unwashed masses. There will always be hold-outs clinging to their old-timey maps, but your kids won't be among them.
As goes the smoker, so goes the cigarette lighter. We're not fans of smoking in cars, it inevitably leads to burns in the upholstery, but having a readily available fire source in your car seems useful. If nothing else cigarette lighters provide hours of entertainment to danger loving pre-teen boys. And who will ever forget cleaning out the disgusting and too-small chewing gum repository they become for non-smoking families. On a wider note though, lighters, and they're counterparts ash trays, are some of the last remaining automotive artifacts left over from the greatest generation. When lighters disappear completely, something elegant and confident will die out too.
Hanging Your Arm Out The Window
Possibly the most insidious on the list, it's one of the greatest pleasures in a car nut's life; To hang your arm out the window on a cool summer night, cruising down the main drag, your significant other at your side, a mellow tune belting out on the radio and from under the hood. There's no greater bliss for any automotive aficionado. Much like with window vents, this past time faces an end from the evils of air conditioning, but it also will die out as a result of government regulation in the form of ever-more-stringent side impact requirements forcing windows and beltlines higher and higher. As it stands there are few cars on the market today you can hang an arm out of without significant discomfort, and we'll be very sad when there are none. In fact, in our recent Muscle Car Wars showdown, the only member of the threesome we could comfortable accomplish this in was the Mustang. Camaro? Challenger? Fail.
Photo credit: Zimbio
The Danger Of Death
To date, we've seen cars with two front air bags, knee bags, thorax bags, side curtain airbags, rear thorax bags and a center rear airbag. Cars have adaptive cruise control, can brake to a stop automatically, detect blind spot danger, protect pedestrians from a frontal impact, pretension your seat belt, brace your neck in a rear collision, and automatically apply brake force to avoid a rollover. At some point, barring egregious stupidity, cars will become essentially death proof. So much for fear as a motivator for responsibility.
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