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4 Reasons Americans Don’t Care About Cars Anymore

Autos today are a far cry from the raw Shelby Cobra, venomous Dodge Viper, and classic Chevy Corvette — all dynamic designs of their time.

by
Becky Graebner

Bio

March 2, 2014 - 4:00 pm
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Editor’s Note: This article was first published in February of 2013. It is being reprinted as part of a new weekend series at PJ Lifestyle collecting and organizing the top 50 best lists. Where will this great piece end up on the list? Reader feedback will be factored in when the PJ Lifestyle Top 50 List Collection is completed in a few months…

Automobiles are everywhere, so it might come as a shock to some that the culture surrounding their creation and appreciation is dying.  America has a long, rich history with the automobile — to the extent that you could call it a love story. Many a man and woman have been bewitched by the thundering horses under the hood, the smell of rich leather, the pulsing power felt underfoot, and the consequential adrenaline rush from a short spin around the block. The automobile is an essential piece of the cultural fabric of America. We helped to invent it, fine-tune it, unleash it… and, in the end, we fell in love with it. Owning a car became a source of pride, as well as a symbol of success and freedom. What’s more American than the image of a green, 1940s Chevy pick-up driving down a stretch of Route 66, a tan arm resting on the rolled-down window, fingers feeling the wind? It makes you want to yell, “America!” and go drink a Coke on the 4th of July.

Unfortunately, I’m not so sure this vision is a reality anymore. The vibrant love between car and man that inspired an entire culture of auto devotees now seems to be dwindling. The gear-head enthusiasts will always motor on, I am sure, but what happened to the average American? Simple respect and appreciation for the metal beast has shifted to sheer disinterest in cars. The following is the sad, draft-obituary of America’s car culture…

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All Comments   (12)
All Comments   (12)
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You should Revise your post to read "..."Some" Americans don't care about cars anymore..." and you'll be a bit-more correct.
I live in S/East Michigan and from Mid-May to Labor Day there is literally a
car cruise-a-week, hereabouts. From Woodward Ave. to Gratiot Ave., from Fort Street to Hines Park, from Michigan Ave. to The Run to The Bricks in Flint, it's no small group of enthusiasts we've got here. I'm not even mentioning the regional once a week gatherings that are simply everywhere.
Hell, they come from all over the world on certain dates and for certain events.(See: Woodward Dream Cruise)
Go to the annual SEMA Show and just try to tell me the hobby and the car fascination is not getting visibly stronger.
Are there multitudes that could care less ? Heck yes, there are.
But there are waayyy more who are still enthused and there always will be.
Cars help make us what we are and they just cannot be denied.....it's like a root memory, deep down in your soul, and D N A .............
21 weeks ago
21 weeks ago Link To Comment
Car buyers borrowing record amount
http://www.cnbc.com/id/101461972
21 weeks ago
21 weeks ago Link To Comment
#4: Blame the Federal gov't. Yes, the gov't. CAFE standards have forced manufacturers to chase ever better aerodynamic performance, and the tyranny of physics leaves less and less room for styling as the Coeffecient of Drag falls.
21 weeks ago
21 weeks ago Link To Comment
Some valid reasons why American's love affair with the automobile is changing.
21 weeks ago
21 weeks ago Link To Comment
My first new car cost $3200 (1969 Boss 302 Mustang). My first house cost $30,000 (1974). Today a new car costs on average $30,000, and a house costs $300,000 and more. There is no lack of interest in cars but a loaded luxury car today costs upwards of $60,000 to $100,000 plus. Who can afford them? Not the majority of the public, only the very rich. Americans can't afford to care too much about cars they can never hope to afford or buy.
21 weeks ago
21 weeks ago Link To Comment
The dollar amount $3,200 in 1969 translates to about $20,500 in 2014. A buyer can get a pretty decent brand-new car for 20 grand. Nobody needs a 'loaded luxury car'.

But since people in 1969 likely paid all cash for cars, and now most people finance, cars of a much higher cost are far more attainable to the average worker.

It's a pretty good article with valid points.
21 weeks ago
21 weeks ago Link To Comment
I dunno. I was around in 1969 and I seem to remember car payments. My dad certainly never paid cash.

In today's market, if you work at it, you can buy a new, rock-bottom Toyota Camry or Honda Accord for somewhere between $22 and $24 thou. Either one is a better car than anything sold in the Sixties, at least from most perspectives -- ride, noise, reliability, handling, braking, features, comfort, fuel economy. Both are excellent cars. The Camry has something of a reputation for being "bland", which is an aesthetic judgment. Image is for the marketing team to figure out; the engineers, at least, got it right.

But if you've just gotta have that old Sixties muscle car, you've still got choices. Buying an old Sixties muscle car is one of them. My Checker was restored by Dan Short at Fantomworks in Norfolk, VA -- he has his own reality-TV series on Velocity channel now, but I knew him before he became a star. If it's the old style that floats your boat, you can even have a "resto-mod" done -- that's when they stuff an old car's engine compartment with a modern engine with modern electronics. To me, that sorta defeats the purpose of going antique, but it has its allure. Getting 24 mpg in a '55 Chevy would be cool.

This year at the auto show, I went around looking at the new offerings by Ford and Chrysler. Seriously, the new Dodge Challenger is sweet. If you have to go retro, that one seems like a no-brainer. Of course, it'll run you over $40 K brand new, if you get the hemi. The Mustang GT is very nice as well. GM is dead to me, but even I have to admit they got the Corvette and the Camaro right, at least in the looks department.

Still, after looking at what everyone offers, every year I go home thinking, if it's my money I'm spending, then make it a Camry or an Accord.
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21 weeks ago
21 weeks ago Link To Comment
Car buyers borrowing record amount
http://www.cnbc.com/id/101461972
21 weeks ago
21 weeks ago Link To Comment
Fine, I get it, but you were making it sound like financing car purchases was a rare thing in 1969. I don't think that's an accurate assessment of the 1969 finance market.
21 weeks ago
21 weeks ago Link To Comment
The Boss 302 was sweet. That was 45 years ago, though. I'm guessing, adjusted for inflation, that may not be all that much cheaper than you could get a 2014 Ford Mustang. Even so, cars today are a totally different product, some of that difference caused by competition, some by consumer-group nagging, some by government directive.

My first car (1979) cost $125. My second car (1980) cost twice that. Of course, they were old beaters and cost much more new. The first one, a 1968 Plymouth Belveder station wagon with a 318 VB, looked like it had been through WW III. More rust than steel. More oil being burned than gasoline.

The second one was a 1966 Ford Galaxie with a 289 V8. Interior and trim were junk, seats were a mess, but mechanically it was sound and finally died at 320,000 miles.

Cars may cost more today relative to income, I don't have the stats in front of me. If gas does, though, I don't think it's by very much. Gas reached $1.35/gallon in 1980 and I think the average family income was about $18,000. Today it's around $50,000.

But in many ways you're getting a lot more car for the money nowadays. Here's a list of features that the typical 1980 car sold in the U.S. did not have: fuel injection; four-wheel disk brakes; overhead cam; four-wheel independent suspension; air bags; rack & pinion steering. The American cars tended not to come with radial tires -- Detroit dragged their feet for so long, it got embarrassing. (And when they did finally make radials standard, they didn't bother to tune the suspensions any differently, so they didn't ride or handle well. When GM finally did get the suspension at lease close to being right, they were so proud of themselves they put a little trim badge on the side, "RTS", meaning radial-tuned suspension. In other words, they were bragging about finally getting around to doing something right that should have been done right the first time with no fanfare.)

The typical car sold in 1980 did not have A/C, nor did the ones that have them work as well as today's. I may be wrong on the timeline, but sometime in the Seventies, I think, electronic ignition became widely available, so that a yearly tune-up is not necessary anymore.

On the plus side, the older cars were somewhat simpler, but to gain any real advantage on that, you'd probably have to go back at least before 1974. Logic tends to say 'simpler means more reliable', but paradoxically cars are much more reliable today. They shouldn't be, all things being equal. But with the Japanese invasion, they are not equal.

The older cars were also bigger, tended to be roomier (before the mid-Seventies), and rode nicely. But they also sucked gas like an oil rig. And they didn't handle nearly as well.

I like the old and the new. I own a 1982 Checker Marathon that's about as low-tech as a car can get without hailing back to the Fifties. But I also own an '04 Toyota Avalon and an '05 Honda Element. The Element is very impressive from a maintenance standpoint -- we bought it new in May, '05, have put close to 120,000 miles on it, and have spent next to nothing on repairs. We did batteries and brakes and tires. Aside from that, a new terminal wire for the battery and a $30 can of differential fluid. Try doing that with the typical antique car. They're simply made much better today.
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21 weeks ago
21 weeks ago Link To Comment
When I was young, you could buy a functional car for $400. Gas was 94 cents a gallon. And insurance was about $65 a month.
Working a part-time minimum wage job, I could drive wherever I wanted, whenever I wanted, and still have plenty of beer money left over.

The young people of today cannot say the same.
That's *if* they can find employment in the first place.
21 weeks ago
21 weeks ago Link To Comment
> 4 Reasons Americans Don’t Care About Cars Anymore

Speak for yourself.
21 weeks ago
21 weeks ago Link To Comment
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