Front bench seats were once a feature of just about every car on the market. You could “slide on over” and fit three people in there. Or you could take a comfortable nap when not driving. And, there was no crevice in the middle for you to lose your change or keys or lipstick. From the first automobiles ever manufactured all the way to the 1980s bench seats were often standard. That is, until a new design dominated the market completely. So, why did car companies nix the bench seat?
Bench seats were relatively inexpensive to make as they only required one frame. Even before cars, horse-drawn buggies and carriages also had bench seating- something people had used for many hundreds of years without issue.
These comfortable seats made snuggling up at Lover’s Lane more enjoyable, but they were also useful for watching drive-in movies. They suited family life, too, since one more person could sit up front when needed.
The trend for bucket seats got started when sportier cars from Europe with the separate front seats became desirable. Following World War II, soldiers returning to the U.S. were comfortable with buying the European cars they had seen during the war- like Volkswagon Beetles to name one of the most popular.
The trend for domestic cars shifted as well. From the mid-1960s onward smaller cars were increasingly seen as more efficient, easier to park, and a better value overall. Large cars (the kind that often had bucket seats) cuttingly became known as “boats” and “land yachts” once smaller cars came into vogue, implying that the mammoth vehicles had already had their day in the sun.
But, there were other reasons that bucket seats became standard. In the early 1970s “passive restraints” were introduced as safety devices that didn’t require the driver or passenger to activate. The most common were air airbags, but another passive restraint was the automatic seatbelt, which could only be fitted to the outermost front passenger seats. For this reason the middle seat would have been left unprotected and so was omitted completely, leaving 2 bucket seats as the only safe option. The center console became standard on cars, with the ubiquitous drink holder later becoming a must-have for all cars.