A New Golden Age of Automobiles
A New Golden Age of Automobiles
Opinions expressed by Bill Crittenden are not official policies or positions of The Crittenden Automotive Library. You can read more about the Library's goals, mission, policies, and operations on the About Us page.
8 January 2017
My wife sent me this picture recently of the touchscreen on our 2013 Ford C-Max Hybrid, showing four below zero on the thermometer on her way to work. Yeah, if I get a Mustang, I want it to have this a lot more than I want it to do burnouts.
Technology seems to be encroaching upon the most fun and interesting aspects of owning and driving automobiles: automatic transmissions, electric cars, self-driving cars, cars bloated by safety features and fuel economy regulations strangling design creativity, and a constant barrage of technological advancements vying for our attention on the dashboard are replacing the charms of "well-weathered leather, hot metal and oil" of the cars of years gone by.
Despite traditionalists decrying the loss of the world they are comfortable with, these and other technological advancements are going to contribute to a new Golden Age for automobile enthusiasts.
I've been thinking about this for some time but what really got me to put it all down in writing was a disagreement regarding a forthcoming Ford Mustang Hybrid. A friend favors the traditional V8 engine car and said "why cannot one thing stay traditional?" I think that a day will come when high fuel costs will start to eat into gas-powered Mustang sales, and the hybrids & EcoBoost 4-cylinder Mustangs will help the V8 Mustang survive by spreading the platform R&D costs across more vehicles. Otherwise, shrinking sales may make redesigning the Mustang unjustifiable at some point in the future, and it would die.
Jay Leno put it best years ago from behind the wheel of a car as unbelievably boring as the Honda FCX Clarity. He said that fuel cell cars will save gasoline for the enthusiasts. Oil is a limited resource. We can commute to work each day on fuel cells and hybrids so that there's plenty of gas left for classic car enthusiasts.
Despite the average petrolhead's dream that every car manufactured be high-performance and beautifully styled, most people just don't care. Or they have vastly different priorities: protecting the environment, protecting their families, or low-cost commuting. Expending a limited resource on commutes in base model Corollas driven by people who see their automobiles as appliances for transportation is simply a waste. Let them drive Chevrolet Bolts, that just means more gas for the people who really want it.
New Car Technology
But this isn't about just gasoline. Cars had improved incrementally over the first thirty years of my lifetime but now they're advancing by leaps and bounds.
Semi-automatic manual transmissions
and the newest generation of automatic transmissions
can shift quicker than human hands, helping create a generation of cars quicker than any before. No longer do you suffer a performance penalty for opting out of rowing through gears in traffic. CVTs
of the fun out of running a car through the gears, but they're another tool for the commuters to save gas for the fun cars.
are light years ahead of the "CD-player with an LCD clock" I put into my first Oldsmobile. Full color touchscreen displays with GPS navigation systems, Bluetooth connectivity for phone calls & audio entertainment now improved by the new Apple CarPlay & Android Auto interfaces, along with all the neat little vehicle monitoring tricks that each manufacturer puts into their cars, have all helped to make driving an entirely better experience from the days of cassettes, pay phones, and folded maps.
Behind the dashboard sensors, cameras, and computers will combine to create self-driving cars
. Despite the hysteria over Google's ugly little test "car," nobody's going to force us all to ride in plastic bubbles without steering wheels made by Silicon Valley tech companies. What will eventually happen is that you can stumble into your 2025 Ford Mustang after a night at the bar, it can sense that you are too intoxicated to drive, and the autopilot function will take you home. Or maybe you have a heart attack while you're on your way somewhere, just hit an emergency button and the car will take you to the hospital's emergency entrance and honk the horn until someone comes out to assist you. Or you can work late into the night and sleep on the ride home rather than risk a crash falling asleep at the wheel. No matter how you choose to use this new optionally activated
feature, there are a thousand situations I could think of in which it won't work and the car will still have to have a steering wheel and pedals. So you could also turn off the autopilot when you feel like enjoying a curvy back road manually. The best of both worlds.
Somewhere either on dashboard or the bumpers are new, smaller-than-ever digital cameras
. We're seeing them used now by automakers as an improvement on the old rear view mirror, and aftermarket dashcams are gaining popularity for documenting incidents on the roads. Hopefully when law catches up with technology we'll see dashcams built into cars and "black boxes" recording crashes from both front and rear. This will drastically change what happens in court after an incident, and if you're a good driver you've got to be excited about this one. It may also help eliminate a lot of innocent victims from getting caught up in insurance fraud schemes (Google "swoop and squat").
Technology Helps Older Cars, Too
The modern car with all the features I mentioned above is just fantastic if your primary goal is comfortable transportation, they're great if you have a family to protect, and we all
have an environment to protect. But advancements haven't been all positive for traditional car guys. Government-mandated safety features and designing for government-mandated fuel economy ratings have been very controversial, resulting in bloated cars with a limited window of acceptable design flexibility. Automakers designing quiet, comfortable cars for the mass market have even begun to resort to playing artificial engine noises through stereo speakers for performance enthusiasts. Cars just aren't the simple, mechanical machines they used to be, and for someone who loved them as they were in years past, modern cars are a sad, fat silhouette of what was once great.
But like the world Jay was alluding to, most people will drive the newer cleaner cars, saving lives and gasoline and the air we breathe in the process so that we can have a better world in which to enjoy the great cars of the past.
And if you really can't live without an older car, technology is there to make life better for you, too...
Of course we've all seen how eBay
has been able to connect obscure old car parts with classic car owners looking to finish projects, but the constant improvement in communications technology is bringing people together like never before. I once met a man who spent years trying to find one of his old race cars; ten minutes with Google
and I had the current owner's email address for him.
No longer will your ability to connect with automobile and motorsport enthusiasts be limited to the prevailing car culture in the part of the world in which you live. In 2016 we saw the launch of DriveTribe
, which creates little specialized communities based on the kinds of cars & trucks we love. It's a formal, big-money acknowledgement of what we've been doing since the days of Yahoo Clubs and simple online message boards dating back to the 1990's, Internet forums in the 2000's, and Facebook Groups in the 2010's.
The conversation that inspired me to write this? Yeah, that happened across six time zones, across an ocean and on two separate continents. Thanks, Twitter
Oh, and how 'bout The Crittenden Automotive Library
, huh? Digitized old films and scanned books & photographs available for download worldwide, 24 hours a day!
We've already seen CNC machining
be capable of reproducing old mechanical parts without the expense of recreating dies lost to history. Now 3D printing
's capabilities of affordably recreating small parts made with plastics & soft metals promises to fix that annoying problem of replacing those damn near impossible-to-find trim pieces and knobs that go missing on old cars over the years.
A lot of the technology we started putting into cars in the 2000's is now small enough to fit into your pocket. Thanks to smartphones
almost everybody has touchscreen GPS regardless of what they drive. And when a fifty-year-old ball joint decides it's had enough in the middle of cornfield country, you don't have to walk to the next town to call a tow truck. Bluetooth connected portable speakers and streaming audio are also making those hidden CD players people installed in classic cars in the 1990's obsolete - you can now have a modern radio while leaving your classic car unmodified.
The biggest advancement of the last 14 months, however, isn't technological itself but the culmination of an advancing ability to manufacture quality parts and cars in smaller quantities while retaining some semblance of efficiency and affordability. For a few years now companies have been making new chassis for old cars licensed by the original manufacturers. Along with a small industry of reproduction parts manufacturers it's been possible to build your own brand-new classic Mustang or Camaro or Shelby Cobra in your own garage. Kit cars have been around for decades, and were once the only legal way to have your own brand new classic car.
Until now, that is: thanks to a provision in the 2015 highway bill
small automakers can now sell up to 325 full reproductions of cars at least 25 years old.
Car kit producer Superformance announced in response that they'll be selling turnkey, ready-to-drive Ford GT40's, Corvette Grand Sports, and Shelby Cobras. Revology Cars is selling brand new 1966 Mustangs. Even the 80's are making a comeback: the DeLorean Motor Company has been resurrected and plans to build & sell new old DeLoreans again.
Yes, thanks to all of the little advancements in manufacturing processes of the past several years, you can now buy a brand new classic car. And thanks again to that wonderful internet, these companies don't have to build dealership or distributor networks to sell enough cars to be viable.
So Many Choices...
The New Golden Age of Automobiles is going to be all about choice. You can buy a high performance street car running quarter mile times only full racing cars could run in the past, or you can put a Bernie sticker on your Prius and laugh at the SUV owners when gas hits $5 a gallon. You can choose a car far more technologically advanced than the Apollo moon rocket or use new technology to restore a car from the Space Age. You can choose your enthusiast community online rather than falling in line with the prevailing local car culture.*
Soon you can even choose to buy a hybrid Ford Mustang, because some folks might want a sharp looking coupe loaded with options for a road trip rather than one stripped out for quarter mile runs. We're all still helping each other out, the classic Mustang inspiring one of the best new cars on the road today while the hybrid Mustang will contribute to keeping the modern version economically viable.
And yes, if I had the money I'd seriously consider buying a hybrid Mustang. I love the new Mustang but I'd rather have 40 mpg and heated seats than something that can rip its own tires off. Geoff can have my gas for his V8.
* — Have you ever sat down and thought of all the different automotive subcultures there are? I have