Writing

They Don't Make Them Like That Anymore

As a driver of an older automobile, I must say that days come when I wish I had the money to purchase a shiny, new car. Never again would I have to worry about my transportation leaving me stranded along some roadside. I would never endure the odd stares at the mismatched driver's door, the rusting rear quarter panels, and the torn and stained upholstery. But just looking at the designs, engines, and price tags of the new vehicles makes me shudder with apprehension. While new cars may have convenience on their side, the facts remain that new cars have boring body designs, wimpy engines, and horrific debt and interest rates. My 1977 Buick is made up of sleek curves, has a long-legged, noisy, powerful V8 engine, and it the only thing I ever have to pay on it is maintenance. Critics of older cars like to ramble on about such things as gas mileage, amenities, repairs, and safety issues, but those skeptics have clearly not looked at the facts.

Old cars were made to cruise. Each make and model has its own, distinctive style that made every type of automobile easily recognizable. At a glance, even the most casual onlooker could tell a 1957 Chevrolet from a 1962 Ford. Huge tailfins, sweeping curves, gorgeous paint combinations (adobe beige and sierra gold, anyone?) and creative bumper and grille styles lent each vehicle its own individuality. Today, cars appear as though they were stamped out of the assembly line with a cookie cutter. Gone are the fins and curves, to be replaced with aerodynamic designs that give little or no ground clearance. Step outside sometime and try to tell the Chrysler Concorde from the Ford Taurus from twenty feet away.

All right, the opponents say, so new cars pretty much look alike, but the gas mileage more than makes up for what the vehicle lacks in style. Two weeks ago, I filled up my "gas guzzling" Buick and calculated the mileage traveled on the previous tank of gas. Numbers do not lie: my 25-year-old "boat" went twenty miles on every gallon of gas in its eighteen-and-a-half gallon tank. That's right: 20 miles to the gallon. Two factors have made this possible. One, I maintain my car by changing the oil every 2,500 miles or three months, whichever is sooner, and two, I always burn high-octane fuel-at least 89%. Yes, this does cost more at the gas pump, but it is still far cheaper than a $400 per month car payment wherein I am mostly paying on the interest.

Fine, say the critics, but what about amenities like cruise control, stereo systems, power windows, door locks, brakes and steering; air conditioning, adjustable seats and mirrors? The 1977 Buick Regal S/R-the model I own-came from the factory with all those things, plus a power sunroof and a glove compartment with a locking clasp.

So then we come to the topic of repairs. My sister owns a 2001 Toyota Camry. Recently, her power steering pump needed to be replaced. Shortly prior to this, my own car had the same problem: its then 24-year-old pump was toast. After calling her dealership and several parts houses, my sister found that a new power steering pump for her car would cost $256.50, and would have to be shipped in from the factory in Hong Kong. It would take six days to get to Pullman. Meanwhile, my local auto parts dealer would deliver the part to my mechanic for a total price before core refund of forty-two dollars and ninety-nine cents. The labor for the work ran another $50, but my poor sibling ended up shelling out another $200 for the work, and she didn't have transportation for nearly two weeks after all was said and done. I was back on the road the same day.

Lastly, anti-classic car debaters would say that old cars do not keep passengers safe if an accident occurs. Old cars do not come equipped with air bags, daytime running lights or anti-theft devices. No, older cars do not have air bags, and they cannot be installed. However, some studies have shown that air bags may not protect you in a serious accident anyway, and may "go off" in a minor fender-bender, which can cause injuries and even death to children and persons of shorter stature. As for the rest, well, any car can have daytime running lights: grab the headlight switch and pull it on. Just remember to turn them off when you park. Anti-theft devices can be installed in any car regardless of age, therefore, that argument is a moot point. In addition, older cars (especially domestic models) were constructed 100% of steel. My Buick weighs in at just less than 6,000 pounds, most of it a steel passenger cage and frame. Most newer cars are made of a metal and plastic alloy that is similar to the materials of which soda cans are made, or a metal-fiberglass mixture that tends to crumble upon impact.

There are benefits to owning a new car, such as reliability and safety, yet, as I have outlined above, classic, muscle, and just plain older cars can be made to meet or exceed the standards set my new car manufacturers. Certainly, the owner of a twenty-plus-year-old automobile will find him or herself paying for repairs and maintenance-as well as insurance, licensing, and gasoline-but so will the new car owners… eventually. In the end, it comes down to taste and style. For myself, I find that nothing can compare to feeling of a 350 cubic-inch engine shaking the ground beneath my feet or the security I feel knowing that human hands rather than a robotic arm attached each part to my car. Some mornings I stand on my back porch and stare at my metal monster I affectionately call "Maggie," and think that, rust, mismatched door, and all, I would not trade my "old" car for any shiny PT Cruiser.