With every passing year, automotive features that were once ubiquitous are relegated to the scrapheap.
There isn’t a car sold in America today that features a bench seat.
Throughout the 1980s, at least, the only vehicles that had buckets and a console up front were sporty cars like the Chevrolet Camaro, and even the early versions of that car could be ordered with a bench seat.
Today, the only vehicles that offer a bench are full-size pickup trucks, and typically you only see those on the cheap trims
Have we learned nothing from Cake?
Your car still has an antenna. Multiple antennae, actually; One for radio reception, a separate one for satellite reception and sometimes a third for GPS reception.
The difference is that they’re not obvious, like the whip antennas that used to be on every single car sold with a radio. Thanks to the fact that we understand a lot more about aerodynamics, antennas are sleek, surface mounted, or embedded in the glass.
But while those still exist in a different form, the power antenna is a thing of the past.
Power antennas came into fashion when hoodlums were snapping off mast antennas to use as weapons or just to ruin your day. From the day they were invented until they disappeared in the 1990s, power antennae worked pretty much the same way: they had a noisy motor mounted in the fender, and the mast would collapse into itself until it hid away inside the fender.
They were great if you happened to live somewhere where the temperature was about 72 degrees all year long. If you lived where it snowed, you could count on replacing them every three or four years.
If you were awake and taking fluids in the 1990s, you know that the automotive industry engaged “The Cupholder Wars.” We went from having no cupholders at all — or just impressions in the glovebox as you’ll see in the next entry — to having enough cupholders for a family of six to stay hydrated until the end of time.
In the 1950s through the 1980s, we weren’t drinking in the car. We were smoking. A lot. Ashtrays were mounted to the doors, to the dash, to the seatbacks and the rear armrests. Everywhere.
Today, some manufacturers will sell you a custom ashtray intended to slot into one of the cupholder holes. Others — typically European cars — still have a vestige of an ashtray here and there, but for the most part, the ashtray is as uncommon today as the bowler hat.
Hood ornaments started out as “radiator mascots.” They were designed as purely ornamental features that sat atop the normally utilitarian radiator cap. Some designs were literal icons of the brand, such as Mercedes-Benz’s three-pointed star. Others were elaborate works of art, sculpted by firms like Lalique, that are now highly collectible and more expensive than the car you drove to work.
Today, the standing hood ornament is all but a thing of the past, for a number of reasons. First, automotive designers are looking to cheat aerodynamics by every means possible, and a full-figured lady thrust proudly into the wind is at cross-purposes.
Second, when you put a shiny object on the hood, there’s a good chance that some ne’er do well is going to steal it.
Finally, we’re in an era when automotive companies are starting to focus their efforts on protecting pedestrians in a crash, as well as occupants. Putting a Paladin with a sharp object on the hood isn’t a great idea.
The only current manufacturer with a proper standing hood ornament is Rolls-Royce. In order to alleviate theft, the Spirit of Ecstasy lowers beneath the hood when the car is parked.
The full-wheel hubcap is almost extinct from the automotive landscape. They do appear on a small handful of entry-level, penalty box rental cars, as well as some commercial vehicles like the Ford Transit Connect, but as a widespread automotive feature, they’re as close to extinct as you can get.
Up until the 1990s, when styled aluminum wheels became the norm, hubcaps were everywhere. In the early days, they were chromed steel. Later versions were stainless steel, and then finally, we got nothing but plastic.
But every single manufacturer had multiple iterations of hubcaps, sometimes on just a single model. The photo above is from the 1970 Oldsmobile brochure. Along with two types of styled steel wheels (which are also a thing of the past), the brochure shows four different full hubcaps. That doesn’t include the entry level “poverty caps” that came on the car if you didn’t order something special.
At some point in the 1950s, automotive manufacturers realized that the flat surface inside the glovebox was a perfect place to put a piping hot cup of coffee.
Of course, the idea was that you were supposed to enjoy it while the car was parked at a scenic overlook, not barrelling down the highway at 72 miles an hour on bias-ply tires and dodgy brakes.
Bumper Jack Slot
Bumper jacks were GM’s alternative to scissor-type jacks from other brands. Early versions had a giant hook that wrapped under the bumper, but that meant that any Ford-owning clod could use a bumper jack from a General Motors product.
Beginning around 1973, the jacks became GM-specific, with a small hook protrusion in the jack that mated to a vertical slot in the car’s bumper.
They worked great until the bumper inevitably rusted out three years after you bought the car.
When I took my son out in my 1978 Blazer for the first time, we drove around for a bit and he said “Dad, what’s that?” I couldn’t figure out what he was looking at, until I realized he’d NEVER SEEN A WINDOW CRANK.
These kids today.
In the USA, from the 1950s right through the 1970s, there was one headlamp design: Round. You either got two or four.
In order to give cars a cleaner, more distinctive appearance, automotive designers started putting the headlamps behind doors that looked like the grille. Most headlamps either operated electrically, or via vacuum, siphoned off of the power brake booster. In at least one instance — the Opel GT — the hidden headlamps were operated manually via a giant lever under the dash.
In the 1960s and 1970s, unique, more aerodynamic headlamp designs were offered around the world, but in the parochial United States, we stuck with horrible sealed beams until well into the 1980s.
In the 1990s, when the DOT finally caught up to lighting developments introduced when Nixon was still president, the era of the hideaway headlight came to an end.
Find a Classic Pontiac at BestRide.com
Rear-Mounted Fuel Fillers
That wasn’t a problem until the 1980s, because most fuel fillers were located in the middle of the car’s rear valence, or hidden behind the license plate, or a door on the rear fascia. A few notable exceptions included the Dodge Charger, which had a spring-loaded, chromed cap that sat on top of the left rear fender.
Fuel fillers moved to either side of the car in the 1990s. The idea was that center-mounted fuel fillers made the fuel tanks more vulnerable to fire if the car was rear-ended.
We’ve replaced the convenience of center mounted fuel fillers with a tiny arrow on the fuel gauge indicating the location of the filler.
Find a Classic Dodge at BestRide.com
Floor Mounted Dimmer Switch
For most of the post-war era, the headlamp dimmer in American cars was located on the floor, so you could operate the high-beams without taking your hand off the wheel. Again, safety concerns moved the dimmer to the turn signal stalk, where Ford even experimented with putting the horn for a short period of time.
In an age of concern about distraction, a floor mounted dimmer switch might seem poised for a comeback, but they had one fatal flaw: their wiring was susceptible to salt tracked inside the car in the northern areas of the United States, where snow falls.
Find a Classic Mercury at BestRide.com
Motorized Shoulder Belts
Once manufacturers decided that people dying in their cars was bad for public relations, they tried encouraging passengers to buckle up. Prior to mandatory seat belt laws and airbags, many manufacturers experimented with motorized shoulder belts that proved to be the most annoying safety “feature” since the FASTEN SEAT BELT buzzer.
Manufacturers like Honda allowed a buckle so that you could disable it, leaving the motor mechanism to impotently shuttle from one end of the door opening to another.
Back when we weren’t so concerned with aerodynamics, we used to equip cars and trucks with vent windows that would provide a little fresh air in the car, without opening the entire window. Some simply pushed open, some — like this 1966 Impala SS — cranked open, and some even lowered into the door.