Back in the
’80s, you may have had to “Drive 55″ on the highway
– but in other ways, things were pretty damn good. At least,
a lot better in a number of ways than they are now. For instance,
up a V-8 muscle car’s 22 gallon gas tank for about $25.
Unleaded regular for about a buck a gallon. Premium – without
ethanol for a few cents more.
This made it
economically conceivable to drive a V-8 muscle car every day
– even as a high school kid working part-time at a fast food
place. It also helped that V-8 muscle cars were relatively
cheap back then. At least, the used ones. The ’80s
were close enough in time to the ’70s – and the ’60s
– that used V-8 cars from those eras were still abundant on
car lots and in the classifieds. A high school friend of mine bought
a ’71 Plymouth GTX with the big block 440 (375 hp) in 1986
for $2,700. That’s about $5,700 in today’s Fed Funny
Money – about what you would need to spend to buy a so-so
used Civic or Corolla. That ’71 GTX my buddy bought for $2,700
back in the day would cost you at least $30,000 today.
is no way you’re driving a V-8 muscle car as a high school
kid – period – unless someone else is paying the gas
bill. Most adults working full-time can’t afford
to feed (or even buy) a V-8 muscle car.
four cylinder Civics with fart can exhaust for the kids –
and FWD V-6 Camrys for Mom & Dad.
voices may have told you, “the door is ajar” –
but costumed goons didn’t threaten you with guns to “buckle
up for safety.”
The state was
not your mommy – or your wife – not yet. It
actually left you alone – for the most part – unless
you had committed some sort of external violation. Something
that at least plausibly (however thinly) could be argued impinged
upon the rights of other people.
You could ride
in the bed of pick-up trucks – and hang a shotgun rack loaded
with actual shotguns (loaded shotguns) on the back window
of your pick-up truck and no one batted an eye. Much less any worries
about being thug-scrummed by a dozen black-clad Ninja cops fretting
You could “sleep
it off” in the back seat – and cops would not only leave
you alone, they’d commend you for being responsible.
Brother is married to Big Momma – and we have been reduced
to a sort of second childhood, enforced at gunpoint.
was still legal to have an open beer on you – so long as you
didn’t have too many beers in you.
was illegal – but you weren’t considered “drunk”
simply because you’d had a beer. Either in your belly
– or in your hand. These days, you will be crucified without
mercy if caught with an open beer in your hand while driving –
even if you’ve only had a few sips and even if a single beer
cannot possibly render you “drunk” – even by today’s
demented standards – under the law.
– for common sense.
was easier to “speed” – because it was easier
to get away with “speeding.”
cars – including economy cars – are much quicker
(and faster) than the cars of the ’80s. The problem is using
that capability. In the ’80s, a good radar detector made you
almost invulnerable. Today, cops have instant-on radar as well as
laser – which neutralizes the advantage of having a radar
detector. By the time it alerts, you’re already caught.
And of course,
there are automated speed cameras today. These didn’t exist
in the ’80s.Or even the ’90s – mostly. (When I
worked in DC in the mid-1990s, I routinely banshee-ran down Constitution
Ave at warp speed; do that today and you’d find your mailbox
stuffed with payin’ paper a week later.)
Also, the consequences
if you did get pinched weren’t as over-the-top and punitive
as they are today. Mostly, you just had to deal with a relatively
small fine and maybe some DMV rigmarole. Today, the fines are not
small – in part because of all the add-on “fees”
(such as “contributions” to the state’s “safety
awareness” program). Some states will slap you with several
hundred dollars in fines over a simple speeding ticket. And mere
speeding can, in several states, very easily become statutory reckless
driving – a huge bust with life-changing consequences.
It has sapped the fun out of driving – and cowed the populace
into submission. Even if you want to drive fast, it’s often
hard to drive fast because everyone else is driving at a snail’s
pace – out of fear of The Man.
the rest of the article
[send him mail] is an
automotive columnist and author of Automotive
Atrocities and Road Hogs (2011). Visit his
© 2013 Eric Peters
Best of Eric Peters