THE BAD OLD DAZE
We all have opinions about the distant past and collective agreement about what was good or bad about it. Some people will say the 1950s were a “better” time in America, for example.
Others say that was only true if you weren’t black, gay or female – or all three at the same time. That’s obviously another, more serious matter, though.
Today, our vehicles are safer, more fuel-efficient and environmentally less damaging than they were thirty years ago, but they also lack the ground-breaking, explosive, innovative, distinct looks consumers had come to expect in the Ford (Gerald, not Henry!) era.
Forthwith, here is a list of 5 things only car owners from the 70s know.
1. Cars weren’t so generic.
Even the least expensive cars of the 70s – think Pacer, Gremlin – had signature looks and made an enormous statement about their drivers.
You’ll find few if anyone arguing today for the looks of a Spark, Versa or Rio.
2. Cars weren’t Mom
Leave your lights on? Haven’t checked your oil in 7 months? There wasn’t any “ding ding ding.” You paid the price of a dead battery or, as happened to my friend with a VW bus whose oil he didn’t check in 6 months, the whole thing up in smoke.
Not saying those misfortunes were good things – just saying I wish there was another way to notify me of 100 things I would keep track of anyway without being nagged. Bells, buzzers, ding-dings are for people whose minds are on something other than their ride. That ain’t me. I damn sure check my oil and I don’t walk away from a car without making sure all those little details are seen to. Except when I don’t.
3. If something minor needed to be fixed on your car, you could do it with a little information and the right part.
My used 1976 Fiat’s clutch went POP one day, straight down to the floor, on a rural highway about 3 miles from my parents’ house. Tow it to a garage? Call someone from the nearest “pay phone?” Nein. I hitchiked home, looked up how to replace the cable in the Reader’s Digest Car Repair Manual, borrowed Mom’s car, drove to town, bought the cable, drove home, thumbed it back with some tools, installed the new cable with some fussin’ and some cussin’ and drove away, waiting for the next thing to go wrong with that gorgeous POS.
I’m not writing the above to brag – but, rather, to illustrate that once upon a time, automobiles invited you to mess with them, to fix them yourself if you could. We also live in a society increasingly geared to letting someone else cook, clean, fix and do, or to watch others do physical work on reality shows. Today, the engine compartment and the undercarriage are all tight tight tight, and Goddess help you if you wish to gap a spark plug. It’s the parts and service department and that’ll be $100 an hour, please.
4. There was traffic, but there was less traffic.
Traffic is slower during the two rush hours of the day all over the world, that’s a fact. But the population of the United States alone has exploded from 215 million in 1975 to 316 million today, and the US hasn’t gotten bigger. More people live in cities and surrounding areas now, and that’s more people in your way, and you in theirs.
5. Gas was cheap
Even adjusted for inflation, the relative cost of filling your car didn’t rival a week’s pay. Like a lot of things, someone figured out you could charge much, much more for something everyone needed and they’d pay it. They’d grumble, but they’d pay.
-Josh Max, Auto Gigolo