Learning to drive these days must be so easy. Sure, the roads are more congested than ever and, yeah OK, the test itself is considerably tougher. But in modern cars almost everything is power assisted or automated or connected or, you know, reliable, which in turn removes much of the challenge.
To prove as much we’ve come up with seven things that made old cars that much more complex, whether it was in design, engineering or simply wanting to listen to a bit of music. And to boost the nostalgia factor we’ve thrown in some retro pictures. Can’t say fairer than that.
No Power Steering
Not equipping your car with power steering these days is considered a signal of intent that what you are building is light and pure. As recently as the 1990s, however, not having power steering would simply mean you had bought the cheapest model in the range.
Once the wheels were rolling this was not a problem, but trying to shuffle something like an old Rover into a parking space was a different matter as you grappled to overcome all that weight and friction over the front wheels with nothing more than your underworked biceps to help.
Although ultimately an inconvenience there was something undeniably satisfying about manually operating a car’s choke to make the engine run smoothly (or even run at all) first thing on a cold, damp morning. Perhaps that’s because, in those pre-fuel injection days, not only were you the car’s driver but an integral component in its mechanical operation. True, this might have been tricky at first, but over time you’d almost certainly develop a second sense for perfecting the air-fuel ratio required.
Now that we are all fully connected the idea of even a CD multi-changer in a car is considered old hat. Imagine then the thought of rifling through your cassettes, fast forwarding through the songs you couldn’t stand and then, at the end of side one, ejecting the tape, turning it over and starting all over again. The whole palava makes Siri seem quite slick.
Vast improvements in lighting technology and stricter pedestrian safety regulations have made pop-up headlights a thing of the past, consigned to an era when they were regarded as an easy way to improve aerodynamic performance. Unless, that is, you are Italian coachbuilder Ares Design, which recently pulled the covers off its reinterpretation of the DeTomaso Pantera (above) complete with a Lamborghini V10 engine, bespoke bodywork and, yes, pop-ups!
No Brake Servo
Stopping a car without the help of a brake servo is, for anybody used to a modern braking system, a terrifying experience. Gone is the instant and reassuring ‘bite’ that comes with brushing the middle pedal, replaced by a slow and reluctant acceptance that what you might want, if you really push hard enough, is to stop before you reach the stationary car in front. Combine it with a lack of power steering, and it can make driving even something small such as a Mk2 Volkswagen Polo more of a workout than you’d ever believe.
In these air-conditioned days the humble sunroof is becoming something of an endangered species, and where it does exist tends to be powered by electric motors. Not so in the good old days, when all manner of latches, handles, vacuums and spindles would be employed to let some fresh air into the car. In some cases (witness the Citroen AX, above) the roof could not only be tilted open but also removed completely, thereby as good as guaranteeing it’d leak when reinstalled.
Sticking with roofs, let us not forget the open air experience that was the T-Bar. The idea was to combine the best elements of a coupe (security, refinement and so on) with the wind in the hair thrills of a convertible, much like the later targa top but with a bar running across the middle. T-bars tend to be associated with American cars (most obviously the Chevrolet Corvette), but could also be found on more humble models such as the Suzuki X-90, pictured above in its, erm, natural habitat of a dry ski slope. Obviously.
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