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They Don't Make Them Like They Used To

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"There is an old Jaffa saying, General Hammond: 'They do not build them as they once did.'"
Teal'c, Stargate SG-1

Most cultures have this feeling, particularly among the elderly. If anything, Americans tend to reject it more than most cultures.

Often older things are over-engineered, which causes them to last longer and endure hard usage. A business that has been producing an item for awhile starts to find ways to either reduce cost, or improve some other important attribute (such as reducing weight), often at the cost of reducing durability for the end user. Once a product has been around long enough, multiple businesses compete in a race to the bottom to produce the cheapest product that will hold together long enough to leave the shop. This applies to everything from microwaves to things as mundane as shoes. (Shoes made with older technology cost more, but they also tend to last longer).

Older cars were made under the theory that, in a crash, the car should show as little damage as possible, and hence were made of thick steel; the body panels were often not load-bearing and could be easily removed. Newer cars (i.e. engineered in the last 30 years) are designed to simply fall apart in a crash, keeping the occupants safe by allowing the car's frame to absorb the energy involved in a crash by crumpling and going to pieces instead of transmitting the energy to the occupants. Of course, this does destroy the car. There are also maintenance issues. It used to be the "shadetree mechanic" could fix an engine with basic tools, but newer cars require complicated and expensive tools. On the other hand, these efficiencies and cost reductions have allowed more people to afford a car; the U.S. population increased by 55% from 1960 to 2000, but the number of licensed drivers more than doubled over the same period.

This also highlights the selective enforcement of this and other Nostalgia Filter-related tropes. Though there are far more cars on the road, and far more miles driven, fatalities have remained level (fatalities-per-mile in the U.S. have decreased by 75% over the last 50 years), although mostly due to legal enforcement of safety measures and tighter laws on some subjects (e.g. mandatory seat belts and lower alcohol limits for drunk driving).

Houses are another good example. Sometimes after a major disaster—like a hurricane—all the houses built before a certain date will have survived with minor damage, while newer houses are destroyed. This shows something of a survivorship bias; the older houses had to survive the previous hurricane, leaving only the most durable to face this one (this applies to cars as well). Due to the evolution of building codes, sometimes the newest houses also survive. In flooding situations, barring really record-breaking floods a rather similar selection process will take place, though in this case it's more a case of where the houses are built; the locations least at risk from flooding will be built upon first, with development spreading into more vulnerable areas as the town grows, or, again, the old houses on the floodplain were destroyed in the previous flood.

Another housing example is the old breezeway. Older houses were built with a breezeway to take advantage of prevailing winds to cool the house in the summer. Newer houses have air conditioning and so the builders don't bother with the breezeway. Guess which is cooler if the power goes out in the summer?

For large structures like bridges, this is caused by a combination of factors. Good engineers realized their knowledge of materials and engineering techniques was incomplete, and tended to make things much stronger than calculations called for (the Brooklyn Bridge is over-engineered by almost an order of magnitude). At the same time, less well-designed structures have collapsed or been replaced.

Another factor is (steel reinforced) concrete. Most building materials have a "shelf life" of several millennia unless some rather unusual things happen to them - after all, they are stones that survive being exposed to the elements in nature as well. The big exceptions are limestone (which cannot handle acids), concrete (some types of which decay and degenerate under certain conditions) and steel (which rusts). Steel reinforced concrete structures only last a century or so without maintenance before the rust starts popping apart the concrete and weakening the structure beyond repair. There is nothing keeping the Roman aqueducts from lasting another millennium (barring human intervention) because there is nothing in them that could rust, degrade or fall apart.

Compare Older Is Better and Invincible Classic Car.

Media examples:

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    Comic Books 
  • Watchmen features Nite Owl I a.k.a. Hollis Mason, who has a great love of old, petrol-powered cars (with the advent of Dr. Manhattan, new models become powered by lithium batteries). The sign for his repair shop even features the line: "Obsolete Models a Specialty." Appropriate for the residence of a retired masked hero.
  • In Seth's It's a Good Life, If You Don't Weaken our main character has this feeling about old buildings, museum exhibits, and well...ok, everything.

    Comic Strips 
  • Tends to pop up a fair bit in Garfield. Examples include:
    • One time, Garfield tried to climb a tree but the bark sloughed down. His comment: "They don't make trees like they used to."
    • When Garfield broke a Ming vase, he said "Ming, schming. They don't make'm like they used to."
    • Garfield attempted to cling onto a screen door, only to punch a hole through it. Guess what his response was.

  • In the climax of the 1989 Batman film, the hero clings to an unstable cathedral ledge, while Joker stomps out the bricks around him yelling "They don't make them like they used to, eh, Batsy?!"
  • Implied in Back to the Future Part II when Marty suggests landing on Biff's car to cripple it. This is actually very accurate.
    Doc Brown: Marty, he's in a '46 Ford, we're in a DeLorean. He'd rip through us like we were tinfoil.
  • Played with in Ghostbusters (1984) when Peter and Ray are discussing the unusual architecture of Dana's building:
    Peter: So what? I guess they just don't make them like they used to.
    Ray: (Dope Slap) No! Nobody ever made them like this! I mean, the architect had to be a certified genius, or an authentic wacko.
  • Scotty says this to Kirk in Star Trek V: The Final Frontier re the malfunctioning Enterprise-A.
  • In Sleeper:
    Luna: What is it?
    Miles: It’s a 200-year-old Volkswagen. [Turns key; car starts] Ah. They really built these things, didn’t they?

  • Played with in Soul Music, when the protagonists visit a mysterious antique shop.
    Proprietor: They don't build them like that any more.
    Glod Glodsson: That's because we've learned from experience!
  • Invoked in Victoria where the T-34 is (erroneously) held up as superior to contemporary tanks because of its great reliability.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Andromeda: When the crew of the Eureka Maru first step aboard the Andromeda, this is how they react. In that case, the Andromeda is the high-technology product of a fallen civilisation, which can't be matched by the rough-and-ready technology of the present time.
  • Billions has billionaire hedge fund manager Bobby Axelrod decide to takeover a snack foods company because he's mad that the current CEO changed his favorite childhood snack's recipe to cut down on costs, resulting in an inferior taste.

  • Billie Jo Spears' country song "'57 Chevrolet" is a tribute song for that model. They are today considered highly classic and collectable amongst the automobile enthusiasts.
    • This song is also one Trope Namer amongst many others: They don't make cars like they used to; I wish we still had it today.
  • The lyrics of "Old Time Rock 'N' Roll" by Bob Seger [1] can be best summed up as "New Music Sucks." Never mind that this was once a new song itself.
  • The Greg Kihn Band's "The Breakup Song" [2] is sometimes billed as "The Breakup Song (They Don't Write 'em Like That Anymore)," the parentheticals being part of the refrain.
  • The Pretenders song "Popstar" (1999) uses this sentiment as most of the chorus, using it both to snark about then-contemporary pop starlets (things like taking up Buddhism, going through a string of therapists, competing for space in Vogue and so on) and to castigate the unnamed target of the song for dumping Chrissie Hynde. Economical!
  • Kenny Rogers recorded a song with the trope name as the title and opening line ("They Don't Make Them Like They Used To") for the 1986 movie Tough Guys.

    Tabletop Games 
  • BattleTech: This was a common sentiment in the early 31st century. The two centuries of intense warfare that raged across the Inner Sphere after the collapse of the Star League had devastated manufacturing capabilities so that many pieces of technology had been lost. For example, the MAD-2R Marauder had been built with Ferro-Fibrous armor, Double Heatsinks, and Extended Range PPCs. The MAD-3R, produced less than a century later, had none of these on it because none of them could be made anymore. This situation eventually began to be averted after the Gray Death Legion mercenaries discovered the Helm Memory Core, an ancient database filled with lost information. By the 3050s, the Inner Sphere was fully able to build lost Star League tech again and by the 3060s had started to produce equipment that was superior.
  • This pretty well sums up the Imperium's entire philosophy regarding technology in Warhammer 40,000. They know that a radical new invention could have been inspired by a Chaos God, and tech based on it could carry some of the extremely unpleasant taint. It is also unquestionably true; most of their technology is technically Lost Technology reproduced by rote with the best stuff a complete mystery.
  • Warhammer Fantasy:
    • Weaponized by the dwarf Longbeards: None of them have less than five centuries of fighting goblins, orcs and horrible things from underground, and therefore can be forever heard to complain that the goblins used to be tougher, or beer used to taste better, or... Other dwarf units can reroll failed rolls just to avoid the pointed looks and sarcastic remarks on how they clearly don't make dwarfs like they used to either (case in point).
    • Nearly every other dwarf subscribes to similar philosophies - a lot of the Empire's blackpowder knowledge comes from dwarves thrown bodily out of the Engineers' Guild for being too radical (too radical in this case meaning hasn't undergone literal centuries of testing).
    • And even then there's traditionalists who don't hold with this newfangled gunpowder: in their day they had crossbows and they liked it that way!
  • Warhammer 40,000: The Adeptus Mechanicus holds that humanity once held all knowledge, and that tying to recreate it rather than find an STC is heresy. Therefore their machines and weapons are often millenia old (as are the better-functioning parts of Imperial infrastructure) and every loss nigh-irreparable.
  • Mr Fixer from ''Sentinels of the Multiverse" thinks this way about wrenches. Then again, he's a Costumed Non Super Hero who uses the tools in his machine shop as Improvised Weapon, and old wrenches are better for a good Wrench Whack than modern ones, so it's a Justified Trope.
    "Good forged steel! Not like those modern cast aluminum ones."

  • In Little Shop of Horrors, Orin, the sadistic dentist, pulls out an antique drill:
    They don't make 'em like this anymore. Sturdy, heavy, dull.
  • At one performance of the original production of Fiddler on the Roof, a house-set collapsed onto the stage as Zero Mostel, playing Tevye, walked by. Ever a showman, Mostel looked at the collapsed house, then quipped "They don't make them like they used to," prompting a big laugh from the audience.

    Video Games 
  • One death scene of Space Ace is during the part where Dexter turns into Ace; pressing the fire button at some parts of the Trash Robots scene will cause Ace to try to shoot his target, only to cause half of the space station to blow up.
  • In Ace Combat 5: The Unsung War, the Wardog Squadron's mechanic examines enemy planes they have shot down and expresses surprise at the fact that someone is still making them like this. This serves as a subtle hint at the true nature of the Wardogs' opponents, as Pops is actually a former Belkan pilot, who recognized the stripped-down blueprints his country's engineers came up with during the Belkan War fifteen years earlier to compensate for wartime shortage of spare parts.
    Pops: "Look at that wreckage. I'm amazed they're still making them like this."
  • In all parts of the Metro 2033 saga, military-grade 5.45mm ammunition is much more powerful than the "dirty" rounds produced in the ramshackle post-nukes factories, so much so that it's used as Practical Currency.
  • Quoted word for word by Yoshihiro Shimazu in Samurai Warriors 2 after defeating an enemy officer.
    Yoshihiro: They sure don't make enemy officers like they used to.

    Web Video 
  • Steve 1989 MRE Info: Steve prefers some of the older menu items, such as vintage coffees particularly US Coffee, Instant, Type 1. Regarding crackers, he says:
    Steve: The old crackers, they always held together. I mean look at that. They were just better back then.
    • The entire video about the 1992 Meal, Ready to Eat, Individual Menu #8 Ham Slice is particularly nostalgia-laced.

    Western Animation 
  • On Rocky and Bullwinkle's "Fractured Fairy Tales" the Prince attempts to enter the castle of Sleeping Beauty, breaking his sword on the overgrowth surrounding it and lamenting "They don't make broad swords like they used to." After easily getting through with the help of a lawn-mower, he adds triumphantly, "These they make like they used to."
  • Beast Wars gave us this exchange in "Agenda: Part 3," which doubles as an in-joke.
    Rattrap: (Commenting on the Ark) This thing wasn't was POURED!
    Optimus Primal: Die-cast construction... It's a lost art.
  • In the Batman: The Animated Series episode "Be A Clown", Batman escapes from the Joker's complicated deathtrap, prompting this comment from the Joker: "They don't make straitjackets like they used to. I should know!"
  • In The Simpsons episode "Lisa vs. Malibu Stacy", Abe complains that toys in the store are junk and were built to last when he was young. It's subverted when he tries to demonstrate and clearly has to put in a lot of effort before the toys break. Eventually, the security guards grab him and escort him from the store.
  • Defenders of the Earth: Ming the Merciless once created robot duplicates of the heroes to frame them. When one of the heroes noticed an arm falling off his robot double, he commented they don't make him like they used to.
  • At the end of The Transformers episode "Only Human", one of the two villains of the week, a man who has spent the whole episode being referred to as "Old Snake", laments how they don't make terrorists like they used to while inadvertently revealing his true identity of Cobra Commander.
    Old Snake: Poor Mr. Drath. Not quite smart enough, were you? They simply don't make terrorists like they used to! COOOOOBRA-ha-*hackcoughcoughcough*"
  • At the end of the first Cool Cat cartoon, the eponymous character sees that Col. Rimfire's elephant is motorized and tells us "They just don't make elephants like they used to!"
  • Bozo: The World's Most Famous Clown and his young pal Butch are disguised as a horse and are horse-napped by the villains Big Shorty and Short Biggie. In making a getaway, Bozo's and Butch's costume splits in half, prompting Short Biggie to comment "They just don't make horses like they used to!"
  • Star Wars Rebels: Old Soldier Captain Rex, a veteran of the Clone Wars, never misses an opportunity to throw shade at how Imperial Stormtrooper armor sucks compared to the old Clone Trooper armor.

    Real Life 
  • Glassfibre yachts. In the 1960s and 1970s laminated glassfiber was a new material, its properties were unknown, the naval architects over-engineered their designs taking no risks, and the yachts produced then were thoroughly laminated. The result is that they are built like tanks. They retained excellent hydrodynamics, since they were often copies of racing hulls. Modern yachts tend to be sandwich structure, which is lighter but gets damaged more easily and is prone to rot, and usually have better comfort than seafaring properties.
  • Cameras and camera optics. The film SLR cameras invariably had aluminium bodies and robust mechanics, while the lenses used to have steel or aluminium casings and hardened glass lenses, making them impervious to mechanical damage. Modern cameras usually are packed with electronics, and make extensive use of easily damaged plastics with both casing, components and lenses. Those photographers who have learned their trade in the 35mm film era usually swear on the name of the older equipment.
  • Digital video, which has largely overtaken film in movies and TV in the new millennium owing to cheaper costs and easier editing, lacks the latter's warmth and contrast levels, often requiring color grading to look decent.
  • Interestingly used in the seventh home console generation. They actually don't make PS3s like they used to - the older models with the Emotion Engine reverse-compatibility went out of production in favor of newer and cheaper models, in order for Sony to close the price-gap with Microsoft. Meanwhile, the Xbox 360 reverses this - due to a number of very loud issues with the early batches of X360's, Microsoft has been forced to shape up and improve the quality, making the newest versions much less likely to burn out than the old ones.
  • Many analog household electronics, from television sets to tape players, were made to be serviced and repaired. In contrast, many of their current, computerised ("smart") versions/replacements are made to be tossed and replaced in their entirety when they fail. Whether this is due to the race to the bottom, the race for 'slimmer' devices, or intentional to make the consumer spend more in the long run ('planned obsolescence') or potentially all of these combined is debated.
  • This particular brand of nostalgia is mostly subverted in regards to computers, since the first ones were things that could take up entire rooms, had a fraction of the memory current computers have, and were extremely slow.
    • Notwithstanding the above, there is definite affection for keyboards of yore. Some 30 years old (built in 1982) are still in use and look exactly like they did fresh out of the box.
    • Note that it is thoroughly justified in the case of the Model M Keyboard (and the even older and more over-engineered Model F), the old popular keyboard that was made with springs and individual switches for each key; they were heavy, durable as hell and are literally solid enough to bash over someone's head while remaining functional afterwards. Not surprisingly, these keyboards can survive an immense amount of abuse and can last decades of typing by the most prolific typist without losing effectiveness. Fast forward to modern day however, where keyboards are made of the much cheaper but unfortunately much more fragile full-travel membrane, which can fall apart or lose tactile feedback in less than a year of heavy use. Ironically, there's a very strong trend to return to these old type mechanical keyboards (though not the spring types) in the gaming community, taking advantage of their inherent durability to endure the massive abuse. Several manufacturers that cater to gamers have produced their own modern take on mechanical keyboards for the sake of feedback and rapid key presses. This can be a double-edged sword, as keyboards in this style can suffer in ergonomics and potentially raise stress on the hands.
  • Stephen Colbert, as usual, has a different take on it.
    Stephen: They make 'em like that any more, Jon - they just do.
  • Ford's Panther Platform (Crown Victoria, Mercury Grand Marquis, Lincoln Town Car) was a major beneficiary of this sort of thinking, to the point that some police departments stocked up on Crown Vics when it was finally discontinued at the end of 2011. The basic design dates back to 1979, and the perimeter-frame, RWD V8 design wasn't much beyond the state of the art of the 1950s. They are, indeed, extremely durable cars (and, equally important to police who sometimes have to subject their cars to such things as ramming maneuvers, relatively easy to repair after taking damage), but also handle poorly and are rather cramped for something the size of a limo. Interestingly, the similarly-antiquated GM competitor, the Chevrolet Caprice, was discontinued in 1996 but is widely considered by police and taxi drivers to be the superior car. Indeed, they don't make them like they used to.
  • Expressed in a fairly verbose fashion in the Assessors' report into the sinking of MV Derbyshire "The use of direct methods of design, utilising in particular finite element analysis, is radically reducing the redundancies which naturally occurred in the prescriptive methods of the past"
  • Nearly all music from 1998 onward is mastered at such volumes as to noticeably alter the sound quality by distorting and/or compressing peak levels.
  • High Fructose Corn Syrup replacing cane sugar in soft drinks and many other sweetened products, such as fruit juices and candies. Since this is exclusive to the United States it has also become a common source of Cultural Cringe.
  • Synthesizers, out of all things. In the early to mid-90s, while the leading Japanese manufacturers in particular tried all they could to snag market shares from each other with more and more advanced romplers, the synth nerds lusted for the classic analog machines, the last ones of which had just been discontinued a couple of years ago. They didn't care how much more faithfully modern romplers could reproduce acoustic sounds, or how big the patch memory was. In fact, they could go with no patch memory at all as long as they could get the warm and fat sound, the flexibility in sound design and Billions of Knobs for tweaking the sound in real time—instead of walking through menus and programming, say, the filter cutoff frequency, they wanted a dedicated cutoff knob. The small Swedish company Clavia was the first to react: The Nord Lead combined the sound and the tweakability of an analog synth with the stability of a digital synth and the reliability of a new synth (as opposed to a used second-hand machine in need of spare parts that aren't even made anymore).
    • The first subtractive synthesizers from The '60s were modular, i.e. you had several modules in a frame which had to be connected with patchcords. They were used in laboratories more often than by musicians. Pre-patched, compact, ready-to-play synths rendered them mostly obsolete in The '70s. Fast forward to 1995 when Dieter Doepfer introduced a new modular system much like the old ones: bulky (although some 40% smaller than a Moog), purely analog, nothing pre-wired except power so you have to plug everything together, one voice (unless patched otherwise), no patch memory at all (unless you use a camera). Today there is a large market revolving around this now standardized system (Eurorack) with many modules from many different manufacturers.
  • Cassettes, both audio and video, went through this over time. Those made in the 1980's were heavier, more durable, and had clearer picture/sound than the ones coming out in the late 90's and early 2000's, around the time DVD began to take over (whose advertising made it seem like VHS tapes were always cheaply made with bad sound/video quality). The problem with cassettes was always that the tape inside could snap regardless of how well you treated them, particularly with longer tapes. VHS tapes were more robust than audio tapes, but that didn't stop them getting caught in players.
  • Subverted somewhat with Nintendo consoles, known for their durability historically, the modern-day Nintendo Switch has reportedly survived going through a washing machine.
  • This even applies to something as simple as clothes pegs, comprising two small pieces of wood and a spring to hold them together. Older pegs tend to be made of harder wood and have springs that could cut off the circulation to a finger. Modern pegs have much weaker springs and are made of softer wood that can easily snap, making it unwise to hang washing in a strong wind.
  • In the former USSR, there's quite a lot of nostalgia about Soviet industrial goods which were renowned for their extreme durability and reliability. It wasn't uncommon for an off-the-shelf appliance to stay on duty for decades and be passed between generations. A large number of them are still in use today, 25 years after the end of the Cold War, and it's not a miracle (though still rare) to see, say, a fridge or a vacuum cleaner that's half a century old and has retained almost all the original parts. They do require occasional maintenance, yet since they've been built with simplicity and repairability in mind, the repair can be done with common tools and consumables. Spares are a problem, but custom parts are the minority and typically last the longest, and in the worst case, a broken piece can typically be reinforced with available materials or outright made from them anew without any industrial-grade equipment. The downside is their durability and repairability comes at the cost of performance. In comparison to modern equipment, Soviet goods are bulky, heavy, power-hungry, inefficient, technically obsolete and severely lacking in the aesthetic department (though this is a matter of taste) and ergonomics. These characteristics have given birth to many a joke (e.g.: "American scientists have 10 times as much equipment as ours, but each piece of our equipment is 10 times as much!"). Household appliances typically end up on dachas where everyday efficiency and ergonomics are less of a requirement, and "good" stuff can quickly degrade from adverse conditions or be stolen by wintertime thieves which dachas are largely defenseless against. To summarize, many who had experience with Soviet equipment are nostalgic about it, but few would actually trade a modern piece for one of those.
  • Zigzagged in case of automotive steel: it isn't like it used to be. Modern automotive steel is stronger, which makes the cars built from it safer and with better rustproofing.
  • Band-Aids - Johnson & Johnson used to have an ad campaign about how well they stayed on, even in bathtubs and pools. Today, they fall off if the air is too humid.
  • Bicycles used to be - quite literally - Made of Iron. The oldest penny-farthings had wheels made of full rubber (so no flats) and the pedals were directly connected to the front wheel. There was very close to nothing that could break on such a bike. Probably the only thing that could happen to it was rust. The first "safety bicycles" (i.e. the first bikes that outwardly look roughly like today's bikes) introduced a chain drive and air filled tires as things that could potentially break - but pretty much anybody can repair those. They were still made from solid steel for the mainframe and incredibly hard to break even on purpose. Today's bikes have gears that are hard to repair even for experts unless they have the proper equipment and often the frame is made from hollowed out metal (not necessarily steel) or carbon fiber (which can take a lot of punishment while being lightweight, but when it breaks it cannot be repaired). True, today's bikes are faster, lighter, more comfortable and you can get up mountains that only someone with superhuman strength could with old bikes, but really in an urban setting at moderate speeds almost all of those "advances" are just Awesome, but Impractical overkill.
  • This trope helped kill off the 8-track tape cartridge as a music format, as labels used ever-cheaper materials for their tapes. The 8-track developed a reputation for mechanical unreliability as players kept eating tapes, and the cassette format subsequently took over in the marketplace.
  • This also drove a lot of listeners away from vinyl records toward cassettes and CDs starting in the 1980s. Labels in the U.S. and the U.K. would use recycled vinyl and thinner vinyl, which resulted in a lot of surface noise. This, combined with the concurrent decline in the quality of low-end turntables mentioned below, caused listeners to abandon the format in favor of more portable and better-sounding cassettes and CDs, so much so that LPs virtually disappeared from North American store shelves by the early 1990s. The format did hold on for a bit longer in Europe. Even with the "Vinyl Revival" starting in the 2000s, vinyl buyers still complain about excessive surface noise, warping, and other defects in new vinyl, even as record companies favor heavyweight pressings of "virgin" vinyl.
  • This trope also applied to low-end phonographs themselves in the 1980s as vinyl gave to way cassettes and CDs, with the turntables in cheaper compact stereo systems having plastic plinths, plastic platters, plastic tone arms fitted with ceramic cartridges, and lack of anti-skating or adjustable tracking force, all from factories in China. The same basic design was later used for the cheap suitcase-style players that became popular starting with the above-mentioned vinyl revival in the 21st century.
  • Linotypes, Intertypes, Ludlows, and other hot metal linecasting equipment: they don't make them at all any more, but they were so over-engineered that with proper maintenance, there is no reason why they can't continue to run for a century or more, and there are enough surviving-but-not-operational specimens to provide plenty of spare parts for the few that are actually kept in working order.

Statler: They sure don't make encyclopedias like they used to.
Waldorf: I remember them being heavier... with content.
Both: Do-ho-ho-ho-hoh!