Piston Slap: The Times They Are A-Changin'

Sajeev Mehta
by Sajeev Mehta
piston slap the times they are a changin

TTAC Commentator NoChryslers writes:

Enjoy the website very much… so here are some questions.

  1. Why are interior and exterior color choices so limited right now? You have to pay extra for anything special. (Even then, good luck getting the carpet to match the drapes — SM) Seems to have started in the ’90s and we’ve been grayscale ever since!
  2. What happened to all of the convertibles?
  3. How do we stop the SUV/crossover tsunami?

Sajeev answers:

Let’s hope these good questions make for a lively discussion in the comments!

Question 1: It’s always about the money, honey!

Remember Henry Ford’s famous quote and look at Tesla: struggling to show signs of consistent quarterly profit capabilities via streamlining color options.

But it’s not all about “production hell” with startup manufacturers. You’re right when you said 1990s cars got boring, because they added seriously expensive-to-make stuff. There’s widespread adoption of four-channel anti-lock brakes, traction control, dual airbags, variable ratio steering, mass-air flowing fuel-injection, 80+ watt CD-playing audio systems, four-wheel disc brakes, even aluminum intensive engines/chassis/suspensions. There’s money saved in computer-assisted everything along the supply chain, but we’re still stretching the budget.

It put us down a path of boring and blah colors to go with today’s mandated standard backup camera and eleventy billion safety features, son!!!

A fine example of the era’s decline is the 1996 Ford Taurus — read the book about it. Then consider the purple or [s]booger[/s] money green interior. If you did, everything was color matched: seat controls, consoles, handles, the entire door panels and dash (no cost saving black inserts!) carpets, grab handles, etc. And there was plenty of aforementioned tech: airbags, ABS, all-aluminum four-cam engine, variable rate steering, etc.

So this was the best of both worlds? Of course not!

Bizarre styling aside, the 1996 Taurus was rightly panned for expensive window dressings that nobody cares about, and the subsequent undue burden to the entry level (and fleet) buyer. Check out those triple stitched leather seats with leather covering the sides and back (i.e. not mere leather seating surfaces), JBL-licensed tweeters behind metal grilles, even chrome-plated alloy wheels! The costs trickled down: the base model had a complex and cost-prohibitive flip-out console ( that also came in green), soft-touch plastics everywhere (even the glovebox) and a strong number of standard features. Enter the value-laden Taurus G, complete with deleted rear arm rest, no cruise control, and even a black B-pillar delete: a harbinger of the future, cost-engineered 2000+ model. Perhaps Ford shoulda kept adding content while avoiding foolish acquisitions?

This story and the underlying, surprisingly luxurious ownership experience is why the 1996-1999 Taurus is a seriously under-appreciated vehicle, but my digression goes too far now!

Question 2: convertibles cannot exist without a symbiotic relationship via sister ship in a profitable coupe. And often a sedan, be it BMW 3 Series or Chrysler Sebring! And we all know the Buick Cascada’s fate was sealed when PSA got its hands on Opel.

So no soup for you, unless you like Mustangs, Camaros, BMW 3 Series, or can swing the lease on a higher echelon Mercedes-Benz. Or stomach the repairs on the latter when fully depreciated.

Question 3: Just give up — and please believe some examples are both practical and enjoyable for a daily commute. What helped me was taking off my glasses, squinting a bit, and mentally overlaying a Chrysler Airflow to the side profile of any CUV. Sure, the Airflow has delicious rear-wheel drive proportions, but aside from the stubby nose, most crossovers are just the progressive 1930s and mainstream early 1940s whips all over again.

Go play L.A. Noire and hug your Equinox after.

[Image: Shutterstock user rivermo74]

Send your queries to sajeev@thetruthaboutcars.com. Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry…but be realistic, and use your make/model specific forums instead of TTAC for more timely advice.

Join the conversation
2 of 83 comments
  • Jeff S Jeff S on Feb 17, 2019

    My main beef is with many car models offering a black only interior and those limiting gray and tan to few exterior color choices. If you have to compromise then offer a black dashboard to save some costs and to eliminate any window reflection on the dashboard. Try living with an all black interior in a hot climate even with air conditioning--a scorching hot interior after sitting in the hot sun for hours and longer to cool off the interior even when running the air conditioning at full blast with the window open to let the hot air out. I can live with a light gray or tan interior as the only additional choices but all black only is not a choice.

  • Uncle Mellow Uncle Mellow on Feb 17, 2019

    Many of us baby-boomers have hip or back problems at this stage, and an SUV or crossover makes an awful lot of sense. Fifty years ago I had trouble getting into a Lotus. Ten years back an RX7 nearly beat Me. I'm OK so far, but the day will come....

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