The Good and the Not So Good of Factory Trends

There have been some great and not so awesome factory trends throughout history. Sometimes automakers hit on a trend that’s so amazing we look back on it with fondness. Other times it’s so terrible we look back at it with utter disdain. I’ve collected some of my favorite and least favorite automotive trends. They’re far enough in the rear-view that I can reasonably judge them. There are a few trends today that I love and hate, but it’s too early to judge. For example, I love Apple Carplay, but I hate SUVs wearing once distinguished names like the Mustang or Eclipse Cross. Maybe in ten or twenty years, Apple Carplay will look as silly as the car phone does now. Perhaps we’ll look back at the world of performance SUVs with fondness. Maybe we’ll hate it. 

The Awesome

Rear facing seats

rear facing seats in a Dodge station wagon
Rear facing seats in a Dodge station wagon – photo by CZmarlin

Back in the wild old days, station wagons used to come with rearward facing seats. Unfortunately, my parents never had one, but I wish they had. As a kid, sitting in the way back had to be remarkable. There weren’t any seatbelts, and you were in your little world back there. You could make faces as drivers behind your or play games. Never mind that a rear-end collision was less than ideal. The trend lasted from the 1960s until the 2000s. Fortunately for us all, it’s back! The Tesla Model X features two rear-facing seats! Of course, now kids are just staring at screens all day, but maybe some nostalgic adults can hop back there!

Digital dashboards

an early green and black digital dashboard
Look at these amazing digital graphics! Photo by Ruben de Rijcke

This trend started awesomely, but boy did it not age well! In the 1980s, everything was going digital. Personal computers were beginning to be a thing. Knight Rider and Tron showed us the way to our digital future. Automakers of the time wanted to get on board, so they built these futuristic digital dashboards in black and green. Super high-tech and was sure to stand the test of time. Right. I’m not sure if Tesla has done this yet, but they should have an option to revert your car to these amazing 80s graphics. Don’t worry, all these dashes and displays we think are pretty slick now will look dated in a few decades, but they were pretty impressive when new.

Car phones

dual car phones in a Buick
The Buick Park Avenue came with a car phone!  Photo from Alden Jewell

Man, weren’t car phones so cool? Depending on your age, you may be asking, what the hell is a car phone? Well, we didn’t have cell phones back in the day, so significant people had to make calls from their car phones. Are you a super important Wall Street guy who needs to trade horse futures? Then you probably need a car phone. Hell, the Buick Park Avenue above came with two! It turns out this trend was telling since now it is unthinkable to get a new car that doesn’t easily pair with your phone. After getting a car with Apple Carplay, it is tough to go back. I also have a ‘72 GMC, and I might have to see if I can create something in there. I would chalk this up as a remarkable trend.

Popup headlights

a Guards Red Porsche 924
Popup headlights on the Porsche 924. Photo by Whiters.

Pop-up headlights might be my favorite past trend. There was a time when everyone had popup headlights from the cheapest Miata to the mighty Ferrari F40. Something was satisfying about flipping the switch and watching the lights reveal themselves. There was one big downside, the wink. If you had a car with pop-up headlights, chances are at some point the motor goes out. They never go out at the same time, so you end up with one light stuck up and one down — the wink. The pop-up headlight died after the 2004 Chevy Corvette, which is a shame. But you can take solace in watching The 9 Best Pop-Up Headlights. Maybe this will inspire some future or current automakers to bring them back.

Wood Paneling

a Jeep Grand Wagoneer
The Jeep Grand Wagoneer wore it best.

When done correctly, wood paneling is an excellent automotive trend. Wood paneling on a Grand Wagoneer = yes!. On a PT Cruiser = No! It may be a trend that only works in the day and age in which it appeared. I’m not sure there would be a modern car that would look good with it now. The last production car to wear wood paneling was the 1996 Chevy Caprice. The PT Cruiser did not come from the factory with wood paneling, that was an aftermarket trend. If you’re keeping track, that’s at least twice that Chevy was the last to give something up. I would also add wood truck beds to this section, as those are also awesome. There is a rendering of a modern Jeep with wood paneling, but I don’t like it. Check it out and tell me what you think.

The Not so Awesome

Automatic seat belts

Let’s start with one I hate, the dreaded automatic seatbelt. The automatic seat belt first reared its ugly head in the 1970s with the VW Golf. I could assume it was some retaliation to the world for losing WWII. Automakers and safety advocates believed that by automating the seat belt, it would make cars safer. Unfortunately for everyone, they were right. According to a USDOT study, the fatality rate dropped from 2.34 deaths per million road miles down to .78. Luckily for us, the introduction of the less intrusive dual front airbags eventually displaced the dreaded automatic seatbelt. With 90’s cars becoming collectibles, I’m sure we will see some of these automatic menaces on the road again.

Brown Cars

a terrible brown car
Brown was the most popular color in the 1970s. Photo by sv1ambo

The color brown dominated the seventies. Everything was brown from the clothes to the graphics and the cars. Just so much brown. I can’t think of a single car that looks good in brown. There are several that look good in tan but not in the 70s brown. It’s the shade of poop. What’s even better is sometimes cars would be brown with another color brown stripe or maybe also yellow lines. I wasn’t alive in the 70s, so I’m not sure why the world was so brown. There is only one vehicle that should ever be brown, a UPS truck. Hell, that’s their slogan, “What can Brown do for you?” I tell you what it can’t do for me, ever grace another car as long as I live.

Vinyl Roofs

a Ford Escort with a vinyl roof
A 1980 Ford Escort with a vinyl roof – photo by Charlie from United Kingdom

What moron thought vinyl roofs were a good idea? Oh, I know, let’s cover the most exposed part of the car with something almost impossible to maintain. I have a car that used to have a vinyl roof, and I can promise you, it will never have another one again. It’s not that it looks incredibly bad, they didn’t. The problem was the roof of your car is exposed to the elements like the sun. The sun does a number on vinyl and leads to substantial cracks and discoloration. Luckily they’re only about $150 to replace, but still, why not just have the roof be standard? Damn them!

Honorable mentions: factory velour interior, fake vents, fake exhaust noise, too many speeds (7-,9-,10-), performance cars without a manual transmission option.

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