Nowism and cars
Got thinking about the application of 'nowism' in automotive history. We apply today's values and taboos to the past in an oddly selective way.
use nowism to define what's a passenger car. Since 1980 we've come to consider pickups and big SUVs as passenger cars. Pickups have always been around, and big Suburbans or Carryalls have always been around (though MUCH less common before 1980). We didn't classify them as cars before, so we still don't classify pre-1980 Carryalls or Jeep wagons as cars. If we did, Willys/Kaiser would be treated as a major carmaker. Instead, we normally say that Willys/Kaiser "quit the auto business" in 1955 because they stopped making sedans in 1955.
In fact Willys only quit making small sedans in 1955. It continued, and still continues now, making big station wagons.
use nowism with the issue of fuel economy. We imagine that people bought Ramblers in the '50s for gas economy. We treat free-wheeling as a gas-saving device.
Nope, wrong twice. People bought Ramblers because they were easier to handle and park, and after experiencing a Rambler they continued because Ramblers were durable and well-made.
Free-wheeling was not about economy. It was a direct answer to GM's Synchromesh, and in fact it was superior to Synchromesh. Free-wheeling let you shift into any gear at any speed, and allowed some clutchless shifting.
Fuel economy simply wasn't important for most people in most years. Not because "gas was cheap"; that's another piece of nowism, failing to account for inflation. Gas has always been about the same price in proportion to wages. Before the '70s, even misers didn't think about saving gas. It just wasn't a big deal.
Concern with gas mileage pops up temporarily when gas is felt to be scarce
, not when gas is expensive.
It was crucial during WW2 because of rationing, and it came back in 1973 when Nixon sacrificed our economy to support Israel and got impeached by Jews as a reward. Since then, MPG has been important to Planet-Savers who imagine that oil is scarce, but it's still not a big deal for most drivers.