Cars have gone through a lot of changes over the years

Published 5:21 pm Thursday, July 12, 2018

Son-in-law #4 sent me a message a while back stating that my columns should be prefaced with the warning “for readers over 60 years of age.” I assume that he wasn’t referring to crude and vulgar language in the publication but to the fact that nobody younger than 60 would have interest in reading my discourses.

In response, I want him to know that I have a lot of readers. Let’s see—six in LaFayette, eight in the Valley/West Point area and 12 older geezers that are subscribers. That’s a pretty good crowd of “over the hill” perusers.

Al Hammer sent me an email of things that are obsolete but were hot items in his day. So, a little plagiarism is in order as I am sure there are a lot of readers who remember the popularity of these items. This was before cool was “cool.” And I think that it was before hip was “hip.” I guess you can call it the “in thing” of the period.

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White Wall Tires—if you had white walled tires on your car, you definitely were part of the “in crowd.” Never mind that they required frequent scrubbing to keep them white. If the driver of the car that had white walled tires ever scrubbed the curb, it made a black scratch on the white wall that was very hard to get off. You did not dare to pick up your date with stained white wall tires on your car. White walled tires had to be a woman’s idea as she did not have to scrub them.

Fender Skirts—now this wasn’t a personal wear item, but a bolt-on extension to the fender of the car that hid the wheel. Other than stylish, they were a nuisance and served no purpose other than make the car look hip. I seem to remember that this idea was promoted by George Wallace to bring the South “up to snuff” in the styles of the era.

Curb Feelers—these were metal rods that protruded from under the fender that served to let the driver know when the wheel was against the curb. They looked like small radio antennae. This was another so called upscale attachment to your car that in reality was inefficient and mostly thought to be the “in thing.” I am sure “hip” Al Hammer had one on his car.

Steering Knobs—another item that made you look like you were part of the “in crowd” of automobile owners. It was a little knob about the size of the control knob on a window fan. It was bolted to the steering wheel and the knob rotated so that one could rapidly turn the steering wheel. Problem is that without power steering, the knob did not have enough leverage to allow one to use it while the car was standing or moving slowly. It was another one of the “in things” of the day. I was told that the engineering of it was designed by a freshman at the University of Alabama.

Continental Kits—for most people, this style was related to the Lincoln Continental. It was the most stylish car of the day and if you drove one of these cars, you definitely were classified as being “the cat’s meow.” I think it was designed by a freshman at Georgia Tech. It had no mechanical advantage other than appearance.

Running Board—now this was the most sensible design that has fallen into disuse. I think it was designed by a doctoral candidate from the Auburn University School of Engineering. In order to make the current generation of cars more stylish, the running board has mostly disappeared. However, it has made a partial comeback. The other day I rode in an upscale Ford pickup and “lo and behold,” when one opens the door of the vehicle, a running board automatically protrudes. In fact, running boards have become rather common in pickups that are higher off the ground.

Spot light—of all the accessories on a car, this has to be the dumbest. It is true that police cars make good use of them, but almost never a private car. However, if a young stud had one on his car, he was “the man.” It seems that in the movies John Wayne had one on his car and that was the style for us “machos.”

Emergency Brake—it is now referred to as the parking brake. In earlier car modes, particularly Ford cars, they did not have powered hydraulic brakes. When your brakes failed as they often did in earlier model cars, one grabbed the lever beneath the dash on the left hand of the steering and jerked it to stop the car. Now the driver pushes the brake down with their left foot for parking safety rather than trying to stop the vehicles.

Foot Feed—that term is long gone. We now call it the accelerator. I was told that a podiatrist who graduated from Georgia Tech changed the phrase to be more upscale with the times. I still think foot feed is a more descriptive phrase.

Thinking back, there is a long list of changes in new cars compared to older models. Your left hand out the window was your turn signal and stop signal. Windows had to be cranked up and down. Air conditioning, that was rolling down the windows. Most cars had heaters as they operated off of hot water generated by the engine cooling system. A large percentage of the cars were sold without factory-installed radios. As for electronics for directions, there was no such thing. That is what road maps were printed for.

The quality of the current generation of personal transportation is off the chart in improvements when compared to the past. Ten or twelve thousand miles was all that you got from a set of spark plugs. Same thing with tires, as getting 40,000 miles on a set of tires was not possible. If one got 100,000 miles out of a car, it had to be meticulously maintained.

My first new car was a 1954 Chevrolet four door sedan. I paid $ 1,600 for it, which was not cheap considering the period. I struggled to pay for it. On the plus side, gas was 12 cents per gallon. They say that cars represent the generation that drives them. I guess that means Al Hammer and our friends were all about looking good and working hard for it. And we knew how to read a map.