Stories of trial and error fill most of modern automotive history. OEMs have made countless mistakes and fixes to get us to where we are now. Many terrible features were the result of cost cuts, government mandates, or decisions made by a non-conductive costume board. Some features made driving and owning a car worse, while others were useless with no advantages or disadvantages. There are plenty of one-off honorable mentions such as the 1984 Toyota minivan’s built-in ice maker or VW’s windshield washer fluid pump that vented air pressure from the spare tire. This list can go on for years and cover a wide range of categories, but we’ve narrowed it down to general trends rather than unique designs. So there you have it, the seven worst classic car features that changed the world.
7/7 Hood ornaments
Hood ornaments changed drastically in the first half of the 20th century, then they went out of fashion and then suddenly they disappeared. The concept began as a concealed decoration as the radiator cap was exposed on most cars, front and center. Manufacturers saw it as an opportunity to turn a boring component into a style. They topped the radiator caps with designs of miniature animals, cars and logos. This has become a staple of high-end luxury cars, making a bold statement in their design. Eventually people began to question the effects of the ornaments on drag and fuel mileage. Worse still, they worried about how the ornament would work like a bayonet if they hit a pedestrian. Hood ornaments later leaned on lower class cars and became popular in the ‘bling’ style aftermarket. Like all other fashion and design trends, the appeal quickly died out once hood ornaments became mainstream. On top of all that, a hood ornament is the quickest and easiest target to vandalize any car. A combination of these elements led to their downfall in the mainstream market, and they are rare to see on any car today. Usually because the manufacturer didn’t include one or a thief has already slipped it.
6/7 Vinyl roofs
Let’s not deny that vinyl roofs have brought out some iconic classics with a beautiful aesthetic. When manufacturers first added roofs to cars, they were actually vinyl roofs. But these have fallen into disuse in favor of steel because it is more resistant to weather and wear. Still, vinyl made a big comeback in the 50s, 60s, and 70s. It gave the appearance of a convertible with the roof up and completed the look with a two-tone aesthetic. However, it took that second go-around for people to realize that vinyl isn’t weatherproof like other materials. Vinyl tops opened the door to rust stains and water leaks by trapping water in cracks and seams. You will still see cars on the road with vinyl roofs, but they are rare. Remember, the ones you see on the road today are survivors whose owners are caring for them properly. The majority of vinyl cars ended up in the scrapyard when most mainstream consumers eventually abandoned them.
5/7 Swivel seats
Who doesn’t want to feel like they’re in a captain’s chair or at the desk while sitting in their car? In the 1950s through the 1970s, Chrysler and GM were among the largest producers of cars with seats that could rotate. Models like the Dodge Royal, Plymouth Fury and Oldsmobile Cutlass allowed occupants to enter and exit with ease and dignity. Some cars with more massive cabins allowed the front seats to rotate 180 degrees. This way, the occupants of the car could all face each other in case they wanted to pull over and drag face to face in an uncomfortably close space. There were drawbacks to this design however, as swivel seats come with more moving parts and therefore more points of failure in the event of a crash. Also, the ability to rotate a seat in the cabin requires a lot of space, which interferes with the overall design of the car’s interior and chassis. In theory, swivel seats really aren’t the worst. In practice, we just haven’t found a way to make them safe and effective.
4/7 Fake Aero
How do you make a car faster without making it faster? Apparently you just add fenders, scoops and vents wherever you can. Many classics leaned on B-movie rocket ship designs with long tailfins and pointed edges. Later influence came from real racing cars with efficient aerodynamics. But once again, OEMs have wasted the design. Take a close look at many sports cars from the recent past and you’ll find fenders that only create drag, and hood scoops and vents that are completely blocked. So what’s the point?
3/7 Anything that works in a vacuum
Somehow, it took until just a few decades ago for some automakers to discover electricity. Until then, they used the power of vacuum to control certain moving components. Older Corvettes relied on vacuum to operate their pop-up headlights, while the AMC Gremlin used it to move the windshield wipers back and forth. A few generations earlier, other cars used the vacuum to raise and lower the windows. One problem with this is that only a running motor creates the vacuum needed to run these components. If the car doesn’t drive, then you’re out of luck. An even bigger issue was reliability. If you’ve ever had to diagnose a classic car vacuum leak, you’ve seen the complications of this design. The vacuum’s components rely on rubber gaskets and hoses, all of which deteriorate and crack over time. If you’re trying to bring a decades-old car back to life, don’t bother replacing just the bad vacuum lines. Replace everything and swap electric motors where possible.
2/7 car alarms
What’s the loudest sound that people ignore? Nine times out of ten, these are nasty car alarms. Manufacturers have implemented them with good intentions, but the result has been less than helpful. False triggers are so common that people don’t even look when an alarm goes off. The 90s and 2000s excelled in creating the loudest and most annoying alarms. They featured sirens, beeps, and buzzers, as if mixing up the sound effects would draw more attention than just a repeated honk. We also had to deal with different car alarm triggers from car to car and changing over time. Did you lock the car with your key fob while the door was open and then close the door? Did you accidentally pull the door handle before disarming the security system? Did you sneeze in the general direction of the car? Fortunately, security systems are getting smarter and easier to live with. Plus, built-in camera systems help catch criminals instead of relying on noisemakers.
1/7 Driving aids
Yes, this feature recently made the list of best classic car features, but it is a two-sided piece. There is no doubt that driving aids have evolved to save lives with the statistics to prove it. However, there is a strong argument that driver aids breed worse drivers. The driving aids I am talking about here are the awareness elements. Manufacturers are removing the need for drivers to look around or be aware of their surroundings. Rear view cameras prevent you from having to turn around and see what’s behind you. Blind Spot Detection eliminates the need to look over your shoulder when changing lanes. Automatic braking lets you close your eyes and hope for the best in an impending collision. This all sounds good in theory, but it has led drivers to pay less attention to their surroundings. Backup cameras and blind spot sensors don’t cover everything you can see with your eyes. And check out the auto brake test videos if you feel confident crossing the street without looking. As for lane-keeping assist systems? I’m ranting at this point, but if you can’t keep a car between two lines, you should strongly consider public transportation.