There is a wearying inevitability about new mainstream car launches these days. The latest technology that can do this and that when underneath they are all pretty much the same. Automotive things ain’t what they used to be. On the other hand, our personal history of cars past could just be recollections that are half-created, half-perceived, perhaps, but none the less real for that. In short, were the cars of yesteryear much more interesting?
Differentiated By Their Difference
Obviously 20th Century motors were, by modern standards, rubbish. They were unreliable and prone to minor breakdowns at any given time. They were sometimes poorly made. Buyers worried that they would get a ‘Friday’ car when the collective assembly line brain was more focused on the weekend’s fun and games.
The ride wasn’t as comfortable or refined, the engines had less power, polluted more and trim would fall off with alarming regularity. Yet they had something that today’s offerings didn’t: They were all different. You could tell a Ford from a Mercedes from an Austin at 1000 yards (an ancient measurement still favoured by Americans). Most of all, cars and driving were just much more fun.
Of course, although at the time we thought the rules of the road were draconian, with hindsight we see that our motoring lives were a doddle compared to now. The freedom of the road meant something more than just a break in the traffic.
Drives Of Our Lives
I remember mine. The British Racing Green Daimler Sovereign I bought for a grand. My first Mini; my third Mini, a Mk3 Cortina (the biggest pile of junk I have ever owned), the Alfa Romeo that rusted in real time: so many cars and they were all very different in so many ways. Styling, trim, accessories and the manner in which they were advertised. We are told today that we live in a classless society (Ha!) but back in the day cars often defined that class. Toffs owned Rollers, bank managers had Mercs. Being upwardly mobile meant more than just lifestyle aspirations. Black Forest gateau anyone?
I can truly say that the best car I have ever owned was a ageing Audi 80. It did not rust. It never failed to start whatever the weather. It never broke down. I should never have sold it. I like to think that somewhere it is still going, being driven by, say, a clergyman who daily gives thanks for his good fortune.
With the best will in the world I can’t get enthusiastic about a lot of motors these days. Clearly there are some brilliant exceptions but, as they almost without exception cost over £50k, are not within the reach of the majority. The small yet feisty crop of diminutive sports cars and lively hatchbacks can raise a smile but for those with fecund families or outdoor lives the choice is often limited to the mundane.
There’s No Going Back
You can’t go back. History cannot be relived. Certainly it is possible to find good examples of motoring relics of the past but they are fragile, risky investments. It is hard to come to terms with just how rough and ready they seem now. The best thing to do is rent and enjoy a classic for the day. That way you can experience that sense of deja vu or find out what made your forebears happy.
Relive the past! Visit distant lay-bys. Rejoice in the fun of watching steam billow from under the bonnet. Spend happy hours pointing at a manual and asking passers-by what a thermostat is. Savour the thrill of running into the road to recover fallen wing mirrors. Discover that the off-side front wing is made from filler, newspapers (Daily Sketch usually) and old baked bean tins. Ah memories. Where would we be without them? I’ll tell you where – at a franchised Audi dealer with a handful of new car deals. Geoff Maxted