The Best Classic Car Features You Forgot About

A custom lead sled hot rod sits at the Henry Ford Museum

A custom lead sled hot rod sits at the Henry Ford Museum | Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

When a new automotive design comes along, it replaces an older version as an evolutionary step forward. This dates back to the late 1800s when Bertha Benz realized her husband’s brake design was subpar and invented brake linings.

We have seen plenty of innovations since then, including retiring leaded gasoline and discontinuing wooden body panels on station wagons. Even modern xenon and HID lights are on the chopping block as more automakers look toward LED technology. Buyers don’t want old ideas. They want fresh, cutting-edge designs that set new standards for automotive advancements.

A 1931 Bugatti Type 41 Royale in all of its rarified glory

A 1931 Bugatti Type 41 Royale shows in all of its rarified glory | Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

Nevertheless, we have yet to come across a person who doesn’t think a 1955 Chevrolet Nomad doesn’t look fantastic. People love classic cars, regardless of how unsafe or outdated they may be. That got us thinking. If we were able to revive a handful of classic car components, what would we bring back?

What we came up with were 10 features that could be reborn with modern materials and engineering. Some were so far ahead of their time that they only would require a simple refresh. Retro designs continue to be popular, and automakers brave enough to revive the following components stand to set themselves apart.

1. Quarter glass vent windows

50 West, a brewery in Cincinnati, displays one of its VW work truck in front of its facilities

50 West, a brewery in Cincinnati, displays one of its VW work trucks in front of its new location | Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

This was one of those additions to a vehicle that played a crucial role in keeping people cool before air conditioning. These miniature wedges of locking glass gave everyone up front plenty of airflow, especially when both sides were angled just right. They also were a great way to open a window without rolling one down. We wonder whether vent windows led to the coining of the phrase, “Crack a window!”

2. Fender mirrors

A classic Toyota Corolla station wagon shows off its triangular quarter glass toward the front of the car

A classic Toyota Corolla station wagon shows off its triangular quarter glass toward the front of the car | Toyota

We love the idea of having fender-mounted, side-view mirrors. Not only do they help drivers keep their eyes facing forward, but they also look pretty cool. This design touch was especially popular with Japanese automakers, including Honda and Datsun. That lasted until the 1970s, when people began complaining about difficulties with manually adjusting mirrors while driving. Because most mirrors now can be electronically tweaked, it’s a great time to revive this item.

3. Bench seats

A bench seat in a 1953 Cadillac Eldorado reminds us of what spacious cabins once looked like, especially with the top down

A bench seat in a 1953 Cadillac Eldorado reminds us of what spacious cabins once looked like, especially with the top down | Cadillac

Here is a design that had a surprisingly long run. According to a report by Cars.com, bench seats existed until 2013, when GM agreed to give the 2014 Chevrolet Impala a bucket seat layout. Critics blame manual gear selectors, safety issues, and a general lack of interest as primary reasons for the bench’s death. For decades, this seat design allowed sweethearts to snuggle while driving and made necking much easier at drive-ins.

4. Shark fins

The shark fins found on the 1959 Cadillac Eldorado are without question one of the most recognizable staples of classic American car culture

The shark fins found on the 1959 Cadillac Eldorado are without question one of the most recognizable staples of classic American car culture | Cadillac

This classy, completely pointless amenity is about as cool as it comes. Plus, it’s one of the most recognizable staples of classic American cars. Unfortunately, the advent of the muscle car brought with it streamlined styling. By the mid 1970s, fins had all but disappeared. Bring shark fins back but only if they’re tastefully done and on appropriate vehicles.

5. Split front and rear windshields

A heavily modified Dodge Power Wagon prepares to leave the local cars and coffee meet at Fuel Coffee in Cincinnati

A heavily modified Dodge Power Wagon prepares to leave the local cars and coffee meet at Fuel Coffee in Cincinnati | Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

We can’t see why this classic design was ever phased out. It isn’t like a thin strip of window divider is going to inhibit someone’s vision that much. Plus, on certain cars it looks absolutely fantastic. On a practical note, bringing back split windshields would allow people to replace a cracked piece of glass for cheaper.

6. Manual column shifters

Manual column shifters were the norm for a long time, eventually being replaced by floor-mounted shifter assemblies and then automatic transmissions

Manual column shifters were the norm for a long time, eventually being replaced by floor-mounted shifter assemblies and then automatic transmissions | Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

This classic feature played a crucial role in thousands of vehicles for decades. It was the source behind the phrase, “Three on the tree.” Typically attached to three gears and a reverse option, the steering column-equipped shifter made the bench seat possible by allowing space for someone to sit next to the driver.

7. Interesting ornaments

A Ford Zephyr hood ornament on a classic car

A Lincoln Zephyr hood ornament at a classic car show in Michigan | Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

Let’s be honest. Badging has become exceptionally uninteresting compared to the days of old. What happened to the multidimensional hood ornaments and decorative trunk badges that doubled as latches and tag lights? Automakers don’t accessorize like they used to. Badges have become little more than a bunch of logos trapped inside trapezoids and ovals, with nary a splash of artistic flare or craftsmanship to be seen.

8. Semaphores (extendable turn signals)

How cool is this classic safety feature? Forget most modern vehicles with their turn signals integrated in the sideview mirrors. There’s something about a marker stalk flipping out, flashing, and switchblading back into a door pillar that captivates us. Long used on trains and buses, the mechanized signal marker is one of those features that is both eye-catching and useful. It also would be fairly easy to engineer.

9. Windshield visors

A hood visor serves as a permanently affixed sun shade

A hood visor serves as a permanently affixed sun shade | Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

Adjustable and practical, this item shields the driver’s eyes from strong sunlight like an automotive baseball cap. Although engineers might complain about how it creates drag coefficients, we are confident advancements in materials used and aerodynamic breakthroughs will offset inefficiencies incurred.

10. Hood/fender-mounted tattletales

Nodes on the front corners of the hood and fender were filled with rear-facing lamps that notified drivers as to whether their turn signals or hi-beams were on

Nodes on the front corners of the hood and fender often were filled with rear-facing lamps that notified drivers as to whether their turn signals or high-beams were on | Buick

The only modern car still rocking this illuminated classic touch is the Ford Mustang GT. The job description for these miniature lights is simple. Alert drivers when their high-beams are on, a turn signal is activated, or fog lamps are illuminated. Nowadays, all of these notifications are encapsulated within digital driver displays. That just isn’t as cool. Perhaps offering buyers the ability to declutter their gauge clusters while adding a classic accent might be the key to boosting sales on certain retro-inspired automobiles.