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As technology advances and design styles evolve, many awesome features once found on cars are left behind. Here are the ones that many still drool over.

30 Aug 2018


Most people love new things, from gadgets to vehicles to everyday objects, the unending development that humans strive for ensures that old technologies are cast to the rear-view mirrors and are seldom revisited.

So, why would anyone even want something that is old and outdated? You see, it is never that simple. While technology advancement focuses on efficiency with a clinical precision, it takes away what make things of yesteryear amazing. A mixture of nostalgia, some inefficiency and a strong unique flavour, old technologies give old cars their character, the essence that are often absent from their newer counterparts.

Let's take a trip down memory lane and learn about these features that are quickly disappearing from cars in the recent years.

Pop-up head lights that gave these MX-5 their iconic cute look can no longer be found on new cars
1. Pop-up head lights

An iconic feature found on the quintessential supercars of the 80s and 90s, pop-up head lights adorned the sleek bodies of legendary cars like the Lamborghini Countach, the Ferrari Testarossa, and enthusiasts' favourites such as the Mazda RX-7, the Honda NSX and the Toyota AE86.

Once synonymous with performance cars, pop-up head lights remain highly sought after by many nostalgic ones, while others simply love the look of them. Ironically, the reason that resulted in the rise of this lighting design is the same one that caused its downfall - safety.

In the 1970s, a rule in the U.S.A required head lights to meet a minimum height requirement. This was a rule that was skirted with pop-up head lights, which met the requirement when turned on, while maintaining a sleek profile when off. This spawned the huge array of sports cars that utilised pop-up head lights.

Eventually in the early 2000s, in a bid to protect pedestrians in crashes, European design laws mandated that the front ends of cars are to be more readily deformable, a requirement that pop-up head lights couldn't comply with without incurring high costs. As such, this feature gradually fell out of favour and is no longer implemented on current cars despite being the basis for the stunning designs of cars that once adorned our bedroom walls.

The Honda B-Series engines are prime examples of high-revving NA engines that are loved by enthusiasts
2. High-revving Naturally Aspirated (NA) engines

In a wild hunt for efficiency, emissions and economy, manufacturers have been downsizing engines, reducing displacements or lopping off cylinders. However, as the saying 'there is no replacement for displacement' goes, smaller engines would definitely produce less power. Or is that really the case? Enter the world of forced induction.

By turbocharging these small engines to force feed air into the cylinders, a great balance between power and efficiency is struck, making them the clear choice for manufacturers.

On the other hand, NA engines tend to make more power higher up the rev range, as you see, power is a by-product of torque and RPM. Hence NA engines often require large displacements or costly engineering and parts in order to make more power. While they may not offer the best fuel economy or outright power, they tend to provide an enthralling experience for the driver. NA engines are known for their excellent, instantaneous throttle response and the incredible aural experience at high revs that is unmatched by others.

Think of cars like the BMW M3 and the Honda Civic Type R, both of which were acclaimed for their driving experience, and are now replaced by their latest turbocharged iterations.

The Wankel engines produced more power in a much smaller package than the conventional reciprocating engines, which utilise pistons and a crankshaft
3. Rotary (Wankel) Engines

Originally conceived by German engineer Felix Wankel (which gave these engines their name) in 1929, the Wankel Engine consists of a three-sided rotor spinning in an oval-like housing, rotating an axle. Fundamentally different from the conventional engines that utilise a crankshaft and pistons to generate power, the Wankel engines produce high power from a small package, generating a high power-to-weight ratio.

While the NSU Spider, released in 1964, is the first mass-produced car that utilised these engines, it faced many reliability issues, which gave Wankel engines a poor reputation. It was only until 1967 that Mazda released its first Wankel engine car, the Cosmo 110S, where Mazda was able to solve the apex seal problem, which plagued the prior engines, including NSU's.

While various manufacturers dabbled with the idea, Mazda was the company who continued to develop the Wankel engine which eventually found its way into Mazda's RX series of sports car that many enthusiasts love.

Despite being adored by enthusiasts for its smooth power delivery, high-revving nature in a light and compact package, which is attributed to excellent handling, poor fuel economy and high emissions led to the death of the Wankel engines. The last Wankel engine car by Mazda, the RX-8, failed to meet Euro 5 emissions regulations and wasn't allowed to be sold in Europe after 2010.

Cable-operated throttle mechanisms provide an unparalleled throttle response and feel
4. Cable-operated throttle

Most cars nowadays utilise drive-by-wire throttles (electronic throttle control), a technology where the throttle body is operated by an electric motor, where the actual throttle flap position is determined by the input from various sensors and not just the accelerator. With such a technology, car manufacturers will be able to programme various features such as traction control or attempt to improve fuel economy by manipulating the throttle input.

As such, the driver does not have total control. You cannot mash the throttle to the floor and expect the throttle body to go wide open if the ECU does not allow so. Hence drive-by-wire throttles often convey the feeling of an engine with poor response.

Cable-operated throttles operate the throttle body mechanically via a cable that tugs to open the throttle flap as the accelerator is depressed. It is a simple design that has been used on engines all along. While these mechanical throttle lack the bells and whistles that drive-by-wire throttles offer, they ensure that the driver has absolute control over several things such as the amount of air that enters the engine, or the satisfying feeling where the harder and further you depress the accelerator, the wider the throttle valve opens. It is a direct connection without any sort of interference, which makes driving a much more enjoyable experience.

Older cars like this Nissan Fairlady Z (S30Z) have a simple, timeless design that stands the test of time
5. Simplicity

Looking back, it is often the cars with simple designs that have stood the test of time. Till date, people still lust over cars like the air-cooled 911, the Honda NSX and the Ferrari F40. These cars do not have futuristic curves and complicated lines. Instead, elegant and simplistic designs enabled them to remain highly sought-after despite being decades old.

As engineers and designers continue to improve, the simple wedged-shaped designs, which looked so amazing, can no longer keep up with the unstoppable development in the industry. They eventually gave way to complex lines on slippery bodywork that perform well aerodynamically while exuding a modern look.

While engines of the past can never match the efficiency and performance of current technology, they had minimal electronics and simpler designs, which were much easier to work with and seldom required specialised equipment to repair.

Most cars nowadays come with many buttons on the steering wheel, numerous buttons for the infotainment system, climate control and other functions. If you are looking for a clean, minimalistic and simple interior, you would probably have to look at older cars.

Manual transmissions are no doubt the favourite for enthusiasts who want to have absolute control over their cars
6. Manual transmission

In the past, the standard equipment for cars would most often be a manual transmission, with only select cars offered with the pricier option of an automatic transmission. But unlike manual transmissions, which are generally known to be reliable throughout a car's lifespan, automatic transmissions could potentially be costly to repair. Automatic transmissions also performed worse than their manual counterparts back in those days.

With the advancement of technology, dual-clutch automatic transmissions that are able to shift gears faster than a human can possibly do with a manual are the standard for performance cars. This results in cars that are not only fast, but also simple and easy to operate, which is definitely attractive to most drivers who wants to focus on driving without meddling with a gear stick and clutch. The ease of usage and its performance benefits result in automatic transmissions overtaking manuals as the preferred choice. Thus, many manufacturers now only offer automatics for most models of their cars.

Although manual transmissions are no longer the best option for performance, many would attest that it is the optimal choice for enthusiasts who enjoy having absolute control over their vehicle. What is considered as a chore to the average drivers, the clutch control and shifting of gears on a manual car is seen as an exhilarating connection to the car that generates much more satisfaction when handled masterfully.

Many entry-level cars come with keyless entry and push-start buttons, making traditional keys obsolete
7. Keys

Originally found in race cars where every second counts, push-start buttons are now found in most cars, where the key fob sends a unique signal that allows you to start the car. Basically, you just need to have the key fob in the car and you can start it at the push of a button, simplifying the action of starting your car.

Although such keyless entry and ignition technology makes it easier for the day-to-day operation of a car, when the unexpected happens, such as an electrical fault, which prevents the system to work, you would often need to use a spare key usually found in the key fob, or other specific methods to gain access to your vehicle. A car that uses a conventional key, on the other hand, will never experience such an issue.

Nowadays, even entry-level cars such as the Mitsubishi Attrage come with a push-start button. While keyless ignition in newer cars makes starting a car more convenient for drivers, there is an inexplicable allure to starting a car with an actual key. The feeling of twisting it in the ignition barrel, cranking the engine as it springs to life, is something that the future generation of drivers may never get to experience as cars move towards keyless ignition.

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