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What's better, a '57 Chevy or a 2011 Ford?


Do you miss real cars?  You know, ones with tail fins, and acres of chrome, and big V-8s pumping out so much horsepower you can smoke the tires in any gear?

I do. I spend my days driving an econobox to work at 60 mph to save gas. But I often spend my evenings watching those Mecum auto auction shows, where fabulous cars from the 1950s and '60s are sold for insane prices. You know:  $120,000 for a 1966 Corvette, just like the used one my dad could've bought for me (but of course didn't!) in 1969 for $3,500.


And then, and then -- well, like a lot of things, perhaps those cars weren't quite as good as we remember.

For example, my 6-year-old econobox has gone almost 78,000 miles, and here's what it has needed in repairs: a set of tires; a set of spark plugs; a battery; front brakes; and regular oil and filter changes.

It's never failed to start; never sputtered or stalled because of bad timing or a faulty condenser or bad points (ask your dads, kids!); never had a broken fan belt, or a leaky radiator or a bad hose; the A/C is as ice cold today as the day it was new;  all the original bulbs are still burning brightly; heck, the clock even works!   

Plus, it gets a solid 30 to 34 mpg, and has since the day I bought it. And, by the way, it cost less than $14,000 new.

And then there's my other car, a 6-year-old van. I was shocked to see the other night that the low-beam headlight was out. I scurried to the owner's manual: Open hood; unclip connector to bulb; twist bulb one-quarter turn and remove; put in new bulb ($12 at the local auto parts store); twist one-quarter turn; reconnect connector; close hood. Total time (including teaching teenage son): about 20 minutes.

No screwdriver or wrenches; no re-aiming the headlight; no cursing over lost screws or ill-fitting chrome rings.

So, as much as I love those old cars, today's cars are just plain better in the ways that matter to most people.

But don't take my word for it. Check out the June issue of Popular Mechanics. Tucked in there between such articles as "Build a go-kart" and "PM test: Finish Nailers" (top choice: the Bostitch N62FNB, only $180!) is Mike Allen's "23 Ways Your Car Is Better Than Your Dad's."

Allen makes several compelling points. (Plus there's a cool during/after photo of a crash test pitting a 2009 Chevy Malibu against a 1959 Chevy Bel-Air.  Look it over and you'll wonder how anyone survived those golden years of driving.)

Among the advances Allen cites are:

"Thanks to car bodies and frames that are designed to absorb impact energy, and to seat belts and airbags, these days you’re far more likely to survive an accident."


"Today’s cars emit less than 1% of the smog-producing chemicals that cars put out four decades ago, and very little carbon monoxide."


"Henry Ford painted Model T's with black lacquer and a paintbrush. Except for spray guns, the process didn’t improve much until paint-booth emissions requirements made carmakers adopt durable clear-coat enamel in the '80s."

Notice something in common?  Yes -– shhh, don't tell the "tea party" types -- government regulations have done much to improve our cars.  Sure, automakers have done their part, but I recall the days of auto-industry lobbyists saying "It can't be done" and "It'll ruin the auto industry" in regard to emissions standards.  And I remember the people who said "I'll never wear a seat belt" or "airbags aren't needed."

Heck, today's cars are even "greener."  As Allen says:

"Most of a modern car -– including the plastic -– is designed to be recycled. And thanks to a robust process, the modern automobile is the single most recycled object on planet Earth."

So now I'm looking at my econobox and my van with new respect.

But I still want that '66 Corvette.


Him, unlicensed; me, unlucky

Driving under the influence of cellphone

Debate: The best remedy for soaring gas prices?

Are you sure your car has an airbag? A hidden threat to drivers

-- Paul Whitefield

Photo: A line worker checks a 2012 Ford Focus on the assembly line at the Michigan Assembly Plant. Credit: Paul Sancya / Associated Press


Comments () | Archives (13)

The comments to this entry are closed.


While agree with everything you are stating there is one thing that old cars have that modern ones don't: charicter. It is that charicter that draws you to the Corvette. If you end up getting one or know anyone that needs a place to take their vintage automobile my company is here for you.


Mitchell Young

"Yes -– shhh, don't tell the "tea party" types -- government regulations have done much to improve our cars. Sure, automakers have done their part, but I recall the days of auto-industry lobbyists saying "It can't be done" and "It'll ruin the auto industry" in regard to emissions standards."

Someday soon we'll be able to say "--don't tell the SWPL types, but immigration enforcement has done much to improve our society. Sure, agribusinesses have done their part --mechanizing, moving labor intensive crops to Mexico and grow machine-friendly crops here. Fast food franchisees adjusted to working around school schedules for teenagers and young adults. Real estate developers even paid higher wages for construction workers. But I remember the whinging: 'we need more labor, Americans won't do these jobs', but the savings in social costs and the financial reward for working Americans more than makes up for any inconvenience suffered by business interests."


An intelligently written article.

I kind of feel badly for those who worship cars of the past. They were acceptable in their day, but today's cars are far better in every way.

Remember reading Lee Iococa's book? Remember what he said about quality in the 50's?

The parking lot at Ruby's on Friday afternoon is full of dinosaur worshippers, but I'm not one of them.

dog boy

Jim you poor fool!


I think my grandfather drove a Chrysler Charicter. Or maybe it was a DuhSoto. I dunno.

Capn Rusty

They don't write songs about Volvos.

Kurt O.

Modern cars are better than old cars in every way that can be measured. Old cars are better than modern ones in every way that can't.

Shanelle Mitchell

Wrong year for the Chevy. It should be a 1958 Impala.
We always choose the popular car from the year we graduated from high school- my prom date was the daughter of the Edsel dealer!

FW Beseler

I'd take the '57 Chevy anyday. Parts are readily available and anyone with even just a hint of mechanical ability can work on it. All you need are some 9/16- and 1/2-inch sockets and wrenches, screwdrivers, Vise-grips™ and you're in business. You can't even get your hands into the engine compartment on that Ford or any other modern car! And which of the two works better for attracting young ladies?! It's a slam-dunk!


I do miss my V8 Ford ('63 Galaxy) but loved the mileage on a Ford Focus recently rented to drive from Oregon to LA. Driving a '92 4runner now, and it's ok. Restoring a '73 240Z, and it's a screamer. I love it. Decent on gas, zippy as all get out, easy to work on. There's very little I can do on the 4runner, mechanicking-wise. I did all the work on my old Ford. Plus, tipping the pedal down a quarter of an inch and blasting off is something you can't do in the 4runner or the Focus, but can in the old Z and the old Galaxie. Trade-offs.

I suppose that, like most girls, I should have learned to cook, but cars have always been much more fun.

Eric S

A 1957 Chevrolet, which my family purchased one brand new, was an exceedingly solid car, even better than many similar cars built at that time. Its simplicity made it much easier to repair than today's electronics loaded cars.

A contemporary compact car with air bags and passenger restraints probably is still less safe than the 1957 Chevrolet with seat belts, being much heavier and using thicker steel panels.

Unfortunately such comparisons are hypothetical, since the government would never allow the manufacture of more 1957 style Chevrolets.


Right on! Bump those CAFE standards UP!

I'm getting 379 MPG in my Chevy Volt.

It's easy to get 100 MPG in any plugin hybrid car.

At over 4500 fun to drive miles I've been the the gas station once since January. To buy 4 gallons.

Mandate it baby and make it so!

Say NO to gas! Drive Electric - Live Free

Top Gallant

1959 Copper Impala Convertible. Beautiful. Damn thing was always in the shop. But my 65 Mustang 6 cylinder, now that baby ran and ran. When I worked on it, I could see the ground through the engine. Of course, the thing no one has mentioned is the loss of front seat couch seating in the cars from the 50s and 60s. I mean, what do kids do today!



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The Opinion L.A. blog is the work of Los Angeles Times Editorial Board membersNicholas Goldberg, Robert Greene, Carla Hall, Jon Healey, Sandra Hernandez, Karin Klein, Michael McGough, Jim Newton and Dan Turner. Columnists Patt Morrison and Doyle McManus also write for the blog, as do Letters editor Paul Thornton, copy chief Paul Whitefield and senior web producer Alexandra Le Tellier.

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