The first car I remember was something like the one in this picture – and yes, that’s me standing in front of it with my missing teeth and knobby knees. I asked my brother what kind of car it was, but there’s not enough of the car in the picture to tell. The cars he remembers were a gray ’36 Plymouth, a maroon ’42 Ford and a ’46 Ford, but he said he didn’t think this car was any of those. It doesn’t really matter a lot, because all the cars looked pretty much alike then, at least to me, and they were all a lot different than cars today.
Those who know about the inner workings of cars would probably say the engines are the biggest difference. In the olden days, everything under the hood was mechanical instead of computerized, but since I don’t know a piston from a spark plug, I’ll skip that discussion and move on to things I understand.
A lot of things that are taken for granted now were either not available or came as options. I don’t think we had a radio in the car until I was older, and I know we didn’t have air conditioning. If we drove any distance during the hot weather, we either went at night or bought a block of ice and put it in a dishpan on the floor in front of the vent in the hopes of cooling things off a bit.
Outside rearview mirrors were optional, too. One of the Christmas gifts Dad was most excited about was outside rearview mirrors. He was doubly excited that there was one for each side and not just one for the driver’s side.
There were no bucket seats, only bench seats that went from one door to another, and the gear shift was on the steering column instead of on a floor console. The seating arrangements might not have been as safe as they are today, but a girl could sit close to her fellow, and many a young woman learned to shift gears while her beau had his shifting arm draped around her shoulders. There were no other controls on the steering column. The driver indicated his intentions by sticking his left arm out the window in the manner prescribed by the state instead of by flashing amber turn signals or red brake lights. The intensity of the headlights was controlled by a foot-operated button on the floor to the left of the brake pedal, and the wipers were controlled by a button on the dashboard.
There were no car alarms or fancy electronic controls. Trunks were locked and unlocked with keys, and doors locks were controlled with keys or buttons that pushed down and pulled up. There were small triangular vent windows in the front doors that operated on a pivot system, and the bigger windows rolled up and down with a crank.
There were no safety features like child safety locks, child seats, or seat belts. I sometimes stood on the seat by Dad, tucked behind his right shoulder while he drove. I also remember sitting in his lap and “driving” the car. There was no safety glass either. On one outing I was kneeling backward in the front seat, looking out the rear window, when a rock hit the windshield, scattering bits of glass all over the backs of my legs.
I’m sure there are a lot more differences, like the amount of chrome and the price, but these are the differences I remember the most. How about you? What do you remember about cars from your earlier years?