When cars were simpler

By John Toth / Editor and Publisher

A friend commented recently about the complexity of cars today.

“Where can I get a car with roll-down windows and an AM radio,” he asked.
I feel his pain.

Cars used to be made simple enough so that teenagers like myself were able to work on it. I rebuilt the carburetor on my 1968 Buick Skylark by just following instructions that came with the kit.

It wasn’t all that difficult. I used to replace fuel pumps before they were placed in the gas tank. It involved the simple task of unscrewing two bolts under the hood, taking out the old one and putting in the new one.

A relative stood over the open hood of my 1995 Dodge Caravan and commented how simple it was. There is the master cylinder, easy to get to, he said. Then he pointed to other gadgets that were hidden in his much newer model car.

“It’s so easy to work on this,” he said of my older Dodge van. I agreed, because I have worked on it a bit. I can’t do an engine overhaul or a transmission rebuild, but I can do the little things, much of which require taking a newer model car to a repair shop.

This was probably the last engine model that was user-friendly, I replied.

But it does come with a price. The van’s four-cylinder engine gets horrible mileage because of the old design and three-speed transmission. To counteract that, Dodge decided to equip it with a 20-gallon gas tank, so that I don’t have to stop every two hours to fuel up.

But back then, we didn’t worry much about having to pay a lot of money for gas. I never really bought a car in those days based on how efficient it was. My used Skylark got 9 miles-per-gallon, but it had the main quality I needed as a teenager – it was cheap.

Not cheaply made, but cheap, as in I could afford to buy it many years after it first rolled out of the showroom.

It didn’t have all those sensors that fail and take $200 to replace, or all that anti-pollution stuff that took away from its power (much like the Volkswagen diesels before they got caught cheating).

When I got a flat tire, I didn’t have to be told about it by a sensor. I just felt it. Before a long trip, I made sure that the tires were in good shape and properly inflated.

No screen in the dash, no rearview camera (which would have been useful), no Bluetooth hookup (because we didn’t know back then what that was).

My Buick had roll-down windows and an AM radio. It also had those little triangle side windows that never were opened. I had no idea what purpose they served.

We continued to marvel at the engine of my relative’s car. It was all neat, organized, covered nicely, no wires creeping and crawling around the edges or dangling somewhere.

“How do you work on that?” I asked.

He does some work himself, but takes the car to the repair shop for most problems. And he is a lot more car savvy than me.

For the most part, you put the car in drive and press on the accelerator, no matter how old or new it is. The rest of the stuff is just there to break and get repaired. I just want to get from Point A to Point B.
Wait, I’m stuck. Where is the parking brake release?

I’m Googling it. Put the car in drive, and the brake releases automatically.

That’s just too fancy. There it goes, just like Google said. Now, where is that AM radio? I need to listen to some sports talk.