An older orange vehicle is shown having a headlamp installed by a mechanic.

Reflecting On Abandoned Car Trends With Rose-Tinted Headlamps

There’s a time in everyone’s life when we come to the realization that we’re getting older and possibly…brace yourself…uncool. What we considered the pinnacle of style back in the day almost always becomes laughed at by modern standards. Vehicles are no different; they become iconic classics or are remembered as tragic missteps that manufacturers would like to sweep under the rug. This also includes features and designs. Some have evolved along with the industry, while other aspects have been left in eras past. While everyone has an opinion when it comes to their ideal vehicle, here are a few trends I would welcome back with open arms.

Dim Interiors

I noticed a few years ago that the headlights seemed brighter. Every time I pass a car whose yellow lamps immediately peg it as a ‘90s or early ‘00s model, my suspicion is confirmed. But if I thought that was a pain, boy, was I in for it when I went and bought one of those newfangled ’10s cars for myself.

I went from a pair of ‘09 models to a 2017 Honda; the leap has been incredible! It’s so nice to have my phone automatically connect to the sound system via Bluetooth, better yet, through Apple CarPlay or Android Auto! But oh, Mylanta, when I climb in at night, I feel like putting a blanket over the infotainment screen. The first thing I did was turn that thing down to minimal brightness, and it’s still blazing like a flashlight in my peripheral vision.

No wonder we need such dang bright headlamps to see properly! I mean, no doubt, they do more for our safety than the dim bulbs of yesteryear, but it’d be just as helpful if our night vision wasn’t getting blown to oblivion by the miniature suns tacked onto modern dashboards! What happened to gentle yellow-green or orange-red illumination for gauges and controls, the kind that didn’t hurt your eyes to look straight at? What happened to dimmers that actually went all the way down to “off?”

Not “illuminated black,” that’s not what I said. I said, “Off,” as in, “Turn off your brights! …what do you mean they were already off?!?” And while I’m on the subject of infotainment…

A green 1908 Ford Model-T is shown driving on a hill.

Cheaper Cars

What the Sam Hill happened to cars that people could afford? After nearly 100 years of being accessible to the general population thanks to Henry Ford’s assembly line, it seems that new cars are once again the playthings of the rich. Never mind the supply chain issues and general inflation effects; pandemic factors aside, cars haven’t been this expensive in ages, and it ain’t right!

Here’s what I’m talking about. In 2010, in the depths of the Great Recession, it took 23.6 weeks of the average American’s income to pay for the average new car. That cost was $27,950, equivalent to $38,804 today. The payoff time bounced back to historically normal levels as the recession faded and held steady in the mid-30s. In 2019, it took 32 weeks to earn the money to buy a car, similar to 1995 numbers. But by the end of 2022? It skyrocketed to 44 weeks! That average price is $49,507, a relative increase of 27.5%, and a payoff time that’s up by 85%!

And why is that? So we can have those expensive spotlights-posing-as-tablets strapped to the dashboard, fancy animations instead of basic gauge clusters? Lights and beeps and buzzes to tell us there’s something in our blindspot when any defensive driver ought to know dang well that something’s there? Seven more gears than our transmission strictly needs, and hybrid technology to make acceptable fuel economy that we could have got in a smaller, shorter vehicle without the fancy powertrain but didn’t because we had to have crossovers? Six driving modes because having one tune isn’t good enough?

Bah, humbug. I want ‘00s sedans back. Give me 35+ MPG without a hybrid powertrain (or 45+ MPG with!). Give me a car devoid of “driver assists” (except cruise control; I’m keeping that sucker), loaded with physical control buttons and LCD screens. Tell me Chevy and Toyota can’t make a good, competitive sedan for under $30,000, whose only compromise is that it’s a modern car instead of a modern transportation robot that still demands a nanny. I’m not saying I would prefer a tech-free car to one with the bells and whistles; I really wouldn’t, but if drivers are getting completely priced out of new cars because they’ve inflated to the point that EVs are now cost competitive, then it’s not about choosing whether to get the bells and whistles; it’s about getting a new car at all or not.

Vibrant Colors

And one more thing; many of you modern car buyers might say, “I’m colorblind; I don’t see color,” but I don’t believe you. I think it’s just because cars today are grayer than charcoal! Seriously, the roads look like Twilight fan fiction, and subjecting my eyes to it is about as painful.
I’m not kidding; more than 25% of new cars today are white. The next 25%? Black. What a fitting combination to illustrate the polarization of our times, that more than half of cars are black or white. Know what’s fun? Nearly all the rest are gray! At 18% gray and 12% silver, which everyone knows is just “sparkly gray,” more than 80% of new cars are completely colorless. Blech!

We’ve come a long way from the ice cream parlor pastels of the ‘50s and ‘60s. “But look, it’s so clean,” comes the retort from a gray car automaton, to which I say, “Back in my day, we washed our cars when they got dirty!”

New cars used to be so exciting. You could take one home from the lot with a bright, interesting color scheme inside and out, something cheery to put a smile on your face every time you hopped in or out. Sure, a diverse exterior color palette is a hallmark of modern econoboxes (like the Chevy Spark), which have nothing else to offer, but then there’s the Buick Encore and its five shades of gray or gray-toned red. Exciting colors are generally limited to the realm of supercars. Boo!

Shoutouts to those who keep things fun in car styling. Dodge, with paint color names like Hellraisin, Sinamon Stick, TorRed, Frostbite, and White Knuckle, you get a +1. The VW Golf GTI continues to provide a traditional plaid cloth seating option; kilt’s off to you too. The eye-catching body lines of the Kia K5 and Toyota Supra demonstrate at least some sense of personality. They’re not the only ones, but man, are they bright spots in a bloated sea of gray.

I long for Bel Airs with bright, fun colors and two-tone schemes. Studebakers with torpedo grilles (…well, maybe not exactly that…) and Cadillacs with flared tail fins. Heck, the Dodge Neon had an array of interior cloth seating patterns, like one covered in multicolored triangles which immediately recalls Windows 95 for some reason. I want whoever had the gall to design TVR interiors to go on a speaking tour at automotive HQs worldwide, and I want the option of making the inside look like the outside in classic ‘50s style on all cars. I’ve had enough of black-on-black-on-gray. You can call it Glacial, Jet, Graphite, and Argentium all you want; it’s nothing but gray to me. Let’s have a little spirited sunshine again, please.

A 2021 Toyota Supra is shown parked on a road next to a building.

Saccharine Nostalgia

What’s the use? Kids these days aren’t listening to young farts like me; they’re listening to influencers or instabookers or whatever the heck Tick Tag is. And why shouldn’t they; it’s already their world now. But I won’t forget. While they’re cruising around in their soundless, smell-less, hands-free washing machines on wheels, I’ll still be here, remembering the way things used to be. Don’t get me wrong, we’ve made great strides but lost a bit, or a lot, of our souls along the way.

Some things are just a point of fashion, like styling and color options, but others, like less-than-blinding interiors for comfortable night driving, relate to practical concerns, too. Not the least of which is the trend towards ever-more complicated vehicles! If we keep raising the floor of what features, materials, and performance are required in an acceptable car, we’ll keep raising the barrier to entering the market, too. So get off my dang lawn. In a changing world that I have such little control over, that’s the one thing I can keep exactly the way it used to be; free from brilliant lights, expensive gimmicks, and wonderfully green.