From: Winnipeg, MB
The U.S. cars never had sever rust problems until the seventies when all quality went out the window (well maybe with the exception of Ford, rust that is).
My memory is quite different.
All I will say is they don't build them like they used to.
Modern car: Sneeze at it and it ends up with a giant dent and a big spot where the paint blew off.
Pre-1960's car: Drive it through a brick wall and don't even scratch it.
Ok, bit of an exaggeration, but the truth is back in the day cars were made of heavy steel, had a nice thick coat of paint, and as a general rule did stand up to use and abuse a lot better. The car I currently have had the paint at the bottom of the door frame rubbed down to bare metal within the first 3 weeks because my foot drags against it while I get in. There is just not enough paint or top coat on there to stand up to any kind of repeated contact.
I'm just glad I live in the south where we don't have a lot of snow and ice, and aren't exposed to de-icing salt as much. Cars around here do tend to stay rust free much longer, even in these modern times.
As far as the vehicle standing up to bangs & bruises, sure. But not rust. I was a kid in Boston in the 1960's and I remember lots and lots of rust. Plenty of salt used on streets and roads in winter to counter lots of snow and ice. So many cars would just rust, rust, rust!
It used to be de regeure (sp?) up here to take your new car immediately to a body shop that does undercoating and lower panel innercoating (like doors) before you drove it in winter. They used a tar compound and it added about 100 lbs to the car's weight! They kept the car three days - one to wash and dry out the underside of the car, one to do the coatings and one to let the stink dissipate a bit!
No matter how bad a situation is, you can always make it worse. - Chris Hadfield : An Astronaut's Guide To Life On Earth