September 21, 2018

Automotive Breakdown . . . by Denny Mandeville,

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The other day, a few acquaintances and friends of a certain hair color (or, technically, lack of color, and, sometimes lack of hair as well) were playing one-up-man-ship in past car stories. You know the game; do-you-remember, and how close to the truth can you play without being caught in an outright fib. I won, when I topped them with the in-car record player. Yeah – there actually was such a device.

Just as CD’s replaced cassettes, and cassettes had replaced 8-Track, the granddaddy of them all was the in-car record player. Check it out- Chrysler had it as an option in 1956, and it was available from after-market by the ‘60’s. If you said it wouldn’t work, you’d be partially right! Originally, it suffered the same problem as Edison’s original phonograph- it took special records with a limited number of artists who did not appeal to the masses.

By 1960 (the era I remember) the player played regular 45 RPM records, with the tone arm playing from underneath so the weight of the platter reduced skipping, which meant you had to remember to load your choices upside down, or all you got was side B, and, as we all remember, Side B was never the good song. Good ol’ 45’s with that big center hole. One could stack up to 12 records, which amounted to about a 1/2 hour of skipping, rock ‘n roll, music. And, if you thought a great assortment of CD’s takes up room – try caching 45’s. The player, if you did it yourself, was mounted on the transmission hump (ooh, you’d forgotten the transmission hump, huh?). If you had a DeSoto, it was mounted where the glove box would be.

The transmission hump was a grand old place to mount just about everything, and anything, installed in the interior- from the three gauge (amps, oil pressure, and coolant temperature) panel to the Kleenex box, not to mention the girlfriend as she snuggled.

Now, if you had a record player, why not add a reverb unit in your trunk? That way every artist sounded like Connie Francis and/or Duane Eddy. Even when not playing music, you could have interesting sounds just leaving it on and driving over rough roads producing the strange metallic twangs, bongs, tings, and bings only a reverb could produce.

Of course, as you remember, there was only one speaker mounted in the center of the dash. And who can forget the pleas from the rear seat riders who couldn’t hear and wanted the radio louder. And why was it such a problem, you ask? Because the windows were down to let in the fresh air. You do remember 4-40 air conditioning; 4 windows rolled down driving 40 MPH? In the East, 4-40 cooling worked reasonably well, but honestly, it was the only game in town. I remember driving on Route 66 in the summer of ’70 and even 4-40 wouldn’t cut the heat. Almost killed my first wife with heat stroke in Barstow, but that’s another story.

Here is something for the Southwest folks to “remember when.” Desert bags hung from the hood ornament or door handles, seeping water as they kept the drinking water cool. You could still see them into the 70’s, even in SoCal. But the real winner was the window mounted swamp cooler. Yup, the cool (literally) folks had a tubular swamp cooler hung on the passenger front window, the forward motion of the car creating the ram effect. As I remember, the passenger could get awfully wet on a long drive.

Hood ornaments? Let’s play who can match the car with the ornament; The plastic Indian head; the chrome sailing ship; the graceful swan; the gun sight (really- that is what it was), the THREE sailing ships; the ram’s head; the rocket ship; the Spanish conquistador; the three heraldic shields.

See how you do.

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