During our trip through the deserts of California, Arizona, and New Mexico, I spent a lot of time in Route 66 museums. Each one had displays telling the harrowing stories of Dustbowl Migrants crossing from the Great Plains in Ford Model Ts and other vehicles you and I would find primitive. As much as I love old cars, modern cars are far superior when it comes to long distance travel whether you are looking at reliability, safety, or comfort. Here are some ways automotive travel has changed since the Model T came out over a hundred years ago:
- Convenience. A hundred years ago you had to know how to drive a manual transmission; automatics didn’t become common until the 1950s. No automatic transmissions, no stereo, no GPS. Also, the Model T topped out at around 40 miles per hour so long trips would take a lot more time. In 1914 there weren’t any Interstate Highways–there wasn’t a U.S. highway system at all–and many of the roads were dirt that became impassible after a rain. McDonalds, Denny’s, and Shell stations every few miles? No.
- Comfort. I have never crossed the Mojave Desert during the summer without air conditioning. Honestly, I cannot imagine how people did it. Automotive air conditioning didn’t become common until the 1960s, before then all you could do was drink a lot of water and expect to sweat.
- Safety. Like I said, I love old cars; I’d rather have a classic Volkswagen Bus than a new Honda Odyssey. That said, old cars were a lot more dangerous than newer cars: No anti-lock brakes, no radial tires, no collapsing steering columns or any number of safety features that we take for granted like shoulder belts. Then there were the roads–as much as I don’t like interstates, the odds of a head on collision are low in comparison to old two lane roads.
- Reliability. The Model T had tires with tubes in them not unlike the set up on a bicycle; punctures were a common occurrence. Also, we didn’t have the sophisticated coolants we have today so overheating was common, especially on trips up to the Grand Canyon or Death Valley. Taking a long road trip you would have to be prepared to deal with the small yet time consuming things that computers manage in modern cars.
- Speed. The increased cruising speed of modern cars isn’t the only thing that makes a modern road trip less time consuming. Until the Interstate Highway System was implemented in 1956, you were traveling on two lane roads that would take you through towns which, obviously, would have traffic lights and stop signs. Hungry? You are not getting your food in less than five minutes at a drive thru; you are stopping to eat at a local diner. Trips required a lot more patience in the old days.
Automotive travel has changed a lot in the past hundred years. Car travel is a lot safer, reliable, and more comfortable. As much I love the style of older cars, I am thankful for air conditioning, good tires, and airbags.