Going through some old pictures the other day, I found one from 1981 of my second car — a 1980 Volkswagen Scirocco.
Black exterior; red interior; five-speed manual transmission; rear window wiper and defroster; no air conditioning; power brakes but no power steering. It was a pain to parallel park, but on the road you could feel every little ripple in the asphalt.
The AM-FM radio had an analog dial and a cassette player. On the console near the stick shift was an analog clock.
The cassette player died at around 60,000 miles, as did the catalytic converter. The dome light was above the driver-side door; it fell apart at about the same time. Literally, it fell apart.
I doubt there was an airbag in either the steering wheel or the dashboard.
There were so many things to not like about that car, but I want to drive it again. It wasn’t the best-driving car I ever owned, but this one was special because I paid for it with money I earned.
For the record, it was totaled in an accident (the other person’s fault) at 2:28 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 26, 1982. It had 81,282 miles on the odometer. Not that it was a significant event or anything. I recovered a paint chip before the car went to the junkyard.
My youngest son and I go to car shows every now and then. Among the Mustangs, Camaros and Trans Ams, we look for a Gremlin, a Pacer or a Maverick. It’s nice when we see a Granada, a Dart or a Vega, too. We talk about how cars have changed and, in the Vega’s case, how penny pinching at the corporate level doomed a model and set its parent company back for a few years.
A few weeks ago we saw an Edsel for sale over near Miller, Ohio. Driving one of those land yachts must be an experience for those of us who grew up on small cars and small pickups. Imagine a car that size with its drum brakes and balky steering.
That ’80 VW also had an engine I could work on myself. The oil filter was easy to find and remove. The drain plug was accessible despite the low profile of the car. When I lift the hood on a modern car I can barely see anything except the places I’m supposed to add fluids.
Pound for pound, modern cars are better than older ones. They’re more reliable. They’re safer in a crash because of airbags, crumple zones and better handling. The VW probably had a collapsible steering column; I don’t know for sure.
They’re also more comfortable to drive. Their paint lasts longer, and they’re less likely to rust.
So why do I get all nostalgic for cars from the 1970s and 1980s?
An antique furniture dealer in Charleston told me that as people get older, they yearn more for items that remind them of their youth. That’s how it is with me and cars and trucks from the late 1970s and early 1980s.
Or maybe I should ask my youngest son. He, too, likes comparing the old with the new to see what’s changed, but when he has a choice, he likes the old.
He drives a 1990s-era compact pickup. The thing rides rough, and it’s showing its age. He regrets that it has an automatic transmission instead of a stick. He loves it anyway.
His mom is right. He’s Jim 2.0. Poor kid.