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One of the primary reasons that classic cars have more charm and character when compared to modern cars is that new autos have become homogenized over time. The primary reason for the similarity in look and feel of today’s autos is due to the vast expansion of government regulation of the car industry over the past 40+ years. Some of the largest areas of regulation during this timeframe have come in required crash protection, emissions, and gas mileage standards. Although all regulations have been thoroughly thought out and researched for the betterment of society, they have had a significant impact on the design and functionality of today’s automobile when compared to classic automobiles. These improvements have made driving in the modern era significantly safer than post WW II, but still leave car aficionados wanting more out of automotive designers.

Over time, the total number of auto manufacturers in the world has decreased during the past several decades. Between company mergers, going out of business due to profitability concerns, and acquisitions, there is just not as much choice available to the consumer on a day-to-day basis as there was in the past resulting in modern cars not having as much charm and character as those made in the past. The varieties of autos that are sold on today’s market are less risky in their overall design appearance in order to ensure economic success of the model line. Even the largest car manufacturers are not able to afford the economic risk of putting a new auto model on the market without thorough testing and consumer feedback in hand. The negative fallout on the overall performance of the car manufacturer is big for just one failed car model in today’s economy. 

Over the past four decades, there has been a significant investment by the auto industry into improving crash standards in all vehicles. This research was triggered by federal regulation implemented in order to make it safer to drive on the busy highways and roadways. A big side effect of these improved standards is the impact it has had on the front-end design of cars. In order to meet current regulations, cars must be designed to be able to withstand a certain level of force. The styling is also limited further by not being able to incorporate any protrusions that will lead to more harm if the car hits a pedestrian. The combined effect is to limit the design possibilities of modern cars making them appear to have less charm and character than classic automobiles.

Over time, automotive drivers have become accustomed to cars that are easy to handle and do not make a significant amount of noise. This requires the steering and suspension of the automobile to be isolated from the car, and does not transmit as much feedback to the driver as a classic automobile does when behind the wheel. As a result, the overall character and charm of a classic automobile appears to be better when compared to modern cars. Although extremely expensive automobiles can replicate the feeling the classics give to drivers, most consumers prefer to drive the automobile that has the best performance for the money and worry less about the character of the auto.

If you have ever driven a classic car, then you know that one of the biggest differences between the car and a modern auto is that classic vehicles do not have any electronic driving aids. Fans of classic autos believe that this allows the driver to establish a more intimate connection with their car and adds to the overall charm and character of the vehicle. Older vehicles were designed to allow the driver to feel the car in order to allow the driver to keep control of the car. Modern cars use stability control that helps control the yaw or relative speed of the wheels for the driver. On legacy vehicles, this feedback that the car comes directly from the steering wheel itself, the seat, and even when the tires squeal. These effects are eliminated for the most part in modern era of automotive production.

A big reason that classic cars have more charm and character when compared to modern cars is that the interiors of the vehicles were made from real material. Legacy auto manufacturers did not have the option of using fake leather or pleather when designing the interior of a new car or truck. Many of the older autos featured genuine leather seats and carpeting materials. Classic car owners swear that the older leather seats just smell and feel different than what consumers find on today’s vehicles. Fans of modern cars will counter with the smell being one of age; however, in the ongoing efforts to squeeze as much profit as possible out of modern cars, it cannot be argued that classic autos used more original materials on the interior of the autos.

For the most part, modern day automotive design lags that of classic cars which has a negative impact on the overall charm and character of new cars. Before car manufacturers started to base their designs on what will sell to the market the best, each of the major auto manufacturers would take great pride in standing out from the competition with the overall design of the autos. Each brand was known for their specific look and feel unlike today where sedans from each major auto manufacturer look extremely similar to each other. There are exceptions in the modern day market, but generally these are limited to niche or high-end cars that are not targeted to the mainstream audience. Most designs seen in the car show rooms today are very conservative and are focused on mass market appeal.

A big reason that classic cars have more charm and character when compared to modern autos is the sturdy construction of the vehicles. For years, gasoline was cheap, and auto makers were not incentivized to make vehicle weight a primary design concern when making their vehicles. The difference in weight combined with the relatively few driver’s aids available on classic vehicles gives them a different feeling than driving a new car off of the lot today. Many of the vehicles were also much larger than those we see on the roads today giving the driver an added feeling of security when driving the car in heavy traffic or on windy roads. Although classic cars were not bullet proof, they delivered an added feeling of safety that is hard to replicate with modern autos.

When classic cars were first produced, the consumer was not conditioned to expect that the vehicle would come without flaws. Whether the car was loud, the ride was a bit rough, or it took some effort to handle the car, these flaws are considered to be part of the charm and character of classic cars compared to modern autos. When a driver gets behind the wheel of a modern car, there is an expectation that the vehicle will be extremely quiet inside of the cabin, and that the driving and riding experience will be close to perfect. Car aficionados believe that this trend towards the perfect ride takes away from the charm of today’s automobiles.

Over time the auto industry corporate culture has matured into a very corporate, and professional industry. As a result, the companies take a more conservative and systematic approach to designing new cars for the market. Where the dreams of a few engineers (or even just one) would result in a car with a bit more charm and character for classic automobiles, today’s vehicle designs are often the results of design committees and focus group discussions. As a result, the original design concepts of modern autos tend to be more watered down than many classics in order to stick to current trends and better sales on the show room floors when dealing with large volume production vehicles from the major automotive manufacturers.

The technologic advances of the past several decades in computing have surpassed Moore’s Law, and had a significant impact on the overall design of modern automobiles. Combined with increased competition for car sales and the process to design and build a new car has never been more complex. This complexity brings a significant amount of cost to the car manufacturers who cannot afford to have a new car model be a flop or fail to meet expectations. As a result, they are less willing to take on risk with it comes to the overall design of their automobiles resulting in many modern autos have significantly less charm and character when compared to a classic car.

By 2025, car manufacturers will be required to hit a 54.5 MPG or equivalent fuel efficiency target for new cars. This legislation builds on demands from past consumer experience and frustration with high prices at the gas pump for the vehicles. Design-wise, the new federal regulations will continue to play a significant impact on the overall look, feel, and character that modern cars lack when compared to classic cars. Many new cars that approach or meet the future standard lack the same noises and feel that legacy autos deliver to the driver. In some electric models, it can be difficult to tell if the car is even running except for seeing the vehicle move on the  roadway.

Many car aficionados look back at the car they drove in their formative (or younger) years, and fondly think of the vehicle as having more charm and class than the modern autos of today. In many cases for niche cars sold on today’s market, the vehicles are priced well outside of what young drivers who are not wealthy can afford to drive. As a result, their “world view” as compared to 20-30 years ago consists of less expensive and fuel efficient automobiles vice the best looking or performing roadster or sports car on the market today. This furthers the thought process that classic cars just have more charm and character since the young drivers of today just do not get the exposure to like autos of the past.

The regulation of the car industry really got moving in the mid-late 1960s when Ralph Nader made a public case in a book regarding the dangers of the car industry. Similarly, the impact of air pollution in the major cities in the United States started to wear on the populace. Since that timeframe, there were a number of mandates put into place by the state and federal governments regarding auto safety and air pollution standards that impacted cars as we knew them starting in 1969. Today’s automotive manufacturers have a significantly large volume of regulations to keep designs in accordance with in order to sell autos to the public today. Although these regulations have improved air quality and the overall safety of car drivers and passengers, they are a big reason behind classic cars having more charm and character when compared to modern cars.

Over time, the fashions and design preferences that consumers have for automobiles have changed. Although many car aficionados prefer the look and feel of vintage cars from the 1950s and 1960s, there is a significant portion of the population today who prefer the more contemporary designs featured by auto designers today. Until today’s autos become classics, they will continue to be considered less charming and have less character than the classic autos of the past.


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