6 September 2012

Obsolete Automotive Accessories: Five disappearing car features

The ever-increasing numbers of cup holders large enough to accommodate super-sized convenience store drinks and an expanding suite of electronic features and entertainment devices seem like safe bets to remain fixtures in automobiles for the foreseeable future. But other once-popular car features that members of The Greatest Generation and baby boomers grew up with seem likely to become part of the automotive fossil record soon. Here are some that we’ll miss (and some we won’t):

  1. The Cassette Deck: For those who grew up with the hated 8-track player and can remember the KA-CHUNK sound followed by silence as the tape changed tracks in the middle of “Bohemian Rhapsody,” the seamless cassette player was a revelation (until you had to rewind the tape). With CDs and MP3 players dominating, cassette decks are getting scarce and cassettes themselves have replaced 8-track tapes as yard sale staples.
  2. Whitewall Tires : Americans had a long love affair with the whitewall tire. Those from the 1950s and early 1960s (known affectionately as “wide whites”) could be up to three inches wide. Over time whitewalls became progressively thinner and less fashionable, particularly with the increased popularity of imported cars. Today, they turn up mainly at classic car shows and on Buicks and Crown Vics driven by octogenarians.
  3. Round Sealed-Beam Headlamps: For much of the post-war era, two round sealed-beam headlamps were by law the default on American automobiles. In 1958, a four headlamp arrangement (two smaller round lamps) was allowed, and in 1975, designers were given the freedom to incorporate square lamps in their designs. But still the inefficient sealed-beam design and round lamps predominated. Shamed by vastly whiter and brighter replaceable halogen bulb headlamps that Europeans had been using for years, the Department of Transportation (DOT) finally let Americans begin to utilize this technology. It spelled the end of the round sealed-beam lamp, and it’s only a matter of time before most retail auto parts stores stop stocking them altogether.
  4. The Clutch Pedal: If there’s one feature on this list that deserves a pause and a moment of silence when it finally passes from the automotive scene for good, it’s the manual transmission and the beloved third pedal that actuates it. Fewer than 7 percent of Americans are ordering their new cars with manual transmissions, mainly due to the decreasing number of drivers who are proficient with them and the hyper-efficiency of new automatic transmission designs.
  5. The Vinyl Top: Like the whitewall tire, this is a feature that was beloved by a now aging demographic. The number of different variations on them was staggering — the “landau” half vinyl top, tops with tiny “opera windows” and tops that simulated a convertible top (the sim-con top, in dealer parlance). Many were installed by dealers at a hefty markup, and all they seemed to be good for was bleaching and cracking in the sun, and trapping moisture underneath them, causing roofs to rust. Sometime in the next 10 years, the last vinyl top will likely be installed on a new car. We’re guessing a Toyota Avalon or a Buick of some kind.

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8 Reader Comments

  • 1
    Dave Claxon Illinois June 22, 2016 at 20:10
    My '70 VW Karmann Ghia convertible has all the above except the cassette deck. It has the round sealed-beams and the clutch pedal, but at least the vinyl top folds down. And according to the info pack I got from the VW museum, it started life with whitewall tires.
  • 2
    John C Cargill illinois September 8, 2016 at 17:26
    Vinyl tops, thank God they're going. As stated, water traps. Simcons, How many have you seen with the doors cut into the roofs? The worst are the simulated convertible tops with sunroofs. Dumb. As for the whitewall, cars like old Town Cars, and Grand Marquis, they were among the last generation to be designed with them in mind. Of course about 30 years ago I had a 73 Celica with ww tires.
  • 3
    Bruce McMillan Kansas September 8, 2016 at 20:02
    My 1968 VW Karmann Ghia convertible likewise as Dave's has all of the above except the cassette deck but with the original AM-FM radio. It is black with a black top, white interior and has always had whitewall tires.
  • 4
    William Butterman mid california September 8, 2016 at 22:09
    Before you get too proud of your progressive ways consider this; according to government studies done in the sixties most drivers get more than 60% of the light they need to drive at night from light sources other than their own headlights. So brighter lights make little difference to the driver but they sure do a great job of blinding the oncoming traffic. Personally I am sick to death of being stabbed in the eyeballs by these modern day death rays
  • 5
    David CA September 9, 2016 at 10:49
    What it really sad is that my daily drivers (whatever the plural of C-Max energi is) have lost everything. They don't even have a transmission. They are great drivers, but are more like appliances then cars. I'm fortunate enough to have my old Mercedes and the museum cars to drive with all the good stuff.
  • 6
    Virginia Harlow Cedar Rapids, Iowa November 10, 2016 at 17:16
    Okay, then where can I get replacement headlights for my 68 Camaro or points & condensers for tune-up parts?
  • 7
    Virginia Harlow Cedar Rapids, Iowa November 10, 2016 at 17:16
    Okay, then where can I get replacement headlights for my 68 Camaro or points & condensers for tune-up parts?
  • 8
    Chuck Minn. November 21, 2016 at 00:25
    I like the Halogen sealed beams better by far. Too many of these these new off-breed cars can't shine enough light through that stinking plastic that clouds over. Glass sealed beams never needed to be polished like this new junk.

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