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Remember When Cars Had These?

10 nostalgic car features that have mostly vanished

  • Istock

    Hand-crank windows

    En español | Power windows became such a popular option that automakers made them standard on most models. Still, hand-crank windows remain on some bare-bones small cars aimed at price-first buyers, and on some trucks bought by commercial fleets that want rock-bottom prices and don’t care if their drivers are a bit inconvenienced. The trick is finding a vehicle with cranks; dealers order what sells best.

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  • Istock

    Rear-facing third seat

    First minivans, then SUVs replaced most station wagons, many of which featured rear-facing way-back seats favored by kids on long family road trips. European automakers still sell wagons in the U.S., though, and the Mercedes-Benz E350 4Matic wagon ($61,000 and up) is unique in having a standard rear-facing third-row seat for two children. Volvo quit the feature at a 2007 model change. Tesla has sold rear-facing third-row seats as an option on the Model S hatchback sedan.

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  • Istock

    Telescoping radio antennae

    Back when, if you forgot to lower your antenna, you could lose it to vandals or car washes. Antenna wires buried in the window glass were vandal- and car wash-proof but degraded radio reception. Today cars need antennae for phones, navigation, remote-control locks and much more. The old collapsible antenna can’t handle it. Small, “shark-fin” roof-mounted antenna pods combine with aerials buried within the car to send and receive the cornucopia of signals.

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  • Alamy

    Wood-grain side paneling

    Adhesive panels with a wood look, as well as wood-grain metal panels, were used by automakers to evoke the authentic wood side pieces used on “woodie” station wagons of yore, but tastes changed. Nowadays, the fake wood is on the inside, adorning dashboard and door panels in mid-level models that want to look like the high-end vehicles that use real wood for interior trim.

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  • Istock

    Hood ornaments

    In the 1980s regulators deemed these status symbols too dangerous for pedestrians. In their heyday some hood ornaments, such as the Mercedes-Benz three-pointed star and Cadillac wreath, were popular with thieves who snapped them off, hung them on chains and used them as necklaces — or belt buckles. Some stand-up ornaments continue, now mounted on springs so they’d easily give way in a car-pedestrian mishap. Now, most are flush-mounted on grilles or front fascia; a few now lay flat on the front edge of the hood.

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  • Istock

    Vent windows

    Flip-open, triangle-shaped windows were once a common way to let in a little fresh air or, perhaps counter-intuitively, effectively pull out cigarette smoke. By the 1990s, air conditioning, fresh-air intakes and flow-through ventilation had wiped out most little “wing” windows. And because there are fewer smokers these days, there is minimal demand for the vents’ smoke-exhausting feature. In addition, the vents increased wind noise and hurt aerodynamics, which cuts fuel efficiency.

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  • Getty Images

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  • Istock

    Ashtrays

    Far fewer people smoke now: 18 percent of all Americans, down from 42 percent back in 1964. You still can find a rare “smoker’s package” option, which usually includes an ashtray and a push-in/pop-out cigarette lighter. Those round, 12-volt receptacle — without the pop-out lighter — persist in many models, and are now used mainly to plug in 12-volt devices such as chargers for mobile devices. USB ports now often occupy the dash space once occupied by that ashtray.

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  • Istock

    Hubcaps

    Properly called wheel covers, hubcaps were too easily stolen, or dislodged and lost when driving over bumps. The modern version is a plastic wheel cover resembling a fancy alloy wheel, bolted to the steel wheel that’s standard on low-end cars. Most cars come with alloy wheels, which look good without a cover or cap. Strictly speaking, those do have very small “hub caps” in the center that cover the otherwise unsightly wheel center.

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  • Alamy

    Full-size spare tires

    Lighter vehicles more easily meet fuel-economy regulations, so full-size spare tires had to go. They’re also too big to fit the trunks of the smaller cars that now permeate the mainstream. They’re optional on some vehicles, but mostly you get a lighter, smaller mini-spare for temporary use.

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  • Alamy

    Round headlights

    Federal regulations once dictated the size and shape of headlights. In 1973, guidelines shifted to specifying illumination, not size or shape, and designers adopted the rectangular lights that stylists preferred. In 1983, replaceable-bulb lights were introduced, so the light could be any shape and size as long as the bulb met the lighting specifications. Orbs aren’t extinct, though. Jeep uses modernized round headlights on some models. And small, round lights are camouflaged behind transparent covers on models from Honda, Toyota, BMW and others.

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