Car Collector's Corner: When Good Looks Can Really Kill

J Sutherland
by J Sutherland

The bygone era of Detroit included many very stylish rides. This fact is one of the big reasons that old iron has such incredible curb appeal in 2012. They don’t make ‘em like they used to – and that includes dangerous style choices.

Don’t kill the messenger on these points, but there were several engineering choices that would have Ralph Nader spinning in his grave-if he was dead.

The fastback roofline of the 60s would be high on the list. The massive metal found on a first generation Charger’s rear roof pillar looked great, but you would have to possess Superman’s X-ray vision to see a car beside you in traffic.

The blind spot on the early 70s fastback Mustangs was a giant road hazard for any driver that was cocky enough to switch lanes on an impulse. A 1963 Sting Ray is an investor’s dream, but its split rear window meant that drivers entered other traffic lanes at their own peril.

The standard rule of thumb for most fastback owners from the muscle car era was simple: buy the baddest meanest big block in the stable and stay so far ahead of other cars that lane changes were not an issue.

Suicide doors have a limited application in today’s automotive world, but they were a fundamental part of a pre and post war car in yesteryear. Cars were not exactly kid safety friendly in those days, so an errant tug on a rear door handle could easily launch a kid into a rhythmic bounce down a highway.

The hideaway headlight concept has been around for a long time, with a huge golden era in the 60s and 70s. It is easy to understand why the hidden headlight look was so popular-it just looked so damned good on a car.

The only downside was the mechanical function of the hidden lights, typically run by a vacuum system and subject to problems like complete failure to open, or open and shut blinking. Either way it complicated night driving when headlights stayed tucked comfortably into the grill.

One of the nicer features of older cars are their dashboard and their steering wheels. They had lots of chrome and sharp protuberances (sharp pointy things) extending from the dash and steering wheels.

An unlucky and unbelted driver and/or passengers could easily get impaled on these items as they flew forward. The only upside (and it was a weak upside) was their guest appearances in an old guidance film about automobile safety.

However, it is very unlikely that any of them wanted to be movie star stiffs simply because old style cars impaled them on car bling.

The final item for discussion is fender skirts. Fender skirts were a highly desirable automotive fashion accessory for many car owners – until they had a flat tire. That is the exact moment when function trumped style for these owners.

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J Sutherland
J Sutherland

Online collector car writer/webmaster and enthusiast

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  • Kolonelpanik Kolonelpanik on Feb 24, 2012

    The ascendancy of aggressively tasteless form over function of American cars in general, during the last half of the last century, was appalling, wasteful, and lethal. An embarrassment to decency. And please, J Sutherland, don't say "if he was dead." If something is not the case, and we want to speculate on the consequences of a counter-factual, then we should say "If it WERE the case..." So, yes, perhaps Mr. Nader would roll over in his grave IF HE WERE dead." And, while I'm at it, please don't explain words like "protuberances," especially partially in terms of the very context in which they appear, i.e., "sharp protuberances (sharp pointy things)." Sharp is sharp, we know that, and if you think we might not know what protuberances are, then just don't use the word in the first place. A disappointing article about a fascinating subject.

  • Kolonelpanik Kolonelpanik on Feb 24, 2012

    Whoops, sorry.

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  • Big Al from Oz Musk and Trump are of the same ilk, except Musk's IQ is a damn site higher than Trumps. Musk like Trump is only into himself. Musk doesn't care about Trump only Musk. Musk sees more dollars if Trump wins.Hey, I'm Big Al again!3
  • Rover Sig We have a car with two fake exhausts in the bumper, but a large shiny muffler visible hanging down on one side, not aligned with the fake exhaust exits. Horrendous. I had to paint the shiny muffler with high-temp black paint to make it less visible. Exhaust pipes were meant to be round and hang below the bumper, and they can be made quiet or loud as the engineers like. But fake exhausts rank down there with fake intake vents on the side of that old Buick.
  • EBFlex Of course it does. What a silly question
  • Buickman Elon is a phony.