Older Vehicles vs. New Models


The vast majority of cars didn’t make it past 100k pre-1970 on their original drivetrain. I’m sure some did, but most didn’t.


I agree about the upgraded econoboxes. Why bother when you can get a much better car for the same money??? I drive about the most econobox car you get get, the Mitsubishi Mirage. I paid $10,000 new for it though. They make upgraded models of this car and some were going for close to $20,000 the last time I checked. Paying $10,000 for a basic econo car is one thing but there is no way I would pay $20-40,000 for one.

Yes, the SBC Chevy has to be one of the most basic designs and withstood the test of time. GM always uses pushrod designs and has made them work well. It seems they always have issues when they try OHC designs.

I personally have a 2000 Chevy S-10 with the 4.3L V6. This is basically 3/4 of an SBC timed different but the basic design is the same. I have to say they are also very solid engines and can take a lot of abuse. I once hydrolocked mine. I think the saving grace was that I was engaging the clutch at the exact moment it was hydrolocked and suspect that not having it in gear with the forward momentum of the truck saved it. All the water may have also killed the fire a second or so prior as well. I removed the plugs, standing over my knees in water. I then cranked it over and blew lots of water out of the engine. I reinstalled the plugs and was able to get to started after about a minute of cranking. It blew steam out the tailpipe for a couple miles and I assume the exhaust system was also full of water. I changed the oil once I got home and it didn’t even look milky. The truck has been driven tens of thousands of miles since and shows no signs of distress from this incident. I have been told by several mechanics that the best thing I did was get the water out and get it running within a short period of time.


Here were how one corrected the shortcomings of the economy low end cars of the 1940s and 1950s:

  1. vacuum wipers with no vacuum booster section on the fuel pump:. Take your foot off the accelerator when you needed to see where you were going. These were true interval wipers–they only wiped the windshield during the interval your foot was off the accelerator.

  2. Defrosting and defogging the windshield with a heater that was just a box with a coil and fan under the dashboard:. Buy a 6 volt fan that clamped on the steering column and point it at the windshield.

  3. Air conditioning:. Point the defogging fan in 2) at yourself.

  4. No ashtray or cigarette lighter: chew Mailpouch

  5. No passenger side sunvisor: tell your wife to squint

  6. No turning signals: roll down window and use hand signals. For night driving, apply a strip of reflective tape to your left glove (This was actually suggested in “Hints from the Model Garage” in Popular Science.

  7. No back up lights: Keep a flashlight in car. Roll down driver’s side window and point to rear of vehicle.

  8. enrichen mixture for cold engine starts:. Pull hand choke.

  9. No power steering: attach spinner knob to.steering wheel, preferably one that has a picture of a nude model on the knob.

  10. No radio: practice your singing. When I was growing up, our cars didn’t have radios
    My brother and I played a game where one would of us would whistle a passage from a musical work and the other would have three guesses to name the composition.

As you can see, there are ways to compensate for shortcomings in an econobox.


I’m a little ashamed to say I didn’t really know much about car maintenance back then but I sold my 59 Pontiac with about 110,000 miles on it. It was just using a little oil but otherwise ok. I had never serviced the transmission and never even thought about it. I know I changed oil but don’t actually remember ever doing it. Back then I used only Pennz so I wonder if it would have had better service with a different brand of oil.

After I had wrecked my VW my dad bought it while I was away at school the next week. I can’t remember if he paid $150 or $175 for it. Bought with the insurance pay out after paying the bank their $240. Then I sold it three years later for $125. So even then that wasn’t bad. I’m sure I put 50,000 miles on it going back and forth to South Dakota on it. He was fast. Guess he wanted his Falcon back. Man what I put my folks through.


Re: #2 Trico made a vacuum powered dashboard fan that was powered off the same line as the wipers. They’ve become collectible.


Yes, cars were really barebones in those days. Our first car, a 1941 Chevrolet Stylemaster Deluxe, has a 6 cylinder “stove bolt” engine with an add-on oil filter.

Transmission was “3 on the tree”, no power steering, no power brakes, no turn signals, a recirculating air heater, feeble defrosters, No radio (optional extra), Legroom in the backseat was generous and the seats comfortable. We managed 18 mpg on a highway trip.

The car lasted to about 125,000 miles when the body rusted out. The engine had been overhauled and soldiered on as a welder power source in my brother-in-law’s workshop. Radiator had been “re-cored”, new exhaust system, new brakes, new master cylinder, rear end rebuilt, and new shocks.


@old_mopar_guy. Thanks for the info about the Trico vacuum powered fan. I had never heard about this. I suppose these were used in the days where the wipers hung down from the top.of the windshield.
@Docnick My parents had a 1939 Chevrolet Master 85 2 door sedan. It was the bottom of the line. This model had a solid front axle as opposed to the knee action independent front suspension.


I usually interpret it as “the guy saying this must want to be Amish.” :wink:


If reliable basic transportation was a life and death necessity and income was limited what would be the best category of cars to consider? Of course keeping in mind that the cost of maintenance and repairs is critical as is down time.


Well I think you have to conclude that there are some things better and some things worse. Told this before but my BIL had a 54 Desoto. To show off he’d slow down to about 15 mph and drop it into reverse. The wheels would spin backward, then he’d put it back in drive and no problem. Even if the computer let you do that today, you’d leave a trail of transmission fluid and parts in the street. Sure we get better mileage now with lighter cars, FI, FWD, computers, lots of conveniences, crush zones, etc. but rugged they are not. Kinda like comparing an old Jeep to a Mazda/ranger. They don’t make them like they used to.


I think the perfect storm of low cast , functionality, repairability, and the ability to keep up with traffic on modern highways was the 66 Valiant. My inlaws owned one, I owned one and my daughter owned one.

In the early 90s I was still driving one as a work car, I had paid $235 for it about 6 years before. I was a road driver for a major class 1 common carrier. I got back to the terminal after 5 days out and it was 16 below and we had had several days of wind driven snow. Our parking lot held about 150 cars. I was the only returning road driver whose car started that morning.

My daughters first car was her 66. We got the price down to $225 because the alternator was not working. I got it working before we got home for 50 cents for two alternator brushes that you could change in a couple of minutes with just a Phillips screwdriver. hers was a 170 cube, stick shift. 27mpg on the road.


More to do with poor tire traction. I don’t think modern transmissions are less reliable than old ones. Old ones didn’t have to last nearly as long.


A modern day econobox will start just as easily as a Mercedes and run just as long if maintained. Cheap cars often die before their time because people who buy them are cheap about maintenance. They are not as safe due to their small size but share many safety features with higher end models. You can thank regulations for that.

I hate the touch screens in modern cars as well. I would pay EXTRA not to have this crap but lucky for me the base models are the ones that don’t have them. It think backup cameras are now standard due to gov regulations so odds are even the basic models will be coming with touch screens soon. With analog controls you can know where to go with your fingers and not look away from the road. Controls on the steering wheel are also nice for the radio and such.

I hear cell phones probably kill as many people as drunk driving these days. I definitely notice people just weaving all over all times of the day and night and just assume it has to do with a phone or similar.

That is interesting about engine stroke vs. engine life. I did some reading up on this and it appears that the torque isn’t as much to do with the stroke but with the valves and their lift. These engines are tuned for low speed operation and fall on their face at high speed operation.

Modern oils, machining, and metallurgy all have so much to offer. Computer controls also allow for more efficient fuel management so the cylinder isn’t being flooded and washed down with excess oil. This and tighter tolerances do not allow fuel and blowby to enter the crankcase.

Reliability, efficiency, and even power are far better these days. I definitely won’t argue that older cars had a lot more style and originality compared to stuff you see on the road these days.


Some manufactures started moving away from touch screens ten years ago. The display screen is now placed out of reach, the adjustments are made with a mouse or touch pad. The touch screen is much easier to use but has a higher failure rate.

There are many personalized settings available with the computerized display units but these should be set before the vehicle is driven.

There are tempting features in the display units but most are locked out while the vehicle is in motion.


New models most of the time will be more efficient and safer given that as time goes on there’s always gonna be progress and new ways in developing vehicles. Modern engines are more fuel efficient For instance, A 1983 Chevrolet Malibu had a 3.8-liter V-6 engine could spew out 110 horsepower . By comparison, the 2005 version had a 2.2-liter inline four cylinder generating 144 horsepower. Not too shabby.


Anything with a proven reliability record and good fuel efficiency.

The luxury features in all cars (power locks/windows/etc) are a red herring. All that stuff could die tomorrow in my Acura, and it would still start and drive. So from a “life and death driving” standpoint, I can still escape the zombie apocalypse, even if the sun angle sensor goes out and my air conditioner blows the same temperature no matter what way I’m facing. :wink:


The missing ashtray and cigarette lighter seems to have come full circle as my 2010 Kia has neither. I can’t imagine todays drivers under 50 years old who did not grow up on or work on a farm attempting to operate the vehicles you described. LOL


You make mention of a car surviving the zombie apocalypse but that some of the power features might die. I would be more worried about the electronic modules supporting the ignition and other features of the car that are required for it to run normally. I have always figured that modern cars are less likely to survive a major solar flare or EMP type event but maybe the critical electronic systems are more shielded than ever before and a newer car would do better.


In the 50s and 60s Volkswagen developed a great reputation and cult following for reliability which was the result of all that the car didn’t have for the most part.and the ease of repair of what it did have. Where are the people who value simple reliability these days? Are there too few of them for manufacturers to consider what they want?


They were not all that reliable by today’s standards, but they were simple and easy and cheap to fix and dealers and parts readily available. This compared to British Ford, British GM (Vauxhall), French Renaults, and Italian Fiats the BUG was a real champion. GM dealers hated the Vauxhalls and seemed never capable of fixing them.

A friend of our family overhauled a VW engine on his kitchen table!

The VW Minibus became the de-facto Hippy transportation/living quarters; many Americans were conceived in these vehicles. So there is a sentimental attachment to VWs of old.