There’s no denying that we’re spoilt for choice when it comes to new cars, with a wider choice of makes and models than ever. But it could be argued that, despite the variety, new cars lack the charm, character and fun of older cars – with more of a focus on safety and fuel economy than driver enjoyment.
This got us thinking, which features are missing from modern cars which made their classic counterparts so great?
Here, we’re taking a nostalgic look at some of the classic car features we think are missing from modern cars.
Manual Gear sticks
While lots of cars do still have a manual gearstick, we’re seeing them less and less, and the phasing-in of hybrids and electrics could see them disappear forever. Driving purists would tell you that nothing compares to changing gears with a good old five or six stick, and don’t even get us started on ‘flappy paddles’ – small toggles, attached to the steering wheel column, which are becoming more common on modern, premium cars. On classic cars in particular, gear sticks were often a thing of beauty, with exposed gear selectors that were so satisfying to use.
Gear sticks aren’t the only thing disappearing from modern cars; handbrakes are becoming a relic of the past, too. A lot of new cars have replaced the traditional stick handbrake with an electric one, which supposedly saves space and allows for automatic road holding. However, there’s still something we love about using a traditional handbrake lever; it makes you feel connected to the car in a way electronics can’t. And, as a learner driver, there’s nothing more satisfying than mastering the handbrake, especially when you’re practising hill starts. Of course, a good old lever also gives the option for handbrake turns, not that we’re condoning it.
Remember the days before ‘start/stop’ buttons and keyless entry? We do, and fondly. As a new driver, there was nothing more exciting than getting your first set of car keys; using them to turn the ignition on your new car was freedom personified. There was something reassuring and solid about using a key to enter and start your car, without relying on electronic gadgetry that you always feel is going to let you down. Plus, we love the keys that flip out of the holder when you press the button; it adds a real sense of occasion to starting your car.
If you look at cars from the 1970s and 80s, one thing’s immediately obvious: most have thin A-pillars and big windows, which maximised visibility and helped save on weight. Nowadays, modern cars have wide A-pillars which are designed to make the roof and windows stronger for safety reasons, but they can be a real pain – limiting visibility and making it so you have to move around in your seat to see around corners on certain bends. We’d love to see thin A-pillars make a comeback, but if that’s at the expense of safety, we’re happy for them to be confined to the history books.
Larger Rear Windows on Hatchbacks
Ever wondered why rear visibility is so poor in modern hatchbacks? Drive a car like the new Ford Fiesta, for example, and you’d be forgiven for thinking you were driving a van the rear window is so small. This wasn’t the case on hatchbacks of old, with the original Fiesta offering superb visibility in all directions. Again, it comes down to safety, with smaller windows helping to strengthen the car’s bodywork, which can also aid handling through corners. We do miss bigger rear windows though, and hatchbacks certainly aren’t as easy to park as they used to be.
There was something wonderfully 80s and space-age about pop-up headlights. Introduced in the 1930s, these electronic lights featured on classic cars well into the 1990s, including models like the Lotus Elan, Saab Sonnet III, Lancia Stratos, and the iconic Lamborghini Countach. The way these lights rose out of the bonnet added a real sense of occasion to the simple act of switching on your lights and a sense of fun you perhaps don’t get on modern cars. They were also great for maintaining a car’s clean, sleek design, being completely hidden from view when not in use.
Lots of classic cars from the 1950s and 60s featured vent windows at the front. They were normally small panels in front of the main side windows, and opened outwards, allowing for a gentle breeze in the cabin. Often called ‘smoker’s windows’, these vents were introduced so drivers could easily flick ash out the car, at a time when millions used to smoke at the wheel. While we’re by no means lamenting the decline of smoking in cars, there was something cool about vent windows, especially those fitted to American cars from the 1950s.
Retro Steering Wheels and Dashboards
No one could deny that dashboards on classic cars are way cooler and better looking than those found on many contemporary models. With a blend of wood, leather, exposed metal and plastic, control panels used to hold retro appeal and felt reassuringly solid from the driver’s seat. By comparison, many modern car dashboards are a sea of plastic, normally black or grey, with very little in the way of character. We’re not saying all old dashboards used to be handsome – because some were undoubtedly cheap and nasty – but on particular models, like the Jaguar E-Type for example, the blend of leather and chrome was a perfect combination.
Simplicity Under the Bonnet
Modern cars are complicated machines that rely on lots of electronic wizardry, so it’s becoming harder for the average car owner to carry out fixes and servicing themselves. Now, complex electronic diagnostic tools are often needed to identify faults, making new cars much trickier to work on. Older cars don’t have this problem, with a simple layout under the bonnet and none of the added electrics of newer cars. This is one of the main reasons why classic cars are so collectable, as they’re a joy to tinker with and work on.
CD and Cassette Players
Say what you want about CDs and cassettes, but there was something nostalgic about playing them in a car. While streaming music is obviously a lot more practical than carrying around a bunch of tapes and CDs, scrambling around in your glovebox for the right tape or else flicking through a CD carry case was what road trip playlists were all about. Most new cars don’t have a slot for your old discs, and certainly not tapes, which could leave some drivers dreaming of yesteryear.
Bench seats were the norm in early cars, and we reckon lots of you will be able to remember riding shotgun with your siblings in the front of your parent’s car. Though not the safest or most comfortable, bench seats were great for cramming in passengers and cosying up with your better half behind the wheel; they were also wonderfully retro, and reminiscent of cars found in films like Grease. We’re probably not going to see a return to bench seats anytime soon, but they’re a feature we feel sure some will miss from old cars.
Do you agree with our list? Which classic car features do you miss? Let us know over at the Redex Club Facebook page. Or, if you’d like to learn about our fuel additives and system cleaners, visit the Redex homepage.