Selective Memory

1967 Chrysler Imperial frontWhen middle-aged or senior-aged auto enthusiasts get together, and start talking about the past in terms of automotive offerings, it can seem as if a rosy glow has settled over the gathering. Yes, it’s repeated over and over, they sure don’t make ‘em like they used to – those cars were faster, and ran better, and were better-looking, and more fun to drive, and were built better.

And the women were prettier, the music was better, and the beer was colder, too.


Except that it isn’t true.

I’m of a certain age, and I was there, and let me tell you, cars are so much better in every way now, except maybe for looks, and that is pretty subjective. What’s not subjective is that cars from the 40’s, 50’s, 60’s and 70’s leaked fluids, they had lousy brakes and lousy handling, they needed constant fiddling and maintenance, they rusted like crazy, they had little to no safety equipment, they polluted like a coal-burning power plant, and would frequently come to market with massive design flaws that would then be addressed in subsequent years of production with varying degrees of success.

Selective memory is pervasive among classic car lovers, and the rose-colored glasses that selective memory demands in order to flourish also produce some interesting opinions about current cars and the car industry today.

I’ve heard older gentlemen say things like:

“If GM would just start making the 1965 Buick Riviera again, exactly the way it came off the line then, they’d sell a million units in the first year. That was a fast, beautiful car.”

Hmmm. Well, as much as I love the looks of the ’65 Riv (I owned one), those looks are not going to resonate with many modern buyers. They have a different design aesthetic. Second, the car would be huge by today’s standards, thereby limiting its potential market further. Third, very, very few people are going to want a car that is equipped like a typical 1965 model-year car in terms of convenience and safety equipment. It would be considered beyond basic, and fall into the primitive category. If you updated everything, then the cost and the weight starts to go way up. When the cost skyrockets, the potential market gets much smaller again. Fourth, it would be a maintenance nightmare, unless of course, it’s updated, and then the costs go up some more. Fifth, it would be fast? It couldn’t even keep up with most modern cars in a straight line, never mind the turns. A base 2015 Honda Civic can get around a track a lot quicker than a 1965 Buick Riviera.

“Why don’t car companies just make a basic, cheap car like the original VW Beetle again? They could sell every one of those they make if they’d just price it at, say, $3000.”

1965 Checker Wagon front 3-4It’s hard to know where to even start with this one. But, let’s give it a shot. There is no new car (not even a new old car, like a new 1966 VW Beetle) than can be produced and sold in the United States for $3000. Required safety equipment and environmental regulations alone would drive the costs well over $3000 PLUS the cost of the car. On the subject of performance, the 1966 VW Beetle had around 55 gross HP, which is probably around 40 net HP (all vehicles today use net HP figures), and you could clock 0-60 MPH with a sundial. Okay, not a sundial, but it took over 27 seconds to go 0-60, and top speed was 68 miles per hour. 68! There was no real optional equipment, inside or out. So, now you’re looking at a slow, noisy $10,000 car that is very, very spartan.

“The muscle cars of the Sixties had incredible horsepower then”

Umm, not really. As noted above, horsepower was measured in gross horsepower, not net horsepower, and that makes a big difference. Family sedans now have more real horsepower than many muscle cars of the Sixties had.

I could go on and on, but I think you’re getting the point. That selective memory is pretty powerful, and it makes people (well, guys, in this case) say some pretty dumb things.

There isn’t a single vehicle that could be sold today just as it came off the line in 1957 or 1966 or 1973 and sell in anything except miniscule volumes.

Now, that said, do I wish we could buy modern versions of some of the beautiful models produced in the past by various manufacturers? You bet I do, and we’ll cover that subject in our next post.

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