Cars Used to Make Us Happy

I attended a classic car show recently and realized why my generation was so happy compared to the current ones. Cars in those days were beautiful and the muscle car element had glorious sounds. Beginning in 1954 but especially with the advent of the 1955 Chevrolet Bel Air coup and Ford Fairlane coup you were looking at beauty enhanced by two-tone paint jobs. Some were a combination of pastels. Others were combinations of strong colors–red and black, yellow and black, red and white, and some were a combination of a strong color and a pastel–navy blue and French blue, pink and black.

In 1955 Chevrolet brought back the V-8 for its cars, and it was a performer. A stock ’55 Chevy V-8 was a match for our souped up 1950 Ford flatheads. What you could do to that 55 Chevy V-8 was something else.

So many of the cars, not only Chevrolets and Fords, but also Pontiac, Oldsmobile, and Dodges had beautiful two-tone paint jobs and delightful styling. The cars also offered wonderful visibility. You could see where you were going, backing up, and what was on either side. For us what constituted safety was visibility, good brakes, and maneuverability.

The mid to late 60s into 1972-73 was the muscle car era. The cars had appealing design as they were designed by designers and not by safety bureaucrats. Some of the colors were outrageous–plum crazy purple, bright lime green, triple black, orange. Such outstanding colors usually indicated potent performance. How fast were the muscle cars of a half century ago?

Very. Plymouth Barracudas, Superbirds, Dusters, Roadrunners, Dodge Daytonas, Chargers, Ford Torinos, Oldsmobile Cutlasses, 442s, Pontaic GTOs, Firebirds, Chevrolet Chevelles, Cameros could compete in quarter mile times with the supercar of the era, a Lamborghini Miura S (1970). The muscle cars would leave in the dust James Bond’s Aston Martin DB5, Ferrari’s 250 GT Lusso, and even beat fast cars from 20 and 30 years later such as the Lotus Esprit Turbo (1988) and Subaru’s 2001 WRX.
Moreover, a muscle car could be souped up to high heaven. Some of them run 9 and 10 second quarter mile times, which beats the entire range of today’s supercars, such as Ferrari, Porsche, Lamborghini, Corvettes, and Shelby Mustangs. Not many of the souped up muscle cars from a half century ago can beat the present day Dodge Demon, but they can run with it.

The thing about muscle cars is that they were so fast that you didn’t need to soup them up like you did a 1950s Ford flathead or a 55 Chevy.

Muscle cars date from the days of 30 cents per gallon gasoline, and in those days it was 100 octane. The combination of low purchase cost (a Plymouth Barracuda with a Hemi engine cost $4,000), operating cost, style, and performance made them a deal that no longer exists.

Today’s cars are loaded down with electronics and “safety” that you don’t need and that is difficult to live with and costly. If the tire pressure in my safe car drops from 32 to 31 on come warning lights and notices on my screen. You have to go through a pointless exercise and then spend half an hour figuring out how to turn off the warning indicators.

Moreover, the accepted safety style comes from federal safety bureaucrats. Consequently, unless you can see the Mercedes star, you can’t tell one from a Toyota.

Today all cars look alike. And you have 4 color choices–white, black, gray, and a dark red. Mopar performance cars, Corvettes, and performance Mustangs are bringing back striking colors and their performance products have a striking appearance. They certainly get your attention, but they are not beautiful.

At a large car show cars from the past and present will be on display. The older cars are beautiful. The new ones are aggressive and heavy in appearance. They don’t inspire. They drive well but they don’t make you happy. They look brutish, like American foreign policy.

In my teenage years driving down a road was like driving along a rainbow. Colors everywhere. Distinctive styles with no possibility of confusing one make with another, glorious sounds if a muscle car passed you, and wonderful visibility.

All of this ended when the fools up high decided to make us safe. One of the consequences has been that we can’t see out of our cars. My safety designer car has great forward vision unless I turn left down hill. Then the massive pillar that makes me safe blocks all vision. There could be a dog, a child, a huge pothole in the road and I am unable to see it.

Rear vision depends on cameras, but they are useless when you are backing out of a parking slot in a shopping center. You can see behind you but not on your side as the enormous pillar blocks all vision. When the massive trucks of today are parked along side of you, it is a game of Russian Roulette to back out.

The emphasis on safety has homogenized car design. There is no distinction, and there are no shapes that work with two-tone paint. The modern car world is drab, and drabness produces depression.

Thus, the cost of our bureaucratic imposed safety is depression. We are mired in sameness and brutal shapes.

When did you last see a happy American?

Cars Used to Make Us Happy

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