‘They Don’t Make Them Like They Used to’—Or Do They?
“There is a malfunction in the computer,” groans the owner of a sleek, new automobile as he returns from the dealer service department. “They sure don’t make them like they used to!” His wife nods in agreement, adding: “I can hardly tell our car from all the others. They are all so much alike.”
I AM a restorer and collector of old cars, so I often hear such complaints from new-car owners. Many of them have a fondness for a model they owned in the past, even though the car they now use is generally more reliable, safer, and easier to operate. Could it be that their warm feelings about “Old Betsy” stem from sweet memories of good times, rather than from the car’s actual performance?
Collecting Old Cars
In my case, appreciation for old cars—their restoration and preservation—comes from seeing them as objects of art and as statements of taste and technology from the times and countries in which they were produced.
If many collectors find the same model desirable and it happens to be in short supply, then the automobile’s worth skyrockets. For example, on November 19, 1987, at an auction in London, England, a rare 1931 Bugatti Royale sports coupe fetched $9,900,000, U.S.!
In most instances, however, friends and neighbors usually stare in bewilderment as the latest objet d’art is dragged home by the collector. They wonder if the rusting, insect-infested hulk might have been better left wherever it was found. The collector, though, already sees the automobile restored to its former radiant beauty. So he smiles and says to himself: ‘They sure don’t make them like they used to.’
Is It True?
Yes, it is true. ‘They do not make cars like they used to.’ In some ways we can be glad for that and in other ways sad. Let us take a look at some models. For instance, one old Rolls-Royce had been advertised as the “Best Car in the World” and “the safest fast car in the world.” It could accelerate from 0 to 60 miles per hour [97 km/hr] in about 24 seconds and had a top speed of about 80 miles per hour [130 km/hr]. Not bad for a motorcar tipping the scales at two and a half tons! But how would you stop it? The maker accurately boasted that by means of a specially designed servomechanism attached to the gearbox, the car had “enormously increased stopping power.” But while a restored example of that Rolls is still capable of original specification performance, it would not be suitable for today’s driving conditions.
Although a credit to its designer, that Rolls-Royce did not have the benefit of another 60 years of accumulated automotive knowledge and experience. Thus, it lacked hydraulic and antilock power brakes, and it did not have seat belts, stoplights, turn signals, sealed-beam headlights, internal crash pads, headrests, and many other innovations that improve performance and safety—things we take for granted today or view as the latest technology.
The Latest Technology?
Are all the devices we see on today’s cars really new developments? No. Many options and accessories on your automobile were developed years ago. You could have bought this 1936 Packard with the following features: chassis lubricator, which oiled the chassis continuously; ride control, which allowed the driver to adjust the shock absorbers to match road conditions; motor-oil cooler, which circulated the crankcase oil in a special housing through which engine coolant flowed, thereby stabilizing oil temperature.
The models of the ’60’s, like the 1966 Ford Mustang, saw a variety and quantity of optional equipment made available as never before. Moderately priced high-production cars could be ordered with a number of different engine sizes, in many different colors, and with a seemingly endless list of performance and creature-comfort accessories. In many cases, the same car could be had as a sedan, a convertible, or a fastback. Even though hundreds of thousands of a particular model were manufactured, if you chose, you could order one equipped just the way you wanted.
They All Look Alike!
Today’s cars do look alike for a variety of reasons. Current designs seem to be influenced more than ever by technology and economy. The resulting body design is a product significantly influenced by wind-tunnel tests whereby engineers measure wind drag coefficiency. A lower drag coefficient results in improved gas mileage and contributes to greater road stability.
Final body design, therefore, is greatly influenced by physical laws related to road and air resistance, inertia, and weight-to-volume ratio. Add to these certain safety requirements and various passenger needs, and the result is many cars with similar silhouettes. But, of course, the public’s perceptions of what is stylish can change, and manufacturers would have to change accordingly.
So, with mixed emotions, we can say, ‘They don’t make them like they used to.’—Contributed.
[Pictures on page 16, 17]
1929 Rolls-Royce P1 Faux Cabriolet
Rolls Royce Heritage Trust
1936 Packard Model 1401
1966 Mustang GT Fastback
[Picture Credit Line on page 15]
Rolls Royce Heritage Trust