The Car That Had a Record Player

Today, car radios are well-integrated and incredibly more high-functioning than their predecessors, and most drivers wouldn’t consider owning a car without one. The same can’t be said of in-car record players. As crazy as it sounds, the idea came about in much the same way as the car radio did — taking something people enjoy at home and converting it for use in an automobile. The 1950s idea flopped, but in-car record players are historic in that they were the automotive world’s first attempt at offering car occupants the chance to make their own musical selections. The first in-car record player was called the “Highway Hi-Fi Record Player” and was designed by Dr. Peter Goldmark, the head of CBS Laboratories. It was available as a factory-installed option in new Chrysler products, but it was an absolute failure. While the 7-inch 45 RPM format was a better size for fitting into the glove compartment, it only had one song per side and would need to be changed every 3-4 minutes. The 12-inch 33 RPM record contained more than 20 minutes of music per side, but the larger LPs were a design headache. Designers ended up coming up with a new record format and a special phonograph to play it, both optimized for the space available in a car. Of course, when it was tested, all the real problems surfaced. The record skipped on rough pavements, it was a little too big for the glove box and had to be repositioned under the glove box, there were only a total of 42 records available on the format, and the player was expensive — $200 additional (more than $1,800 today). By 1959, the Highway Hi-Fi system was discontinued. It wasn't until 1965 that the next attempt at musical selections in autos appeared with the introduction of the 8-track tape player.