Notes from underground

يارب يسوع المسيح ابن اللّه الحيّ إرحمني أنا الخاطئ

Beige cars for the over-70s?

Last night I watched an episode of the motoring programme Top Gear in which they noted that the percentage of over-70 drivers on the roads is increasing. Some years ago only about 15% of people over 70 were driving, whereas now about 60% of people over 70 are driving.

That reminded me that the oldest member of our church, Ellie Mullinos, who celebrated her 100th birthday last month, only stopped driving when she was about 95.

But when I watched the programme, I thought that the Top Gear team slipped up very badly. They really don’t have a clue. Here’s a summary of the show:

Challenge, Part 1: Jeremy and Richard attempt to design a car targeted at elderly people. Jeremy demonstrates the complexity of modern cars’ dashboard. Richard brings a Fiat Multipla and they both modify it. Jeremy breaks the dashboard and replaces it, considering it to be too complicated for elders. Richard asks for the airbags saying that it is dangerous for the elderly who are as delicate as children, and that he needs it for a safety feature. Jeremy makes a speedometer which reads 20 mph at the top speed,and he also uses an old design switch for a rear fog light which does nothing. Jeremy installs a pet-cage and replaces the back seat with high seat chairs and the Fiat badge with a Rover badge. They paint it in beige after observing the shade of a hearing aid. Richard uses water-resistant fabric as seat covers, and hurts his eye while stitching it. They complete the car and end part 1 with Richard wearing heavy bandages over his left eye.

Now I’m an over 70 driver, and they got it all wrong.

Jeremy Clasrson of Top Gear

Jeremy Clarkson of Top Gear

Let’s start with the beige car (to match a hearing aid). I remember beige cars. When I was at school one of our teachers had a beige Chev Fleetline which was ancient even then. It had no shock absorbers and we used to borrow it to drive around the school grounds, seeing how high we could get the bonnet to rear up when we took off. So yes, there have been beige cars, but do the Top Gear team seriously believe that they would have any appeal for today’s over-70s?

By the time we were old enough to not only have driving licences, but also to own our own cars, even second or third-hand ones, we were well into the psychedelic 1960s, and beige would have been the last colour we would have chosen to paint a vehicle. The ideal of this decade’s crop of 70-somethings is this:

Bus used by Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters

Bus used by Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters

Can you see even a little bit of beige in there? The idea that the psychedelic generation would dig a beige car is, well, preposterous!

Then there was the Top Gear team’s idea of the need to simplify the dashboard for the elderly.

What today's septuagenarians miss on moder dashboards

What today’s septuagenarians miss on modern dashboards

They got that quite wrong too. We old farts think that the dashboards of modern cars are much too simplified already. Where’s the oil pressure gauge? Where’s the ammeter?  Ok, an ammerter might not be quite so important now that most cars have alternators instead of DC dynamos, but still. A gauge with numbers and a needle is meaningful. The simplified version of a red light in some weird symbolic shape is not. My Subaru has a light that says AT OIL TEMP. I had no idea what I am supposed to do at oil tem, or what @oiltemp is supposed to be. Only after I’d had the car about a year did it suddenly dawn on me that “AT” was not @, but stood for “automatic transmission”.

If anything needs to be simplified, it’s not the dashboard, but what goes under the bonnet.  Back in the day, if your car broke down in the wilds of Namibia, you could fix it, at least enough to get it limping to the nearest town, with a pair pf pliers and a screwdriver. I did so on many occasions. You come across a stranded car. Just stopped, engine won’t start. Disconnect the fuel lead to the carburettor, check to see if fuel is flowing (yes, cars had carburettors back then). If it isn’t, check to see if there is a kink in the fuel line caused by a flying stone or something. Tweak it with the pliers and Bob’s your uncle.

Cars belonging to septuagenarians (the Beatles)

Cars belonging to septuagenarians (the Beatles)

If there is fuel, pull off one of the spark plug leads and check if there’s a spark. If it is weak or non-existent, remove the distributor cap and open the points with the tip of the screwdriver. If there’s a spark, adjust the points using the screwdriver and pliers together. If there isn’t a spark, then the condenser has probably gone, and if you don’t have a spare, you have a problem.

Or perhaps something has fallen off, like the exhaust pipe. Snip a bit of wire from the nearest barbed wire fence using the pliers, and tie it up with that.

That’s simplicity.

But open the bonnet of any car built in the last 15 years or so and you need a degree in electronic engineering to understand what you’re looking at, and diagnosting what’s wrong needs a battery of supercomputers.

The problem with the Top Gear team — Jeremy Clarkson et al — is that their image of septuagenarians is stuck back in the days when they were in their 20s — about 50 years ago, perhaps.

Yes, I can quite imagine a septuagenarian in 1963 or thereabouts driving a fifteen-year-old beige Chevrolet Fleetline, like the one my Afrikaans teacher used to have.

1948 Cheverolet Fleetline, two-tone beige

1948 Cheverolet Fleetline, two-tone beige

Back then they actually did drive cars like that.

Chev48bAnd they had suitably simplified dashboards, but very unsimple steering column gear linkages with dozens of rods, levers, split pins, washers and what-nots, just waiting for a suitably embarrassing moment to jam.

No, the idea of having beige cars for septuagenarians is at least 50 years out of date.

About 40 years ago the children of Bishop Colin Winter in Windhoek sent me an Easter card, which they had designed and drawn themselves. They will now all be in their 50s, but this conveys their idea of a suitable car for someone 15-20 years their senior:

Easter card from the Winter children, 1970

Easter card from the Winter children, 1970


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3 thoughts on “Beige cars for the over-70s?

  1. The ’48 Chevy Fleetline Aerosedan is a quintessential beautiful ’40s car. I have a 1:24 die-cast model of a black one, on a shelf. Really the ’42 that came out in late ’41, right before Pearl Harbor. The war stopped most American car production; the ’46-’48 models were really ’41s and ’42s with the chrome rearranged if that. Anyway, interesting if depressing point about over-70s identifying with the hippie Sixties; many but not all do of course. The ones I know don’t. The Stones and surviving Beatles are your age. You all came of age in the cultural Fifties, part of the golden era: around 1963. You know, the good ’60s. I remember the bad Sixties stuff, garish, etc. becoming mainstream in America around 1973.

    • My father once had the Buick equivalent of the Chev Fleetline, which was quite a nice car, and a bit posher. It was a company car. He later got a newer model, one of the ones where the radiator grille came over the front bumper. But none of them were beige, they were dark blue or black. 1963 was the year the Beatles became widely popular, and you can see their taste in car decot in the picture above.

  2. CherryPie on said:

    It just goes to show that children know far more than the people who proclaim themselves experts.

    I love that Easter card 🙂

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