Comparing Cars from Back in Our Fathers’ Day

1961 Jaguar E-Type

No matter what the application, technology always advances. In the 1980s, Casio was famous for its Databank watch. It included enough storage memory for some addresses and phone numbers, and it had a handy calculator, just in case you decided to tip 18.7%. In April, 2015, Apple released its own smart watch. It’s roughly the same shape as Casio’s Databank, but the technology now allows for 8 gigabytes of storage, a touchscreen, haptic feedback, and a range of apps that cover everything from the weather to the Red Sox score to what Jeremy Clarkson’s been tweeting this week. Cars are no different.

The VW Bug developed from an air-cooled people’s car to a turbocharged niche-market option. “Hybrid” used to be synonymous with hyper-miling and double-digit horsepower. Now, it’s the key to developing cars like the McLaren P1 and Porsche 918 Spyder. The development of automobiles has been fascinating, so in honor of Father’s Day this weekend, we thought we’d take a look at how some of our favorite cars have evolved since their existence back in our fathers’ day.

2016 Ford Mustang

10. Ah, the pony car class. Ford’s first Mustang debuted on April 17, 1964, at the New York World’s Fair and forever changed the world of cars. The 1964½ Mustang, as it’s now known, was offered in two body styles, coupe and convertible, with one of 5 engines, the strongest of which was a 289-cubic-inch V8 that put out 271 hp. As pretty much anyone who’s been on an American highway since then knows, the Mustang was extraordinarily well received, selling 100,000 units within 3 months. The Mustang itself has evolved dramatically over the decades since that first version, of course, but it also threw down a gauntlet that got picked up by other automakers, driving the debut of Chevrolet’s first Camaro in 1967 and Dodge’s original Challenger in 1970. (It’s interesting to note that while each of those competitors fell out of production at least briefly over the years, the strongly retro-flavored fifth-generation Mustang that arrived in 2005 drove the return of each of those competitors in similarly old-school fashion.) While the Mustang changed quite a bit over the years in look, feel, power, speed, and price, it retained one original feature—a solid rear axle—far longer than many car fans thought was reasonable. But Ford wanted to bring its 2015 Mustang to a global marketplace, and one of the changes it made was to finally produce the car with an independent rear suspension. That new Mustang is also bigger and bolder than the original, and available with one of 3 engines producing 300 to 435 hp. Any Dad who liked the original Mustang would likely be blown away by the 2015 version.

2015 Volkswagen GTI

9. The phrase, “the more things change, the more they stay the same” applies particularly well to the Volkswagen GTI. Thanks to a great infographic from VW Parts Vortex, we can see how the little Volkswagen has grown from a simple, lightweight, 100-horsepower runabout to today’s 220-hp, 3,000-pound iteration. Over 30 years, the GTI has gained an extra gear (and an optional automatic transmission) and close to 1,000 pounds, while shedding nearly 3 seconds from its 0-60 mph time. There’s no question that the GTI has evolved. Still, the car’s place atop the hot hatch podium hasn’t changed. The GTI of my father’s day (which taught him that Pirelli sport tires don’t play well in Cleveland winters) was great because it was fast and fun, with direct steering and enough power to thrill, but not quite enough to frighten. Today, the Mk VII GTI still provides the speed and best-in-class handling that made the 1985 version so impressive.

2015 Mercedes S-Class

8. In the 1980s, a Mercedes S-Class was the auto world’s image of success. This, in and of itself, really isn’t too surprising. Even today, with competitors like the BMW 7 Series and Audi A8 nipping at its heels and luxury cars like the Tesla Model S stealing the spotlight, the S-Class remains a true representation of the pinnacle of accessible technology. In our father’s day, the W126 series S-Class featured such niceties as 8-way adjustable (and heated) front seats, courtesy lights mounted under doors, and one of the first advanced cruise control systems. Today, however, almost all those options can be found standard on a Kia Soul. So as not to be outshone by the—albeit impressively adorned—budget-friendly offerings available, the 2015 S-Class sedan (now W222 series) has upped its options list a bit. The current S-Class will give the driver rain-sensing windshield wipers, a night-vision camera capable of detecting pedestrians and animals, and hot-stone-massaging seats equipped with bolsters that actively adjust based on how hard the driver corners. Needless to say, S-Class-level technology has come a long way since back in our fathers’ day.

2015 Hyundai Sonata

7. Hyundai’s Sonata arrived on U.S. shores in late 1988 as an ’89 model year car. It wasn’t an auspicious debut. Hyundai’s first effort in the U.S. was the Excel, a budget car that sold relatively well for its first couple of years. The first Sonata was a midsize car Hyundai hoped would help it scale its U.S. business in a couple of ways, but it had to compete with the already established and successful Honda Accord and Toyota Camry, among others. The Sonata got kudos for its roomy interior, the inclusion of lots of standard items that were optional in competitors, and its compact price, but its paint, handling, and noisy Mitsubishi engine all got dinged by reviewers at the time. Hyundai stuck with it, however, and has proven what a difference a few decades can make. The 2015 Hyundai Sonata earned a Top Safety Pick+ rating from the IIHS, a 5-star overall safety rating from the NHTSA, a spot on Kelley Blue Book’s list of the 15 best family cars of the year, and a best midsize car for the money award from U.S. News & World Report. A new Hyundai Sonata would make a vastly better Father’s Day gift than that first one, no?

2015 Volkswagen Beetle

6. Back in the day, the 1950 Volkswagen Beetle was one of the most unique and distinguishable vehicles on the road. Following its immense popularity in post-war Europe, the Beetle finally arrived on the U.S. market. Originally renowned as a very inexpensive alternative to anything coming out of Detroit at the time, the stripped-down, air-cooled engine has since transformed into the more powerful, more ostentatious turbocharged engine. In 2015, the Beetle has become something of a symbol. You’re no longer paying for what is offered in the car, as it offers little for the price tag. Instead you’re paying a premium for the style of the Beetle. The Beetle no longer holds the premier cost-effectiveness statline. In fact, the Beetle nowadays is kind of expensive. You do get a wide selection of trims to choose from, but there isn’t an option to choose from that carries the same legacy of inexpensiveness the older models proudly held. There are now plenty of frills on the once-barebones Beetle.

2015 Dodge Dart

5. When thinking about the Dodge Dart, your first instinct might leap toward the car’s transition from a full-size American sedan in the 1960s to today’s Italian compact car wrapped in American clothes. It is interesting to note, however, that the first Dart—a 1957 show car—was designed by an Italian coachbuilder: Carrozzeria Ghia. Aside from that fun anecdote, the Dart has changed considerably since its heyday of the late ‘60s and early ‘70s. It used to be available with an optional, top-of-the-line 440-cubic-inch V8. Today, the most potent powerplant is a mighty 2.4-liter 4-cylinder. The 440 aside, the Dart has always seen its success as an economical compact car. CarTalk fans will remember that the beloved Tom Magliozzi owned a ‘63 (the car’s first year as a compact), referenced it regularly on his radio show, and even appeared in Pixar’s “Cars” as a convertible Dart. Reviewing the Dart for CarGurus, Aaron Cole had some nice things to say about the Dart’s GT trim and was impressed at how the 2015 car managed to provide 1960s-level interior room, even as a compact car. 1966 witnessed the end of the Dodge Dart station wagon, however, and we don’t expect a return for that style.

2015 Porsche 918 Spyder

4. The 2000 Honda Insight was the first gasoline/electric hybrid purchasable in North America. It was a commercial and technological marvel when it hit the American market; it was crazy to think that a consumer car could get 70 miles off a single gallon of gasoline. The Insight absolutely had the futuristic consumer hatchback look down. Its teardrop profile and covered rear wheels gave the sense that Honda was aiming for the future with its hybrid technology. Honda wanted the hatchback to look like it was pulled straight from science fiction. But the Insight was as underpowered as the compact hatchback had looked. Fast-forward a decade and a half later, and hybrid powertrains are no longer exclusive to small, underpowered, non-traditional-looking cars. Nowadays, hybrid electric drives perform as well as the best drivetrains on the market. Take one look at the Porsche 918 Spyder, and you can see a more apt example of the future of cars. Just a few years ago, people would’ve laughed at the notion of a 887-hp plug-in hybrid electric drive, capable of going 0-60 in just 2.5 seconds. The hybrid has come a long way. Not to say that 2000 was particularly long ago. In fact the transformation of the hybrid engine from hyper-miler to hypercar just shows how impressively the tech has progressed.

2015 Ford F-150

3. The Ford F-150 has long been a vital asset of the American automotive empire. It has long stood as Ford’s cash cow, being introduced in 1975 to close a hole between the F-100 and F-250. With the F-100’s demise in 1983, the F-150 took the title of lightest pickup on the market, allowing it to capitalize on the market as the quintessential American pickup: a proper balance of workmanship and versatile practicality wrapped in galvanized steel. The American way. And so the F-150 stayed that way. Up until last year, when Ford did the unthinkable with the 2015 Ford F-150 release. It took its formula for the successful American classic and replaced the key ingredient with aluminum. Well, replace is a strong word. The 2015 F-150’s steel frame is now supplemented with a lightweight aluminum-alloy body, which has led to a curb-weight reduction of 750 pounds from the previous iteration. It’s a new way to think of a pickup, but I would bet plenty of dads would have laughed at the notion of an aluminum truck.

2016 Jaguar F-TYPE

2. The arrival of Jaguar’s first E-Type in 1961 set what were then high-water marks for car design and performance, earning Enzo Ferrari’s widely quoted opinion that it was “the most beautiful car ever made” and the title of fastest car ever tested by UK magazine Autocar. As you can see from the first photo in this blog post, the Jaguar E-Type has an instant and classic visual appeal, and while its low-slung, graceful stance fell out of favor with muscle-car fans as the ’60s gave way to the ’70s, the incredible, ongoing success of the Mazda Miata and the breathless excitement that greeted the new Alfa Romeo 4C suggest the world still appreciates a car that combines great driving dynamics with restrained beauty instead of brawn. Unfortunately, the E-Type’s beauty and appeal eventually fell victim to increased concerns about safety and fuel efficiency, ending production in 1974, and Jaguar itself suffered business difficulties that resulted in it getting sold twice, to Ford in 1999 and Tata Motors in 2008. Happily, Tata Motors decided to try to follow the E-Type’s example and in 2014 debuted its Jaguar F-TYPE, which has generated lots of positive reviews and endless lines at press and track events. Enzo Ferrari never got to see the F-TYPE, but Autocar certainly likes it, calling the 2014 version “by most measures, a brilliant sports car.” It shouldn’t be surprising that a new car can’t quite fill the tire tracks of one of the world’s most revered classic sports cars, but it’s nice that Tata determined to make the attempt and didn’t fall grossly short of the mark.

2016 Volvo XC90

1. Safety in the ’80s was mostly measured by a vehicle being equipped with seatbelts, airbags, and enough steel to prevent the other car from sitting in the cabin with you. Volvo has long held the standard for safety features, since it implemented crumple zones into the body of the Volvo 240. Volvo continues to hold the mantle of safety in this now-blossoming tech era of car safety. Volvo leads the way again with the latest iteration of Volvo’s flagship, the 2016 Volvo XC90. This SUV will boast an extensive list of high-tech standard safety features including tons of airbags throughout the cabin, driver-attention-alert systems, pedestrian alert systems, lane-keeping systems, and other autonomous driving systems. Oh, and Volvo’s crumple zones, of course, return as well. Years and years of safety research and technological advancements have culminated into the development of this vehicle. Systems are in place that our fathers may have heard about only in science fiction. The XC90 perfectly showcases how far technology has come in a generation. And it’s now much safer for us to drive than it was just a few years ago.

What car do you want to revived for the future?

-John Harrington, Matt Smith, and Steve Halloran

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Used Ford Mustang
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Used Hyundai Sonata
Used Volkswagen Beetle
Used Dodge Dart
Used Porsche 918 (haha)
Used Ford F-150
Used Jaguar F-TYPE
Used Volvo XC90

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