Again - a lot of these comments seem to err on the side of personal opinion. If that's the case, I'm not going to argue with that, because opinions are opinions. But whether today's cars are inferior to yesterday's cars based on their safety, technology, handling, and overall reliability is not really a debatable concern, because today's cars are in fact better in more ways than one, which isn't really a fair comparison, since cars made 50 years ago were done so when the know-how and technology used today simply didn't exist. This is more directed towards more generic statements like:
"Back in the good ole' days XXX was better!"
Additionally, There is no way that the average working man could have afforded a Cadillac back then. If you look at what an 'average' cars cost back then, a basic Ford or Chevy was usually either at or a little less than $2,000. On the other hand, a Cadillac was anywhere from $5,000-$7,500. The average house was under $20,000, so imagine paying 50% of what a house costs today... for a car.
Any car from the 80's-90's will have cheap insurance too.
A '59 Caddy will feel safe compared to a modern compact, until you have to actually deal with rain or parking.
What was so bad about McCarthy? If he had his way, we'd probably be much better off... I don't see why everybody demonizes him.
Having the time of your life? So you think an endless war and economic recession is the time of your life? You think increased government control over everybody's lives is the time of your life? The fact that we're heading in the same direction as Putin and his "New Russia"?
In regards to cars, while the cars of the past weren't perfect, they were superior in several ways to the more modern vehicles. However, they also have their setbacks. Modern vehicles don't ride very well and try to be sporty. That's fine for the cars of the commoners, but it really irks me that the "luxury" brands are following the same exact marketing strategy. Why should we give a damn about performance and handling when Rolls-Royce (the ultimate luxury brand) ignores the same things, yet nobody can touch them in prestige and style.
Back then, people could own cars that could compare to ultra high end vehicles like Rolls. A 1970s Cadillac or Lincoln was comparable to a Rolls of the same year. Today, there's no luxury car in production that's comparable to Rolls-Royce or Bentley for under $250,000. Mercedes-Benz emphasized sportiness over the real luxury Rolls delivers, and BMW was always about sportiness (plus they own Rolls-Royce, so they wouldn't compete with them anyway).
If the old cars had the benefits of modern rustproofing, fuel injection, overdrive, and thorough quality control, they would be decent luxury cars for the modern world. However, the ridiculous CAFE standards are a common obstacle for all luxury cars today.
And yeah government regulations killed the big cars. GM backed out in 1996 because they believed SUVs were the way to go and Ford was whopping their butts, Chrysler found the minivan to be in their best interests, as their full sized cars were never hits, and Ford's Panther platform cars were just neglected to the point of no return. Had Ford just restyled the damn cars and added newer, more modern luxury features since 1998/2003, the Panther platform cars would have ended decently. Of course, Ford had to kill them because they couldn't meet the more recent yearly CAFE regulations.
By the way, modern cars have a ton of stupid gimmicks on them. No way do I need a built-in Bluetooth, GPS, computer, etc. to be standard at extra cost in the MSRP. That stuff is stupid and gives modern automotive advances a bad name.
And you don't have to be all too cautious when driving an older car at low speeds. I think the older cars are much better with low speed impacts. Of course, on the highway or at higher speeds, a more modern vehicle would be the better choice in any accident. Although, an SUV would be the best choice of all, but you'd probably kill somebody in an accident that would otherwise been less severe.
You're right about consumer tastes changing, but they don't change so much as you'd think. For example, the 1998 Lincoln Town Car was a dud because it lost the traditional boxiness that made the whole look. People just couldn't relate as well to the newer ones. Most full sized car owners won't just wake up one day and say "Hey, I suddenly want a Subaru, etc."; they usually go elsewhere after they got alienated by the newer, more awkward looking full sized vehicles. Although it may be heading in that direction with today's fuel prices.
The big cars could've held on longer, but they just became too bad looking by the end. Not only that, but the Big 3 needed cars that sold 300,000 cars a year, not 120,000 due to their worsening financial positions in the 1990s and 2000s. The bigger cars sold well, but not well enough to justify their existence at the end.
I think the difference between many cars of yesteryear and today is the type of problems.
The cars of the 50s and 60s are sometimes viewed as wonders, because they didn't have much to work with as far as technology. Now, cars can be built in just about all aspects by computer, even down to playing around with weight and handling dynamics. Not to mention American cars had distinct styling. In those times, there was no mistaking a Cadillac for anything but a Cadillac, even at night. Now in dim light, the CTS looks like a Honda or Toyota.
But technology was a good thing for the automotive world, although it seemed to dumb down the design effort and creativity; well actually that is probably more due to the bean counters and tighter deadlines these days.
Technology took many aspects of wear and tear items and adjustments out of the equation, but created new problems. Electronic problems, which were unheard of in the 50/60s, and not much reported in the 80s. This is different than electrical problems, which many 80s high end cars were notorious for. Electronic problems don't sound like much of an issue, but in new cars these computers control just about every aspect of how a car operates, and much of the stuff is either combined into modules, or networked in where they must "communicate" with one another, which doesn't always happen. Back in the days, starting problems were usually mechanical. Either replace a starter and/or an alternator and kick the car, and it starts right up. Now those things rarely go out, or not as often, but a no start problem usually costs about ten times as much, and it's four times as much work to figure it out, and you hope that the people that work on the car at the dealer get it right, and fix the right thing.
In those days, an American car was an American car and was proud of it. Now, they are chasing Euro/Japanese design cues, when it used to be Asia that used to rip off American/Euro design cues.
Cars have gotten smaller (good and bad), the materials feel flimsy compared to the interiors of the 70s/80s. Ever look at the wood detail of the 1970s Eldorado with the styled engravings? Now look into the new, recently ended Eldorado interior, and the wood is plain. Like someone just massed ordered a few wood pieces and threw them inside the interior. In the DTS, much of the cladding is a vast space of one neutral color, even the buttons. That doesn't make it look crisp, new or modern. It looks unfinished, especially in beige. Although they did seem to improve the feel of the doors in the new ones compared to the thin door frames of the 80s.
And one thing I missed about cars of the past 80s and prior, was that each car make and continent origin had a different feel to the car. A Jaguar felt like a Jaguar, Mercedes felt like a Mercedes, Honda felt like a Honda, BMW felt like a BMW, Dodge was a Dodge, Cadillac was a Cadillac, and Lincoln was a Lincoln. Now if you blind folded someone and put them in these new cars, they probably couldn't tell you which was which. When in those days you could tell by engine note alone, and the feel of the ride to the way the seat feels. It's almost useless to compare ride quality now, as they all just about ride on just this side of relatively stiff for handling purposes.
I think the only car makers that seemed to even attempt to keep their own distinctive style and feel of their cars were are Rolls-Royce (owned by BMW), Maserati, and Ferrari. I think Cadillac is trying to get back to that point again, so I'll go ahead and put them here in this list, and Bugatti, and Aston Martin. Back in the 90s, a few more would have been added to that list such as Mercedes, Jaguar, BMW, Cadillac. And in the 80s, even more, and the 1970s, even more again.
Of course each make has one or two models that stand out such as the Challenger/Charger/300, the old standby evolved Mustang, Camaro, Corvette, but overall the rest of the lineup look like appliances that would come out of Japan without the reliability record. And they wonder why the Japanese are eating us alive in most affordable car segments?
We need to get back to building American style cars, and that doesn't automatically mean we need to go back to the old days, but we need to create a style, presence, and feel that can be identified with American cars. If they could do it with very little computers in the 50s, and basically create an American car image you know, the big road, smooth riding highway cruisers, and now we have 100 times the technology, but seem to lack that type of vision. We seem to build whatever the Japanese are building, and throw a Cadillac emblem on it and call it a Cadillac, then build two more cars like it, and call them Chevrolet and Buick.