10 things your next car might not have
MY FAVOURITE car was a Chrysler VC Valiant I bought for the princely sum of $1000 from the son of an auto electrician.
Obviously the son and his old man were not on talking terms because I still had to occasionally crank the engine by shorting out the starter motor when I wanted to fire the long-stroke slant six into life.
At least the young fella had shown me how to do that, so dad had taught him something.
That aside, there was a bit of that car I just adored - the foot-operated high-beam dip switch.
Driving the sweeping, moon-dappled country roads at night introduced the driver's equivalent of a mad St Vitus dance as my left foot explored what was left of the somewhat rusted-out firewall, cloaked in its crudely cut carpet - ripped out of someone's house, by the looks of it - for the dipper in the face of oncoming traffic.
The modern-day car just can't replicate that satisfying ''click-click'' of the foot-operated dip switch. Nowadays, it's a gentle flick of the indicator stalk that, while a lot more convenient, is a lot less satisfying.
But it's not just that dip switch. Many more once-common sights, forms and functions are slowly disappearing from the radar with the advent of the modern motor car. Here's our pick of them.
In the old days, before the magic button, car windows used to go up and down via a handle you had to rotate.
Electric windows used to be the domain of luxury cars but they have now become so cheap that even the smallest, most affordable cars on the market use them.
It's also safer and more convenient for parents to stop kids in the back playing with the windows, because electric ones can be locked by the driver.
Fuel economy hangs like the sword of Damocles over one of the few things the bean counters haven't got their hands on yet.
Spare tyres add weight. Weight increases fuel use. Therefore, car makers reckon in the interests of saving a cupful of fuel between refills we should be happy with a can of goo and an air compressor.
Some car makers now offer run-flat tyres that hold their shape even when deflated, allowing drivers to limp into the next town at a much lower speed. Traditionally, run-flats have stiffer sidewalls that can make the ride a bit choppy. New versions are softer, but have less range.
The key ring for my much-loved VC Valiant consisted of one large key for the driver's door and ignition, another one for the boot, one for the fuel cap and yet another funny little one to pop out the stub of the radio antenna if it was fully retracted.
Keys these days can alternatively flip, fold, unlock and allow cars to start wirelessly, or look like a work of art. Individual keys can even set up the driver's seat for different people, remembering the settings in their tiny electronic brains.
The only support you're likely to get with electronic widgets these days is a piece of paper showing a website. The same trend is happening with some luxury cars.
Dead-tree owner's manuals are being replaced with electronic versions stored on the car's multimedia system. Looking them up is akin to searching Google for an essential piece of information. Unfortunately, you also get the same mash of relevant and bogus results.
One of the best ways car makers can de-clutter an interior is to remove that pesky handbrake. It's a feature that has been slow to evolve - some utes still use the umbrella handbrake, BMW is sticking faithfully with its centre console-mounted version and the likes of Mercedes-Benz and Lexus still use the handbrake equivalent of cave painting with their foot-operated units.
We now have the ability to replace the old manual system with a petite push-button system hidden away in all sorts of unexpected places around the cabin.
Smokers have been kicked out of offices and eateries and now it is getting harder and harder to light up in the car.
Thanks to the social stigma (and the fact it saves the bean counters money), push-in cigarette lighters are an increasingly rare sight in new cars.
Most manufacturers still provide them but only if they are optioned by the owner. Instead they are being replaced by power outlets that can recharge phones and power navigation units.
Sony's Walkman revolutionised the way we listened to music. Instead of being tied to the home stereo system, we could take our music with us. Just like the Walkman, the CD player has almost had its day. Bluetooth wireless streaming and the introduction of hard disks as an integral part of in-car audio systems mean we don't need to lug an unwieldy collection of music from car to car.
Instead, it's jump in, connect the smartphone, dump its music contents in the hard disk and away you go.
Interestingly, though, Japanese luxury car maker Lexus still sells cassette decks in some of its models.
Manual door locks
Jump into a Volkswagen Golf and, as you take off, the doors will automatically lock with a reassuring ''thunk''. Instead of a door lock, the only visible sign that you are protected from the scruffy-looking windscreen washers at the next set of traffic lights is a slowly blinking red LED on the driver's door.
It's just not the same as seeing a beautifully designed button retract into a door sill.
It's easy to find the cheap bastards out there. They're the ones hiding the steel wheels of the base-model car they have bought behind those chintzy plastic hubcaps.
However, buyer expectations of value are increasing, meaning that even base-model cars are starting to wear the shiny alloy bling that might cost more than the steel equivalents but shed weight and therefore aid fuel economy.
Very soon the only steel wheel you'll see will be the spare hidden away in the boot - assuming it hasn't been replaced with aforementioned tyre-inflation kit.
The Sunday drive
Speed cameras, parking restrictions, toll roads, registration fees, fuel taxes and, ominously, congestion charges are more than likely to make driving less of a pleasure and more of a financial impost in years to come.
Insurance companies also noted that the number of car-crash claims made during the Gulf War fell markedly as fuel prices rose and motorists cut out a lot of their discretionary driving in response to the higher pump prices.