Everything old is new again

I bought my first car, a well-used 1934 Ford, in 1949, in the “run farther, run faster” period of my youth. The car was especially important for my family and myself as we had been carless since my father’s death seven years earlier, when my mother had to let the family car go.

I’d never had the opportunity to learn to drive, so I didn’t even have a driver’s license when I bought the car. In fact, the only driving I had done at all at that point was in the fields at harvest time, hauling grain from the combine. Fortunately for me, testing was pretty rudimentary in those days, and licenses were pretty easy to obtain.

The car was generally overpowered for its weight, and in my driving inexperience I consequently had the troubling tendency to dig down in deep snow or mud, or to spin out on icy or rain-slicked roads. For the first while I was frequently obliged to rely on the kindness of strangers to tow me out of a ditch, usually by means of a team of horses.

Somewhat unusual for the times, the car boasted a custom-built radio, a massive piece of technology which occupied the space behind the dash which would otherwise have been occupied by the glove compartment. The radioorked extremely well; I particularly remember on clear, cold nights tuning in such stations as Des Moines, Iowa and Del Rio, Texas. It drew, however, an incredible battery amperage. With the radio on, it was necessary to drive at least 30 miles an hour to maintain a battery charge. With the radio and the lights on at the same time, it was necessary to drive at least 50 miles an hour.

I sometimes chuckle to myself about some of the “new” features contemporary car makers breathlessly extol for their latest models. Some of these features aren’t really so new: My old 1934 Ford boasted a locking steering wheel, and a built-in radio antenna system-both features generally considered today to be of recent development.

In the field of automotive development, I am often reminded of the old French adage “Plus ça change, plus ça reste la meme.” (The more things change, the more they stay the same.) If one looks solely at a car’s basic purpose of transporting people from one place to another, recent models really do nothing which my 1934 Ford didn’t do.

The late-model Oldsmobile I drive today is a great car: attractive, comfortable, and dependable, but it doesn’t even come near to giving me the excitement, thrill, and pride of ownership that I experienced with that beat up old 1934 Ford. Now that was a real car!