Tall Boys

The other day, I rolled my 1976 Pontiac Trans-Am out of the garage for a drive. As I backed it out, I looked left at the brand-new Nissan Sentra “press car” (review here) that was parked on the pad.

It made my antique muscle car seem small.

In part because the Sentra – like almost all new cars – is very, very tall.

We are not talking inches difference here, either.

But feet.

Well, almost.

The Nissan – which is a nothing-special “compact” sedan (in air quotes because by the standards of 20 years ago, the “compact” Sentra would be mid-sized halfway to being full-sized) stands almost 60 inches tall at the roofline (58.9 inches to be precise).

The Trans Am is 49.6 inches tall.

This is a gap of 9.3 inches.

And it looks like much more because of the visual distortion created by the modern car’s much higher beltline and door tops, with concomitantly abbreviated door glass. If you’ve sat in a newish car recently you will know what I mean. You feel small because the doors are so tall. It’s like you’re ten-years-old again, trying to look out at the great big world. The bathtub effect.

In the TA and cars of its time, in contrast, you sat low – but tall. I can, for instance, roll down the window and rest my left elbow on the top of the door.

Even better, I can see.

Well, I could – were it not for all these slab-sided over-tall new cars blocking my view.

I wrote recently (here) about the surging popularity of what’s called crossovers. These are basically cars dressed up to look like SUVs, with the chief characteristic being they ride high and tall. Why do you suppose this is so appealing to people? Could it be on account of the fact that it’s damned hard to see anything out there because of all the over-tall cars (and crossovers and SUVs) out there?

Utopia Towels Commerci... Buy New $22.99 (as of 12:35 EDT - Details) The point is truly rammed home if you take a car like my TA out and mix with modern car traffic. You feel as though you are on a skateboard. In a well. Looking up at the distant circle of light above.

Tallness begets more, in a kind of Lurchian feedback loop. As the average car – and truck – grows upward, those that don’t become increasingly uncomfortable to drive amongst these giants. And so, become less popular.

Unless they, too, grow taller.

I had a new Ford F-150 pick-up to test drive recently. I’m a 6ft 3 man – and this truck made me feel like Mini Me. Because it (the truck) is so got-damned tall. To the point of absurdity. Ford builds a collapsiblestep-ladder into the tailgate, because the bed is otherwise inaccessible. Even for a six-foot-three man.

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