For as long as I can remember, motor vehicles have fascinated me. From the ’57 Chevy wagon in which I learned to drive at age 11 … hey, ask around, it’s like that when you grow up on a ranch … to my first stick shifts shortly thereafter … a ’47 Chevy and a ’59 Dodge pickup … driving and what makes these marvelous creations run is what’s kept me running.
I’ve done mechanical and cosmetic restorations, repairs both basic and advanced, paint, bodywork, upholstery. Just about everything except chrome plating and wheel alignment … things you just don’t do in your driveway. I don’t claim to be the world expert on all of these things, but when it comes to vehicles, I know enough to get myself in trouble and back out of it again.
I currently make a living, if you can currently call it that, selling cars and trucks for a GM franchise. Plenty about that to come later. I own and have shown a pair of 50’s restorations with blog topics to spare there too.
What I’m thinking about right now is a result of setting up this blog and my website … technology. While I miss the pure mechanical hands-on experience of fixing various vehicle systems that are just too complex to smack with a hammer when they don’t work right, I marvel at the technology that makes modern sleds so reliable, low-maintenance and yes, inexpensive.
People who complain about the cost of a new car often dredge up the old, “I remember when you could buy a fully equipped ’65 Impala for under $3,000. New cars are cheap junk that just aren’t worth $30,000.” OK, let’s examine that 10X factor for a moment. How affordable is $30,000? Well, it’s about half the average household income in the U.S. … same as $3k was forty-some years ago.
Back then you could get a new golf course or lakefront home in any number of new Southern California developments for under 30k. Those same homes are now well over a million and the only new places you can get anywhere here in La-La Land for that 10X factor … about $300k … are either condos or in remote or not very desirable areas. Gas is about 10X what it was in the 60’s. Electricity? A McDonald’s slider? The price argument doesn’t wash.
How about “cheap junk?” Considering that forty years ago a car with 80 thousand miles was pretty much used up and that the average new car today will still be on the road at 150,000 miles, with many going several hundred thousand miles beyond that, new iron doesn’t seem all that junky. Not to mention how new alloys and coatings make sheetmetal a lot more rust resistant than back in the good old days and upholstery is far more rugged and comfortable. Ever spend an entire day on plain, non-vented vinyl without air conditioning? How about the almost universal inclusion of formerly exotic, expensive and temperamental options like power windows, locks, mirrors, remote keyless entry, air conditioning, disc brakes, air bags, fuel injection and independent suspension? It all makes that beloved ’65 look like a Model T in comparison. Which, if the engineers are doing their jobs, it should. From the 20’s to the 60’s to today, wouldn’t you expect this kind of progress? New cars are starting to look like a bargain when you consider every technological advance mentioned in this paragraph is not only available on the “average” $30k car, but also on more basic $15k models.
Reliability? Back in ’65 Impala-land, you knew your mechanic like a member of the family for a reason. New vehicles with any fewer than a half dozen bugs at or shortly after delivery were rare. Now, the highest quality manufacturers like Buick and Lexus routinely deliver vehicles with an average of less than one defect per vehicle.
Now add increases in efficiency, and maintenance somewhere around one-third to one-fourth that of a forty year old machine and complaints about the high cost of new vehicles begin to look silly indeed. How about some cheese with that whine?
But wait, there’s more! Consider emissions improvements. Does anybody believe that Southern Calfornia would still even be inhabitable if it weren’t for cleaner running cars in and leading into the 21st century? What price do you put on being able to breathe? Sure, there was a legislative nudge or two to make it so, but the manufacturers not only rose to the occasion, they actually managed to rekindle the horsepower race that was thought to be dead and buried in the late ’70s. Evidence the Pontiac Solstice GXP’s 2.0 liter direct injection, variable valve timing, dual overhead cam turbocharged powerplant which produces a tidy 130 horses per liter and gets over 30 miles per gallon at a steady cruise. No wonder Speed TV built a show around racing this mass-produced street car.
Dang! Now I’m getting steamed! Where do people get off fussing about the cost and quality of new vehicles? Where did this misplaced sense of entitlement come from? To steal a line from the History Channel, the technology coming out of auto manufacturers and the price at which they’re able to offer it is a “modern marvel.” We are living in an automotive golden age, both in terms of technology and price of admission, right here and now. Maybe life’s financial problems lay elsewhere.
What do you think?