Here's the thing: If you know how to work on old cars, you can keep them running almost indefinitely. My '55 Ford is extremely uncomplicated and easy to work on. That said, it's not like you can just drive it without paying attention to it either. There's always some sort of maintenance that has to be done to it. The carb needs cleaning and adjusting, depending on the season. The chassis needs lubrication. Points need to be either cleaned or checked. I can't remember off the top of my head all the things I do, but it's pretty much a constant job to keep it running. Granted, this is an almost 60 year old car, but the notion of Father and Son working on the family car back in the day had a more literal meaning. You HAD to do this, and since they were easier to work on... everyday folks could work on them.
On the other hand my Brother owns a Toyota Avalon. He knows zilch about cars. At most he will change the oil when he remembers. I'm usually the one that works on it. But he goes months and months on end without doing even routine maintenance, and years without doing anything major. In fact, the only major thing we've done was we changed the timing belt (not fun!) at 250,000 miles - wayyyy past due. Other than that, it just goes and goes. It's got almost 300,000 miles so far. It is not as easy to work on. There are tons of sensors and electronics tied to the ignition and emission control equipment. If any of these go wrong and the engine light comes on, we have to do a scan of the codes and then hope we can pinpoint the right sensor that's faulty. Old cars had none of this, thus they were far less complicated. But then again, a lot of those sensors and the computer they're hooked up to are yet another reason newer cars run for so long with hardly any serious issues: The engine is constantly running at an optimum situation. On the other hand, if my carb on the old Ford is out of whack, the engine will run rich.
Personally I think both old and new cars have their pros and cons. Old cars are easy to work on. But you have to baby them and keep them tuned up and maintained, and be prepared to replace lots of routine components on a regular basis. Most people these days don't know how to do this anymore - thus they're impractical. But again - if you know what you're doing, you can keep an old car on the road for... decades.
On the other hand, those old cars are not at all safe when it comes to accidents. If I wreck in my old Ford, it would be like an egg inside a box getting dropped off the top of a building. There's no crumple zones, no structural reinforcement in the door panels, and no air bags or even shoulder belts. The dash is steel. The steering wheel is made out of steel with a hard plastic over the top. There is no padding in the center of the steering wheel, and in fact - it's a huge metal medallion. The steering wheel would probably come through the car in a head-on collision. The box frame would also likely shear if not hit absolutely square. Old cars like this were not built with safety in mind. That's another reason why they were cheap.
On the other hand, modern cars have crumple zones, rigid structural reinforcement around the entire passenger compartment, air bags, and so on and so on. They are 1000% safer. That's why for my daily driver to work I drive a early 2000's Toyota. It's maddening to take the '55 Ford on long freeway trips, because again - getting in a wreck would be far more likely to end with a serious accident.
I'd even argue that more recent cars are getting even better. A friend of mine bought a new Ford Fiesta. The car adjusts to your driving habits and adjusts the transmission in response. It monitors the condition of the oil and a ton of other things. It's got a zillion features that you'd never expect on a $20k car.
Well, I never once worked on my old 70s and 80s GM cars, and they were repaired (other than changing the oil) maybe once every five years on average, and cost very little to repair. Essentially they were almost free motoring other than the gas.
I certainly don't buy the idea that modern cars are any less trouble than full sized V8 sedans were from the 1970s and 80s.
Good for your 55' Ford, but we were talking 70s and 80s cars here. I know numerous people who own Caprices, and a few with Delta 88s, and while most are in the 170,000-320,000 mile range, they do not need constant adjusting. They are cast iron, extremely under stressed tanks.
As for safety, come on. 2011 Taurus, Avalon, Explorer, Ridgeline, Traverse, Fusion, whatever unibody crap vs Caprice? Give me the Caprice or just about any body on frame car. The current Panther cars are still body on frame, and are still pounding unibody cars into the ground in crashes.
I am with 21:20.
His post is a balanced and fact driven view of old vs new cars.
Your 70's and 80's cars are transitional, as they feature early safety features like crumple zones, collapsible steering columns, bonded glass windshields, seat belts, airbags and even ABS. Those features were added to both, body on frame and unibody vehicles.
Saying that body-on-frame beats unibody in regards of passenger safety is way oversimplified.
Now they have second and third generation safety features...
Almost all the new cars you mentioned received excellent crash ratings. So that alone speaks volumes.
Also - just because a car sits on a frame doesn't mean it's automatically safer. Here's an analogy. Let's say you come across two bridges. One bridge is made out of a solid slab of heavy, thick steel. The other is made out of a complex webwork of lighter steel pieces creating an arched shape (In other words, the way that almost all bridges are built) So why would engineers choose to use a bridge made out of thin pieces of steel forming a structure, when surely it makes sense to use one giant thick slab of steel? The reason is because the later lacks structural rigidity. The same is with cars. Just because a car uses a unibody frame doesn't mean it's all puny. In fact the entire car is a frame versus a body on frame car where the body more or less just sits on top of the frame. Unibody cars aren't getting "Pounded into the ground in crashes", which is a good thing because they are actually safer, which means they do their job better.
I myself agree that the 70's and 80's were a great era for Ford and GM midsize and fullsized cars. I don't understand why some people (mostly import fans) could possibly say that these were bad decades for these 2 companies, when me and many family members all had great experiences with many vehicles from this era, all needing little or no repairs; 81 Olds Cutlass Supreme, the odometer stopped at 185,000 MI and was driven for 3 years after that. 85 Buick LeSabre (RWD) 147,000 MI, 84 Pontiac Grand Prix 210,000 MI.
Also, I agree that vehicles from this era were far more reliable with less problems than today's vehicles. In 1981 GM introduced the computer command control (CCC); back then a check engine light may have had about 10-15 codes total, if that. Today it's ridiculous; check engine lights now trigger about 3 dozen codes for things that you couldn't imagine. This, along with plastic engine parts, emissions, special coolants and fluids, smaller engine compartments, and transverse mounted engines, make today's cars miserable to work on for do it youselfers and the experienced mechanic.
Another thing is cars from the 50's were cheap because the cost of living was cheap, not because they weren't safe.
As far as grease points on a chassis, every car that I have owned that had grease fittings never required suspension components to be replaced; they were greased every time I would change my oil, but my current 96 Lincoln Town Car (another great high mileage car) has a sealed chassis, and at around 130,000 MI I had to change all 4 tie rod ends, upper ball joints, and lower ball joints, which are not fun to replace unless you like making loud noises.