There are always examples of cars that were seen in giant herds on yesterday’s roads.
Eventually they were unable to outrun the passing years and these once-plentiful cars suddenly disappeared completely off the automotive radar screen.
They were bought, used for transportation purposes, and then they headed off into the sunset-sometimes forgotten and definitely long gone from the road.
These cars that served a practical role with their owners were unceremoniously discarded when they became impractical for their owners.
The most famous example is the Model T. These iconic vehicles were an affordable and reliable choice for their millions of owners and outran the competition for many years when it came to sheer production numbers.
Eventually the Model T was outgunned by newer automotive engineering, sleeker designs, and faster cars that pushed the famous T off the road and into automotive folklore. The Model T still has one of the biggest and most dedicated fan clubs in the car hobby-but few people want to drive a stock T on a freeway-unless they have the Indiana Jones gene in them.
Another famous automotive icon that is no longer seen on the road in huge numbers is the Volkswagen Beetle. These distinctively-shaped German cars with an air-cooled engine in the trunk were a mainstay on North American roads during their long production run. Just as long as the roads were not part of the then-new high speed freeways during the turtle-speed Beetle’s early years on this side of the big Atlantic pond.
The Beetles served an important role as a compact car in a big car market and gained its enormous popularity from its small size and large fuel economy. The Beetle was a great choice as a second car for multi-car owners who lived in the new suburbs and wanted to use them on local streets.
Eventually the Beetle was outgunned by other manufacturers who built small cars that offered better performance and actual heat for their customers. The slow-moving original Beetle was passed by every other car on the road during its long production run. However, time also passed the famous VW model after it caught up to the slow-moving mechanical slug from Germany.
The death of the Beetle saddened many people-except the millions of kids who lost the Punch Buggy game to other kids while they were traveling in large domestic family cars.
The Ford Pinto was another common sight on the roads of yesteryear because this was a domestic sub-compact car that offered an affordable alternative for its buyers. The gas crunch of the 1970s put the Pinto in front of the big car pack from Motor City in terms of fuel economy.
However, the cars eventually became a punchline for struggling comedians when the Pinto’s gas tanks occasionally exploded upon rear end impact and pushed the cars into lawsuits, notoriety and material for un-creative comics.
Ford ultimately decided to build Pintos that offered their buyers a wide range of luxury and power options. But the cars were unable to shake their reputation as a smallish BBQ on four wheels and disappeared from the road.
The GM counterpart to the Ford Pinto was the Chevy Vega. Both companies had derivatives that ran under other company banners like the Mercury Bobcat and Pontiac Astre but, like Ford’s Pinto, the Chevy Vega had the most sales impact on GM’s small car buyers.
The Vega also had a four-cylinder engine with an aluminum cylinder head and a reputation for poor quality. The cars were also saddled with rust and reliability issues that eventually took the Vega down in a big way.
The Vega was sold in significant numbers during its 1971-77 model run and was a big part of the automotive scene during its heyday. The Vega models have largely disappeared since that time frame and few car guys mourn their passing. Except the guys who put a V-8 under the car’s hoods and solved one of the Vega’s many problems.
The fifth and final addition to our extinct car list is the first generation Honda Civic. These small Japanese imports offered a different approach to the sub-compact market because they were front wheel drive cars.
The first-gen Civics offered reasonable performance and decent gas mileage along the way. The cars were very popular during the 1970s gas crunch and gained a solid foothold in the North American car market.
The downside to the Civic was its lack of room and ability to turn non-claustrophobic people into highly claustrophobic people when they had to ride in the tiny cars. Throw in paper-thin gauge metal that lost every battle with rust in North America’s winter belts and you have an original Honda Civic.
Nevertheless, the Honda Civic belongs on our list of common cars from the past that are no longer on today’s roads in great numbers and made a generational impact when they were in production.
BY: Jim Sutherland
Jim Sutherland is a veteran automotive writer whose work has been published by many major print and online publications. The list includes Calgary Herald, The Truth About Cars, Red Deer Advocate, RPM Magazine, Edmonton Journal, Montreal Gazette, Windsor Star, Vancouver Province, and Post Media Wheels Section.
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