As we explained in Part One of this article, automotive technology has changed a lot in the last few decades. In Part Two of this article, we will look at more automotive features that older folk had to deal with. 

Fixed Steering Columns

Steering columns used to be fixed in a single position and didn’t gain adjustability until 1949 when Jaguar installed an adjustable column in their XK120 sports cars. The tilt feature (where the vertical position of the wheel can be raised or lowered) arrived in the early 1960s, but it was a luxury item and really didn’t become ubiquitous in the rest of the industry until the early 1970s.

Floor-Mounted High Beam Switch

Today’s youth will find this one really odd the service guys at Thompson Chrysler (Baltimore, MD) say. Long ago, a car’s high-beam headlamps were switched on/off with a button on the floor to the left of the pedals. You would literally step on this switch. As you might imagine, the switch was vulnerable to dirt and moisture and didn’t last long in snowy climates. By the 1980s, high-beam floor switches were gone, and high-beam controls moved to steering wheel stalks, where they live today.

Landau/Vinyl Roofs

Covering cars’ roofs in fabric was extremely popular from the mid-1960s all the way until the late 1980s, during which time it represented luxury (or at least the American version of it). After that, it was only occasionally spotted on new Cadillacs and Buicks customized by desperate car dealers afraid of losing blue-hair clients like Mildred, who had come in and bought a new sedan every two years since 1968. Too bad the padded landau look was very over by the 2000s and looked horrible on contemporary Cadillacs.

Manual Brakes

Power-assisted brakes were another miracle technology that appeared on cars in the 1950s. Before power brakes, the only thing that the driver had to stop a car was their own leg pushing down hard on the brake pedal. The problem was that it could take some muscle to stop larger vehicles, particularly trucks, so automotive engineers developed a number of ways to use a car’s engine to assist. Interestingly, to save weight and complexity, as well as cost at the dealership, most 1960’s American muscle cars were ordered with old fashioned manual steering and brakes. Take a close look at the Corvettes of the 1950s and you will find that manual brakes and steering were installed on most of them. 

Manual Door Locks

Ready for this? Long before “keyless entry” came along, you would unlock the driver’s door with a physical metal key, climb into the car, reach over and unlock the car’s other doors by hand. There was no single button to press. Watch the movie A Bronx Tale to learn how these manual locks could play a major role in the dating rituals of the day.

Manual Door Mirrors

You haven’t lived until you’ve asked your right-seated passenger to adjust the door mirror on their side of the car for you.  The way it worked was that you (the driver) sat back in the driver seat and dictate mirror adjustments to your passenger. “A little straight up. Nope, too much. Down a bit. Good. Now out a little. More. More. Oops, too much. Back, great, perfect”. Hard to believe that today all one does is move around a little joystick to do the same thing.

Manual Windows

Believe it or not, car windows were not always powered. In the old days, to roll a window up/down required turning a window crank on a car’s door. Today, “manual windows” are virtually extinct except in some inexpensive bare-bones models. One advantage of manual windows was that they rarely broke.

Manual Steering

Power-assisted steering was a development that appeared in the 1950s. Before that, cars had big monster size steering wheels that required real muscle to move around. This wasn’t a big deal when the car is moving, but you have to put your arms into it when going slowly or backing into a parking spot.