Miscellaneous Ramblings

Old Cars and Old Macs Revisited

Charles Moore - 2010.11.11 - Tip Jar

I enjoyed Jason Walsh's column Classic Cars and Classic Macs, posted here several weeks ago, in which he compares fun he's been having with his 1978 MG Midget sports car to messing around with old computers, and examining whether car-computer analogies hold up.

Jason notes that one major difference between old cars and old computers is that an old car can perform pretty much the same function as a new one, whereas the utility of old computers is decidedly limited.

I can identify with this avenue of musing on several levels. I've owned somewhere in the neighbourhood of 60 cars over the past 44 years, not one of them purchased new. The four vehicles my wife and I currently own are 1990, 1991, 1994, and 2000 models, and, as regular LEM readers know, I've also got two 10-year-old Pismo PowerBooks in active daily service.

1969 Austin 1800
1969 Austin 1800

I also have a history with British cars. I've never owned an MG Midget, although I had several friends who did, but I had a 1957 MGA as well as 1963 and 1967 MGBs. Also 17 assorted Austin Cambridges and Morris Oxfords, two Riley 1.5s (essentially a sporting version of the Morris Minor with more formal, upright grille styling, a leather and walnut interior, and a MGA engine), four Austin 1800s, a 1959 Nash Metropolitan (built by Austin in England with corporate BMC engines and running gear), and a Bedford van.

1961 Austin A55 Mk II Cambridge sedan
1961 Austin A55 Mk II Cambridge sedan

However, I haven't had a British car on the road since 1989, and these days we run a couple of elderly Toyotas, a Ford-built Mazda 4x4 pickup, and my daily driver, a 2000 Mercury Grand Marquis GL.

Car/Computer Analogies

Jason suggests that the old car/old computer analogy doesn't hold up very well on issues like browser availability for older Macs. I appreciate what he's getting at, but I don't think I would be very comfortable running that last Brit car I owned - a 1961 Austin A55 Mk II Cambridge sedan - in today's traffic with its all-drum brakes that were considerably less than state-of-the-art even back in the '60s when I got my first A55 Mk II.

1967 MGB

On the other hand, my "old" Pismos can still run the latest final versions of Opera, SeaMonkey, Camino, iCab, and Shiira - and possibly other current browsers as well - but then the Pismos are the same age as my newest car, the Merc, which has four-wheel disk brakes and lots of computerization.

The comparison between nominally "old" computers and cars requires more precise qualification and is somewhat analogous to comparing human years and dog years I guess. Computers get "old" a lot faster than cars.

1962 Riley 1.5

For example, Jason cites multitasking with 10 or 15 apps open, something he says is not happening on an "old" Mac. This an excellent example where we have to more precisely define "old", because my Pismos, running OS X 10.4.11 and with 1 GB of RAM on board, can quite happily multitask with 10 to 15 apps open.

Good-bye, Pontiac

While I'm wallowing in old car nostalgia, a sad note is that General Motors officially terminated its venerable Pontiac brand on October 31 (the last Pontiac was actually built back in May). I'm of an age that Pontiac is imprinted on my consciousness as GM's performance brand, recalling the days of "wide-track" - the legendary 1964 to 1971 Pontiac GTOs and similar vintage Catalina 2+2s and Grand Prix's. IMHO, the 1965 and '66 full-size and midsize Pontiacs are among the best-looking American cars ever built.

1967 Pontiac Parisienne

When I was a teenager back in the '60s, the only auto dealership within 40 miles of where I lived sold Pontiacs, so there were a lot of them around during my formative years, although I've only owned one Pontiac-branded car; a 1967 Canadian Pontiac Parisienne four-door hardtop that was actually something of a hybrid. Full-sized Canadian-built Pontiacs at the time were roughly 7/8 scale renditions of US Pontiac (e.g., Bonneville and Catalina) sheetmetal and interior styling grafted on to Chevrolet chassis with Chevy engines. Mine had a 283 CID V8 with a Powerglide 2-speed automatic.

Anyway, it's sad to witness Pontiac's demise, although truth be told most Pontiac models built over the past 20 years or so were pretty mediocre, being largely not terribly convincing clones of Chevies - and even some Korean Daewoos - although the Pontiac Vibe was a very decent ride, being essentially a badge-engineered Toyota Matrix, and with a few other notable exceptions, such as the Solstice sports car and the recent Australian-engineered G8 model, arguably the best sedan in GM's stable

Chevy Caprice PPV

The G8 will at least live on as as a Chevrolet Caprice branded police car in both unmarked "detective" and full-livery "patrol" versions (also see GM's own Chevy Caprice PPV homepage). Too good to die. Sadly, civilians won't be able to buy them, but presumably they'll be available used in a few years. My daughter is on her second ex-police Ford Crown Victoria Police Interceptor.

And Good-bye, Mercury

Speaking of Ford, it's pulling the plug by the end of calendar 2010 on the Mercury brand after 71 years, which I also find very sad, recalling some great Mercurys like the classics of the late 1940s and early 1950s (my hot-rodder daughter has recently acquired a restorable '51), the big powerful Marauders and the original Mercury Cougars of the 1960s (which I liked better than the iconic contemporaneous Ford Mustang), and the Grand Marquis that at least saw the brand out in style with its understated elegance, essentially giving you 80% of what you get in a Lincoln Town Car Signature for less than three-fifths of the price.

They'll be missed by those who appreciated them.

But then Apple doesn't make Pismos any more either.

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Charles Moore has been a freelance journalist since 1987 and began writing for Mac websites in May 1998. His The Road Warrior column was a regular feature on MacOpinion, he is news editor at Applelinks.com and a columnist at MacPrices.net. If you find his articles helpful, please consider making a donation to his tip jar.

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