Automobiles: distinctive features

From what I have seen, the Citroen, a French make, has only one spoke on the steering wheel, and a hydraulic lifting system for use when changing a wheel. I’d like to know from other Straight Dopers about special features found on a particular make of car, any year.

I can confirm the Citroen story Dougy, although the hydraulic suspension only comes on the larger models such as the Xantia, Xsara and XM. The first one to have this was the 1955 DS (pronounces “Deesse”, french for Goddess, while the abbreviation was known as “Desiree Speciale”, ‘Special Desire’), a car that was WAY ahead of its time and was in production virtually unaltered up to 1974, when it was replaced by the CX which in turn went on production untill 1991. And now there’s the XM.

Special features… OK. I’ll list some.

  • Most Italian sports cars (namely Ferrari and Maserati) still have an old-style stick shift which has first gear on the bottom left and reverse bottom right. Keep that in mind at the traffic lights !

  • To get the ignition key out of some Saabs (900, early 9000), the gear must be in reverse (an extra safety measure in case the handbrake cable freezes and snaps, which happens in Sweden).

  • A Mercedes has a foot-operated handbreak to the left of the normal pedals, which is released by pulling a lever to the left of the steering wheel.

  • Hydropneumatically suspended Citroens don’t need a jack when you want to change a wheel, they keep their own balance courtesy of that system. Also, you can drive them (carefully !) on three wheel to the nearest garage if necessary.

  • Peugeots have a really cool lion badge on the grille.

Sorry, but I HAD to name my brand, even though it isn’t that spectacular :slight_smile:


“You know how complex women are”

  • Neil Peart, Rush (1993)

I wish more cars had distinctive features. Look at the highway in America, and every damn car looks the exact same…

Yer pal,

I know some older (1950’s era) Chryslers had a pushbutton automatic transmission. That is the gear selection was accomplished in a fashion similar to the station selection on the old car radios. I don’t know if any other manufacturers used this or not.

“The problem with the world is that everyone is a few drinks behind.” - Humphrey Bogart

More Citroen trivia:

The older Citroens (CX, DS, GSA, SM) and some of the new (BX, Xantia) have a very neat feature: the rear wheels are closer together than the front wheels. It’s for cornering stability, apparently. And it looks REALLY weird if one is passing you, they look like they’re moving slightly sideways because of that.

DAF, a long gone Dutch brand of small cars, were the first to introduce the so-called “Variomatic”, an automatic transmition without gears but with a belt drive over a cone-shaped axis (I’m sure this technical jargon is WAY off, but bear with me), thus increasing the ‘ratio’ while accelerating. Hmmmm… not entirely clear.
Check this out for the Straight Dope on the Continous Variable Transmission, as it’s called these days:

They’re in lots of cars now.


“You know how complex women are”

  • Neil Peart, Rush (1993)

Fords also had pushbutton transmissions. Up until the mid-60s, Buicks always had three holes in the side near the engine. 50s and 60s Fords had target shaped taillights. Edsels had the horse collar (or toilet seat) on their front grille.

They don’t make them like the used to. The last car I thought was distinctive was the original Saturn, with the chopped off profile.

“* A Mercedes has a foot-operated handbreak to the left of the normal pedals, which is released by pulling a lever to the left of the steering wheel.”

Wow, so does my '81 Chevy. Didn’t know I was driving a luxury car. :wink:

If you get out of and lock the doors on a Jaguar (1990 and above for sure, don’t know about the older ones) and forget to roll up the windows, you can put the key in the door’s lock, turn it to the right and hold and the windows will roll up one by one. Sunroof too!The power door lock on the dashboard will close all the windows and the sunroof as well, when held down.

~ Christiana~

“No smoking in bars in California… And pretty soon, no drinking and no talking” ~ Eddie Izzard

They had 3 or 4, depending on the engine; they were supposed to be stylized exhaust ports. I had a 1955 Buick Special 4-holer. The ignition key merely unlocked the circuit, you started it with a starter button on the floorboard.

The Fiat 126p (still sold in Poland) has the keylock and ignition in between the two front seats. You put in the key and then pull a little lever next to the handbrake to start the car.

Hey I thought of that first! Typical Dutch treachery, going back in time and using my inventions.

With a normal transmission the gear ratio depends on what gear you’re in and the speed you’re going. With that type of transmission you can keep revving at 6000RPM (or whatever speed produces the most power in your car) all the while while accelerating. Or you can rev at your most fuel efficient level while going any speed.

The Chrysler Sebring Convertible has a special feature - if you leave it out in the rain with the top up, debris will easily clog the fender drains, and the water will flood the interior of the car.
::best Church Lady voice:: Well, now, isn’t that special?
And you know what they said when we took it to the dealership? “You’re supposed to keep it in the garage!” Yeah, sure. Ooh, look, a car so sweet it’ll melt in the friggin’ rain.
We’re looking at the new Volvo convertible now, any “special” features on that one?

The Volvo Convertible ! Now THAT’S a pretty car. Special features ? I think it has an automatic roll-bar that comes out when the cars starts turning over. Happy now ?

The Lotus Elise (boy o boy what a piece of racing machinery THAT one is !) has an old-fashioned starter button instead of an ignition key, just like vintage Ferrari’s and the like.

Saab’s also have the ignition key between the two seats, at least some models used to.

Alfa Romeo makes some models that will have the ignition key slot on the LEFT hand side of the steering wheel, regardless of the fact whether it’s a right or left hand drive. Very annoying.

Oh, and I sort of suspected that the Mercedes foot operated handbrake thing was an American feature, since 50% of all Mercs are sold there.

That’s it for now.


“You know how complex women are”

  • Neil Peart, Rush (1993)

The Lotus Elise can snap a young lady’s knicker elastic at 50 paces, it’s so beautiful, does that count?

Coldfire, we’re trading in our Sebring for the Volvo C70 convertible… pricey, but worth it. I’m afraid we’re not going out for the Dolby Surround Pro Logic sound system, though… :wink:
(Yes, there really is an option for that - see Volvo’s Homepage)

“A wise man will not leave the right to the mercy of chance, nor wish it to prevail through the power of the majority. There is but little virtue in the action of masses of men.”
– Henry David Thoreau

Like the Jaguar mentioned above, my Jetta will close (or open) its windows if the key is held in the driver’s side door lock.

Speaking of which, the driver’s side door lock is the only one on the car. There’s no keyhole on the passenger side.

Laugh hard; it’s a long way to the bank.


Yup. All Volkswagens have that.

Anyone know the Citroen 2CV (“Deux Chevaux”, or ‘two horses’ [referring to the engine power]) over there ? It must be one of the cars with the longest poruduction run: introduced in 1949, it was not discontinued untill 1992 or so. I’ll look up a picture, wait… there’s one now:

Very funny car, impossible to turn over, cloth roof that goes back all the way, 600 cc 2 cylinder boxer engine, top speed some 65 mph. 0-60 ? How about 39 seconds. They’re so dangerous that they’re not allowed on Swedish roads anymore ! But they’re extremely fun to drive, and have the best seats ever made - some people actually take the seats out and put them in the living room !


“You know how complex women are”

  • Neil Peart, Rush (1993)

Pontiacs from the mid-1960s had an optional aluminum brake drum (front and rear) that had eight lug nuts; the wheel rim was a big open ring almost big enough to throw a basketball through. The drum had the snazziness usually present in the wheel rim; it had aluminum fins that protruded out and doubled as cooling fins for the brakes.

And it sure was fun finding a service station that could get the tire off the rim, let me tell you!

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My husband’s new car has a feature that automatically regulates the speed of the wipers to the amount of rain falling.

It also has a vent (for heat or a/c) inside the center console.

Almost forgot the umbrella compartment under the driver’s seat.

My '64 Pontiac Tempest has the key slot on the left of the steering wheel also. Wacky.

Coldfire–not all Volkswagens. Remember, most VWs were built (and are beingbuilt) with their waterless engines mounted aft and didn’t have all these nifty features being discussed here, specifically the key’s magic propensity to roll up windows.
Speaking of: Air-cooled VWs (some would say the only “real” VWs) for the longest time had the odd mechanism where the pressure to squirt the wwfluid onto the windshield came from the spare tire’s air pressure. Awesome. (Please, no VW-bashing now, i.e. “The best feature on my Beetle was its heater’s ability to keep the inside of the car at 10 below all winter long.”)
A friend of mine’s BMW 730i was equipped with a pair of gloves to don when changing a tire.