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Administrator 2009 SLK 55 AMG/Founding Member 2006
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Discussion Starter #1
Recently, Ford made a surprising announcement: It is adding radio knobs to its hi-tech component control system MyFord Touch. That's a retreat from cutting-edge to old technology -- a man-bites-dog scenario you don't often see in the auto business. And don't expect to see it any more often in the future.

Here's the background: In attempting to reduce driver distraction and get a jump on competitors, Ford had introduced a voice- and touch-screen system for audio, navigation, and other functions. But drivers found the new system confusing, and Consumer Reports issued a withering report on its functionality. So Ford decided to listen to popular concern and go backwards: It will now make it possible to control volume and frequency with the twist of a knob. "Familiar and easy-to-use knobs are exceptionally good ways for drivers to control in-car entertainment systems," says Kelley Blue Books' Jack Nerad. "They make for less distraction and less frustration, and that translates into more convenience and improved safety."

What's next? Are we going to see a return to ribbon speedometers, hub-mounted transmission buttons, or three-on-a-tree gear shifters? Not likely. In fact, the industry is moving in a different direction; many of the features that drivers of a certain age find familiar are dying out or already dead. Here's a partial list:

1. Manual transmissions



Traditional clutch-controlled manual transmissions have certified for the endangered list longer than the black-footed ferret. Automatic transmissions that don't require a third pedal have simply become slicker, smoother, more efficient, less expensive to buy, and easier on fuel consumption. Manual shifts as a percentage of cars sold had shrunk by half in the last decade to 3.8%, according to Edmunds.com, though they experienced a brief rebound in 2012. The popularity of manumatic shifters along with eight-speed automatics like the one found on the 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee should further limit the desirability of stick shifts and limit their availability to specialty models.


2. Keys




Long ago replaced by the fob as the preferred way to open trunks and unlock doors -- when was the last time you saw an external keyhole anywhere on a car? -- stamped metal keys have been made redundant by ignitions that use start/stop buttons. On higher-end cars, the fob unlocks the door when the key-holder approaches the car, so it need not be lifted from a pocket or purse. Parking garage attendants complain that forgetful customer are forever walking away with their keys and leaving their cars immobilized, but they are in the minority. Coming next: cars that can be unlocked and started with your smartphone.


3. Crank windows



You can still find them on stripper versions of low-end models used for trumpeting rock-bottom prices -- assuming that stripper version can be found at all -- but seldom anywhere else. Nobody misses them, except for those people who chronically fail to close their windows and thus must restart. As for electric window lifts, they have become so well-established, they became eligible for Medicare this year: They were invented in 1948.

4. Antennas



The power exterior antenna for am-fm radio reception and its retro-style cousin, the whip antenna, are long gone. Their functions have been embedded in the rear windshield or a shark fin-shaped enclosure that sits just above it on the roof and can also handle GPS and telephone signals. The big exception is the police car, which still spouts a variety of antennas for scanners, CB radios, and computers. On the plus side, that makes them easier to spot at speed traps.

5. Handbrake



Also known as safety or emergency brakes, handbrakes are increasingly being replaced by electric brakes that first appeared on the 2001 Renault Vel Satis. With the decline of manual transmissions, you no longer need handbrakes to hold a car on an incline while you delicately engage the clutch. And a new feature called "hill hold" takes over when your car is stopped while climbing and then releases when the driver pushes the gas pedal.

6. Bias-ply tires



In bias-ply tires, the cords were set at angles of travel, so they criss-crossed over each other. By comparison, radial tires avoid having the plies rub against each other as the tire flexes, thus reducing the tire's rolling friction and producing greater fuel economy. The first radial tire designs were patented in 1915, and Michelin developed them for passenger cars in 1946. But Detroit bitterly resisted their adoption because they were more costly, produced a harsher ride, and required costly suspension adjustments. Demands from consumers after the 1973 gas crisis changed its mind, and by 1983, all new cars came equipped with radials. Along with airbags and multivalve engines, the demise of bias-ply tires remains a landmark of the Detroit Three's resistance to change.


7. Bench seats



Flat, three-across front and rear seats were standard equipment in American cars until the arrival of smaller and sportier models in the late 1950s. By installing two smaller bucket seats in front, manufacturers were able to increase seating room and leave room for a floor-mounted gear shifter. Although buckets were sportier, offered greater lateral support, and provided secure seat belt anchors, front bench seats held on in larger cars until they became extinct in the second decade of 21st century when the Chevrolet Impala was replaced with a newer model in 2013. Sentimentalists noted that their decline paralleled that of drive-in movie theatres.

8. Hardtop convertibles



Sometimes called "pillarless hardtops," hardtop convertibles were built without a central roof pillar so they would look like a convertible with the top raised. Along with other design excesses like tailfins, they became popular in the 1950s when annual styling changes had designers searching for new ideas, and the style spread to four-doors and even station wagons. But hardtops are inherently less rigid, and they needed to be reinforced with a heavier structure. The hardtop convertible began to disappear in the mid-1970s, partly out of a concern about federal safety regulations, and the 1978 Chrysler Newport and New Yorker became the last true hardtops. Today manufacturers today like to mimic the style by blacking out the central pillar instead of eliminating it.

9. 85 mph speedometers



Remember the "Double Nickel?" That was the federal law passed in 1974 that prohibited speed limits higher than 55 mph as a fuel-saving measure. Five years later during the Carter administration, NHTSA required speedometers include a special emphasis on the number 55 to keep drivers focused on the legal rate and forbid them from registering a maximum speed above 85 mph. The speedometer limits didn't govern the speed of the car, though, and the 85 mph max looked pretty silly on cars like the Chevy Corvette. NHTSA began rolling back the regulation in 1981 after discovering it did little to change driver behavior. Today, speedometers routinely go to 160 mph, even though the maximum allowable speed limit is less than half that.

10. Spare tires



As manufacturers search for ways to reduce cost and weight, the full-size spare tire is headed the way of the passenger pigeon. Tires may still go flat, but cars will be equipped with donut spares or motorized patch kits or sometimes nothing at all. Run-flat tires, with either automatic sealing or reinforced sidewalls, can fill some of the void, but they are more expensive and compromise ride quality. Nobody enjoys extracting a dirty spare from the under-carriage of a minivan or figuring out how to operate an unfamiliar jacking system, but there was a certain security in knowing that you could always find your way home after a flat no matter the day or time.

11. Hinged vent windows



To fill that awkward space between the windshield pillar and the movable window itself, some engineer lost to memory created the tilt or hinged vent window. Much beloved by tobacco lovers because of its ability to suck smoke out of the car, they began to vanish on passenger cars in the 1960s as air conditioning became more popular and designers looked for ways to reduce weight and get a cleaner look. Their extinction would be mourned by forgetful drivers who used them for easy entry after locking their keys inside.
 

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Sadly Woolly has passed away
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17,375 Posts
No mention of starting handles? My first car had one, and, as a poor, impoverished student I thought it was superb. I drove around for a couple of years with a battery that had just enough life to power the ignition, but not to operate the starter motor. The starting handle saved me having to buy a new battery, which left more money left over for :Beer:


 

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Premium Member
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2,117 Posts
I miss the vent windows-very handy those...
 

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Premium Member 2006 SLK 280-sold
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3,552 Posts
It's interesting to see the looks on kids faces when you tell them to "roll the windows down". :)
 

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Fanatical Member-sold-->2010 SLK300
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3,419 Posts
What about vacuum operated windshield wipers! I remember a 1956 Chevy Bel Air that we had. Of course when it would rain you would flip on the windshield wipers which worked great until you stepped on the throttle. Upon acceleration the wipers would drop to 1/10th the speed. Immediately when you took your foot off the gas they would resume to wiping in "hyper" mode. :biglaugh:

How about cars that had nothing more than thin, plastic/rubber material on the floor boards (no carpets), or no air conditioning, or nothing more than AM radios. These items that were once considered upgrade luxurys are all standard now.

I remember an old Buick that we once had. Must have been from the early 1960's with "push button" transmission. It was always breaking down!

 

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Unfortunately not all technology is appropriate in all situations. Just because you can do something it does not mean you should.

Touch screen controls in cars fall into this category for me. Good old physical controls can be operated day or night by feel without taking your eyes off the road.

My own pet peeve is the HVAC in modern cars. My gold standard is the classic three knob setup.....Fan speed.....Temp.....Direction. My old 95 Volvo 850 Turbo was a classic in this regard. Simple to operate and impossible to screw up.

Even without touch screens, modern controls are trading questionable functionality for complexity that diverts a driver's attention from the road. Take my SLK55 for example. It has the "digital" climate control option. There's a knob for fan speed. So far so good. There's a knob to direct airflow. OK again. But, for temp there are four separate buttons, two for the driver and two for the passenger that have no unique shape and so, force you to look for them and then look at the temp number you are setting. Not good in my book. Or at least not "better".

In an "old" system, I would simply twist a single knob up for more heat and down for more cooling without ever taking my eyes off the road. I've never really found a need for a precise setting. I have a reasonably wide tolerance for a temp setting. If it feels OK, I leave it alone.

For most things related to driving I subscribe to the "simple is better" school of thought.
 

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Premium Member 2006 SLK55 AMG
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3,055 Posts
I'm confused about number 8 "hardtop convertibles".

At first I thought that was talking about our cars, then realized it was talking about fixed roof cars without a center pillar, but there are many out there, including the Mercedes CL series and BMW 3 and 6 Series, so is the article actually talking about 4 door 4 seat cars without a center pillar?
 

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Sadly Woolly has passed away
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17,375 Posts
How about cars that had nothing more than thin, plastic/rubber material on the floor boards (no carpets),
.. .. .. and then when carpets became more common in cars, the first thing you did when you got one was to put rubber mats over the carpets. To protect them. Who for?? the next owner?? Could never understand that one.
 

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Fanatical Member-sold-->2010 SLK300
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3,419 Posts
.. .. .. and then when carpets became more common in cars, the first thing you did when you got one was to put rubber mats over the carpets. To protect them. Who for?? the next owner?? Could never understand that one.
Boy, isn't that the truth. But don't listen to me......I'm the one that has seat covers over my "pure" white leather seats :biglaugh: At least the covers look something like the seats. I only remove the covers for special occasions.....like the Fort Bragg trip coming up.

But Woolly, we've all had someone in the family like that. I had an Aunt, Aunt Faye........she had clear plastic runners not only on her white carpets in her home, but also clear plastic covers over all her living room furniture. Good 'ole Aunt Faye, may she RIP because when she kicked the bucket those carpets and living room furniture looked as new as the day she had bought them 20 years ago!
 

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Administrator 2009 SLK 55 AMG/Founding Member 2006
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98,161 Posts
Discussion Starter #11
try sitting on them on a hot day and you also stuck to them
 

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Administrator 2009 SLK 55 AMG/Founding Member 2006
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98,161 Posts
Discussion Starter #12

Marie removes the plastic from the couch at 40 secs
 
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