Wayne Hinshaw column: Vanished vehicular features

Published 2:26 am Monday, November 10, 2014

Recently, I found a website that has a listing of all the “things that are no longer on cars.” The Odometer website got me to thinking about cars that I have owned or admired in the past. Many of the features that have disappeared from our cars just disappeared without much fanfare and mourning. You really don’t miss them until reminded.

Before most cars had air conditioning, there was a vent in the center of the hood next to the windshield that you could open and get a flow of air from the outside. When you opened that vent for the first time in the spring after a cold winter of not using it, the air would gush down and pick up all the dirt and dust that had gathered on the floorboard all winter and twirl it back up in your face. There were also the little side window air vents shaped like a triangle that you could open by pushing them out. Both vents are gone.

Electric motors that open your windows have replaced the hand-cranked windows. The hand cranks took effort on your part, and in an auto wreck, they could be dangerous, catching a hand or causing cuts.

Most dash cigarette lighters are gone, along with  the smelly ashtrays full of burned tobacco butts.  Most cars still have the outlet for the lighter, but now they are used for charging your cellphone or electric gadgets like a GPS system.

When the driver looked across the steering wheel at the speedometer, there used to be oil pressure, temperature and a battery voltage or amp gauge there monitoring your engine.

Now, only the fuel gauge has survived modernization. The other gauges have been replaced with sensors and lights to warn you of a problem.

My dad’s 1996 truck, which I now have, still has the cassette tape player built into the radio. Those cassette players are long gone, along with the eight-track players that we once thought we needed. They were replaced with CD players. CD players are now making way for MP3 players.

Do you remember the old sedan bench seats? Your girlfriend could slide right next to you as you cruised down the highway. If you remember that, you are getting old. The bench seat has been replaced with bucket seats with seat belts. Unless you have a pickup truck, your girlfriend has to keep her distance and be belted in the seat as well.

We now have a console in the center of the front seat for storage — and to keep your girlfriend away. There are no more drives with three people sitting in the front seat.

If you a had “four on the floor” transmission, in the old days, sometimes your girlfriend could put a cushion in the space between the seats and still slide close to you.

Speaking of seat belts, remember the shoulder belts that would automatically swing across your shoulders when you got seated? When the belt came around you, you had to be alert or get hit in the head, even knocking your glasses off. Those things were so annoying, and they still left you with your lap belt not fastened. Airbags saved us from that hassle.

Before we had cellphones and texting to distract us as we drove down the road, we had the old dial radios. You would try to drive with your left hand and dial in your favorite radio station with the right. We are now digitally distracted instead.

For a few years, station wagon manufacturers thought that the “rear-facing seat” in the very back was really cool. Kids loved sitting back there looking backward and making faces at the driver behind you. But they were very dangerous in rear-end collisions and helped cause motion sickness for the kids.

Spare tires used to be real tires made for the road. Usually, when you needed to put the spare on the car, the air had leaked out and they were flat. Now, most cars have the small “doughnut” wheel spares. But most trucks still have real spare tires.

The coolest cars in the day had fine hood ornaments mounted in the center front of the hood to part and separate the air for the car. Well, maybe they didn’t do that but they looked real good. You could have a horse head or a falcon with its wings spread sitting right up front. There’s not a place for those ornaments anymore.

Don’t forget the long pointed “tail fins” on the rear fenders in the 1950s and ’60s. That was the real “rocket age,” making every car look like a spacecraft ready for takeoff.

A few manufacturers tried the “rear opening suicide doors” for passengers.

Those doors would open backwards. I don’t know if the name suicide doors came from opening the door backwards into the oncoming traffic or from the fact that if the door wasn’t closed tightly, the force of the wind going down the road would blow the door open and off.  Those doors never had a chance to catch on.

I am told that when buying a car in the ’50’s, you had to be careful and make sure it had a heater. Heaters were extras and folks who were really squeezing the pennies might skip the luxury of heat in the winter. Well, they didn’t have heaters in horse-drawn buggies. What are we doing, going soft or something?