Friday, April 22, 2011

Evolution of car amenities follows social norms

Photo courtesy of

I once had a 1954 Austen A40 Coupe de Ville like this one. No cup holder, seat belts, lighter or cell phone charger. Just grey leather seats and a leaky soft top.

To drop the top, I'd just reach back and pull one chrome handle. Then at a traffic light, I'd reach across the back seat and pull the other chrome handle. The top dropped by itself.

Early cars had few comforts. At first, the windshield, if there was one, was about the size of a rolled-up newspaper. Roofs and doors were for sissies. For car trips, travellers wore motoring gear: caps, mufflers (scarves) and goggles.

Then car makers noticed that many drivers were smoking and cars got ashtrays, then cigarette lighters. In the new Mazda 3, the built-in space that would formerly have housed the ashtray has a No Smoking sign and the former "lighter" socket is a place to plug in a cell phone charger.

Of course the first cars had no radios. But soon car radios became the norm, followed by tape decks, then cd players. Now automobiles also have i-pod plug-ins and programmable devices that make it possible to talk hands free on your cell phone while driving.

Cup holders are also standard equipment in today's cars. But back in the days when laws and society were more lenient about drinking and driving, respectable people would never be seen drinking from bottles in cars; they drank from water fountains, or from the tap at home. When disreputable people or rebellious teens openly brandished beer bottles in cars (no drink cans yet), the police pulled them over.

Fifty years ago, nobody drank coffee while driving. Coffee, like food, meant enjoying a break. Even those who went to the new drive-in restaurants like Vancouver's White Spot paused long enough to finish the food and drink that was served on long trays fitted between car windows.

Now cars are ubiquitous, traffic is heavy and commutes are long. Accordingly, cars today are more comfortable and well-equipped than the summer cottages at the lake enjoyed by people of the past. For some, a car is now like a second home.


  1. What a cool car! I'll bet you had fun toodling (or was that zooming?) around in it! :)

  2. Tooling, definitely. Zooming was not possible. In fact, I had to get rid of the vehicle when it started to balk at going up hills and crossing water.