Do you remember when cars had virtually nothing automatic in them — even an automatic transmission was a rarity, for the use of the ‘idle rich’ only? When you only had a car radio if you bought and fitted one yourself? When the front windscreen was kept clear of condensation or frost with another little gadget — again fitted by you — using an electric wire that heated up when switched on? Remember when you wouldn’t dream of fitting new tyres until the existing ones were completely bald? They were exciting times.
It was also a time when what was under the bonnet was completely recognisable — here was the distributor, this the coil, while just over there was the starting motor and right in the middle, the carburettor! If these things are recognisable to you, then you are most likely a Baby Boomer… or someone in the ‘over-60s’ category.
It was a time when cars had no computers under the dashboard, everything was mechanical, not electronic and providing you had a small measure of common sense most blokes were quite capable of whipping the cylinder head off and de-coking the engine and the cars thrived on it. (I doubt if anyone young even knows what ‘de-coking’ means!) Even changing one of those bald tyres wasn’t beyond the handyman who had a set of tyre levers in his tool bag, and a decent set of arm muscles. A familiar weekend sight of those far off days, was to see driveway after driveway, each with a husband or son on it, leaning over the bonnet of a car, tools and car parts strewn all around them, as they kept the most valuable family member in full working order!
Television was still far in the future for most homes, gramophone records turned at 78 revolutions a minute and contained one tune on each side, the radio was provided by only the BBC and the pubs closed at 10pm, so the family car wasn’t only a means of getting to work every day, it was also the pass-ticket that a family was able to entertain themselves with. The car got them to the cinema in the evenings or on a wet Saturday afternoon. The car made that beach, fifteen or more miles away, accessible for surfing in the summer and fishing in the winter. For the son of the house, the car was major bait for members of the opposite gender.
Yes, the family car was much more than a means of transport; it was a true family friend that went with you almost everywhere. It was a toy the males of the family could play with on Saturday afternoons, and it was even a means of escape from the drudgery, for those wives who had a licence too, so that they were no longer reliant on husbands when they wanted to go anywhere or do anything, especially shopping!
In those days, most cars had a name, often given it by one of the younger members of the family, sometimes even painted on the side of the bonnet. Little gifts were bought for it, like seat covers, floor mats and air fresheners, while on the weeks anyone in the family could afford it, it was given a tank-full of higher octane fuel to cheer it up a bit. (Must have done untold damage to cars designed specifically to take a lower octane!) Many hours were squandered on it giving it a thorough wash and polish — all by hand because ‘carwashes’ with their giant brushes hadn’t been invented yet.
Nowadays, cars are impersonal, inanimate things, much too complicated to work on, as much as anything because it’s impossible to even recognise what is there any more, and that’s only if you can figure out how to remove that big plastic cover that goes over the engine itself. The modern car is much too valuable to be treated as a toy, and much too expensive to use casually. Couple to that the amazing price of fuel these days and it’s a wonder anyone goes out for a drive at all, not to mention all the rules and regulations that now govern us as soon as we switch on the engine!
No, I’m afraid the car is no longer the family friend it used to be, it is now a family fiend that takes our money in most homes and rarely gives anything in return!