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They don't make 'em like they used to

Popular Mechanics looks at 23 ways today’s cars differ from those of the 60s.

23 Ways Your Car Is Better Than Your Dad’s
I get mail every day from readers (you know who you are) lamenting that the cars you grew up with were so much better than today’s cars. I hear about the accident that destroyed your new Camry but would have barely scratched Pop’s '77 LTD. I hear about riding in a station wagon’s rear-facing seat and making faces at following motorists. Nostalgia aside, you’re oh so misguided. Technology and a host of government regulations have made today’s cars far more fuel-efficient, better-handling, cleaner and safer by orders of magnitude. By Mike Allen

Read more: 23 Ways Your Car Is Better Than Your Dad’s - Auto Industry News - Popular Mechanics

edit: crap, misspelled “make” in the title D:

Sounds like an interesting article, but I can’t get past the oil ad.

I had no problem reading it…Good article.

Try this one. Same article, just a different link.

Thank goodness they don’t make 'em like they used to! If they did, my car would probably be on its second or third engine.

While engines from the 50’s were not known for longevity…I’ve seen many GM V8’s from the 60’s and early 70’s go well beyond 300k miles…My nephew owned a Dodge Dart with the slant-6 with over 450k miles. It was damn near impossible to kill those engines.

I agree with pretty much everything else in that article.

One thing I’d like improved on modern cars would be slightly beefier bumpers that can withstand 5 mph bumps better. I’m not talking about a return to the 1973 shock absorber bumpers which could handle much more, but at least something that protruded a tiny bit more and offered slightly more protection. It’s amazing the amount of damage that can occur in a low speed bump that wouldn’t have left a mark on some of yesterday’s cars.

I’ve gotten out of the habit of bumping cars. That pretty much solved the problem for me. I save it for the bumper cars at the carnival and the amusement park.

I’m an old geezer, but I wouldn’t want to go back to “the good old days”. To me, form fits function. The finned monsters of the late 1950s were some of the most uncomfortable cars for me to ride in that were ever produced and I was a teenager at the time. I remember that my parents were shopping for a new car back in 1959. After trying out a new 1959 Buick Invicta, we decided that our 1954 Buick was not only more comfortable, but the trunk had more usable space even though the 1959 Buick was a much bigger car. The seats on the 1959 Buick were so low that they were hard in the middle where the driveshaft went through making the car essentially a 4 passenger car. My dad told the salesman that he wasn’t going to pay $3300 for a 4 passenger car (our 1954 Buick seated 6 people).
Even automobiles that today’s Consumer Reports says are not reliable are much more reliable than the cars of previous decades. My first car, a 1947 Pontiac, was easy to work on, but to keep it running, I had to work on it all the time. I’ve become old and lazy, so I don’t work on my present cars, but these cars require little attention other than normal maintenance anyway. Since the earth is 3/4 water and only 1/4 land, a man should spend 3/4 of his time fishing and not under the hood of a car.

Knock on wood, I haven’t been bumping cars either. But my parents’ car has had the pleasure of being anonymously bumped by others in parking lots on a couple of occasions and it was pricey. Apparently some people out there haven’t gotten out of the habit, unfortunately.

I agree with Dag.
The cars of the late '50s through the late '60s were–in most cases–long and low just for the sake of being long and low. Just as clothing fashion is not necessarily functional, car design in those days was rarely functional.

In order to make people want to buy new cars, it was necessary to make their old, relatively high, cars look dated. That, despite the reality that the somewhat higher car made much more sense in terms of passenger accomodation and comfort.

As Dag says, the seats tended to be very low and uncomfortable. That made getting in and out quite a pain–literally for older people. The “dogleg” roof pillar necessitated by some of the new “wrap-around” windshields was just dandy for smacking your kneecap while entering or exiting the car. The middle seat was indeed very uncomfortable, simply because the extreme lowness of the cars made for a very large transmission/driveshaft hump in the floor. The legroom in front was often severely hampered by the intruding trans hump, and the middle seats were a mere thin bit of padding over the intruding driveshaft hump.

The rear trunklid and overhang (sometimes almost as large as a ping-pong table) provided a HUGE trunk. Unfortunately, the extremely weak rear springs on many cars made it impossible to fully load the trunk without the rear suspension hitting its stops on bumps. And, the extreme rearward pitch of a heavily-loaded '60s era luxo-barge also meant that the headlights were mostly illuminating the trees, rather than the roadway.

The exception to the rule was Studebaker. Their cars, which were only cosmetically changed from the early '50s, were just as roomy inside as the huge land yachts of The Big Three, and lacked only the extreme chrome decoration, huge overhangs and excess exterior dimensions of the cars from The Big Three. Studes were also more economical and had good acceleration and handling as a result of not being oversized behemoths. The US public rewarded Studebaker’s clean, simple designs by avoiding Studebaker showrooms to a large extent. The rest is history, sadly.

As a bit of nostalgia, it is nice to look at the cars of the '50s & '60s. However, in a practical sense, I suspect that few people would really want to return to the wallowing, essentially unsafe by modern standards, uncomfortable, maintenance-intensive gas hogs of yesteryear.

Wasn’t the oil change interval something like 1 or 2k miles? 10~20k on spark plugs? adjust the timing and points on the distributor, optional AC, 4 drum brakes, bias ply/inner tube tires, non adjustable seats, vacuum assisted windshield wipers, non power assisted steering, crappy paint.
Sure they were built to last, but today’s drivers don’t want to follow even the 5k mile oil change interval, let alone having to spend hours on end fiddling with the car to keep it running right. Easier to work on, yeah, but you HAD to work on them to keep 'em running.


I agree with you about the Studebakers of the 1950s in your earlier post. The 1959 Studebaker Lark was a very good car. With the 259 cubic inch V-8 engine, it gave very good performance and had highway gasoline mileage in the 22-25 mpg range which was quite good for the time. The car had the interior room that rivaled the Buick of the time and would seat 6 people.

I remember the 20th anniversary of the late Tom McCahill in Mechanix Illustrated. For his 20th anniversary of testing cars for MI, Tom compared a 1946 Ford with a 1966 Ford Galaxie and a 1946 Buick Super with a 1966 Buick Wildcat. Tom reported that there wasn’t a single feature of the 1946 Buick he would like to see revived. However, he found that the 1946 Ford would run away from the 1966 on the curves on the test track. Tom was quite critical of the 1966 Ford suspension. On the straight stretches, the 1966 Ford would leave the 1946 in the dust.
In 1992, Consumer Reports tested mid priced cars (Olds 88, Buick Roadmaster, Mercury) and dug up a 1952 Buick Roadmaster for comparison. CR found the seating position and seats more comfortable in the 1952 Roadmaster. However, they thought that the 1952 Buick was behind in handling, braking and acceleration of the other cars in the test.

I owned a 1965 Plymouth Valiant that was one of the best car purchases I ever made. Cruising at 65 mph it averaged over 25 mpg, comparable to a Beetle. Maintenance was reasonably simple and there was never a break down. All impending failures were forewarned and I was able to take care of them and learn as I went. The top speed exceeded that of a standard Mustang 289. But it took several miles to get to that speed.

And just for the nostalgia, my fahter-in-law grew up in Saskatchewan on a wheat farm and by age 12 he could drive a wagon driven by a four horse team to the rail terminal in town. When the wagon was emptied and he let the horses go they would return home and if they saw that the thrashers were out of the field they would go to the house and stop at their stable. My father in law would take a nap under the seat all the way… FWIW.

…and they say self driving cars are new technology… :wink:

Here’s a great example of the safety (or lack of safety) in ‘classic’ cars. Take a look at the major damage (and the likely death of a passeger, had there been one) done to the '67 or so LeMans, compared to the minor (but costly, for sure) damage done to the Lexus:

"Maintenance was reasonably simple and there was never a break down. "

You never had to replace the ballast resistor?? My nephew use to keep a stock pile in his glove compartment…Engine ran great…as long as the ballast resistor didn’t fail.

No. I never had a resistor fail. Apparently I was lucky. I drove that Valiant to New Orleans dozens of times, about 400 miles, at 90+ MPH and and accumulated well over 100,000 miles by the time I was drafted in 1968. If died while I was over seas.

When I hear about the short life of older engines, I have to wonder how much of that is due to “making better engines today” vs how much is advancements in motor oils.

Also, I take exception to the following being unmitigated “improvements”:

  1. recycleability: Old cars use proportionally less plastic and more steel, making them easier to recycle. Higher recycling in the modern era has more to do with gov’t mandates, plus higher scrap value of metals.

  2. Connectitity: C’mon, is a car where you can check your e-mail really a good idea?

  3. Security: Less risk of theft is countered by increased cost of key replacement, plus an added “single-point failure.” Also, “let the cops turn your car off on a thief” is eerily similar to “have the cops/repo man turn your car off ON YOU.”

  4. Climate control: Frankly, a clear loser. With a blend door, getting the “goldilocks” temp from the vent is as easy as twisting a dial. With CC, it “brackets” desired output temp chasing a desired interior temp that’s hardly a constant: driving West at noon (with the sun through the side window), I’d want a lower set temp. than driving East at the same time.

  5. Engine diagnostics: Sure, a carb’ll act up more, but it’ll do so in a manner that is (somewhat) straightforward, whereas a computer’s shenanigans are only straightforward if your last name’s Gates.

  6. HP per unit displacement: honestly, if I’m not racing it, I care little how many ccs it takes to make 1HP: I’d be more concerned about HP per pound curb weight, per $ purchase price, or per MPG given up to get it.