Cruisin’ Cbus

A big part of the plot of the classic film American Graffiti centered around the car culture of early ’60s America. The social life of a small town focused on teenagers cruising the main street, showing off their rides, listening to rock ‘n roll on the same radio station, stopping for a cheeseburger, engaging in youthful hijinks, and getting into the occasional drag race.

I can report to you that cruisin’ culture remains alive and well in Columbus, except instead of candy-colored cars and hot rods the cruising traffic consists of motorcycles, decked out pickup trucks, and the occasional three-wheeled vehicle. The cruisers like driving up and down High Street, revving their engines and seemingly trying to create as many backfires and engine rumbles as possible. And music remains a big part of the scene, too, except rather than Wolfman Jack and Buddy Holly and the Coasters, hip hop played at maximum volume rules the day. If you live along High Street you know the cruisers put on quite a show starting in the spring and continuing through the fall, when the weather is best suited for a drive through town. It’s entertaining to sit outside and watch the parade, so long as your eardrums can take the noise level.

Why does the cruisin’ culture still thrive in downtown Columbus? I think one of the main impulses that motivated the kids in American Graffiti–to proudly display their vehicles, in a place where they thought everyone would see them–still lurks out there. If you’ve got a fancy chopper or a high-end, chrome-plated, big-engined pickup, you could use them to run errands, pick up the groceries, or go for a quiet ride on a country road . . . or you could drive them through the center of the city, knowing there will be people on the streets and sidewalks to look your way when you rev your engine and crank up your sound system. The existence of traffic lights every block encourages the revving and backfires, and the tall buildings lining High Street ensure the vehicle noise echoes to maximum effect. In short, if you want to cruise in your ride, High Street is a pretty good place to do it.

This isn’t a great thing if you live in one of the buildings along High Street, of course–but it’s interesting that there is still a part of the American social landscape that likes going for a very public ride as in days of old. No drag races yet, though.

The Demise Of The Cheap Car

One of the first cars I ever drove was a brown Ford Maverick. The Mav, shown in a sales poster above, looked pretty good, seated four people reasonably comfortably, got decent gas mileage, and had a bit of get up and go to it. Marketed as “the simple machine,” the Ford Maverick retailed for $1,995. It was one of many examples of the cheap cars that were available at low end of the automotive market.

There aren’t many cheap cars left. In fact, if you are a cheapskate like me, you’d say there are none. The average price paid for a new car in March 2023 was a stunning $48,008, according to the Kelley Blue Book. In fact, only three cars on the market sell for less than $20,000, and the cheapest of those–the Nissan Versa sedan–is listed at $16,925. The cheapest new vehicle offered by one of Big 3 American manufacturers is the 2024 Chevy Trax SUV, which is offered at $21,495. In effect, Ford, GM, and Chrysler have turned away from the affordable car end of the market, where they used to offer cars like the Maverick.

Why isn’t Detroit competing for the buyer looking for cheap cars? Part of the reason is inflation, of course, and some of the cost increases are due to safety features and expensive gadgetry that would never have been added to stripped-down cars like the Maverick. In large part, however, the reason is simply that car manufacturers find it a lot more profitable to build vehicles–primarily SUVs and pick-up trucks–that are loaded with bells and whistles and high-end features and that retail in the upper five-figure range. That’s what is driving up the average price of new cars to that mind-blowing $48,008 number.

Can it really be that there are not budget-conscious young people out there who want to save up their hard-earned wages, make a down payment, and buy a brand-new “simple machine,” like the Maverick, that gets them from point A to point B, without all the bells and whistles, for an affordable price? I find that hard to believe. As it is, that segment of the market must forsake their chance to take deep breaths of that wonderful new car smell, and focus on the used car market instead.

The Car Clock Curse

At some point in the ’60s or ’70s, the true pinnacle of car clock technology was reached. Vehicles had clocks on their dashboards that accurately told the time and–crucially–could be easily changed by the owner to account for a shift to Daylight Savings Time or a cross-country drive to a different time zone.

Typically, the cars of that era used one of two adjustment methods, both of which were intuitive and easy to use. Cars that had standard clocks had a small knob located next to the clock that could be turned to move the minute hand backwards or forwards to reflect time changes. Cars that had at-the-time futuristic digital clocks had small buttons next to the clock that allowed the digits to move up or down. In either case, changing the time in your car clock was simple and took no more than a few seconds.

Cars stayed at this pinnacle for several decades, because designers presumably were smart enough to leave well enough alone. But at some point, they couldn’t risk adding new bells and whistles, and clocks like the one shown above were inflicted on the car-buying public. That’s not an actual clock, regrettably, it’s a software depiction of one. To change the time, you need to dig out the inches-thick owner’s manual, find the instructions on how to change the time, and then follow a devilishly complicated series of steps that could only have been concocted by an anti-social software engineer. A time change that used to be a snap now takes about an hour and is the source of tremendous frustration.

The result is that this particular car clock has become functionally inoperative. Although the clock indicates it is 4:22, it is actually 9:51 in the real world. Currently, at least, the clock is precisely 6 hours and 31 minutes fast. I keep meaning to try to change it, but it’s one of those unwelcome tasks that keeps getting put off. So whenever we drive somewhere, I see the stupid clock and am painfully reminded of my technological ineptitude and have to do mental calculations to get to the correct time.

Fortunately, perhaps, most new cars come with a clock that is set by the GPS system, which changes time automatically–at least, so long as the GPS system is functioning. If the GPS is on the fritz, though, the car owner is out of luck and out of time.

Car clocks are a good example of how some purported advances in technology really aren’t advances at all.

Banking On The Power Of Annoyance

How do you incentivize someone to pay their bills? The Ford Motor Company has come up with an approach that would invoke the power of annoyance, in conjunction with “smart” technology, to encourage people who have fallen behind on their car payments to catch up.

Ford has filed for a patent on technology that would allow the car maker to take certain vehicle-related actions when a car owner misses payments. The technology could permit Ford to remotely turn off the car’s air conditioning, shut down the radio and sound system, disable cruise control and automatic windows, cause constant beeping in the car’s interior, and ultimately to lock the car owner out of the car altogether. (A car without air conditioning, radio, and working windows sounds like one of my battered ’70s cars, but I digress.) And, if the car has self-driving capability, the technology could even cause the car to drive itself to a location where it can be picked up by the repo man.

Ford’s patent application acknowledges that the disabling power of the technology “may cause an additional level of discomfort to a driver and occupants of the vehicle”–which really is the whole point. Ford also says it has no plans to deploy the technology at present, but the patent application gives us a glimpse of a future where manufacturers of items that are often paid off over time equip their devices with technology that gives them self-help options in the event of non-payment. And, once the technology is installed, manufacturers would no doubt establish an order of priority that would steadily increase the annoyances until they reached the unbearable point: perhaps starting with disabling the windows and the sound system, then nixing the air conditioning during the summer, and finally counting on an irritating, incessant beeping, in combination with everything else, to bring the car owner to his knees and finally pay up.

Really, this kind of remote-controlled activity is just part of the price of “smart” technology. Once it gets rolled out in new cars, I predict it will invigorate the used car market.

End Of The Stick

When I took drivers’ ed in high school, the classes themselves (taught by the phys ed teacher, of course) provided basic instruction on the rules of the road and touched on the existence of both manual and automatic transmission cars. That’s when I first was introduced to the mysterious functioning of something called a “clutch”–which, when you think about it, is an odd yet evocative name for an automobile part. In those days during the early ’70s, most cars came in manual and automatic options.

My in-car drivers’ ed classes, though, were taught in an automatic transmission car, so the mysteries of the “clutch” and the “stick shift” were left unexplored. And during my driving career, which is now approaching the 50-year mark, I think I’ve driven a manual transmission vehicle twice–once when I drove out west in a van, and once when I used a rental truck to move from city to city. Each time, I muddled through the stick shift process without really getting the hang of it, and was pretty much glad when the adventures ended and I could go back to the automatic world.

In the battle between automatic and manual, automatic transmissions have triumphed, and manual transmissions are increasingly rare–and soon will be no more, according to a recent article in The Atlantic. A sign of the decline of the stick shift is that in 2000, 15 percent of the new and used cars offered by CarMax were manual transmission vehicles; in 2020, that figure was 2.4 percent. Only about 30 of the hundreds of new vehicles for sale in the U.S. have a manual transmission option, and there are reports that even more manufacturers will be dropping that option in the near future. Even with sports cars that you associate with stick shift driving, automatic transmissions have had their way; in every year since 1970, for example, sales of the automatic versions of the Corvette have surpassed the manual option. After the last manual transmission car rolls off the assembly line, stick-shift aficionados will have to find their clutching pleasures in the used car market–but don’t be surprised if they buy up the last brand-new manual transmission vehicles first.

If you talk to a manual transmission driver, you’ll find there is a deep attachment between them and their stick shift. People drive a stick only by choice these days, and when they explain why they sound like the faithful trying to convert you to their religion. A manual allows you to really be in control of your car, they’ll say, or they will argue that manual drivers are better and safer than automatic drivers, because the need to constantly clutch and shift makes them much more attentive to traffic and road conditions. Really, though, you get the idea that they really just like fiddling around with the stick shift and that weird extra pedal, and for them driving their car is just like playing with a fun toy every morning.

It’s curious that manual transmissions have hung on as long as they have; after all, other throwbacks to the dawn of the automotive era–like hand-cranking the engine–have long since been tossed to the side of the road. The staying power of the stick shift is a testament to the true believers. It will be tough for them when we reach the end of the stick.

Overcoming The Charging Factor

I don’t own an electric car, although I haven’t ruled out the idea that, at some point in the future, we might buy one rather than another gas guzzler. One reason we haven’t done it already is a lingering concern about the ease of charging up the car’s battery.

That shouldn’t be a problem in most cases, because a homeowner can install a charging unit that should keep the car charged to the point of being able to handle the standard, daily, in-town driving that is the bread-and-butter use of many American cars. No, the real question is: how do electric vehicles do on road trips? If, like me, you like driving long distances every once in a while, can you find charging stations that allow you to do so without significant hassle–which would defeat the basic concept of a carefree road trip?

Recently I’ve run across several articles that suggest that there are problems with long-distance driving in an electric car. One article on made that point with the pungent headline “Electric cars are doomed if fast charger reliability doesn’t get better.” The Wall Street Journal published a story (behind the subscriber pay wall) with the descriptive headline “I Rented an Electric Car for a Four-Day Road Trip. I Spent More Time Charging It Than I Did Sleeping.” And Autoweek chipped in with a piece called “The EV Charging Industry Has A Maintenance Problem” that noted that while most electric vehicle owners love their cars, their anecdotal stories note that fast-charging stations are often operating at suboptimal capacity or are out of order altogether.

The article gives one writer’s tale about the frustrations involved in driving cross-country in an electric vehicle. Electric vehicle owners seem to generally concede that such trips need careful planning, because fast-charging stations simply aren’t as ubiquitous as gas stations. But this article notes that, even with planning and use of apps to locate such stations along the intended route, a basic road trip from Washington, D.C. to upstate New York was replete with charging problems, in terms of simple delays, issues with getting a “fill ‘er up” charge, non-functional chargers, and other annoyances. And the writer also found that careful planning was thwarted because the electric-charging apps often don’t have accurate information about the actual, functional capability of fast-charging stations.

These kinds of stories are an alien concept for owners of gas-powered vehicles, who don’t have to consult apps or worry about finding functional gas pumps on a long-distance journey. You just hope in your car and go, confident that you can find an ample supply of gas stations wherever your journey might take you. And the apparently standard delays in charging an electric vehicle–the five- and ten-minute waits while the vehicle establishes communications with the charging unit–would drive many road-tripping drivers nuts.

This problem isn’t fatal for the electric vehicle industry, in my view. When cars first were used, there weren’t gas stations on every corner, and yet automobiles still gained a foothold, and as more and more families bought cars gas stations became available from sea to shining sea. The same will happen with electric cars . . . at some point, when some entrepreneur believes there is enough demand for charging stations to justify the investment needed to make reliable fast-charging stations a widespread, no-hassle experience.

Until then, however, it sounds like you might want to keep that gas guzzler around for those road trips.

The Best Car Decades

The other day I was walking downtown to work when I passed this beautiful example of Detroit’s former handiwork in front of Kittie’s Cakes. This vintage convertible—which I think was a Lincoln, from the distinctive greyhound hood ornament—was freshly polished and waxed, glinting and gleaming in the bright sunshine, just waiting to be admired. It was like a mobile piece of art.

For my money, American car manufacturers designed and built their most beautiful and eye-catching cars in the ‘30s and ‘40s. In that era there was an attention to detail and gracefulness in the design of sedans and coupes and other passenger vehicles, and a kind of recognition that a car is important and says something about its owner, and therefore is really worthy of careful creation. The cars of those decades are sleek and pleasing in appearance, with lots of rounded curves, but powerful in performance, with plenty of horsepower. They look like they would be a lot of fun to drive.

Cars from the ‘20s and earlier look like antique curiosities that—unlike this specimen—could never hold their own on a modern highway. By the ‘50s Detroit was in the throes of its Fin Fixation, giving cars a look that hasn’t worn well. The ‘60s saw a brief resurgence in design, but didn’t fully recapture the classic combination of grace and power seen in the ‘30s and ‘40s. By the ‘70s, with its series of dismal, uninspired, boxy rust buckets, Detroit hit rock bottom. Since then, the focus has been on functionality, minivans, and pickups, and the days when car manufacturers would try to build a graceful, elegant, and powerful passenger car are now far behind us.

In retrospect, the ‘30s and ‘40s are the glory days. It’s great to see one of the products of that era still on the street.

Worst Parking Space Ever

I was walking through the Golden Hobby parking lot recently when I passed this car parked in a spot near the building.  As I noticed the car’s ridiculously speckled status, I reflexively squinted skyward to make sure that I wasn’t about to be dive-bombed by a squadron of our flying feathered friends.  Fortunately, there wasn’t a bird in sight.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a functioning car in this condition.  In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever seen an abandoned car in this kind of shape, with dozens and dozens of avian deposits marring its paint job.

I found myself wondering:  where could this poor driver have parked that would their car in such a state?  Kish and I park in the Golden Hobby lot from time to time and have never had this kind of problem, and I’m confident I’ve never seen other cars with a similar pattern of countless bird droppings in the lot.  I therefore conclude that the poor driver parked somewhere else, returned to find their car a very public testament to the gastrointestinal irresponsibility of the bird set, and then experienced the humiliation of driving to German Village without going to a car wash first.  It’s hard to imagine that anyone wouldn’t immediately go to a car wash to remove the droppings before they left permanent marks, but perhaps car washes aren’t “essential businesses” these days.

But the fact that the car came from somewhere else begs a highly significant question:  where could this person have parked their car that could leave it in such a state — and for how long?  Is there some kind of secret pigeon sanctuary somewhere in central Ohio?  Or do Columbus birds just have a deep and instinctive dislike of this particular brand of Chevrolet sedan?  Or could a flight of birds simply have wanted to engage in some long-range bombing practice and decided to use this unlucky vehicle as their intended target?

These may seem like minor issues with all of the big matters that are occupying our attention these days, but it’s the little things that are within our control that can really make a difference.    Wherever this person was parked, it is unquestionably the worst parking space ever, and I want to be sure that we never, ever park our nice, gleaming car there and return to find it in this kind of shape.

Car Colors

The other day I walked past this brightly painted car in a nearby parking lot.  I was struck by its color, which I thought made this 2020 Hyundai Kona look like a colossal insect, ready to skitter across the asphalt and disappear into the foliage.

Car manufacturers have come a long way since the days of Henry Ford — who supposedly said that car buyers “can have any color they want, so long as it is black.”  Now, the different makes and models always offer an interesting palette of color options to new car buyers, and usually the colors have very evocative names.  From a review of the Hyundai website, it looks like this particular hue is “lime twist,” and it is available only on certain Kona models.  Other options in the Kona rainbow include “chalk white,” “sonic silver,” “thunder gray,” “surf blue,” “sunset orange,” “pulse red,” and “ultra black.”  I guess you’d pick “lime twist” if you want to be reminded of the sultry tropics every time you get into your car, or perhaps because you work as an entomologist.  In any case, one obvious advantage of the color is that there’s not much chance that you’re going to struggle finding your car in a crowded parking lot.

I’ve always been leery about buying a brightly colored car.  I’ve always subscribed to the notion that yellows and oranges and reds are going to be magnets for police officers eager to hand out speeding tickets and are tough to keep clean, especially during the dreary, road salt-encrusted winter months.  The only new car I’ve ever bought with any kind of color was a 1988 Honda Accord that was “harvest gold,” which I figured wouldn’t show dirt too much.  Since then, I’ve stuck with basic black on every car I’ve purchased.  My brother-in-law in the car business thinks black is the most beautiful color for a car, so long as it is kept clean, and I tend to agree with him.  At this point, I’m not realty interested in attracting attention with my ride, whether from the highway patrol or otherwise.

Maybe Henry Ford was on to something.


Riding In A Jeep

This morning I can scratch another item off my bucket list, because I can now say that I’ve ridden in a classic, open Jeep.

The B.A. Jersey Girl brought her family’s vintage, early ’90s Jeep to the office yesterday, and we used it to ride over to Indian Oven for lunch. Riding in a classic Jeep is an interesting and pretty cool experience. With the low-slung doors and the open back end, you’re much more exposed to the world than you are in a car — even in a convertible. I’ve never been as motivated to buckle my seatbelt and anchor myself as I was when I first climbed into the Jeep yesterday afternoon.

But once you get used to it, a Jeep is a fun ride on a warm, sunny day. While the B.A.J.G. deftly shifted and navigated through traffic, I had a bird’s eye view of the downtown Columbus lunch hour crowd — and vice versa. Everything seemed a lot more vivid and immediate without the tinted windows and car ceiling to separate interior from exterior. And people tend to give a Jeep more of a once-over than they do a normal car, because Jeeps look so different. I’m sure the passersby yesterday were surprised to see two lawyers, hair flapping in the breeze, where you might expect to see surfers or armed security forces instead.

Now that I’ve ridden in a Jeep, I suppose my next bucket list item has to be riding in a tank. I’d be willing to give it a try, but I’d be afraid I’d look as goofy and out of place as Michael Dukakis on his ill-fated photo op ride.  Then again, perhaps that already happened with yesterday’s Jeep adventure.

Demolition Derby Day

Yesterday was Demolition Derby Day at the Blue Hill Fair.  Having never been to a demolition derby before, we had to go — and we’re glad we did.

A few thoughts about demolition derbies.  First, they’re popular.  At the Blue Hill Fair, the demolition derby is one of the hottest events going.  We had to wait in a long line for our tickets, and 800 avid demolition buffs ultimately crammed the grandstands to watch already ramshackle cars bash into each other until the steam started spouting, parts were flying, hoods and axles were ripped from their vehicles, and the cars could move no more.  Second, they involve very robust warning signage at the entrances.  We were cautioned that the grandstands could be pelted with flying bits of metal, clods of dirt, and other debris that could cause serious injury and advised that we were accepting the risk by attending.  Of course, this warning deterred absolutely no one, and little kids were among the fans watching the carnage.  And third, a demolition derby seems like a classically American way to dispose of old cars.  Forget about Cash for Clunkers — demolition derbies combine the American taste for waste and violence and clearly are the best way to get rid of the rambling wrecks on the Great American Road.

If you’ve never been to a demolition derby, the rules are simple.  The cars — which have been thoughtfully stripped of all glass windows, headlights, taillights, radiators, and other parts that might go flying into the stands or slice the competitors to ribbons — start at opposite ends of a dirt track directly in front of the spectators that is bounded by concrete barriers.  After the crowd counts down, the vehicles then proceed to ram into each other, with rear-end collisions being the preferred method, until only one car is able to move.  The only rule is that the cars can’t target the driver’s side doors of the other cars in the derby.  The bloodlust quickly came out in the crowd (myself included) and we cheered lustily for the best collisions and the drivers who kept ramming even when their cars were beat to hell.  My favorite was the #17 car pictured below, which kept at it even after its wheels were bent and virtually every piece of metal on the frame had been ripped off or pounded into scrap.  Alas, gutty #17 was reduced to immobility by a huge hit and couldn’t finish, but when the derby was ended the driver received an ovation from the grateful crowd.  His vehicle was then towed or carted off the track, along with virtually every other participant in the derby.

I didn’t think I would like a demolition derby, but it was a riot.  What’s next?  I’m thinking giant tractor pulling contests and monster truck rallies.

State Pride Grillework

I saw this car in the parking lobby of the hobby shop down the block and thought it was pretty cool.  At first, I thought the Jeep Corporation had manufactured some Ohio-specific models and wondered how the company had managed to keep the center parts of the “Os” in place.  Upon closer inspection, however, I saw that the “Ohio” grille was the creation of the car’s owner, who strategically placed a few strips of black duct tape on parts of the standard Jeep grille — which features six vertical lines — to create a message that indisputably identifies the driver as a proud Buckeye.

Duct tape — is there anything it can’t do?

Faithful Steed

We’ve had our Acura SUV for a long time now.  I think it’s a 2011 model, and we bought it new.  We’ve carefully maintained it in conformity with the manufacturer’s instructions, have complied with all dealer notices of needed servicing, have gone through several sets of new tires, and have avoided any major mishaps or accidents aside from a few tiny side door dings.

It’s been a good, reliable car, one that we’ve driven across the country — to Maine and back, and down the east coast, and on a dog delivery trip to Texas, and on other long road trips.  It’s always gotten us to where we want to go, and we use it with confidence.  We’ve gotten attached to it, as people often do with cars.  We haven’t named it, but I’ve enjoyed driving it and how it handles, and I also like the fact that, when I approach the car from the front and see the grillwork, it always looks happy to see me.

But . . . it’s time.  The car has more than 150,000 miles on it, the air conditioning system is on the fritz — which would be a concern if spring and summer ever actually arrive in central Ohio, which admittedly seems unlikely at this point — and when we’ve driven new rental cars we’ve noticed that advances in car technology have left the poor old Acura in the dust.  Whether it’s rear-facing cameras, dashboard computers, or other high-tech gizmos they’re putting into vehicles these days, car companies have made some significant improvements in the last eight years, and we don’t have any of them.

So, it’s time.  Today, we’ll go car shopping for the first time in almost a decade, and take a look at what the auto manufacturers have to offer.  If we find something that strikes our fancy we may trade in Acura for a new model.  But before we do, I want to acknowledge and salute the faithful service of our faithful steed.

Red Jeep

On St John, you have three choices: stay at a place in Cruz Bay and stick in town during your visit, or use the taxi and bus service, or rent a car. We chose the latter option, and rented a bright red Jeep. As a result, we fit right in, because Jeeps probably make up more than half of the vehicles on the island.

Renting a car has pros and cons. On the con side, there’s lots of hairpin turns without fencing and straight uphill roads, and the occasional donkey or goat by the side of the road, so you have to watch it — especially at night. Plus, it’s the only territory under the U.S. flag where you drive in the left side of the road, which requires a lot of focus. All in all, it’s not exactly relaxing driving. But, it’s nice to have the freedom to go where you want when you want. If you like hiking and snorkeling and want to go to the out of the way places, as we did, a Jeep makes a lot of sense. We ended up glad we got it.

Why a Jeep, and why red? You need a car with power to be able to crawl straight uphill after one of those abrupt switchbacks. And I thought the red was just in line with the general theme of bright Caribbean colors — but I later learned there’s a safety reason, too. Other cars can see you through the green foliage, and if the approaching vehicle is a long truck that needs a lot of clearance on a turn, it can sound its horn before you’re trapped in the turn.

Plus, donkeys evidently like red.

Piloting The Boat

Dad was a car dealer.  He ran a Columbus Ford dealership from 1971 until he retired in the late ’80s.  As the manager of the dealership, he had the option of driving cars with dealer plates, the better to show the Columbus driving public some of the new options that were available in the showroom.  As a result, it was not unusual to see a different car in the driveway every night when Dad came home from work.

2f8b1531b9932fa2cad0abc8ca022eb6The good news:  that meant UJ, Cath and I got to try out some new cars when we started driving.  The bad news:  they were all ’70s-era Fords.  Ford produced some of the ugliest cars, from a design and paint job standpoint, in a decade that will be forever known as the low point for American style — whether you’re talking about automobiles, haircuts, or clothing.  Every American manufacturer lost their marbles and churned out products that had none of the sleek, appealing features of cars of the ’30s, ’40s, ’50s, or ’60s, and Ford, too, produced models — like the Pinto, the Maverick, and especially the box-like Granada — that were the vehicular equivalent of the leisure suit.

For the most part, UJ, Cath and I stuck with the small cars that we’d take to high school, but from time to time we’d drive one of the big luxury cars that Dad would bring home.  During that time period, Ford had taken the Thunderbird — which started out as a cool, spiffy little roadster — and turned it into a huge, grossly overpowered monstrosity.  The 1975 Thunderbird had an enormous front with a hood that covered approximately one square acre, a half-vinyl top with tiny rear windows, a big hood ornament, and front seats that were wide enough to comfortably sleep a family of 6.

We called it “the boat,” because when you took it out on the street it was like trying to steer an ocean liner.  If you took a corner at a speed exceeding 5 m.p.h., you’d see that massive front end oh-so-slowly make the turn and you’d find yourself sliding all over that sprawling front seat.  You had to wear seat belts, a recent safety innovation, just to avoid being pitched out one of the windows.  Some cars could turn on a dime; “the boat” could probably manage to turn on a $100 bill.  In short, “handling” was not one of its top selling points — and in retrospect, I’m not sure exactly what the selling points actually might have been.

I thought of “the boat” when I ran across a news article about people who rave about American autos of the ’70s.  It’s an example of nostalgia overwhelming reality.  Me?  I’ve got no desire to return to those days of vinyl and velour and gas-guzzling enormity.  I’ll take the sensible, maneuverable cars of the current era any day.