The old rust buckets: Remember when cars had bench seats and no seat belts

Photo by Tim Shepherd on Unsplash

It’s hard to stop yourself from getting nostalgic when you think about the cars of your youth. Those hunks of metal are often connected to some of life’s biggest memories that can vary from watching the scenery pass by on a long family road trip to finally owning your own set of wheels (which was truly exciting no matter how tragic the car looked).

But looking back now, it’s interesting to think about how safety measures have really upped the ante in modern cars across the board. Nowadays there’s airbags, sensors, reverse cameras and seat belts that beep consistently until you clip it in.

And while these measures are definitely a push in the right direction for road safety, those who lived through the 1960s can attest to just how unsafe their cars were in comparison. From the laid-back laws to the lack of safety prevention, rules definitely went out the window when it came to these old cars.

One of the most memorable features, and something kids these days are unlikely to have ever seen in their lifetime, were front bench seats. There were no cup holders or arm rests separating the two front spots – not even a gear box for manual cars.

Instead, the single couch-like seat would run straight across, leaving plenty of room for girlfriends to snuggle up to their boyfriends or better yet, more room for as many passengers as could fit! Front and back bench seats as well as less pressure from police meant you could usually have six people riding in most cars, and sometimes up to eight if everyone really squeezed together.

This was also easier to achieve with the lack of reliance on seat belts. While nowadays, anyone can be picked up for not wearing their seat belt, back in those days they were an option but definitely not compulsory.

This meant kids in the backseat had more freedom to slide around wherever they wanted during a road trip. Games like “Corners” were originated thanks to these seats where every time the car turned a corner or even a slight bend, kids would slide into each other, pushing the unlucky one on the end against the door as hard as they could!

However, one of the major downsides to owning these classic cars back in their prime was of course the vinyl seating. Not only was it just generally uncomfortable, but it was also incredibly warm, especially when the car had been sitting in the sun all day.

Most kids of this time will remember jumping into the car on a warm summer day only to burn the back of their legs on the boiling hot seat. And don’t even think about touching the metal on the end of a seatbelt – unless of course you wanted to get an even more painful burn!

With no room for the gear box in between the front seats, the column shift sat up behind the steering wheel for the driver to easily access when switching gears. These cars were mostly three and four speed manuals which can be hard to comprehend when today’s cars can run up to six-speeds.

And of course you can’t forget the iconic dashboard of a car in the ’50s or ’60s that was fitted out with all the must-have features of the decades. These included cigarette lighters, ash trays and of course cassette players.

But, no matter how they’ve changed over the years, these cars remain classics for a good reason. Every kid who grew up in one of these or any teenager who was lucky enough to own one will know that when they see a vintage car drive past, some of the best memories of their youth come rushing back!

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