Remembering the Bench Seat

  • August 30, 2023

There’s a reason why new cars – even the large ones (which aren’t very large compared with the American cars that once roamed the roads in vast herds, now gone) only seat five and not very comfohtabry (say it Japanese-style, like the old Datsun commercials):

They don’t have seats for more.

At one time, they did. And many cars (especially American cars) seated six – or more – without a third row of seats. Because they had bench seats.

Some will remember. . .  .

These were seats that sat three-across in both rows and pretty comfortably, too – because it was often just one continuous seat, maybe with a fold down upper section in the middle for an armrest when no one was sitting there. Some will remember sliding across the bench seat, either to get out the other side or to make space for someone getting in. If you were a kid riding in the back you could stretch out and go to sleep lengthwise on a long trip. This was, of course, in the days before the Safety Cult became a mainstream religion and kids could stretch out for a nap in back – because their parents weren’t expected to strap them in to “safety” seats like Hannibal Lector, Jr.

The point here is that bench seats allowed a car – or a truck – to carry more passengers, which made them more practical. 

In the case of trucks, you didn’t need to buy an extended or crew cab (and get stuck with a shorter bed, which made the truck less practical) to be able to carry three people – two plus the driver – in the front seat of a regular cab pick-up. Then some clever person figured out that money could be made selling truck buyers extended and crew cab trucks by installing bucket seats – of all things – in trucks.

Which now only had room for a driver and one passenger up front.

Bucket seats used to be found almost exclusively in sporty cars.

They were there to snug you in so that you didn’t slide around when you drove fast in the curves. It made sense to have bucket seats in sporty cars. But then, it became a thing to make – or rather, to market – every car (and truck) as “sporty.”

Minivans, too.

And the bench seat went by-bye.

Along with the  . . . sporty manual transmission that’s very hard to find in any new vehicle, including a number of very sporty cars (e.g., the current Corvette and BMW Z4) and that cannot be found in all but one new truck, ironically enough.

If you need to carry more than four people realistically, you pretty much have to buy a crossover or an SUV with a third row or a full-size, extended or crew cab truck that still has a three-across bench seat in the back. The latter being the last redoubt of a feature that was once as commonplace in new cars as ashtrays that’s now as hard to find in a new vehicle as a cigarette lighter.

In part because of marketing – and in part because of you-know-who. Or rather, you-know-them. The busybodies with legal power to force their preferences on you and make you pay for them; i.e., the “government.”

We’ve been habituated to using this word, which has a bland, almost-innocuous mouth feel, as if it were like a large rock in the back yard you had to mow around. This is not for nothing, as it would be more difficult for the busybodies with the legal power to force their preferences on you and make you pay for them to get you to accept this as you do the rock in the yard you have to mow around.

But how did the “government” kill-off the bench seat – particularly up front?

It did so in the way the “government” often does such things: Oilily and indirectly. Bench seats up front were not illegalized, per se. They were simply made untenable for the car companies to continue offering. This was achieved – circuitously – via the “government” making it illegal to offer for sale a new car without a “supplemental restraint” system – i.e., air bags – in addition to the seat belts that the “government” – i.e., the busybodies – had previously imposed on people by requiring all new cars to be equipped with them.

You will note that in all modern air-bag-equipped  “government” compliant modern cars, there are only two air bags up front. One for the driver and one for the front seat passenger. There is no “supplemental restraint” for the person in between – and that is why there is no space for a person in between. Instead, there is a center console in-between.

This is great if you want that. But it’s a shame you can’t have what you’d like, if you’d rather have room for three-across up front.

. . .

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