Plenty of articles talk about the first car equipped with innovations like seat belts or automatic starters—but what about the last car without those things? Here are some of the holdouts, the dinosaurs who stuck with tradition way too long.
Last cars without airbags: 1994 Audis
Last car with front bench seat: 2013 Chevrolet Impala
Last cars with T-top roofs: 2002 Chevrolet Camaro and Pontiac Firebird
Last cars with a carburetor: 1994 Isuzus
Last car with a cassette player: 2010 Lexus SC 430
Last car with a vinyl roof: 1996 Cadillac Fleetwood
Last cars with wooden frames: current Morgans
Last car with a flathead engine: 1965 Rambler American
Last cars with vent windows: 1996 F-150 and Bronco
Last car with pop-up headlights: 2004 Lotus Esprit and Chevrolet Corvette
Last cars with wood paneling: 1996 Buicks and Chevrolets
Last car with a hand-crank start: 1998 Lada Niva
There were surely a handful of mainstream automobiles without airbags through the mid- and perhaps even late 1990s, but the automaker most often singled out as being late to the game is Audi. The German company kept pushing for the procon-ten (for “programmed contraction-tension”) restraint system they’d developed themselves as an alternative; this would simultaneously pull the steering wheel into the dash and tighten passenger seat belts using a series of cables. It never caught on.
As a front bench fanatic myself, I was sad to see this legacy from a bygone era disappear with the 2013 Impala. You’ll only find straight-across, great-for-sidling-up-to-your-date seating in pickups, now.
It’s hard to shout “‘80s!” louder than with a car with a T-top roof. But the removable-roof-panel style didn’t disappear with the decade—Chevrolet kept on building T-top muscle cars through to 2002. We can’t imagine a modern car with the feature, but apparently a few aftermarket companies can, and have—yes, if you’re really hankering for a throwback, you can have the ‘T’ custom built into your modern Camaro.
The 1990s were almost the first decade to see factory-equipped carburetors completely replaced by modern fuel injection systems. There were a few holdouts, though: some big 1990 model year GMs like the Oldsmobile Custom Cruiser and its Buick and Cadillac cousins; the 1990 Subaru Justy; the 1991 Grand Wagoneer with its antique 360-cube AMC V8 (pictured); and the 1993 Mazda B2200. We found a few references to 1994 Isuzus, so we’re going to have to give them the title though.
If you wanted to play your mix tape in a new car at the end of the “Oughts” (aughts?) – is that the term we’re going with for the 2000s? – believe it or not you had to move upscale and go for a Lexus, specifically the SC 430. Not too long from now we will probably be able to update this to “last car with a CD player.”
Vinyl-covered roofs were way past their prime by the 1990s, but Cadillac has a soft spot for the traditionalist consumer and still offered ‘em on the Fleetwood through to 1996. There are mentions of factory-equipped 2002 Lincolns with their above-the-beltline sheetmetal sheathed in vinyl, too, but we couldn’t find photographic evidence of such stuff.
Morgan has a long tradition of building cars with ash frames, which makes sense since they got their start pre-First World War, when that was just about the only way to do it. But the Morgans they’re building today – including the 4/4, the world’s “longest running production vehicle” – still use ash frames with steel chassis components. It doesn’t get much more old-school than that.
L-head or “flathead” engines are often associated with pre-war automobiles, but American Motors kept its old 195-cubic-inch flathead straight-six in use in its cars from 1958 through to 1965.
Discounting fixed vent windows and talking only about the ones you could actually pop open and ash your cigarette out of, well, those were phased out of the passenger car market quite a while back. A handful of trucks stuck with ‘em, though, most notably the 1996 Ford F-150 and Bronco.
Flip-up headlights were a novelty when they popped up on a Cord for the first time in the ’30s; were put to very good use in the ’60s on Chargers and Cougars; and reached their peak right around the 1990s. They’d become a Corvette trademark by that time, which explains why Chevy didn’t want to give them up even though just about everybody else (besides Lotus) had after the turn of the millennium. The next-gen C6 Corvette saw them kicked to the curb.
The “woodie” or wood-bodied wagon proper died out many moons ago, but the last vehicle to feature actual wood riveted to its sides was still up for sale a little more recently. That would be the Dodge Adventurer 150 “Li’l Red Express” truck of 1979, which featured a couple of small scraps on the bed sides. If you expand to include that 100-percent authentic genuine fake vinyl wood paneling stuff, then the last of the breed’d be the ’96 Buick Roadmaster Estate wagon and its Chevrolet counterpart, coincidentally also both some of the last real full-size wagons built.
There is a difference between the last car that could be hand-crank started and the last one that had to be started that way. We’re talking about the former here. Amongst cars built in the Western world, the honour goes to the French Citroen 2CV, which through to 1990 came from the factory with the crank and wheel chocks. The Russian-built Canadian-market Lada Niva could be hand-cranked apparently as late as 1998, though the bumper might block the access hole. We’ve also heard rumours that even through 2005 the Indian Hindustan Ambassador came with a hand-crank option, and that the Russian-market UAZ Hunter light truck still has a hand-crank feature today!