ONE OF THE DWINDLING number of things I can do better than a young person is be nostalgic. I can beat any Millennial hands-down in an “I-can-remember” competition (unless the competition includes questions like, “Where did you leave your car?” … “What year is this?” … “When is your wedding anniversary?”). So, I enjoy talking about the good-old-days as much as the next person. (I’ve actually just checked with the next person, and he says I enjoy it considerably more than him).
However, I am totally convinced the modern world is way better now, in just about every respect, than it was in decades gone by. I feel like a bit of a traitor to my fellow Baby Boomers who love telling you that parents/school/workers/weather/music/TV etc were all better back in their day … because I disagree!
For example: if you get a bunch of blokes my age together (in, say, a urologist’s waiting room), a fond topic of conversation is the cars we used to have. Their old Cortinas and Vanguards glow in their memories better than Turtle Wax could ever make them. Although the truth is, they were awful!
I love modern cars. In just about every way, motoring today is so much better than it was in the days of my youth. But nostalgia doesn’t work like that …
I grew up in West Auckland where a person’s worth was measured in cubic inches. Two of my mates drove V8s, which gave them colossal status. I didn’t. I drove a 1956 Humber 80 that I bought off my brother for $10 (an eighth of what it would cost today just to fill its petrol tank). Despite my genuine misty-eyed affection, it was really an under-powered rust-bucket that handled like an overladen shopping trolley with three jammed wheels. No heater, no radio, no seat-belts, no indicators, no speedo and (for a while) no reverse.
Fortunately it only once caught fire!
The chances of getting a girlfriend were slim if you didn’t have a car. However, riding a tricycle would have given me more sex-appeal than turning up in my Humber ever did. Girls objected to riding in vehicles that were older than them. If they did ride in it, they complained about slip-sliding all over the bench seats (an unintended side-effect of the brown Nugget I used on the leatherette upholstery). And they complained about the brown stains on their clothes.
I spray painted the exterior with a vacuum cleaner. It looked great! … in the dark shed. But out in the sunlight you could see it was covered with bubbles, runs and the many carcasses of kamikaze moths that chose to do dramatic death-dances in the wet enamel. My fibreglass patching of rust holes also looked dodgy; and it looked a lot worse several months later when the rust re-erupted all over car. It had so many holes I told people it was Swiss.
For all that, it was a car! And Kiwis loved cars. In the 1970s New Zealanders had the third highest car ownership rate in the world. And because new cars were so incredibly expensive, we kept our old cars on the road far longer – which gave us one of the oldest car fleets on the planet. People coming here from overseas thought they had gone back in time! And how did those primitive old cars repay us for our nursing and nurturing? They killed us – in alarming numbers! In 1973, the year I got my driver licence and my Humber, 843 New Zealanders died on the road. … which shows (according to my inept maths) that, per capita, you were about four times as likely to die in a vehicle crash then as now.
So … airbags, better tyres, ABS brakes, seatbelts and dozens of other safety improvements mean that there are literally thousands of Kiwis today who are growing old instead of being dead in a car wreck.
You might be one of them.
Your modern car is also more economical to run (my big SUV uses a third less gas than my little old Humber). It is faster, smoother, quieter, less polluting, handles better, rusts less and smells less of dead fish. (That last comparison is specifically referring to my Humber. I never did locate the smell.) Your air-conditioning would also be lot better than the Humber’s – especially after I lost two of the window-winders.
I reckon your modern car probably starts reliably on cold mornings, and doesn’t boil on hills. I bet it has a sound system. (I used to play a harmonica while I drove.) I bet, when you hit the brakes, your back seat doesn’t fly forward and hit you between the shoulder blades. And I bet your passengers don’t get brown stains on their pants … or maybe they do?
If I won Lotto, would I buy a lovely old restored car? Possibly. But I wouldn’t drive it much. I’d just park it outside my urologist’s office and watch the old guys come out and get all sentimental over it. I’d watch, but I wouldn’t listen. Because they’d talk rubbish. Modern cars are much better.