The old adage, “they don’t make them like they used to”, is used more often with new technology – especially concerning automobiles. Classic cars were on the frontier of automotive technology and innovation, producing some of the greatest – and sometimes weirdest – features in the auto industry.
Many of the features found on older cars were either improved and can still be found in modern cars or were banned and made illegal due to safety reasons. Some features simply went out of fashion and are not used anymore (like dedicated ashtrays and cigarette lighters), whilst others were embraced wholeheartedly and have become standard on many cars (such as a screen being used to control everything in the interior) – much to the annoyance of some people.
Some classic car features were so innovative, that we cannot believe they are not still being used. So, regardless of whether they can be considered safe to implement, here are some of the coolest classic car features we wish modern cars still had.
8 Pop-Up Headlights
Hidden headlights first appeared on the 1938 Buick Y-Job concept car, but were only implemented as power-operated retractable headlamps on the Lotus Elan in 1962. The popularity of pop-up or hidden headlamps climbed and fell, until the late 1970s, when their popularity exploded.
The 1980s and 1990s saw the golden era of pop-up headlights with many Japanese manufacturers choosing them for their cars. Some manufacturers, like Toyota, used their cars fitted with retractable headlights to circumnavigate the US headlight height restrictions. Today, it is not illegal to fit pop-up headlights to cars, however, due to pedestrian safety regulations, carmakers find it difficult and expensive to design hidden headlights which conform to the laws.
The T-top roof came about when The American Sportscar Company (Tasco for short) launched a prototype in 1948. A man by the name of Gordon Buehrig patented the design in 1951 and in 1968, the first mass-production T-top roof was made available to the public in the form of the C3 Chevrolet Corvette.
T-tops are convenient as they allow for the removal of the roof panel or panels, but keep the structural rigidity of the car mostly intact. This type of roof was popular amongst American and Japanese automakers, with some British manufacturers adopting it as well. The T-top roof was mostly abandoned in favor of sunroofs, panoramic roofs, and Targa tops, which are easier to make and maintain. It would be awesome if Chevrolet makes a T-top version of the C8 Corvette to add to the lineup.
6 Whitewall Tires
Whitewall tires were all the rage back in the day, with nearly every vehicle being equipped with them. Originally, whitewall and black tires’ roles were reversed to what they eventually became, as whitewalls got dirty quickly, whilst the fully black ones needed less maintenance to look clean. In the 1960s, whitewall tires became a premium accessory on luxury cars such as the Chrysler Imperial.
As time went on and the automotive designs changed, whitewall tires became thinner and less popular, until they were completely gone. The Lincoln Town Car still offered whitewalls as an option until it was discontinued in 2010, with no other manufacturer listing them as an option. Whitewalls are still being manufactured for the purposes of restoration and customization of classic cars and hot rods, but it would be cool if whitewalls were still an option for a modern car – perhaps one with classic styling – like a Morgan.
5 Hood Ornaments
Hood ornaments made for some of the greatest automotive features. Automakers usually had their logos displayed somewhere on the grille, but many of them created elaborate hood ornaments for their companies. Some had different ones for their individual models – from Packard’s Goddess of Speed and Delahaye’s Dragonfly to the Leaping Jaguar on Jaguars and the Ram’s Head on Dodge cars.
Due to pedestrian safety concerns, hood ornaments have almost completely disappeared, with the exclusion of Mercedes-Benz still offering their Three-Pointed Star on select models and Rolls-Royce insisting on keeping their Spirit of Ecstasy on all Rolls-Royce models. The upcoming Spectre electric car will even feature a more aerodynamic version to lessen the drag.
4 Front Bench Seats
Since the dawn of the motorcar, bench seats were the norm as nobody had produced individual seats. The bench seat stayed in production for most of the 20th century – only to be replaced with individual bucket seats in the 1960s. The bucket seat and the bench seat stayed in simultaneous production – mostly in pickup trucks – until the former eventually won the battle.
In modern times, the bench seat has become something mostly reserved for classic cars as there are front passenger safety concerns in the event of an accident. Luckily, there have been instances where the bench seat – or rather three normal seats right next to each other – was revived. The most famous example was with the Honda HR-V people carrier – a car which sold so well that Honda canceled it. The most modern version of this three-seat type is in the new Land Rover Defender, where a middle seat can be optioned in.
3 Venting Quarter Glass Windows
Quarter glass windows are still around in modern cars, mostly for styling purposes, but they are not the opening kind, which can be found on several older cars. In the time before automobile air-conditioning became the standard as a means of cooling the interior, opening vent quarter glass windows were used.
The design of these windows allowed for ventilation in the cabin, without potentially ruining the driver or passenger’s hairdo. As cars became more modern, the quarter glass windows did as well. By the 1980s, the venting quarter glass window was almost gone – with the remaining cars which still had them fitted, opting to motorize the process of opening and closing. The venting quarter glass window was a brilliant design innovation as it allowed for air to move about the cabin, but not as obtusely as in modern cars when opening a full-size window.
2 Tail Fins
The automotive tail fin was one of the most distinctive design features ever to be put on a car. The popularity of the tail fin reached its height in the 1950s and 1960s, with the Cadillac Eldorado featuring the largest tail fins in the auto industry. Tail fins were not just restricted to large, flamboyant luxury cars though, as even small compacts like the Ford Anglia had them. This trend even spread to the Germans, being incorporated into the Mercedes-Benz W110 sedan.
Tail fins were implemented on road cars during what was known as the ‘jet age’ and manufacturers like Plymouth claimed that their rear end ‘stabilizers’ reduced the need for steering correction in a crosswind by 20%. Regardless of whether this was true or not, the automotive tail fin was an awesome design feature making any car that featured it seem just that bit more special.
1 Coach Doors
Coach doors or rear-hinged doors – most popularly known as suicide doors – were the standard on early automobiles as this door design was utilized on horse-drawn carriages, making the process of embarkation and exit easier for passengers. Car companies used this design until it was discovered that, due to the much higher speeds which cars can achieve, the wind would sometimes catch the door, resulting in it flying open and potentially injuring the person sitting in the seat. In some cases, people were even dragged out of the car when it suddenly flung open, leading to the term ‘suicide door’.
The coach door has mostly disappeared from the automotive world, with the only auto manufacturer still using it being Rolls-Royce – who only revived the door style again with the introduction of the Phantom VII. Lincoln commissioned a coachbuilder to modify 150 of their last generation Continentals to be fitted with coach doors to commemorate the 80th anniversary of the Lincoln Continental. The most surprising modern use of the coach door was on the 2010-2017 Opel Meriva MPV, which offered unparalleled access to the rear seats – perfect for a family.
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