In 1986 Kenny Rodgers released his 14th album, ‘They Don’t Make ‘Em Like They Used To’ and proved the old adage correct as it peaked at number 16 on the Country charts, his worst album ranking in 10 years.


‘They don’t make ’em like they used to’ has perhaps been applied to the automotive industry more than any other and people have been saying this about cars for the last 50 years.

Hell, I say it all the time!  Recently there has been a lot of complaining about newer cars as individuals are feeling disconnected and over-run by technology that can and does break.  There are countless articles and blog rants about it, like this one about BMW losing its Edge. Many are in a twist about the decline of manual transmissions in new cars.  Car and Driver magazine has gone so far as to launch a campaign called ‘Save the Manuals’

Many times this saying is complete nonsense depending on when it is used, like in 1986.  They don’t make em like they used to? From about 1986 until 1990, some of most reliable cars ever were produced.  The top two that come to my mind are the BMW 535i and the Mercedes-Benz 190e.  To this day you really have to try hard to kill these cars, so if folks were using the old adage then, they were severely mistaken.  In the late 70’s and early part of the 80’s, they would have been spot-on. It was a dark time for automobile manufacturers.  By 1976 US Emissions standards had kicked in and most factories found it difficult to comply and spent most of their resources trying to get the damn cars to pass emissions standards.  If you could get a 1980 Chevy station wagon past the 100k mile mark, it was pretty amazing.

Fast forward to today.  The automobile industry is amazing.  The different amounts of technology being built into cars today is simply unreal.  Go to any site and use their ‘build your own’ tool.  I chose an Audi A3 for this experiment, and here’s what’s available to you, these are just the Standard Options . . .


Safety | Security
  • Driver and front passenger advanced airbag supplemental restraint system, knee airbags, seat-mounted thorax side airbags and Sideguard® inflatable curtain airbags 1
  • Front passenger occupant detection for airbags 1
  • Power central locking system with safety unlock feature if airbags deploy
  • Anti-lock Brake System (ABS) with Electronic Brake-pressure Distribution (EBD) and brake assist
  • Electronic Stability Control (ESC) with secondary collision brake assist and traction control (ASR)
  • Anti-theft alarm system with immobilizer
  • Tire-pressure monitoring system
  • Safety belt reminder for driver and front passenger
  • Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children (LATCH) in rear seats
  • Electromechanical parking brake
  • Singleframe® grille
  • Full LED headlights
  • Automatic headlights
  • LED taillights
  • Power-adjustable, power-folding, auto-dimming, heated exterior side mirrors. LED turn indicator lights integrated into the exterior side mirrors
  • Dual exhaust outlets
  • Aluminum trim around exterior windows
  • Integrated trunk spoiler
  • Heated windshield washer nozzles
  • S line® exterior appearance (front and rear fascia, side sills and S line® fender badges)
  • Dual-zone automatic climate control
  • Three-spoke multifunction sport steering wheel
  • Tilt and telescopic manually adjustable steering column
  • Power windows with one-touch up/down operation and pinch protection
  • Decorative interior inlays. Aluminum optic interior trim elements 2
  • Panoramic sunroof
  • Dual front sun visors with lighted vanity mirrors
  • Four beverage holders
  • Auto-dimming interior rear view mirror with digital compass
  • Ambient LED interior lighting
  • Aluminum door sill inlays (with S line® emblem)
  • Front and rear floor mats
  • Leather seating surfaces
  • Twelve-way power driver and passenger seats, including four-way power lumbar adjustment
  • Heated front seats
  • Split folding rear seatbacks
Infotainment | Technology
  • MMI® navigation plus with voice control system 3
  • MMI® touch with handwriting-recognition technology 4
  • Audi connect® with six-month trial subscription 4
  • Bang & Olufsen® Sound System with 14 speakers and 705 watts
  • Color driver information system
  • HD Radio™ Technology
  • SiriusXM® Satellite Radio with 90-day trial subscription 5
  • SiriusXM® Traffic with four-year subscription 5
  • Cruise control with coast, resume and accelerate features
  • Audi music interface with iPod® integration
  • BLUETOOTH® wireless technology preparation for mobile phone 6
  • BLUETOOTH® streaming audio 6
  • Audi advanced key—keyless start, stop and entry 7
  • SD card slot with 32GB operating capacity (dual slots if equipped with MMI® navigation plus)
  • Parking system plus with rear view camera (front and rear sensors)
  • Audi side assist
  • Audi pre sense® basic
  • Rain/light sensor for automatic windshield wipers and headlights

After this, you’ve got a whole slew of optional features that you can pack into your car.  The list is impressive.  If it had a refrigerator you could live in this car.  Compare this to a 1986 BMW 325e. Here’s a snippet of an original window sticker outlining your Standard Features in 1986 . . .


Forget about Bluetooth, Navigation, or LED headlights.  On this car, the only features that we could consider modern luxuries or add-ons would be the cruise control and tinted windows.  In 1986 however, having anti-lock brakes and an AM/FM Stereo with 4 speakers was a pretty big deal.  So yeah, they don’t make ’em like they used to . . .

Build Quality has gone down, there’s no doubt about it.  Cars that were built in the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s were built to last.  They were void of the mass amount of plastics used in today’s cars and the sheet metal was thicker.  Today’s cars will not be on the road 40 years from now, and technology is the reason.  Once the Audi A3 I just ‘built’ is 15 years old and the MMI Navigation fails, or the ESC module fails, maintenance and repair on your Audi will simply be too expensive to fix with.  That is what kills cars these days.


But man, it’s really nice to get into a brand new car without taking your key out of your pocket and just pushing the ‘start’ button while the music on your phone gets instantly available for you to skip between songs at the touch of a button on your heated steering wheel . . .


Chris Keefer

Independent Motorcars

5836 Autoport Mall

San Diego CA 92121