There’s one thing sure about progress — no one knows which way it’s headed. The giant steps forward can end up going in reverse. I guess there’s no better example of that than today’s modern vehicles.
Before I proceed, I must admit to something. I am a product of the 1950s. I started driving cars (legally) in 1955, owned (and loved) several ‘50 vintage automobiles and still feel a quiver when I see a good looking ’50s vintage auto pass by.
With this in mind, let me tell you why I feel we are victims of a conspiracy by the automakers in Japan, German, Italy and America.
The first vehicle I remember was a 1935 Ford, which served as our family car for what seemed to be a century. Actually, we owned the car through most of the 1940s, when World War II made it impossible to buy a new car anyway.
I can still hear my dad defending that old Ford whenever someone asked why we didn’t get a new car. It would go something like: “Who needs a new one — there’s not that much difference — so why waste the money.”
That lasted only so long. Finally Dad gave in and we traveled all the way to Indiana to get a new 1948 Ford.
I had to agree with him. There really wasn’t that much difference between the 1935 Ford and that 1948 job, but it did have a cigarette lighter and a radio.
We barely had that new Ford broke in when the 1949 models hit the showroom floor. Detroit evidently had a brainstorm and suddenly every car they produced looked like it had been stretched out. Gone were the days of the squatty-looking car.
Poor Dad, he became one of the first victims of the new world of design. It was a movement that was not going to see a let-up for nearly three decades.
My folks didn’t know what to do. Suddenly, that new car they had just purchased looked 20 years old.
Well, they took the American way out. They traded the ‘48 in for one of those streamlined 1949 models and we were stuck with it for the next five or six years.
It was a few years later that my uncle George came out to visit us from Indiana. George worked for a Ford dealership and always had the latest in cars and extras. The 1951 model he was driving had this weird new transmission which worked without a clutch. All you had to do was pull the gearshift down to the proper letter and off you’d go.
“It’ll never sell!” The gentlemen at King’s service station in Slater said as they popped the hood and scratched their heads. “It won’t have enough power and takes too much gas.”
Over the years Detroit lengthened their cars, added more horsepower, came up with a zillion extras such as air conditioning, and the mileage went from bad to terrible.
Then, about 1970, a guy by the name of Nader hit the scene and suddenly we discovered what pollution was all about. Detroit started adding all kinds of filters and traps, and our terrible gas mileage started looking good.
Within a couple of years, the price of a gallon of gas went right up through the roof of those big, gas-guzzling ships from Detroit.
So what happened? First Japan and Germany started importing boatloads of little cars. The more they brought in, the more we bought. Within a few years, the size of the average car shrunk as our trade deficit mushroomed.
Detroit joined in and started shrinking their cars. At the same time, the price of a miniature Cad or Lincoln was as high as the stretch model.
Suddenly, big and long became out of fashion. Short and squatty was the look, and the price of the streamlined auto took a nose dive.
So here we are in 2018. The passenger car has all but disappeared. Today, SUVs and pickups dominate the roads. Gas mileage is a little better than in 1950, but the price of gasoline is 10 times higher.
Ed Rood is the former publisher of the Tri-County Times. He and his wife, Sharon, live near Cambridge.