“Hi, my name is Christian. It’s been four weeks since my last embarrassing automotive confession. Today I’d like to share that if banditos ever swooped in on my homestead atop charging horses and my only means of escape was an all-original Model T, I would most certainly die.”
I can drive pretty much anything with four tires and an engine. Heck, I can even drive one of those newfangled motorized electric vehicles. But a Model T . . . or almost any other turn-of-the-century automotive design? They just don’t follow the same basic layout as modern vehicles. There’s no throttle pedal—that’s a lever on the steering column. The brake pedal is on the right and the clutch is on the left. Reverse? Check that pedal between them in the middle of the floorboard. Transmission shifter? What’s that? If you want something resembling gearshifts you gotta depress the clutch all the way down and hold it there to start off . Once you’re rolling you can let off the pedal to engage high gear. Coming to a stop and need Neutral? Depress the clutch halfway, thank you very much. But only halfway or you’ll go back into low and plow into the horse-and-buggy in front of you. Jeez. And don’t even get me started about the spark advance inside the steering wheel. I’m sure if given enough time I could make a jerky, inelegant getaway, but it wouldn’t be lighting fast. But people did drive those things instinctually back then.
What got me thinking about this whole thing was something my kids said the last time we took a ride in my 1978 Cherokee. One of my boys piped up from the back seat, “Hey Dad, how come there’s no juice box holder for the middle seat?”
Juice box holder? I had to turn around and look at what the heck he was talking about because I know damn well there were no juice boxes in 1978, let alone juice box holders. No, he was talking about the ashtray. To anybody born after 2000, an ashtray is something you used to find in the back seat; I’m pretty sure they are now automotively extinct, and along with them probably cigarette lighters. After all, we call them “power ports” now. And who likes smoking, anyway? Good riddance. But if they’re gone, what other common automotive things have joined them and which are next to fall?
Remember them? They were long, stamped-steel contrivances that keyed into a sketchy slot in your bumper or, worse, grabbed the bumper around its width with a short lip supporting it from slipping. They resembled a Hi-Lift jack—if a Hi-Lift were made of stale cheese. If the bumper jack didn’t fall over and knock a divot in your skull it would at least tweak the bumper, bending it up into your paint job. And when you weren’t using it, it slid from one side of your trunk to the other with every corner you took.
“Hey, I can’t find the window switch.” That’s an actual quote from one of my kids’ friends I was driving home from school. Well, sonny, you see that little silver arm with a round knob? Grab it and make a circle. Yes, not all vehicles throughout time have had electric windows, believe it or not.
In the not-too-distant future they will look back on transmissions you have to shift yourself in the same way we look at lighting your home with whale oil lamps. Another one of my kids’ friends said as he got a ride home in my 1989 Wrangler, “Hey, what is that stick you keep moving for?” Kid, I’ll pretend like I don’t know you.
“Gather around ol’ Grandpa here and I’ll tell you kids a tale of starting a vehicle without a battery-powered key fob in your pocket.” You should be able to fall in a lake and still drive yourself home. I had to call a tow truck once because my youngest son spilled milk on my wife’s car keys at a restaurant. That’s just stupid.
What about you? How many archaic automotive bits of technology perched atop the precipice of obscurity have you noticed on your rigs? Shoot me an email with a high-res photo and let me know! If we get enough of them we’ll do a story. And if I use your submission I’ll send you a fancy-schmancy 4-Wheel & Off-Road license plate . . . assuming vehicles still have license plates by the time you read this and not electronic identification transponders.