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Gonna get myself armrested

Chris Haining May 31, 2018 All Things Hoon 22 Comments

Rear wheel drive. A close ratio, six speed manual gearbox. A flat-plane crank V8, twin turbocharged but with so little lag you’d swear it was normally aspirated. Direct-acting rack and pinion steering, with power assistance that gives you no clue it’s there. Grippy tyres with just enough sidewall flex to warn that you’re nearing the limits of adhesion.

My car has none of those things, but what it does have is a socking great big, padded centre armrest, and it’s among the best features a car can boast.

On a previous thread, I waxed lyrical about the great joy of sunroofs. If nature screws up and the UK gets fine weather of an evening, to slide back the roof panel and race the moon home is an intoxicating experience. However, the front centre armrest is truly something you can use all-year round.

What’s so damn great about it?

Pondering. I have recently noticed that I find myself increasingly dissatisfied with the world and everything in it. Fortunately, while I drive my car, I can hold the wheel with one hand, while my big, h centre armrest allows me to support my chin with the other. Cruising along, chin in hand, perhaps tapping my lower teeth with a fingertip, is where I have my most lucid thoughts – some of which are about driving.

The role a centre armrest plays in promoting a peaceful state of mind is chronically overlooked. I’m lucky enough that both my cars have one, although that of my Audi is nothing like as convincing. It’s not a permanent fixture, for one thing – it folds out of the way if you don’t want it in situ, and re-establishing it is the first task I must perform if my wife has driven my car. Being leather topped, it’s not nearly as soothing to rest on, either.

Another benefit of the centre armrest is that, when I use it to aid chin-support, it places my head almost directly over the car’s centre line, which places me in the perfect spot for stereo listening. Yet another of its myriad virtues. The one in the Rover even has integral cassette storage. Granted, I never listen to any of the cassettes that are in there – they’re a legacy of my grandfather’s ownership of the car, so I can’t get rid of them. But it’s a neat feature.

I have encountered some absolute horror stories during my driving career so far; armrests that turn out to be sorely ill-suited to the vital task of chin support, for example. Some look fine at first glance, but sit too low to be any good in practice. Those cars win short shrift from me. I accept that chin support is of low priority on a race track, so Ferraris and the like are excused. But by and large, I like my cars to have a good, serviceable platform on which to rest my elbow.

Please share your tales of centre armrest adoration (or, controversially, loathing) in the comments.

(Images Chris Haining / Redusernab 2018)

  • GTXcellent

    Armrest love! Being a Gen X-er, I got to grow up in the era of no seat belt laws and no kiddie car seats. For me, the arm rest will always be remembered as my booster seat.

    Both Mom’s Bonneville and later Delta 88 had split bench seats with a folding arm rest – the perfect place for a little kid to sit and be able to look out the window (thank God we were never in an accident or I’m sure it would have been the end of little GTXcellent. My little brother and I would race, argue and fight to see who got to sit on the “hump”

    • 0A5599

      We used to do that as well (we called dibs for “riding the horsey”). My sister and I preferred cars that had one for the front seats and another for the back, so we would each have one.

      My dad’s business needs had him exchanging his Fleetwood for a Dodge A108 van. The engine’s location between the front seats meant one of us got to sit on the engine cover facing forward, with the other sitting on the back side looking out the rear windows. While the front position was preferred, I suppose the rear was marginally safer, turning the sibling into a crumple zone if a crash occurred.

      • Luxury Lexus Land-yacht

        Small world!

        My father ordered a ’67 A-108 window van in ’67. Was my first car to ride in (unborn), first to drive, first to damage, first to wrench upon, first car to own (1984), first to save me from dying (1986), and first for me to shed a tear when I finally accepted there was absolutely no chance of fixing it (1987).

        From just ahead of the rear bumper to the nose, the entire driver’s side is caved in about 12-18″. Was hit by a ’70 Javelin by a drunk bastard going, the cops estimated, 70 MPH…and accelerating.

        I saw nothing, just remember the sound. Also, looking down after sliding to a stop and noticing I could now see the ground below my feet, where there used to be a floor.

        When we were kids, my sister rode on a wooden ‘bench’ my father made for the engine cover, then he put a large wooden ice chest behind the passenger’s seat, which was the perfect jump seat.

        • 0A5599

          When we went somewhere with friends, we needed more seating, of course. Someone would have to sit on a rear fenderwell. My dad made it nicer by cutting the rear legs off a chair–front legs touched the floor and the rear of the chair just rested on the fenderwell. You still rode sideways, and the chair wasn’t bolted in place, but at least you got a seatback.

          • Luxury Lexus Land-yacht

            Fancily, I had two OEM rear seats.

            They were rarely in the truck, because I used it as such, but one time, I found (and this was not the brightest thing with four-wheel drum brakes) you can put 20 teenagers in one of these if it’s a LWB and 1-ton suspension model. Well, 21 if you include me.

            I figure there was about 2,800 lbs. of human in that truck for the night, and it was a rather interesting drive.

  • SawdustTX

    I never do the chin rest, will have to give it a try. But yes a properly designed center armrest is a big bonus especially on long trips. I have a great distaste for random “stuff” in my car, so storage capacity and opening of the armrest is also important. Very few open how I think they should – sideways toward the driver. The ones that open forward are something of a pain if I need to grab that next CD or a tissue. The one in my ’96 Roadmaster was near perfect. Front section opened forward to offer cup holders and coin slots, while the rear section still supported the elbow and opened sideways for easy access. Wife’s 2010 Buick Lucerne also had a nice one, and even the seat section under the armrest opened for more storage.

    • Ah, yes. I fear that many armrests of the design above are rather optimised for a column shift, which was pretty much unseen until MB brought them back a decade ago or so.

      We rented a Lumina back in ’98, and the centre section of the front bench folded into THE MOTHER of all armrests. Seems a common feature in ’80s/90s family runabouts.

      • outback_ute

        Yes I was also thinking it was part of a bench seat hence needing to have all the centre console functions. As well as compromising its ability as a seat, surely.

        In the bench seat Falcon utes I drove, the space under the folding seat back was perfectly sized for a street directory.

  • Zentropy

    Funny, I always shove them up and away, if I can. For me, they only promote bad posture.

  • I must disagree. Derailing the passenger seat in order to transport an engine is already enough of a pain without an armrest also taking up space.

  • SlowJoeCrow

    Growing up the center armrest in the back seat was the DMZ preventing hostilities with my little sister. We never used it as a booster seat because my family started using seatbelts in the 60s after a relative was badly hurt.

    In my own cars, I’ve never had a rear armrest and the front setup varied. Our Mazda5 had individual ones that always sat at the wrong angle so I was seriously considering replacing them with adjustable armrests off a VW Vanagon. Our current Mazda CX-5 has a very good armrest/console setup complete with a groove to cleanly route a charging cable from the socket in the console to a phone in a vent mount.

    The ultimate armrests are in full size pickup trucks with worktables and large storage boxes inside

  • Monkey10is

    (Almost off-topic: Is that a deliberate Gomez reference in the post title?)

    • It most certainly was! Pun? Bring it on!

      • Monkey10is

        Ah! The Comeback!

  • Sjalabais

    I’m more and more enarmoured with my Honda Stream. The utility it provides, while being fun to drive, provides a mental shift from “use it up” to “maybe keep it a little longer”. It’s already the car I’ve owned the longest.

    But…bugger has no armrest at all. Honda locally said it’s not available and never was, and they looked at me with freak eyes when I asked if there was any chance to mount a random armrest. It’s tiring to drive with the elbows getting heavy; seating position isn’t that comfortable to begin with.

    Plot twist though…Malaysian market Streams seem to have been offered with armrests. Maybe those were airbagless seats? Got to check out what shipping might be.

  • I_Borgward

    We always called a proper fold-down upholstered Detroit bench seat armrest a “gangster lean”. Kinda nice to have in land yachts that you point more than steer, like my old Electra 225 or Riviera. But I’ve never had them in my Volvos and haven’t missed them a bit.

    • JohnComposMentis

      Many years ago, a former coworker’s husband sold used cars. A customer came in with a list of requirements, including that the car have a “lean” on it, and was looking for a 225 in particular. The salesman replied that all of their cars had clean titles, and why would he want a car with a “lien” on it? After a little more back-and-forth, they had a good laugh about the misunderstanding.

  • neight428

    My stepfather built a plywood box with a hinged top that he used as an armrest in a series of bench seat equipped trucks. It was upholstered using cheap leftover carpet and a pneumatic staple gun. It usually contained random paperwork, prescription medication, fast food condiments, a flask of scotch and at least one firearm.

    You can pretty well fill in the rest of my childhood from those data points. I might embellish them a bit and write a book someday.

  • kogashiwa

    ” I have recently noticed that I find myself increasingly dissatisfied with the world and everything in it.” What a coincidence, you and me both! I toast our discontent with a glass of sour ale.

  • Luxury Lexus Land-yacht

    This is wholly understandable!

    I enjoy having an armrest in my DD.

    The LS has a nice, wide, long, cushy armrest. The two Mercedes sedans I’ve had have as well. A W126 and a W124.

    I even bought the OEM armrest for the ’99 Suzuki Grand Vitara I bought new in ’99. Didn’t make it any more comfortable, but that was a stretch for pretty much any post-production bits and that trucklet.

    However…I still aspire to own the vehicle which has this interior, someday. Please note, beyond the overstuffed leather seats, each front occupant has their own large armrest, LIKE IT’S SUPPOSED TO BE!!!

  • wunno sev

    I’m short – like 5’5″ – so for me, the gold standard is an armrest that moves with the seat. that’s an old-Benz standard and I’ve never been able to rest an elbow on anything with the armrest fixed to the center console.

    my Volvo has a real fat door trim panel, with a broad fat surface to rest my left elbow on, and I appreciate that. but my right elbow rarely has a good resting place. bring back armrests fixed to the seat back!

  • mseoul

    If the car is a manual shift I find the armrest, even folded up sometimes, interferes with shift arm movement. Elbow can even bang on an upturned rest on some shifts.

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