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Top 10 little things that would make cars a lot better

We're not talking big deals like electronic stability control systems, dual-shift gearboxes or radial tires here. More the little details that we don't often think about, apparently not enough car designers think about them either.
Jim Kenzie
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We’re not talking big deals like electronic stability control systems, dual-shift gearboxes or radial tires here. More the little details that we don’t often think about, apparently not enough car designers think about them either.

So, why don’t /didn’t all cars always have the following?:

1. Telescoping sunvisors. The Citroën DS 21 I rented for my first post-university, “If This Is Tuesday This Must Be Belgium” tour of Europe had these. The padded part could be moved along the rod, so the visor could cover a greater and variable portion of the front or side window, depending on the location of the sun. I was reminded of this when the Mercedes-Benz S-Class I drove recently had them.

While on that topic, a second sunvisor, non-rotatable, so if the main visor is moved off to the side window and you make a 90-degree turn, you don’t have to re-rotate the main visor – just flip this smaller one down. I think the original Ford Taurus was the first car I saw with these; others followed suit but few, including subsequent Taurus models, have stayed with the concept.

2. Remote Power Locks. The first car I can remember with these was, believe it or not, the Renault Alliance (you knew I was going to get an American Motors product in here somehow). When I first heard about this idea, I figured, who the heck needs that? Power locks, sure – especially when you have kids in the car. But a “remote”?

The first time you approach the car with arms full of grocery bags, you get it.

While on that subject, remote trunk release. See above.

3. Cup holders. Okay, maybe these do rank with radial tires; they’re pretty much universal now. But the first car I recall with these was the early-’80s Lincoln Mark VII, followed shortly thereafter by the Dodge Charger “Shelby” edition. I remember from the press release that the Mark VII’s were “dual, retractable and gimballed” – a panel popped forward out of the centre armrest, and the holders themselves, two hinged hat-shaped rails fell down from that. They could swivel in all directions so the coffee wouldn’t spill when you accelerated or turned. I think this terrific idea was lifted from power boats.

I also once rode with Carroll Shelby in one of his Shelby Chargers at the Chrysler Proving Grounds in Chelsea, Mich. I congratulated him on the car and especially on the cup holders. This being a family website I cannot repeat his answer, but it was pretty funny.

4. Rolls-Royce umbrella holder. Okay, so that’s a half-million-dollar car. But the umbrella holder tube fitted into the door jamb of the Rolls-Royce Phantom wouldn’t be that difficult or expensive to fit into any car. Maybe for Canada they could do another (or adapt that one) for a snow brush.

5. Curry hooks. That’s what the Brits call the little pop-out hooks on the passenger side of the car down by the feet. Essentially, these are the same pieces as the pop-out clothes hanger hooks many cars have above the rear windows – just relocated. These are so-called because curry, which supplanted fish ‘n’ chips as the U.K.’s favourite take-out (sorry, “take away”) food some years ago, typically comes in plastic bags that hang naturally therefrom.

6. AC Inverters. Most cars now have two or more 12-volt outlets. All well and good, except no cellphone, no computer, no electronic device you might want in a car runs on 12 volts. Yeah, I have a plug-in 12-to-110-volt adapter. But just a handful of cars have 110 AC built in.

7. Windshield parking tag holder. Volvo used to have these in all their cars (not sure if they still do). It’s a little plastic clip on the extreme left edge of the windshield into which you can slip the parking pass from your company, school, apartment building, whatever. Beats the heck out of hanging them from the rear-view mirror.

These holders would be especially useful to hold the slip from the pay parking machines (come on, don’t tell me you’ve never had that slip of paper disappear down the defroster outlet when you leave it on the dashboard then close the door).

8. Steering-column stalk control for windshield wipers. Again, pretty much universal now, but why did it take some carmakers so long?

It’s hard to remember for us oldies, hard to imagine for you younger types, but as late as the early 1980s, some cars (mostly domestics) still forced you to reach to the dashboard to switch on the wipers. By the time you found the switch after that truck splashed muddy water all over your windshield, you had probably already crashed.

While on that topic, the high-beam dimmer should be built into a steering column stalk too, usually the turn signal lever. Cars used to have a foot-operated switch on the floor for this, which was especially dumb in a manual transmission car. You already had three things to work with your feet and only two feet available for the tasks. Pull out of a parking spot at night, and as you’re accelerating and upshifting, a car comes around the corner and you still have your high beams on. Somebody’s gonna get angry.

9. Interior lights that you switch on simply by pressing on the lens. No fumbling in the dark looking for a switch. Find the light, push the light, let there be light.

10. Three-flash lane-change turn signal. A slight touch of the lever gives you just three flashes of the signal, enough to let others know you’re comin’ over. Pretty much all European cars have this now, some domestics, but surprisingly few Japanese or Koreans, although we are seeing them on a few more, um, enlightened models.

Like most of these tidbits, it doesn’t seem like much. But once you use some, you can’t do without them.

Okay, there’s my 10. As always, send me your ideas.

jim@jimkenzie.com

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