The ever-increasing numbers of cup holders large enough to accommodate super-sized convenience store drinks and an expanding suite of electronic features and entertainment devices seem like safe bets to remain fixtures in automobiles for the foreseeable future. But other once-popular car features that members of The Greatest Generation and baby boomers grew up with seem likely to become part of the automotive fossil record soon. Here are some that we’ll miss (and some we won’t):
- The Cassette Deck: For those who grew up with the hated 8-track player and can remember the KA-CHUNK sound followed by silence as the tape changed tracks in the middle of “Bohemian Rhapsody,” the seamless cassette player was a revelation (until you had to rewind the tape). With CDs and MP3 players dominating, cassette decks are getting scarce and cassettes themselves have replaced 8-track tapes as yard sale staples.
- Whitewall Tires: Americans had a long love affair with the whitewall tire. Those from the 1950s and early 1960s (known affectionately as “wide whites”) could be up to three inches wide. Over time whitewalls became progressively thinner and less fashionable, particularly with the increased popularity of imported cars. Today, they turn up mainly at classic car shows and on Buicks and Crown Vics driven by octogenarians.
- Round Sealed-Beam Headlamps: For much of the post-war era, two round sealed-beam headlamps were by law the default on American automobiles. In 1958, a four headlamp arrangement (two smaller round lamps) was allowed, and in 1975, designers were given the freedom to incorporate square lamps in their designs. But still the inefficient sealed-beam design and round lamps predominated. Shamed by vastly whiter and brighter replaceable halogen bulb headlamps that Europeans had been using for years, the Department of Transportation (DOT) finally let Americans begin to utilize this technology. It spelled the end of the round sealed-beam lamp, and it’s only a matter of time before most retail auto parts stores stop stocking them altogether.
- The Clutch Pedal: If there’s one feature on this list that deserves a pause and a moment of silence when it finally passes from the automotive scene for good, it’s the manual transmission and the beloved third pedal that actuates it. Fewer than 7 percent of Americans are ordering their new cars with manual transmissions, mainly due to the decreasing number of drivers who are proficient with them and the hyper-efficiency of new automatic transmission designs.
- The Vinyl Top: Like the whitewall tire, this is a feature that was beloved by a now aging demographic. The number of different variations on them was staggering — the “landau” half vinyl top, tops with tiny “opera windows” and tops that simulated a convertible top (the sim-con top, in dealer parlance). Many were installed by dealers at a hefty markup, and all they seemed to be good for was bleaching and cracking in the sun, and trapping moisture underneath them, causing roofs to rust. Sometime in the next 10 years, the last vinyl top will likely be installed on a new car. We’re guessing a Toyota Avalon or a Buick of some kind.