Cars and Trucks Are More Modern Than Ever - but Are They Better?

Courtesy of Alef Aeronautics

There's a reason that the term "nostalgia goggles" exists. As we grow older (a process with which I am becoming intimately familiar), things in our past take on a shine that perhaps didn't exist when we were living through them. That's a fact of life, we all do it, and once in a while when we think hard on those long-ago times in our lives, we remember that things weren't quite as shiny as we remember them.

But some things, on reflection, still look pretty darn good, and some things involve a few tradeoffs; in some ways better, in some ways, not so much.

One of the latter would be something that America has long had a love affair with - the automobile.

A recent X post brought us a short clip from NBC News' "Today" on electric vehicles, and how they are less reliable and possibly even dangerous in hot weather: 

Electric vehicles have their issues with cold weather, too, mostly decreased battery life, making them impractical in some locations - like, say, rural Alaska. To be fair, traditional internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles are less efficient at temperature extremes as well. But that's not the point I want to address; rather, let's look at the idea that a dead EV battery might be "...possibly locking drivers and passengers inside."

Really? The solution to that seems pretty obvious: Mechanical door handles--like every car had until, apparently, quite recently.

See Related: Chinese Electric Vehicle Companies Claim American Manufacturers 'Aren't Ready' 

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This brings us to the modern, high-technology status of most automobiles today, and my primary concern: Automobiles are a lot fancier and more technological - but are they better?

One of my favorite reminisces is of the vehicle that I spent a lot of time in around 1978 and 1979, kicking up dust on northeast Iowa roads. It was my Freedom Iron, a 1966 Ford Galaxie 500, two-door hardtop, with a 390 GT engine out of a wrecked 1966 Fairlane. It was a beast - fast as all get out as long as you were going in a straight line and would pass anything but a gas station. It had crank windows (and wing windows!), manual door locks; the temperature controls were connected by cables to dampers in the heater ducts; the speedometer was connected to the transmission by a cable; the steering wheel was mounted on a steel column that connected directly to the car's front end. Its one concession to technology was an automatic transmission, and I loved that car.

But the great thing about these old beasts? They were simple. A teenager could maintain the thing himself. (I did.) Crank windows are much less likely to break than electric windows. There was just a lot less to go wrong with these cars, and while modern engines and transmissions are better engineered and much more efficient than the massive old big-block V8s we all loved, there's something to be said for simplicity around the edges.

Consider this: If a modern car company were to produce a mid-sized coupe or sedan (heck, do like the car companies did back in the day and offer both) with the required modern engine and transmission, including the emissions control folderol. But as for the rest? A vinyl interior, a manual transmission, crank windows, and manual door locks - strip as much of the high-tech and electrically-driven gewgaws as possible. Make it basic, simple, manual-everything, affordable, call it something that appeals to the masses - something like, say, "the People's Car" and sell them for $10,000 to15,000. I bet you couldn't build them fast enough.

Oh, and while we're at it, bring back wing windows. Why did they ever stop putting in wing windows?

They could do the same thing with trucks. I'd love to see a real utility on the market again, like my 1974 Ford Bronco. That old truck was manual everything, from the hubs to the transmission to the steering, windows, and doors; and it was solid, tough, and would go up and down trees. Make a clean, simple, basic utility for under $20,000, and you'd be fighting to keep up with demand.

Modern cars are, yes, better in lots of ways. They are certainly safer. They are more efficient. But are they better? 

Modern gasoline engines produce more horsepower per cubic inch displacement (CID) and yes, I will always think of engine sizes in terms of CID. Liters are fine for every nation that hasn't put men on the Moon, but we are Americans, and we understand CID, dammit. 

A little simplicity is in order, at least as an option. I've made my druthers known to my local Ford dealership. We'll see if anything results from it. I'm guessing nothing will, but you know what they say about squeaky wheels.



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