Our monthly dig through the archives (page 61 in this issue) takes us back 50 years to October 1972. In that issue, the Automatic Car Wash Association announced that it had awarded the “Car of the Year” title to the 1972 Ford Torino, recognizing it as the easiest car to wash in an automated car wash. The award was revived some years later for a short while under a new title: Most Washable Car.
That the award has not survived is perhaps not surprising. Most cars today are capable of taking that trip through the tunnel without complications. Gone are the days of fender-mounted mirrors, hood ornaments, and complicated bumper assemblies, among other embellishments, all of which presented ample opportunities for being snagged by wash material and coming undone in the process. And that concerns just the add-ons. Consider all those intricate body shapes that came out of Detroit in the ‘50s and ‘60s thanks to designers like Harley Earl. The Cadillac’s ever-growing tailfins, which seem to have reached their zenith in 1959, are probably one of the best examples of that trend.
Today’s autobody shapes are far more compatible with the workings of the car wash tunnel. Their surfaces are smoother and less fanciful. Even antennas have become less of a presence and thus less of a problem. Side mirrors can still pose a rare challenge as can wipers, particularly those found on the rear of SUVs. Technology is also lending a helping hand: Wider adoption of a “car wash mode” function, which retracts mirrors and antennas and disables advanced driver assistance systems for the duration of the wash, will make already easy-to-wash cars easier still.
I briefly stopped by the Phoenix Auto Show the day after Thanksgiving, its first post-pandemic presentation. I was eager to see how the latest crop of new cars compared to the lot I’d seen three years ago. My experience was pretty much the same as it had been in 2019: styling, for the most part, departed little from the past. Once again, the dominance of SUVs and pickup trucks was much in evidence. The Chevrolet exhibit, for example, displayed two sedans, two Corvettes, one Camaro convertible, 11 SUVs and seven pickups.
Representation on the show floor was far from comprehensive. Notable for their absence were Buick, Subaru, and Volkswagen. And the representation that there was was pretty uneven. For example, Ford, Chevrolet, and Toyota each occupied 21,000 square feet of exhibit space. Stellantis, which includes Alpha Romeo, Chrysler, Dodge, Fiat, Jeep, and Ram, took up 15,000 square feet. Squeezed together on a mere 6,000 square feet were Audi, BMW, Jaguar, Mercedes-Benz, Land Rover, and Porsche — the latter two actually roped off, making closer inspection impossible.
In one respect this show was different: every exhibitor had at least one electric car on display. From a compact Kia to the Ford Lightning, they came in all shapes and sizes. EVs from two non-exhibitors were available for test driving: the China-made Polestar and the Solo by Electra Meccanica from Canada. The Solo is an odd-looking three-wheeler — two in the front, one in the back. How it will make out on the conveyor (chain or belt) I’m not sure. One thing is certain: that rear wheel is going to miss out on the tire shine.