Hooniverse Asks – At What Point Do You Consider Cars to Have Become 'Modern?'

The Model T, for all its iconic notoriety, and having put America behind the wheel, is a remarkably different sort of car to drive. Hand throttle, Hand crank to start, and while there are three pedals down where your feet are, they all (clutch, reverse and brake) work the planetary gear transmission.
It wasn’t until the A that Fords began to operate in a way that would be familiar to a modern driver, and other makes made similar transitions around the same time. Still, any A, and in fact pretty much any car that could be considered mainstream, is a far cry from the level of sophistication in performance – meaning going, stopping and handling – of even the lowliest of cars of this generation. The question is, how far back would you go in considering a car to be ‘modern’? It’s sort of like looking back down the human evolutionary tree and checking off each notable evolutionary fart – human, human, human, MONKEY!
Cars today are – much to the chagrin of their owners – more controlled by computer than driver, and that’s a pretty recent addition, but is it necessary to be considered modern? Or maybe it’s airbags – around since the ’70s, but only ubiquitous beginning in the ’90s. Or, perhaps it’s antilock brakes? Fuel injected engines? Aerodynamic headlights? Where do you draw the line?
Retro cars like Ford’s fabulous Mustang embody a rich history, but wrap that in the modern interpretation demanded by both government regulation, and a public who wouldn’t accept the handling, emissions and safety compromises of the original pony car. Nice as a classic Mustang is, it’s still a creaky, poorly handling deathtrap – and came that way from the factory. And that was only 45 years ago!
So what do you think is the separation point of what could be considered a modern car? And what are the factors that lead you to that decision?
Image source: [MotorTrend]

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96 responses to “Hooniverse Asks – At What Point Do You Consider Cars to Have Become 'Modern?'”

  1. muthalovin Avatar

    Power windows.

    1. SSurfer321 Avatar

      lol. by that definition, my 05 F150 isn't a modern vehicle! I bought it with manual windows, locks and mirrors. Fewer gizmos to break over the life of the vehicle.

  2. SSurfer321 Avatar

    3 Point seat belts on all passenger seats.

    1. P161911 Avatar

      My 2011 Silverado still has just a lap belt for the center front seat passenger. Oddly enough, the center rear seat has a 3 point belt.

      1. SSurfer321 Avatar

        My 05 F150 too. I assume it has to do with the foldable armrest in the split bench and a lack of a safe mounting position.

        1. P161911 Avatar

          That could be it, but it would seem they could make some sort of lock to make it work.
          If I ever found myself needed to haul more than 5 people in my truck I would probably tell numbers 6 and up to just get in the bed of the truck.

          1. OA5599 Avatar

            My wife's DD seats 8. Seven places have three point belts, and the third row center is lap belt only.
            It's tough trying to choose which family member is most expendable, and that varies from day to day.

  3. Lou Hall Avatar
    Lou Hall

    Cars became "modern" when you could start them and safely drive them across the country without adjusting or rebuilding anything along the way.

    1. facelvega Avatar

      speak for your own cars!

  4. dukeisduke Avatar

    Ah, but the Taurus launched on December 26th, 1985, as a 1986 model. I would consider the 1983 Audi 100/5000 (C3) the first modern car.

    1. P161911 Avatar

      The Isuzu Impulse/Piazza had most of the same modern features of the 1983 Audi a couple of years earlier. I wouldn't consider the Audi (before 1986 or so) or the Isuzu mainstream cars though.

      1. tonyola Avatar

        The Audi 100 was a premium machine and the Impulse was a sports coupe. The Taurus wins because it was intended to be Ford's affordable, high-volume-seller "family" car.

        1. dukeisduke Avatar

          That's a good point – the Taurus took the Audi 100's styling mainstream. Not to mention that it was years ahead of GM and their A-Body cars, like the Chevy Celebrity. GM's belated answer was the goofy-looking Lumina.

    2. Manic_King Avatar

      No, Ford Sierra was also real aero-car, both Audi and Ford were born 1982 so I don't know which is older but yeah, these were the pioneers I suppose.

      1. tonyola Avatar

        They were both introduced in the fall of 1982.

  5. OA5599 Avatar

    In the early days of automobile production, a manufacturer basically needed to have a market to tap into and that was it. Tiller steering, steam engines, chain drives, and many other now-oddball configurations were used on vehicles sold to customers. Certainly, many of these manufacturers didn't survive very long, but it was only market forces that shut them down. If your company could survive selling 100 cars a year at $1000 per copy, the world was your oyster.
    Now, the government gets in the way. No more square steering wheels or oddball automatic transmission gear selection sequences or cars without check engine lights. Between (insert non-US equivalents where appropriate) EPA, CAFE, crash testing, DOT lenses, and air bag systems, it is no longer feasible to manufacture relatively inexpensive cars with small production runs.

  6. Cretony38 Avatar

    Any car newer than my 1964 Chevy.

  7. OA5599 Avatar

    I would say the modern era began between 1968 and 1970, when these requirements were phased in:
    Pollution control
    Revised lighting requirements
    Specific VIN requirements
    Front seat headrests
    Front seat shoulder belts
    None of these are necessarily bad things, but they led to the tightening of the government's grip on automotive production and made it all but impossible to build or import certain hoonworthy vehicles today.

    1. Joe Dunlap Avatar
      Joe Dunlap

      I would agree, and add in standardized (mostly) control interfaces such as PRNDL

  8. engineerd Avatar

    When I think of a "modern" car, I think of increasing safety regulations, emissions regulations and the bloat caused by this. Of course there are modern cars that manage to be great cars in the face of this, and computers/fuel injection/disc brakes/etc. have all helped with that. But that doesn't change my perception of "modern" cars. Therefore, I'd have to say 1972 is the beginning of the modern era. That's when 5 mph bumpers went into effect. However, the modern era was unfolding years before that — the demise of the Corvair for safety reasons, emissions regulations, seat belts laws in 1968, and a changing attitude about what people wanted their car to be had been leading to 1972. After 1972, the government's role in the design of the automobile began increasing even more.

    1. Peter Tanshanomi Avatar
      Peter Tanshanomi

      Good call. Also, just one year later, in 1973, automobile NOx emissions were regulated for the first time, prompting the use of catalytic converters.

      1. CptSevere Avatar

        I agree with that. Catalytic converters and unleaded gasoline.

  9. Jim-Bob Avatar

    I would say the mid to late 1990's. By that time, OBD II, airbags and ABS were nigh unto ubiquitous and most cars were designed in a wind tunnel instead of on paper. Performance became less important as a selling point than safety and cup holders and everything became more beige. The last of the youth-oriented performance cars were sold at this time as after that, performance models were priced out of the range of all but the more affluent young people. Thus, it was the beginning of the modern age of the automobile as we know it in 2011. This is not to say that good performance cars do not exist today. They are just expensive enough that they require a good full time job to make the payment and buy the gas to feed them. That, along with the increasing level of complexity, is what has killed the youth-oriented performance culture that we all experienced when we were younger.

    1. Peter Tanshanomi Avatar
      Peter Tanshanomi

      I hadn't known how to answer this until you mentioned OBDII. That is as good a dividing line as any. The Town Cow is a '92, with OBD I, and I've noticed lately how many electronic accessories are not compatible with the earlier version.
      As if I would ever add new electronic accessories to that car.

      1. P161911 Avatar

        OBDII became mandatory in 1996. In Georgia at least 1996 and newer cars perform their own emissions test. The guy doing the test just plugs his computer into your OBDII port and tests the gas cap. Older cars require a tailpipe sniff test.

        1. FuzzyPlushroom Avatar

          OBD II cars here (New Hampshire) are tested just like that… but '95 and older vehicles are exempt. Hurrah! It's the state's reward for keeping rust-prone cars on the road in the face of adversity – they're either well-kept, driven only in the summer, or they'll disappear soon anyway; in all of those cases, pollution isn't much of an issue.

      2. Jim-Bob Avatar

        I would also add another few things to do with body shell design. Modern cars almost all have bumper covers that wrap around the car and end at the wheel wells and the door frames integrate into the roof. They also all use flush mounted glass and progressive crumple zones front and rear. While many of these things do date to the 1980's with cars like the Ford Taurus and Citroen XM, the mid 90's marked the moment when they were almost universally adopted with a few exceptions like the 1993-97 Nissan Altima's bumper covers.

  10. LTDScott Avatar

    I agree with you on the specifics of what makes it modern (EFI, disc brakes, no leaf springs, rack and pinion steering), but the Thunderbird and Tempo were the first "Aero" Fords sold in the US which met the above qualifications and pre-dated the Taurus by 2-3 years.

    1. P161911 Avatar

      The Tempo still kept a big separate bumper and a full width grill, and the T-bird had the big old school stand up chrome grill. Both of those features changed about the same time as the Taurus introduction. I might be wrong, but I think the Tempo and T-bird lacked flush fitting side glass too, at least on the early years.

      1. LTDScott Avatar

        They both had flush side glass and "wrapover" doors without external "gutters." Both had sealed beam headlights, but that was just due to the laws at the time. The T-bird's grille was indeed chrome, but it was curved with the contour of the nose.
        <img src="http://static.howstuffworks.com/gif/ford-thunderbird-6.jpg"&gt;
        And FWIW, Wiki agrees with me: "Taking note of this, Ford set out to revolutionize the automotive industry, and would later lay the groundwork for three revolutionary vehicles: The 1983 Thunderbird (and its counterpart the Mercury Cougar), the 1984 Tempo, and a car to be released in 1986, the Taurus."

        1. P161911 Avatar

          I agree, but I don't think a 1984 Tempo or 1983 Thunderbird could ever be mistaken for a "modern" car. The Tempo and T-Bird were the first tentative steps and the Taurus was a giant leap towards a modern car.
          Maybe I was just old enough to be more aware of things by 1986, but I don't remember near as much commotion over the Tempo or T-Bird as the Taurus.

          1. dukeisduke Avatar

            All of those cars got Roger Smith in a tizzy, with his "jelly bean" put-downs. Ford laughed all the way to the bank.

          2. OA5599 Avatar

            Certainly not the only jelly bean to put Roger Smith into a tizzy.
            <img src="http://www.frugal-cafe.com/public_html/frugal-blog/frugal-cafe-blogzone/wp-content/uploads/2009/10/michael-moore.jpg"&gt;

          3. Alff Avatar

            Just looking at that blob pisses me off.

          4. K5ING Avatar

            What? You don't like Peter Griffin?

          5. Alff Avatar

            Peter Griffin is smarter.

          6. dukeisduke Avatar

            If this country were living under his ideals, we'd all be driving Trabants.

    2. skitter Avatar

      Starting with the consensus so far, a modern car has:
      1. Sorted EFI, which lets us take reliability for granted.
      2. Wind-tunnel styling, which is ageless by nature.
      3. Disc brakes, though I'll settle for a sufficiently powerful front-disc/rear-drum setup.
      I would like to add "Sufficient speed for today's 80mph traffic," but Metro owners might get that one thrown out. Thoughts?

      1. Alff Avatar

        Depends where you want to draw the line. One could make a sad and credible argument that tha modern car is equipped with an automatic transmission, various nanny control systems and weighs at least 2500 lbs.

      2. P161911 Avatar

        Might want to add a general "passive safety features" such as airbags, ABS, or even the late 80s motor mouse belts.
        There are many cars that I would consider modern that still have/had rear drums. Front discs are a must for modern cars.
        I think any car that someone that is clueless about cars can look at and say that it is "old" is not modern.

      3. facelvega Avatar

        I don't know, I wouldn't call something like this ageless by nature:
        <img src="http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/6/60/%2734_chrysler_airflow_front.jpg&quot; width="600">

  11. 42 Ford Avatar
    42 Ford

    The first is when cars could cruise at highway speeds for long periods. That puts the first round somewhere in the early to mid 50’s. It coincides with better brakes, overhead valve engines (V8’s in particular) and other improvements. A second wave comes from regulation for safety belts, dual circuit brake systems and padded dashes, so maybe the late 60’s, and the third is electronic engine controls on most cars, so mid 80’s. My rule of thumb would be when your regular Chevy or Ford had them, that was the transition.

  12. raphaelinberlin Avatar

    From a certain perspective, it's hard to beat the 1901 Mercedes as the first car designed to be a car, as opposed to a motorized carriage. Look at the difference between a 1899 Panhard and the Mercedes and you can see where horseless carriages stopped and cars began. Still, it's always a question of perspective, as time will forever make modern cars obsolete, old fashioned, and ancient.
    <img src="http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3190/3002486033_8a75c41a97_o.jpg&quot; width="250"><img src="http://static.howstuffworks.com/gif/1901-mercedes-35-hp-1.jpg&quot; width="250">

  13. TurboBrick Avatar

    I'd say the "earliest" modern automobile would be the Citroen Traction Avant – FWD, unibody, independent front suspension, 1.3 – 2.9 liter engine displacements. That's the transition from the tall, goofy boats on wheels to more modern dimensions and construction.

  14. SSurfer321 Avatar

    I agree with everything save for disc brakes at all corners. My wife's 08 Impreza still has drums out back.

  15. Jennings R. Scroggs, Jr. Avatar
    Jennings R. Scroggs, Jr.

    Ahead of it's time
    <img src="http://www.binders.at/images/top/nsu_ro_80_1971.jpg"&gt;

    1. dukeisduke Avatar

      That car still turns me on. It's a shame that NSU couldn't get the apex and side seals sorted out (not to mention the inboard front disc brakes). Give me one of those in red, with a fuel-injected 13B engine, or a Renesis from the RX-8.

      1. facelvega Avatar

        the whole rotary aspect was a bad idea here in retrospect, and it left the engine bay so small that not a lot else could fit in there. I always wondered why VW didn't figure out a solution to this by the time they bought NSU.

        1. dukeisduke Avatar

          Ah, but it wouldn't be the same car without the rotary. The Volkswagen K70 was built on the same platform, and the engine in it went "boing, boing, boing" (early Mazda commercial).
          A-ha, a boing-boing commercial (for the RX-3): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oHzeGEHWMjo

          1. facelvega Avatar

            I know, of course you're right, but I still could have lived with, say, a porsche air-cooled flat six piggybacked on the 914 collaboration. There were enough wankel versions sold by then to let the last few years get porsche engines, surely? But would they have fit?

          2. dukeisduke Avatar

            Well, crap, that got me looking on YouTube for Mazda rotary stuff, which got me onto an ongoing series where a guy in Canada (Aaron) is currently rebuilding a '76 RX-5 Cosmo, one of my favorite rotary-engined Mazdas. He bought the thing (it's pretty rust-free) from the junkyard right before it was to be crushed, and the last video (a hour on the engine rebuild) was posted less than two weeks ago. I've watched the first three or four videos, and now I'm hooked.

          3. facelvega Avatar

            Okay, pretty fascinating stuff, and there is a purity in wankel engineering even if they are inefficient, torqueless, and delicate. That guy Aaron is a good teacher but a little creepy with the mullet and the line around 16:04, "You can't use too much. In fact, there are very few areas in life where you CAN use too much vaseline." All sounds pretty hooniversal though now that I'm writing it.

          4. dukeisduke Avatar

            Yeah, what do they call a mullet in Canada, anyway? I was disappointed that he's not going to put the trim back on, put 20s on it, etc.

  16. Tim Odell Avatar
    Tim Odell

    I'd say there are a few tech leaps along the way. Where you draw the line at "modern" is kinda up to you:
    (for the purposes of brevity, I'll start where I understand)
    Mid 60s:
    Coil sprung rearends, introduction of long-running engine architectures, front disc brakes, backup lights, 3-speed ATs, 4-speed MTs, multi-pot brake MCs, seatbelts, tilt/collapsable steering columns
    Late 70s: (aka the Malaise begins)
    Front wheel drive, early fuel injection, miscellaneous crappy smog controls, turbos, 5 speed MTs, 4 speed ATs
    Mid-to-late 80s:
    "Modern" styling, as discussed above^^^, all the aforementioned tech finally sorted out, ubiquity of power accessories, 4 wheel discs no longer exotic
    Early '00s:
    DOHC (almost) everything, Variable valve timing, drive by-wire, introduction of Nav and high-end ICE, AWD readily available, traction control, more airbags, 5-8 speed ATs, 6 speed MTs, automated manuals arrive, horsepower races begin
    Late '00s:
    Almost everything by wire, fully computerized ICE, gauges and power accessories, direct injection, more turbocharging, automated manuals replacing MTs on serious performance cars, absolutely mind-blowing power outputs
    To me, you've gotta be mid '00s to be new/modern. Conversely, my threshold for "classic" has advanced to include a lot of the good 80s and early 90s cars.

    1. Peter Tanshanomi Avatar
      Peter Tanshanomi

      You missed one vital step that I think could define "modern" — the implementation of mandatory, standardized 17-digit VINs in 1981.

      1. mdharrell Avatar

        Well, mostly standardized. My '82 MG Metro comes up as an '80 Audi with a check digit error if one tries a conventional decoding algorithm because Austin-Rover decided not to follow the EU/NA implementation of ISO 3779 for the first few years after the adoption of seventeen-character VINs. Their version may be dissected here instead:
        Still, it's closer to the modern standard than my '80 KV (three characters) or early '81 HMV (ten characters, including a cheat in the serial portion to make it look like vehicle 4490 instead of 449, because all the serial numbers ended with an extra zero). The late '81 HMVs had modern VINs.

  17. TurboBrick Avatar

    I thought about this some more… Volvo 140 and 240 series wrote the new standards for safety, even though appearance-wise these were very conservative. Ford Sierra / Taurus was definitely another game changer, that brings us to the era of aero-design, plastic and computers. Changes come about much quicker now. The next, and last major change came in the form of the '99 Volvo S80, and the dawn of the CAN-BUS era and the idea of lifecycle management where the car is designed to be completely recyclable at the end of it's intended service life – unfortunately this seems to go hand-in-hand with VERY rapid depreciation and higher cost of fewer replacement parts. My '88 760 is now worth MORE than a '99 S80.

    1. FuzzyPlushroom Avatar

      Yes, but an AW71 behind a redblock lasts several times as long as a 4T65-E beside a T6… It's a good thing those S80s were built to be recycled, but also a shame that they couldn't have lasted longer (though the electronics were also initially a disaster).

  18. Flipper Avatar

    Volkswagen Rabbit

  19. coupeZ600 Avatar

    Any car without rain-gutters is completely undesirable to me, and therefore "modern".

    1. OA5599 Avatar

      <img src="http://www.nhn.ou.edu/~jeffery/course/c_energy/energyl/lec001/car_001_benz_1894.jpg&quot; width=500>
      I guess Benz was way ahead of his time.

      1. Black Steelies Avatar


  20. tonyola Avatar

    I'd say the real "modern" era for cars began in the years 1977 to 1983 because of the following:
    1. Size reduction of larger American cars;
    2. Wholesale adoption of FWD;
    3. Change from carburetors to fuel injection; and
    4. Slow elimination of baroque styling cues.

  21. Tim Odell Avatar
    Tim Odell

    It seems the late 70s, early 80s cutoff is pretty well agreed upon as when we entered the current era.
    Pretty obvious, too, that the change was major enough that it's impeding the forward march of most people's "classic" definition. I'd say most of us born…in that same era or later would regard a lot of 80s machinery as "classic", but our parents just can't.

    1. Peter Tanshanomi Avatar
      Peter Tanshanomi

      Padded dashboards, because I don't remember far enough back to remember new cars with unpadded steel dashboards. I was born in 1963, and it's amazing to me that late '60s cars with padded dashboards still seem fairly modern to me, and early '60s cars with unpadded dashboards seem to be a zillion degrees older and more archaic. The fact that I can remember when my parents' '69 Vista Cruiser and '67 Chrysler Newport were our daily drivers probably has a lot to do with it. It's just like the space program: Apollo happened three years ago last summer. Mercury (which I don't remember happening) gets grouped with Zeppelins, the abolition of slavery and Viking longships.

  22. facelvega Avatar

    Speaking as a design history professor, the real modern invention surrounding the car was simply the marriage of the smooth hard road surface (macadam to tarmac to today's asphalt concrete, 1820-present) and the pneumatic tire (invented 1846, popularized for bicycles first in the 1880s). Interestingly the inventors who first popularized both of these were all Scots: Thomas Telford and John Loudon McAdam for the road surface and Robert William Thompson and John Boyd Dunlop for the tires.
    You might argue that the internal combustion engine was also critical and so add in Benz, Daimler, Maybach, Otto and Diesel all trying to outdo each other in the 1880s and early 1890s, but as we've seen recently, other engine types can be applied and the essence of the automobile stays recognizable.
    If however by modern cars we mean the current automotive design paradigm, then the question is trickier. There was definitely a sea-change that happened around 1980 mostly due to the Japanese companies raising the bar for cheap cars, but everything that became standard then was already in use. If by modern car we mean low-slung (as opposed to older cars well into the fifties), unibody, disc brakes, independent suspension, aerodynamic, and front-wheel drive, then the answer is clear: Citroen DS.
    <img src="http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/9/9d/Citroen_DS_rear_20080126.jpg&quot; width="600">

    1. tonyola Avatar

      The DS was an aberration that was not at all representative of the mainstream. Predictive, yes, but out of step with its time. So were cars like the Burney streamliner and the Tatra T77.

      1. facelvega Avatar

        True, but it was still the first, and unlike the Burney or Tatra it did sell enough to gradually become a real presence on the road, at least in Europe, and thus it was directly influential on many later designs and designers, so it remains my vote. But of course it's totally dependent on what we mean exactly by the initial question.

    2. Lotte Avatar

      If by 'design' you also include 'styling', then it is hard to argue with flame surfacing. Before then, cars seemed to be honed from a solid block of something (into a smooth or pointy shape, doesn't matter) But after the Z4 and its flame surfacing, every car now has some sort of graphic that has nearly no relation to the car's shape that is just there to 'play with light'. Even the 2011 Kia Sportage! (And whenever I draw a car in profile the second thing I draw is that stupid character line that runs the length of the body. Habits…)
      <img src="http://www.carswallpapers.tk/images/wallpapers/bmw_z4.jpg&quot; width="300">
      <img src="http://shippingcars.files.wordpress.com/2010/02/kia-sportage-2.jpg&quot; width="300">

      1. Alff Avatar

        So the modern era began in 1956…
        <img src="http://www.anythingaboutcars.com/images/1956_Corvette.jpg"width=500&gt;

      2. facelvega Avatar

        whoah, styling is to design what catchy tunes are to classically-trained composers, maybe necessary to a degree but they'll never admit it when that's what they're doing. It's hard to draw a firm line between lines that deal with "function" somehow or that deal with light and massing, because any line does both. There is a clearer difference between details that have been pasted onto a design for which they aren't really integral, and those that are an inextricable part of the original solution. In this sense, the Z4 probably fits into the latter category, as does the corvette, but both of them have inspired plenty of irrelevant slapped-on decoration in later cars.

        1. Lotte Avatar

          Hmm, I understand your point for function vs. style; BMW's controversial styling didn't exactly mark as a milestone in an automotive paradigm shift in the physical, engineering breakthough sense, but that car's introduction is where I draw the 'modern' line, and it's due to the way it looks. And I know there is so much more to design than styling (and much more fun and flexible, too!)
          I guess what I am trying to put my finger on is when any non-trained eye looks at a car to determine if it is 'new'. Could someone show a picture of that corvette and convince someone else its the new C7? I'm not so sure. The current crop of cars from the Z4 on has a certain styling language/cue/artifacts that just says '21st Century'. I'm not even sure how I can totally quantify that, but they just look it. I think it's partly the flowy character lines.

      3. FuzzyPlushroom Avatar

        Designers call them "flame-surfaced", like an E60. I call them "pre-dented", like a '58 Lincoln.
        <img src="http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3566/3687663502_cb84f0230e.jpg"&gt;

  23. fisheater Avatar

    I will not pin-point a time simply because I don't find myself knowledgeable enough to warrant a good guess; but I would say cars started being modern when they transitioned from being a luxury item to a common item. It was not until technology advanced enough to make automobiles cheap that designers started creating cars with real everyday use in mind. And using your car as an everyday item is a very modern change.

  24. Joe Btfsplk Avatar
    Joe Btfsplk

    When computer controlled engine management went main stream (OBD I).

  25. ZomBee Racer Avatar

    The advent of knee-action hydraulic shock absorbers was LIGHT-YEARS ahead of the earlier leather friction devices.
    <img src="http://i810.photobucket.com/albums/zz24/dezynur/LeftFrontShock2_6305320.jpg&quot; width ="500" />
    <img src="http://3.bp.blogspot.com/_i_AovfzNXgQ/STnUsqpZJbI/AAAAAAAAd44/AsRBSBtjFUQ/s400/DSCN3648.jpg&quot; />

    1. Peter Tanshanomi Avatar
      Peter Tanshanomi

      You're right. Cars with knee-action hydraulic shock absorbers still killed you, but they gave you time enough to scream, slam on the brakes and frantically try to overcorrect before you were gone.

      1. ZomBee Racer Avatar

        Sounds like a flipping good time!
        We'll do our best to prove your theory at Lemons Sears Pointless next weekend. 🙂
        <img src="http://a8.sphotos.ak.fbcdn.net/hphotos-ak-snc3/19538_1306132337946_1369652107_850414_2936343_n.jpg&quot; />

    2. JayP Avatar

      Any vehicle that allowed you to change the handling by changing the weight of the oil in the dampeners is of consideration.
      STP oil treatment FTW.

  26. Age_of_Aerostar Avatar

    Yes, you are right! Just what I was going to say. I wonder if the answers we write on here depend on our ages. Older folks may pick something older, younger folks something newer.
    Either way, you gave the right answer!

  27. earlofhalflight Avatar

    Met an elderly gent once who insisted everything built since 1925 has been modern crap.

    1. Black Steelies Avatar

      OK ABS then, or roughly 1970 for production cars.

  28. Tim Odell Avatar
    Tim Odell

    For such a bunch of old-tech mongers, it's hilarious to me how well this crowd knows all the very first examples of certain technologies, things 20-30-50 years ahead of their time.

    1. skitter Avatar

      And I'd give it all to know what's 20, 30, or 50 years down the road.

  29. Mad_Hungarian Avatar

    Hmmm. I'm surprised so many of the comments pick a fairly recent year. My answer: The 1941 Oldsmobile or Cadillac with Hydra-Matic. Any 2011 driver could hop in one and operate it safely with little or no special instruction — other than a warning to put some actual effort into braking. Conversely, up through around the mid 1970's, American cars were available with basically exactly the same technology — automatic trans, manual steering and brakes, carbureted engine, rear wheel drive, independent front suspension and solid axle rear. Maybe even later than the mid 70's; when did power steering and/or brakes become standard even on stripped down Novas, Volares and the like?
    <img src="http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3263/3098031550_1b98807453.jpg&quot; width=500>

    1. OA5599 Avatar

      Slight correction: Oldsmobile introduced Hydra-Matic in late 1939 for model year 1940. Cadillac waited another year.

  30. Feds_II Avatar

    I'm framing my argument differently, and going (semi-arbitrarily) with 1960, for four reasons:
    1. You can more or less hop into any domestic car from 1960 on up and know how to use it.
    2. Assuming you start with a reasonably well maintained example, you can start at any point in the country and expect that car to get you to any other point in the country without issue. It may not do it twice, but that goes back to the maintenance part that kicked off the first sentence of the second point.
    3. We were pretty much done with the "Gee-whiz" styling of the 50's. Fins were dying, as were triple-blue paint jobs, dagmars, and rocket tail lights. For better or worse, cars were growing up.
    4. Give or take a couple of years, 1960 is about the model year that my 3 year old doesn't ask me if a car is old. Anything older is an old car, anything newer is not. Oddly (or maybe not if you're a geneticist), I have about the same cut off.
    With that said, ask this question in 5 years, and I may very well say 2010-ish. Widespread use of by-wire controls. Attainable cars that accelerate, brake, and steer themselves. CAN bus communication, GPS integration, etc, etc, etc… My '03 Pritege5 has a separate ECM and BCM. The throttle connects via a braided wire to a lever on the throttle body. traction and stability control are managed through my feet and hands via inputs from my ass and head (they are separate things, i hope). Some days I feel like I am driving an antique.

    1. ptschett Avatar

      I like that time frame also, and I have a 5th reason: the major domestic brands began producing entirely different platforms for the different price points, rather than using one basic design with more or less content at a given price. For example with a 1957 Pontiac it's easy to know what it looks like, whether it's a Chieftain, Super Chief, Star Chief, Safari or Bonneville; but by 1960 there's the question of whether it's the full-size car or the Tempest.

  31. ummagumma82 Avatar

    Early 1990s is my cutoff:
    – Most vehicles from that era still look fairly new today.
    – They had modern safety features like airbags, ABS, 3-point seat belts in the back, etc.
    – Safety, fuel economy, handling, and packaging standards improved to the point that manufacturers could no longer get away with slapping new sheet metal on the same POS they've been making for the past 30 years. Most cars had recently been designed from the ground up.
    – Air conditioning and power locks/windows came standard on non-economy cars.
    – It was no longer acceptable for a car to refuse to start on cold mornings, randomly stall, spew oil out the tailpipe, etc. Taking a 1000-mile road trip without any breakdowns became an expectation, not an accomplishment.

  32. lillongroofer Avatar

    It really depends on the company and how soon they turned their "cars" into blobs but for me, late 80s-early 90s. I drive a 94 olds cutlass and it's sweet and boxy, 90s volvos are still good and vw is just now getting boring and generic.

  33. CaptainZeroCool Avatar

    Anything >= the year you were born is "modern".

  34. Patrick Avatar

    Friend of mine likes to say that "nothing looks more old fashioned than the past's imagining of the future." Many 50s and early- sixties American cars were designed to look right up to date, if not slightly ahead of their time, yet the mechanics did not advance anywhere near as fast as the looks. If you look at literature from the era, much of it talks about particular styling features in a way that has not really happened in the same way since. I appreciate your insight into this area. The Citroen DS was a design revolution that shaped the way that company produced cars for at least a couple of decades since. I also agree with the earlier postings that discussed the Taurus and Sierra as having laid out the format for cars that we drive today. To put it in jazz terms, I posit that the DS is Bix Beiderbecke's "In a Mist," while the Taurus and Sierra are Miles Davis's "Kind of Blue." But only in the sense of advancement versus influence.

  35. jjd241 Avatar

    Nobody mentioned Woody Allen's car from back in 1973…
    <img src="http://imcdb.org/i198422.jpg&quot; width="300">

  36. Sam Avatar

    My cutoff is anything with 4-wheel independent suspension, overhead camshafts, and decent power.
    That would make the first widespread "modern" cars the BMW New Class (which started with the 1962 1500).

  37. impaler4 Avatar

    I have found this thread about a year and a half late but i still would like to post my response i would have to say some where between 1960 to 1963 because of options such as a/c cruise control power windows power locks seat belt were fairly common as optional equipment as well as the fact that i would trust one that was freshly rebuilt or very well maintained to be able to get me from Alaska to Florida without any maintain alone the way while traveling at highway speeds and i would also point out the fact that most American cars at that time could get up to 100 +mph