Gerardo Cammarata of Classic Car Hunter SA has restored nearly 50 classic cars over the years. He isn’t really a fan of modern cars, but says that classics are painful when compared to modern counterparts.
If you read my earlier columns you may have noted that I’m really not a fan of most modern cars. I have touched on some of the reasons for my distaste in my previous piece. However, I will give credit where it’s due. Modern cars, from a comfort perspective, really are exceptional compared to what we had to endure in the past.
Remember the days when you would alight from your vehicle drenched in sweat? One of the best inventions in automotive history has to be the air conditioner, or climate control in more upmarket models. Humans tend to forget the ills of the past as we romanticise days gone by. One thing that will smack you back to reality is commuting during an African summer’s day in a vehicle from the pre-aircon era.
A sauna can, at times, feel better than sitting on a vinyl seat with the sun hammering down while you endure peak-hour traffic. Try to seek relief by switching on the fan and you are greeted by a wind that feels as though it blew through the Sahara desert as hot air is sucked from the engine bay and blown into the cabin in an effort to cool you down.
Today all you have to do is programme your car’s system to your liking, and every time you drive off the setting of your choice will be used. When the weather changes you simply set a more comfortable temperature on your car’s touchscreen interface.
Another brilliant invention is power assisted steering. Have you tried to manoeuvre your 1970s V8 powered steed in a parking lot on the same hot summer’s day I mentioned before? I can tell you that the above experience will give you a new level of appreciation for modern automobiles.
Long road trips highlight another benefit of new cars over old. The much maligned NVH obsession by motoring manufacturers during the 1990s, while numbing the beloved raw driving experience that petrolheads, like myself crave, has surely made a car’s interior a much more pleasant place to be.
You don’t have to go much further than a 1960s VW Kombi. Our family’s much beloved “splitty” was a horrible place to undertake even a 30 km trip. You sat somewhat hunched with the steering wheel in your lap. The gear lever had such a long throw that after a few minutes you would suffer from shoulder pain. Speed humps had to be taken with utmost care to keep your cranium from meeting the roof. I have vivid memories of road trips with my family in the 1980s, most of which are of pain, heat and cramps.
Tinted windows were another God-send in Africa. Tint started off as an aftermarket film that was applied to windows in an effort to bring down temperatures inside a vehicle, yet nowadays most modern automobiles come with tinted windows; even some windscreens darken automatically as the sun’s rays become angrier.
Remember the days of tuning a radio? You had to twirl a knob while listening to static blaring at you. Eventually you would hear a broken voice or song, and then you had to feather said knob until you could find an acceptable quality of sound. That wouldn’t last very long though. Prior to the invention of RDS, you had to constantly fiddle with the tuning dial to be able to listen to the same radio station.
And then there were cassette decks. It seems their sole purpose was to ingest and destroy your favourite cassette. Every 30 min you had to swap sides and a long trip required a box full of tapes Today, as you slide into the cabin your phone automatically connects via Bluetooth. This allows you to listen to digital files or stream countless songs via your mobile.
The downside of most of these mod-cons has been an increase in weight and size of the modern automobile, and the ever increasing feeling of detachment from the actual driving experience. But if we have to judge cars by comfort, and ease of use, instead of judging them by the petrolhead’s criteria of an ultimate driving experience, we have to admit that modern cars really are far better.