This image from 1955 Los Angeles of a gas mask-wearing motorcycle messenger shows what was once the (literally) dirty side of the internal combustion engine. I grew up in Southern California much later than this and the air still was horrible about half the time. I also remember the reticence of both car makers and buyers to the fitting of emissions controls, especially the catalytic converter which required the use of the then more expensive and far less ubiquitous unleaded gas.
The catalytic converter proved to be a miraculous device, and along with other advancements, allow cars today to often times have exhaust that’s cleaner than the air they take in. At the same time milage and horsepower have increased dramatically while cars themselves aren’t all that much more expensive. And the air in LA? Well, I haven’t seen a motorcycle messenger in a gas mask recently so I guess it’s getting better.
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