Sunday, September 10, 2023

"Cars these days!"

Every time I post pics of an older car on Facebook, there are a smattering of comments that are all a variation on "I miss the old days when cars looked different. Now they all look the same," when in fact they really didn't and they really don't. At least, not any more than usual.

Most cars of any given era are very broadly similar. Only people who are into cars of that era are likely to be able to tell them apart. My automotive tastes are pretty catholic, and I've been training my eye with my casual car-spotting hobby, but the farther back in time you go, the more difficult the differentiation gets for me.

I'm generally good back through the mid-Sixties, but once you get into the early Sixties, the era of jumbo tail fins and Exner's Forward Look, it gets harder.

By the time you're into the early Fifties, I'm probably only going to bat fifty-fifty, mostly favoring cars with certain distinctive styling cues, like Studebaker's bullet snout or Buick's portholes and sweepspear.

As Lindir the elf said in The Fellowship of the Ring, "To sheep other sheep no doubt appear different. Or to shepherds. But mortals have not been our study. We have other matters." 

Cars from the "Pontoon/Bathtub" era tend to look alike to me, and by the time you get back to the time of cycle fenders or, worse, brass lanterns I'm hopeless except for the most distinctive or common cars.

Your average person will retain a memory of the cars they were into at that age when most Americans are kinda sorta into cars: Their teenage years, when they were anticipating a driver's license. But for non car hobbyists, most everything before or after that era is more or less an undifferentiated four-wheeled mass.

In every styling era there will be a few really distinctive vehicles, but the vast bulk of cars will look strongly alike except for trim details. You've gotta be a little bit of a nerd to be able to distinguish a '77 Ford Granada and a '77 Dodge Diplomat from across a parking lot. To the non enthusiast, a '64 Ford Falcon and a '64 Plymouth Valiant might as well be the same car.

Times and styles change, whether we approve or not.