Things the tax disc will be joining in motoring history

Image of tax discs
Farewell, tax disc. We barely knew thee...
"The '90s were the real glory days of car sticker bandwagon-jumping. Throw your hands in the air if your back window used to say ‘On a Mission’, or you proudly displayed Fido Dido swinging from your B-pillar"
  • | by Daniel Bevis

Ah, the humble tax disc – stalwart of British windscreens from time immemorial, they’ve irritated pretty much every motorist who’s ever tried to free one from its perforated constraints without ripping it slightly.

But this colourful nuisance is soon to be a thing of the past – as of October we’ll no longer have to display a disc in our screens to prove we’ve paid our vehicle excise duty (VED).
Image of old tax disc

The system is actually older than you might think – VED was introduced in 1889, and the mandatory display of a tax disc has been with us since the 1920s.

Indeed, there’s a keen market for antique discs, as well as companies that will reproduce a period-appropriate replica to stick in your classic car at shows.

So what’s the point of abolishing the physical discs?

Well, it’s to cut down on admin costs, which probably makes sense.

However, it’ll present a hurdle in the used car market – the VED will belong to the owner rather than the car, so any used car will have to be sold untaxed, which might mean budgeting a couple of hundred quid extra on the ticket price.

It also means that if a dealer wants to offer test drives and doesn't have their own trade plates, they’ll have to tax the car, hence becoming an owner and adding to the number of owners the car’s had. But hey, change isn’t always easy.

Image of old BMWs

So, as the tax disc gets relegated to the annals of motoring history, it’ll be joining these other things that you don’t see on cars any more…

Retro stickers

Image of questionable sticker

Stickers are a perennial constant in the motoring world, but today it seems to be all about twee phrases like ‘Powered by fairy dust’, or the ubiquitous ‘One life, live it’ – an ineffably depressing sight when you see it plastered to the rump of a base-spec Vauxhall Corsa.

The 1990s were the real glory days of car sticker bandwagon-jumping. Throw your hands in the air if your back window used to say ‘On a mission’, or you proudly displayed Fido Dido swinging from your B-pillar! Mr Zog’s Sex Wax (actually a surfboard wax, prudes) was essential on any Volkswagen, while those of a more cautious bent went with the shouty ‘Keep your distance!’

When did you last see any of these? Oh, nostalgia.

‘Running in’

Image of 'running in' notice

This was a pretty standard thing back in the 1950s and ’60s – a sign in the rear window warned following motorists that you were ‘running the car in’ because it was either very new or the engine had just been rebuilt. Because of this, you couldn’t go very fast. You wouldn’t be braking enthusiastically either, so needed a bit of space behind you.

Image of disc brake warning

At the other end of the braking scale, the advent of disc brakes on road cars in the 1950s saw such machines wearing a little ‘disc brakes’ emblem on the rear, to warn following drivers that the car had superior stopping ability.

Unfortunately, the emblems were generally quite small, meaning that you’d really only be able to see them once you’d already crashed into them…

Those little static things

Image of rubber doo-dah

Remember these? They used to be everywhere – a little rubber doo-dah hanging off the back of the car and dragging down the road.

They supposedly reduced the likelihood of you getting a static shock when you touched the car, as well as quelling radio interference. And stopping motion sickness. And all kinds of other miracles.

You don’t really see them any more, because people are spending their money on snake oil and spirit level bubbles.

Pop-up headlights

Image of Lotus with pop-up lights

We really miss these. There are few things cooler than flicking a switch and seeing a hidden pair of headlights swing into action. From the Mazda MX-5 to the Ferrari F40, the Toyota MR2 to the Cizeta V16T, pop-ups have always exuded class and awesomeness.

They’re a bit iffy when it comes to pedestrian safety though, aren’t they? It’s probably for the best that they’re a thing of the past, on the whole.

This is also why Rolls-Royces have retractable Spirits of Ecstasy now, and Jaguars no longer have huge bonnet ornaments. Pedestrians are quite delicate.

CDs in grilles

Image of car with CDs in grille

This was a common sight about 15 or 20 years ago – boy racers would stick a CD behind their radiator grille, shiny-side-out, or perhaps have one hanging from the rear-view mirror. Why? To repel the rays from police radar guns, of course!

It’s died out now, on the basis that it has no grounding in science and is a load of old tommyrot.


Image of Rover with T-bar roof

Targa roofs were developed in response to fears that US legislation would outlaw full convertibles on safety grounds (which, er, didn’t happen, obviously). Porsche coined the term with the 911 Targa of 1966, although a pedant may argue that Triumph pioneered the idea with the TR4’s ‘Surrey Top’ back in ’61…

Anyway, T-tops are a bit different, as they comprise a Targa-style roof with a fixed central bar, so you have two separate panels to lift out. They appeared on such ‘classics’ as the Pontiac Trans-Am, Suzuki X-90 and Rover 200 Coupe.

So, why don’t we see them any more? Well, they’re a bit rubbish, aren’t they?

Spare wheels

Image of man changing a spare tyre

Lots of new cars now come without spare wheels. Instead, you’ll find little more in the recess than a can of tyre foam – all very well if the tyre is intact, but not a lot of help if it's exploded.

Manufacturers give a number of reasons for leaving them out – weight saving to improve fuel efficiency, for example. But, really, it’s just cheapness.

Cigar lighters

Image of 12v plug for car

Every car used to have a lighter, but the industry has collectively done that thing Jake Blues did in The Blues Brothers and flung them out of the window.

You’ll notice that a lot of new cars still have the hole, but instead of a lighter, they just have a ‘12v’ cover over them – so you can still power your sat-nav or charge your phone without the manufacturer being seen to be green-lighting you to smoke.

Some car-makers, like Hyundai, have ‘repurposed’ the aperture entirely and wedged a USB port in there. The appearance of a social conscience coupled with not having to make lighters any more? It’s a win-win!

So, what do you miss (or not miss) about the motoring of yesteryear? Let us know on Twitter