Favorite and Forgotten Car Features of Yesterday

Explore the evolution of various features and elements in automobiles throughout the years. From the transition from hand-cranked windows to power windows to the disappearance of hood ornaments and the shift in headlight design preferences, we delve into the changes that have shaped the automotive industry.

Join us on this journey as we examine the fading presence of vent windows, ashtrays, hubcaps, spare tires, and the transformation of wood side panels. Discover how technological advancements, shifting consumer preferences, and regulatory influences have reshaped the automobile.

Hand Crank Windows

I can still remember those hand-cranked windows on my first few cars. Nowadays, though, power windows have become such a popular option that automakers made them standard on most models.

Hand Car Window Crank

Technically, you can still order a hand-cranked window, but it’s so difficult to find nowadays because dealers order what sells best, and today it’s automatic windows.

Third Row Seats — The Way Back Seat

Do you remember sitting in the back seat of a station wagon when you were a kid? Eventually, minivans and SUVs replaced that station wagon. Many of those featured rear-facing “way back” seats. They were favored by kids on long family road trips. They’d wave to the people behind them, play games and toys in the back, and it became a kid’s paradise.

Station Wagon with Way-Back Seat

European automakers still sell wagons in the U.S. Today. You could order a Mercedes-Benz E350 4matic wagon because they have a standard rear-facing third-row seat for two kids. Volvo quit that feature in their 2007 model change. Tesla has actually sold rear-facing third-row seats as an option on the Model S hatchback sedan.

Radio Antenna

Telescoping radio antenna, oh boy! Back then, if you forgot to lower your antenna, you were in trouble. You could lose it to pranksters or even when you were at the car wash. They eventually buried them in the window glass because they were vandal and car wash-proof, but it did degrade the radio reception. Today, cars need them for phones, navigation, remote control locks, and more.

Telescoping Car Antenna

The old collapsible antenna couldn’t handle that. Small shark fin roof-mounted antenna pods, combined with the aerials buried within the car, now send and receive all the signals that you need to use.

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 that were used on the old Woody station wagons. But tastes change.

Car with Wood Side Panels

Nowadays, the fake wood is on the inside, adorning dashboards and door panels in mid-level models that want to look like the high-end vehicles that use real wood for interior trim today.

Hood Ornaments

Hood ornaments have become incredibly collectible. 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 the Cadillac Reef, were popular with thieves who snapped them off, hung them on chains, used them as necklaces, or just propped them up in the garage.

Classic Hood Ornament

Some stand-up ornaments continue today. They’re mounted on springs, though, so they can easily bring them in and out. Many are flush-mounted on grills today or lay flat on the hood of a car.

Vent Windows

Do you remember those little vent windows? You could flip them open. They were triangular-shaped windows. It was a common way to let in a little fresh air or do the opposite – push out some of that cigarette smoke. By the 1990s, air conditioning, fresh air intakes, and flow-through ventilation had wiped out most little wing windows.

Car Door Vent Windows

Because there are fewer smokers these days, there’s minimal demand for the vents’ smoke exhaustion feature. Nowadays, they may also increase wind noise and hurt aerodynamics, cutting fuel efficiency. And I don’t know where you live, but where I live, gas is pretty expensive, so I am okay with that part being gone.


Fewer people smoke today – 18% of Americans, down from 42%in 1964. But I can remember when an ashtray was very common in a car. You still can find a rare smoker’s package option, which usually includes an ashtray and a push-in, pop-out cigarette lighter.

Car Door Ashtray with 12v Lighter

Those round 12-volt receptacles without the pop-out lighter persist in many models, but they’re now used mainly to plug in 12-volt devices, such as chargers for your cell phone. USB ports now occupy the dash space that used to have the ashtray or the coin tray as my mom used it.


A car that had hubcaps? Technically, they’re called wheel covers, but hubcaps were too easily stolen. They were dislodged and lost when driving over bumps.

Steel Wheel with Hubcap

The modern version is either a plastic wheel cover that resembles a fancy alloy wheel bolted to the steel wheel that’s standard on low-end cars, or most cars today come with alloy wheels, which look good without a cover or a cap. Technically, they have very small hubcaps in the center to cover the otherwise unsightly wheel center on many cars today.

Spare Tire

Because people want more space to carry stuff, the full-size spare tire has gone out of popularity. Lighter vehicles more easily meet fuel economy regulations, so full-size spare tires had to go.

Full Size Spare Tire in Trunk

They’re too big to fit in the trunks of smaller cars that now seem everywhere. They are optional on some vehicles, but you get a lighter, smaller mini spare for temporary use.


Federal regulations once dictated the size and shape of headlights. In 1973, guidelines shifted to specify illumination, not size or shape. Designers opted for rectangular lights that stylists preferred. But back in the day, they had some gorgeous round headlights.

Classic Car Headlight

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 are not extinct, though. Jeep uses modernized round headlights on some models, and small round lights are camouflaged behind transparent covers on most models of Honda, Toyota, and BMW today.

Video: Forgotten Car Features of Yesterday

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