What was the best time in history for cars? Or is it now, or the future?


#1

Another opinion question for everyone, especially some of our regulars (not naming names! :wink: who have been around through a good portion of the evolution of the automobile.



Basically, is there a time in history that you feel was the “best” time for cars in regards to things like: fun to work on, exciting developments, lots of fun to drive cars, etc? The stuff that makes us car enthusiasts.



Or is that time now, and I just don’t realize it? Or, is the best yet to come?



To me, even though I wasn’t even a twinkle in my father’s eye at the time, the muscle car era seems like it would’ve been a lot of fun to live through.



I’d be interested to hear what you all think, especially those who actually lived through those times.


#2

The minute I saw a 67 Pontiac GTO I knew that something good had happened. It was a time when there was finally enough money going around to allow something to be bought for fun. Don Garlits was about to innovate enough to make a big difference in fuel dragster racing. Car makers were reaching a peak in competitive spirit leading to odd cars like the Daytona Charger and Super Bird. The Firebirds were evolving into the Trans Am. For a few years, you could pick up almost any of the cars that represented that era for almost nothing. High school kids did. Then, the dismal era of Nixon-Ford-Carter and ballooning inflation tried to kill everything but real-estate.


#3

I like the cars of the 60’s for character and style. The ONLY car today I think is close is the new Mustang.

But I like todays cars for Longevity…Safety and emissions.


#4

It’s a good thing we remember mostly the good things about the past, including experiences with our cars.

I personally believe, the best is yet to come in car design and efficiency.

However, on a post we had some time back, all posters said they missed the simplicity of older cars, before safety and emission gear made them difficult to work on.

Each era, except for the early 70s (nearly all bad) had its good and bad.

My favorate cars were Japanese cars before they grew and became too complicated to work on. Early Camrys and the Cressida were truly bulletproof and easy to maintain cars.

The other sterling vehicles were early-mid eighties Mercedes sedans, like the 300 Turbodiesel and gas models. These were the best Mercedes ever built, and many are still soldiering on with nearly a million miles on them.

When gas was cheap the late 60s musclecars were awesome. They were in a class by themselves, before the insurance companies and smog gear started to take its toll.

The future family car will be a “tour de force”, as the French say. it will seat 5, have adequate performance, use lightweight materials, and with a diesel hybrid powertrain will get at least 50 mpg. Various performance guarantees will enable it to travel 300,000 miles or more with only normal maintenance and replacement of some wear items.


#5

Call me boring, but I like cars and motorcycles that are reliable and efficient. So I think I would perfer something made in the last 20 years as a daily driver/rider. Anything older than that would be a hobby toy. Right on the verge of my threshold is a late 1980s Camaro. I would also like to get my hands on a 1988 Honda Goldwing…before they became over-sized and loaded with electronics, but after they had electronic fuel injection.


#6

I have a simple rule; I don’t by anything new enough to have a check engine light, so anything from then back to about 1950-1955 was probably the best time in history. The earlier cars are probably cooler, and the later cars are more practical. I prefer not to think about the current stuff.


#7

For interesting cars and lots of variety I’d say the 1930s and into the 1950s. Straight 8s, V8s, V12s and lots of other engine layouts and designs were being tried. There were probably 20 different car companies in the US making everything from economy cars to luxury cars, and that was the era of coach builders. Custom bodies on luxury car frames.

By the end of the '50s the mass production and standardization had whittled the number of players in the US market down to the Big 3 plus Studebaker and American Motors hanging on. Foreign makers were going through the same sort of shake-out, though not as complete and not as soon.

The good news is that the Japanese and Europeans seem to have found new interest in trying out new ideas and thinking outside the box. Building different and interesting cars seems to be getting popular again. I hope the current need for fuel efficiency doesn’t kill off that spirit, but maybe offers an outlet for the creativity to work on.


#8

I think every decade has its standouts but it is a select bunch/handful.


#9

Things like safety factors have evolved so much since the early 50s that it is almost incomprehensible.

I had quite a few fun times during that time and a little later too.

My best friends’ (who I grew up with, starting early 40s) Yike!) dad fixed up an old partly demolished '48 Merc for him and I to bomb through the bush with.

Roaring (yeh, straight pipe) up and down overgrown railway lines and extinct logging roads where no-one cared what you did was crazy fun.

That lasted until one day plowing through the bush (REAL off-roading!) when all of a sudden I found myself with my head jammed into the roof liner. My buddy thought that was funny as hell. I must admit I found it pretty hilarious too.

The floor was practically rusted out and a small sapling (tree) found its way through the floor and pushed the seat and me up. Plain nuts in those days.

When I got older, (12 I think) My dad bought a good used '52 VW bug. 3 speed standard.

The neatest thing I found with that car was the fact we could almost use it as a boat!

Solid floor and airtight it could literally float across a small beaver dam waterway.

The beavers dammed the little creek over the old trail we drove on to go hunting.

My dad got a great kick out of that bug and always used to say that if you were on the highway (2 lane) and wanted to pass a vehicle in front you had to wait for no oncoming traffic, a long steep hill, a stiff tail wind and a short prayer first. Fun car though.

In the middle to late 50s the best time came for me when I learned how to race '50-'52 cars (mostly flathead Fords and Chevs) around a 1/2 mile oval dirt track. You were darn lucky to get up to 50 mph and the ends were murder on a flat corner track.

It was only after four of us wound up rolled over out in the rhubarb did they inherit the brains to bank the track.

But the ultimate time for me came the day the transport brought a brand spanking new '57 Chev BelAir 2 dr hardtop to a dealership I was shunting cars at.

When I climbed in it to put some gas in for a demo, I thought I had entered another world.

Silly as it may seem, I still love that car today.

Here’s a real twist, 90% of the vehicles I’ve owned since then have been Chevs.


#10

Just my own opinion, but I think the “fun to work on” cars era ended in the late '60s with the advent of emissions systems. Besides, when engines were longitudinally mounted and only the Mini was front wheel drive, things could be mixed & matched. You could take your 283 out and put in a 327, you could add all the cool stuff like a highrise manifold with a 4bbl and headers with lake pipes, track bars, etc. The average shadetree wrencher can’t do that with today’s FWD cars.

The “fun to drive” era is now. In any category I can think of there are vehicles more fun to drive than anything before them. Yesteryears cars were a wild ride above 80, my current tC is comfortable at 100.

Exciting developments are yet to come. Visit the Tesla roadster website if you want to get your heart pumping.


#11

I thought that 1949 was an interesting point in automotive history. Almost all cars (the Buick Special being an exception) had post WW II body styles. There was a wide range of engine choices: 6 and 8 cylinder flat head engines, 6 cylinder overhead valve engines, 8 cylinder overhead valve engines and the newly introduced short stroke V-8 in the Oldmobile 88 and 98 and in the Cadillac. Ford had all new body styling and suspensions throughout its lineup. The Nash Airflyte body was very interesting–it was designed in a wind tunnel. Transmisisons ranged from 3 speed, 3 speed with overdrive, Chrysler’s fluid coupling and semi-automatic transmission through the General Motors 4 speed hydramatic and Buick’s torque converter Dynaflow automatic. Willys offered a very versatile all metal wagon. Plymouth introduced its all metal suburban wagon. Other station wagons still had wood panels and/or wood trim. I made a scrap book of all the models offered in the United States.


#12

Ah, the fifties! Cars were unashamedly big, we weren’t terribly worried about being “green”, gas was cheap, and oh, the chrome! I wanted, and still want, a '57 Chevvy. My first brand new car was a Pontiac Le Mans. I was 22 and my mother worried because I was driving a “little” car. I loved that car more than my boyfriend. Oh, it was the first air conditioned car anyone in my family ever drove. Often, when I parked and walked away from the car, someone would be worried and tell me my car was leaking. It was just the condensation from the AC and I felt really rich to have air conditioning when so many others didn’t.


#13

I watched the muscle car era come and go. I suppose I could have owned one but just didn’t care to buy the gasoline for one even when gas was cheap. I got my go fast jollys from a bike; still do. I put a lot of miles on my cars and have always wanted something easy on gas.

Yes, the easy days of engine swaps and no electronics are gone.

The best time for cars is when you are young and your imagination has no limits!


#14

The very beginning - turn of the century. About 1/3 of autos were steam driven (the Stanley Steamers!), about 1/3 electric (and electric won the first known road race, and apparently earned the first speeding ticket), and about 1/3 gasoline. How much fun is that?

Of course, my father wasn’t even a twinkle in the eye of my grandfather at the time - so I’m reaching here. Buy the thing that makes it a good time in my hindsight is that there was no auto dependence. Once everyone “needs” one it all takes a big hit on the “fun” factor. Surely they were mostly for the wealthy at the turn of the century, but also for the hobbyist and the zany creator.


#15

I think every decade has great cars, great developments for that moment in time, and “fun to drive ones”.
My personal favorites are muscle cars and turnpike cruisers (a '59 Cadillac, etc.) but I’m drawn to just about all of them.
Really love those Buick Grand Nationals!

The old Stanley Steamers, Duesenbergs, Packards, etc. are beautiful in their own right. Polished brass, real wood trim, silver/nickle plate, etc. and no cheap plastic to disentegrate makes them works of art IMHO.
Being outdated does not always mean lousy fuel consumption either. Jay Leno owns a couple of Hudsons with the twin carb option and he said those tanks get about 19-20 on the highway. Not too shabby at all.


#16

My sister and I were remembering (because I can’t spell the other word) the good old days of the giant late 70’s luxo sedans. I had an Old 98 with a 405 4 barrel. She had an old Delta 88. The cars were big and fast and I fit 17 people in my Olds one night. We drove around town laughing harder than anyone has ever laughed in their life.

Today’s cars, while practical, are way too predictable for fun. My Hondas never break down… unless it’s scheduled. Every car off the line is actually engineered to go a certain distance before maintenance needs to be done. With my Olds… it could go a thousand miles before something went wrong. And then something might go wrong every 20 or so miles after that. It was a crap shoot which made life exciting.

Oh, I long for the days when I would be stranded on some dark country road in the middle of the night praying for a car to go by before the farm dogs caught up with me.

Darn those Germans and Japanese with their fangled engineers and quality control. The best cars were the ones where the body actually supported the frame. I could hit that Olds with a hammer (and I did a few times) and it barely put a wrinkle in it. Hit a new Taurus or Accord with a hammer? I bet you’d do 18000 dollars worth of damage, total the thing.

And don’t even get me started on my buddy’s 1972 Chrysler New Yorker with a 500 in it. We simply called it the Titanic.


#17

Hands down today for reliability. People drive for tens of thousands of miles without even looking at the car. A good thing? Depends on who you are, I suppose. I agree with those who talked about style and beauty . . . . the 50’s . . . but not just the American cars . . . God almighty . . the Porsche . . . MG . . . Triumph . . . SAAB . . . JAG . . . Austins . . . beautiful. Now if we could only have an old looking car with new mechanicals (wait . . . that’s happening now!) Best time? My whole life . . I really enjoy cars and every era has its’ moments. Rocketman


#18

Seriously, I think it depends on the type of vehicle. Domestic cars probably peaked in the 50s or 60s before they started declining and never recovered (I wouldn’t own one later than about 1970). Most euro cars peaked in the 60s to early 80s before they were pressured into making them cheaper by asian competition (about 1985 would be my cutoff date for a euro car). Asian cars; who cares?


#19

That’s a tough question. People change over time in that their tolerance for failure goes down and their desire to tinker also diminishes. When I was younger, I could’ve cared less if my car broke down and needed fixing. That was half the fun. And I had great enthusiasm for taking care of it and continually enhancing every aspect of it. The biggest difference is, I seem to have had TIME to mess around. As I age, I look at cars more as a utilitarian device to get me from point A->B. I still like to romp around in my toys but have less and less opportunity to do so. I also approach working on cars differently in that I have less mobility and desire to roll around on the ground fixing things. It is more out of necessity than viewed as fun.

Most people lust after cars they thought were cool when they were teenagers and couldn’t afford them. They wax nostalgic over how great things were as it’s somewhat human nature to recall the good but gloss over the bad. For me, the best time was when I was a teenager and had all the energy, time and desire to give a lot of attention to my ride. Now I don’t even wash them…


#20

Hee, hee, Twin. Tell me about it. My viewpoint is when God wants my car washed, He sends the rain.

Actually, where I am now, the mountain is made of marble dust, and dry season can be more than six months of the year. So, once in a while I am forced to, gasp, choke, actually wash the thing. We only get around 30 minutes of water a day from the town pipes, so we have to recycle water. For example, water from the wash machine goes in a barrel and we flush the stool with that water. I still have to rinse with the hose running off the roof but I try to keep use down.

Some people have a large feather duster, and whenever they come home, they dust off the car, since it is dry dust. I am trying to find a duster.

I have noticed over the years on this message board and its predecessor that we humans are in two groups. One group is like Twin. We view transportation as a commodity. We don’t care if our wheels are sexy or cool; we want them to run and run and run. 300,000 miles with the same car is cool if it doesn’t abandon us in East Saint Louis at midnight. Some of us make us all look bad because they don’t even want to change the oil or check the tires for 300,000 miles. Blechhh!!!

To us, the high reliability of the cars made by the Japanese are ideal, and we don’t care if our cars are stodgy or boring.

The other group look at cars as ideally fun and/or sexy. Their favorite cars have personality plus. They don’t mind working on them. In fact, for some of them working on their cars seems to be a good Saturday activity. I think they underestimate how many repairs their cars have needed, because they actually enjoy making the imperfect into the perfect again.

You will never catch me criticizing them. I am not going to say I am Libertarian, because I don’t really fit the mold. It is more my view of humans, than my political views. I believe humans are created all over the spectrum. Tall; short; fat; thin; fast; slow; some like some activities; some like others. And, to force everyone into the same mold induces extreme discontent in those who are forced away from their preferred lifestyle.

So, I think it’s absolutely cool that some men keep old cars running for decades, and spend Saturdays washing and waxing and buffing and tuning. I think a good society does not attempt to stop this sort of thing, just because maybe those older models do not meet new safety or smog standards. As strange as it may sound, in my opinion, none of us are free if Craig can’t keep his old cars going as long as he safely can.

In exactly the same sense, I resent it when the second group criticizes the first group or mocks an entire group of cars based on their corporate ancestry. Having a strong personal preference does not justify mocking those who have a different preference.

The most fun car I ever had, though reliability wise it was junk, was that 1936 Chevrolet I had around 1960 or so. The seats were more comfortable than most easy chairs. It went almost anywhere, as long as you wanted to drive 35 mph. It would go faster, it just didn’t like it very much. In 1961, it was a chick magnet, as hard as it is to believe.

The best car is my current Toyota Sienna, 141,000 miles. It is a pure commodity car. I leave my house in McAllen, and the next evening, after 12 hours rest midway, I am 1500 miles from home, 24 mpg at 70 mph, with everything I need for a month visit in the back, including an electronic cooler full of food.

It has needed some repairs. A/F sensor; door latches; charcoal canister.

And, to be honest, if it costs me five or ten thousand dollars of repairs to drive it another 140,000 miles, I don’t mind, since a new one is $30,000+, as long as it doesn’t start stranding me.

My fantasy car was a Rolls Royce, until I learned right here on Cartalk they break down a lot. And, that horribly expensive Mercedes Benz doesn’t seem to be too great, either. So, if I won the big lottery, I’d probably buy a new Sienna.

I don’t know. If I had that much money, maybe I’d donate it when the oil needed to be changed. Heh, heh.