Wednesday, October 5, 2022

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Around the Campfire: Old vehicle features fun to remember

It was a welcome divergence from the typical deep discussions around the campfire last night. Some of the “oldies” were recalling old vehicle features that no longer exist or have been modified in recent years. Folks in their 60s, 70s, and 80s seemed to enjoy challenging the “young’uns’” knowledge. I thought perhaps you’d enjoy reminiscing, too.

Old vehicle features from “back in the day”

  • Dimmer switch: Today this light switch is built into the turning signal on most vehicles. Not so in days gone by. I remember when the dimmer switch was a button on the floorboard. You used your left foot to tap (dim the lights) and tap again (to bring the bright lights back on).
  • Spare tire: No, they weren’t always those mini, trike-sized tires. In days gone by, a spare tire was the same size as all of the other tires on the car. You never had to drive on a “donut” back then. No, siree!
  • Speedometers: What’s the highest speed displayed on your speedometer today? Probably not as high as the speedometers on the cars I grew up driving. Back then the highest speed displayed on our car’s speedometer was 120 mph. Oh, and all of the speedometers featured a “needle”—not a digital display.
  • Horn: “In the dark ages,” an older camper began, “a car’s horn was sounded by depressing the ‘horn ring.’” I’d almost forgotten about this feature. There was a separate, metal ring or half-ring on the steering wheel. You could find and depress the horn ring quickly and easily—something I have found problematic on some of today’s vehicles. There have been times when I practically break fingers as I poke and punch the horn area on our truck, trying to get it to honk. Maybe they should bring back the horn ring!
  • Window wonders: Campers recalled a variety of names for the small, triangle-shaped window, located in the front portion of both front seat windows: wind wing, vent window, window wing, smoker’s wing, triangle wing. This little, three-sided window opened with a small, unique latch. Then, you pushed or pulled the window open to direct the incoming air in many different directions throughout the vehicle’s cab. I miss this little window! (Of course, all windows were hand-operated, “crank” ones.)
  • Bench seats: Today’s bench seats are a joke! Try getting some sleep on one. Usually, the middle of the “bench” sits lower than the two on either side, making it extremely uncomfortable. Years ago, bench seats were level—all the way across—with no split benches either. And there were bench seats for the front and well as the back seat of most vehicles, too. (Remember scootching closer to your boyfriend as he drove? Ah … good ol’ days, for sure!)
  • Seatbelts: I recognize their life-saving capabilities, but I also remember a time when no car or truck had this feature. We used to take our cousins to school. At one point there were eight little kids in the back seat of our Ford. How did we all fit? One kid sat at the back of the seat. The next kid sat at the front edge of the seat. Up and back. Up and back. It worked. Not the safest idea by today’s standards, but it got us to school and back for eight consecutive years!
  • Radio features: One “old-timer” recalled that “Radios had push buttons to choose channels. All radios had just AM frequencies. There were markers on the radio face at 640 and 1240 kHz. These were the designated frequencies for the CONELRAD (Control of Electromagnetic Radiation) system—an early form of what is today’s Emergency Alert System. In the event of a Soviet nuclear attack, all of the other radio stations were to shut down their operations. The emergency stations would take over to tell listeners when and how to “duck and cover.”
  • More music memories: Other campers around the fire remembered cassette tape decks, 8-track tapes, and CD slots on the radio systems from which you could listen to your favorite tunes.
  • Windshield shading: Vehicles used to feature a strip of tint at the top of the windshield. This darker strip of glass protected the driver from the sun’s glare.

There are probably many more long-lost vehicle features, but the fire was dying, and it was getting late. Maybe next time we gather we can talk about suicide doors, whip antennas, all chrome bumpers, curb finders, fins, and hood ornaments. Can you add more to the list? I’d love to hear them!

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ln em
7 months ago

no one’s mentioned the distributor cap you could lift to remove the rotor for theft protection

Erik
7 months ago

Sorry……forgot to mention
First car was a 65 Rambler American, bench front seat that folded down backwards into a bed
I was very popular in high school
Cheers

Erik
7 months ago

I remember a lot of these features. I’m reading these comments with a huge smile on my face
But the most appropriate comment is probably the fact that you didn’t have to have an electrical engineering degree to work on your vehicle
Progress is not always what we expect
Old adage ….careful what you wish for

Scott Gitlin
7 months ago

I remember map lights, searchlight mounted on the driver’s door, and getting window washing fluid pumped out using the air from the front spare tire (VW bug).

Sharon
7 months ago

White wall tires

Bill W
7 months ago

I’m surprised no one has mentioned manual chokes.

Tim
7 months ago

Regarding the horn, I believe that it was a 60s Chrysler of some model, that You just squeeze anywhere inside of the steering wheel to honk the horn.
Also, my grandfather had early 60s Cadillacs with auto dimming high beams and power vent windows.

Hank
7 months ago

Skirts, headlight covers, purple dot in the center of your tail light, dump pipes, lake or leg pipes, raised clutch pedal, steering wheel knobs! In my day, we lowered the rear and or raised the front to make them look sleeker!

Jerry
7 months ago

I don’t see any mention of the tail fins on some cars. Also “Spinners’ are allowed now if you are handicapped with a missing right leg and are using hand controls.

John Emery
7 months ago

My 1959 T-Bird had a speedometer that went to 140. Also had push button FM.

Tommy Molnar
7 months ago

When I bought my brand new 64 dodge hot rod, a mechanic showed me how easy it was to steal. He opened the hood, switched a couple of wires on the solenoid, took the dipstick out and used it to open that 3-corner vent window, then used the dipstick to short the starter – and VOILA, the car was running. Took maybe 30 seconds. My next purchase was an elaborate alarm system!

Gordy B
7 months ago

How about Lake Pipes, Baby Moons, and Continental Kits?

Stanley Sokolow
7 months ago

Just think, someday our grandchildren will be saying that they remember when you had to use a little thing called a “key” to open car doors and start the engine. Oh, wait, I think we’re there already. I guess they’ll be saying that they remember when you had to use a key fob (remote) to unlock and run the car instead of brain-wave pattern recognition by the car.

Kevin
7 months ago

we used to drive my friends dads 56 chevy because he would not turn the ignition switch to lock when he removed the key

Stanley Sokolow
7 months ago

I had a Plymouth sedan which had push-button gear selectors on the dashboard to the left of the steering column instead of today’s PRNDL lever on the steering column. I think that innovation didn’t last long because the US government made a requirement that all vehicles had to have the PRINDL lever for standardization. Come to think of it, that Plymouth had big tail fins. Styles come and go.

KellyR
7 months ago

My 1960 VW did not have a gas gage, but there was a lever on the “firewall” that you could flip with your right foot, that when you ran our of gas, would open a valve in the gas tank and give you another gallon of gas. My memory was better then as one would have to know how many miles you could go on a tank of gas and would mentally note the mileage on the odometer so you knew when to stop and fill up. It also had a gas heater with one vent over the front passenger’s knees that could melt the nylons off your girlfriend. Gosh!, I want that car back!

Roy Voeller
7 months ago

Didn’t have to have a degree in electrical engineering to work on your vehicle!

Drew
7 months ago

Off topic but I had an Okie co worker once who thought it was safer to be thrown clear of the car if you crashed- so you wouldn’t suffer the same fate with the car. Hearing him explain it was really funny.

Kevin
7 months ago

How about steering wheel spinners? A knob you could use to turn the wheel, No power steering and a spinner, wrist breakers for sure. I miss wing windows, should be an option.

Jon
7 months ago
Reply to  Kevin

You can still get those. Do a quick search on Amazon – about $12 to $15.

martin a
7 months ago
Reply to  Jon

I have one on my tow vehicle, with arthritis it is much easier parking and backing one handed. some states you may be required to have a dr letter to have one and it may have to meet special requirements.

Bob p
7 months ago
Reply to  Jon

I still have one, I used it on my lawn tractor, don’t know what I’ll put it on now, no lawn tractor.

Vanessa Simmons
7 months ago
Reply to  Kevin

My DILs father had a stroke and uses one of these to drive now.

Bob Weinfurt
7 months ago

Ah, memories of simpler times. Back when a mechanic could listen to a car and tell you what the problem was.
I must confess that I’m a retired auto mechanic. Two of my three vehicles have floor dimmer switches and those triangular vent windows, my 1977 Ford pick-up and my motorhome. I’ve also owned many column shift vehicles without power brakes or steering. Gone are the days when a $100 car would last you several years.

Thomas D
7 months ago

How about the lever under the dash that when pushed opened up a vent door right before the windshield?? Need cooling off, open the vent. Precursors to air conditioning.
I miss my E350 c motor home. It had doors under the dash on both sides to let in fresh air. Free air conditioning

Bob Weinfurt
7 months ago
Reply to  Thomas D

I had a 54 Dodge pick-up that had that.