By Bill Ward
---- — I guess this is just one of those times I tend to wax nostalgic but also maybe just reliving my past. I honestly miss those automobiles when you had to push a button on the floor to start the thing. I also remember windshield wipers that had handles on the inside of the car to push them back and forth during rain storms. Dad sold Pontiacs and you ordered the car YOU wanted with what YOU wanted on it. The customer came in and looked at a lot of booklets showing the accessories available. Basically they were the color of the vehicle, the interior and white wall tires. There is another old idea not too much thought of today.
And speaking of white walls, remember those wire doodads that fit on the fender of the car and rubbed on the cement curb to warn you not to get close to the curb and scuff your white walls. And those fender skirts that fit on the back wheel wells were very popular.
I miss the real big roll outs for the upcoming year’s new car models. Dad would clean up the shop, order cookies and drinks for the event. We would tape paper over the windows of the shop to heighten the desire to see the new product. The cars would be covered with tarps on the car carriers so few would be able to see what they looked like. They were rapidly unloaded during the day or it was delivered after dark if at all possible. Dad usually had a back log of orders for cars and the first of the new model year he would take what ever the Pontiac people wanted to send him. This was the one and only car not specifically ordered by a customer, and one available for sale to anyone. A lot of people wanted a new car and some dealers made hay with the new model celebration. It was always in October or late September and well publicized prior to the official unveiling. Dad never took a lot of advantage of the new car he got but it was fun to see certain individuals go from dealer to dealer in an attempt to buy the first new car for the year. The car companies would spread out the introduction so you would not have all of the new models to look at all at once. This also made the whole introduction longer and brought in traffic to check out the differences in car models.
Uncle Ross had a Model T that you had to actually crank to get started. The starter button on the floor was next to the light button to dim or undim the head lights. In some early models there was no turn signal the driver had to use hand signals for turns, straight out for left turns, upright for right turns, down at an angle for slowing down. Automatic windows and air conditioning of autos were unknown. You cranked the windows up and down and had small air vents in the windows up front to allow outside air to circulate around the interior during hot days. The back seat had a shelf like thing behind the back seat where I would take a nap when we had a long trip. Some cars had doors that opened the way they do today others had back doors that opened opposite from that and were called suicide doors because they opened backward.
Chevrolet had nothing but a 6 cylinder engine available until 1955 then they came out with a small V8 and boy did it have zip. Ford had a V8 and made much of it before other cars went to a V8 rather than a straight 8. Cars had metal hoods over the front windows to shade the inside during sunny weather, and to help keep the rain off the windshield. Vinyl was a popular interior fabric as was the lay out of the seats. The single person seats of today were bench seats and could easily accommodate 3 across. And in my mind at least the cars were wider and roomier for the occupants. A four door car could easily accommodate 6 people comfortably. In later times the roof of the car also was available with a vinyl cover for some stupid reason.
Each car came with a tool kit made up of a hammer, screwdriver and pair of pliers. I never did actually figure out why they did this but every car had them. The spare tire was a tire not what is called a donut in many today. And they were readily available not like many of the new cars of today. The jack was stored with the tire and was one that fit on the bumper, which all the cars had in those days, and not difficult to use. Car dealers were very mindful of the customer and knew in a few years they would be looking for a new car so they did all they could to make you happy. There were few accessories available that were electric or automatic. In reality compared to today there were few outside items one could get on their car. Dad always liked to have as many extras as he could because they were and I would guess still are money makers for the dealers.
Cars were usually less than a thousand dollars and it would take up to 6 weeks to get a new car after ordering it. We ordered our cars up until I think around the late to mid 80’s. We had an Oldsmobile one time that got 30 miles to the gallon of gas and I wish I had one like that today. There were no power brakes, steering or any of that stuff, yet we survived. Cars were then, just as they are now, things everyone wanted and felt they needed. Then as now being able to legally drive was truly a passage in ones life. Cars have changed, gotten more expensive, more toys on them yet we all feel like they are a vital part of life, at least I do.