Welcome to Thursday Trivia where we offer up a historical automotive trivia question and you try and solve it before seeing the answer after the jump. It’s like a history test, with cars! This week’s question: What was unique about the Highway Hi-Fi? If you think you know, hum a few bars and make the jump to see if you’re right. While some people enjoy their car’s exhaust note as their singular aural traveling companion, many still like to have some tunes in their car or truck, or even, gasp, talk radio. Motorola created the first successful in-car radio, but with stations sparsely populating the land, manufacturers sought to offer consumers alternatives that would allow them to play pre-recorded material whenever and wherever they chose. That effort eventually resulted in the 8-track, cassette, CD player, and presently bluetooth-equipped stereos that can play MP3s and podcasts from your phone, and even content streaming over the Internet. The path to getting here however, was filled with a few dead ends. One of those was the magnetic wire recorder which was a popular option on the Muntz Jet. Now, neither the Muntz nor the automotive wire recorder would endure, but a short time later a much larger manufacturer teamed with a content provider on yet another solution. From Neatorama:
Just because you’re driving in your car, it doesn’t mean that you can’t take your hi-fi music with you. Here’s a Chrysler innovation: a phonograph for your car.
In 1956 they teamed with CBS to create the “Highway Hi-Fi” – an under-dash phonograph that played vinyl records at a super-slow 16-2/3 revolutions per minute. The slow speed allowed a small disc to pack up to an hour of entertainment on each side. Special mechanical engineering reduced the number of times and distance the needle would skip across the disc as the car drove over bumps in the road.
That’s right, Chrysler once offered a record player for in-car entertainment. The system was meticulously engineered to address all the foibles of trying to play a record in a vehicle including a unique sapphire stylus and weighted tone arm to maintain contact with the record grooves. Ultimately what doomed the Highway Hi-Fi wasn’t the execution but the lack of content. Only the CBS back catalog was made available and the proprietary format – 16-⅔ rpm 7-inch records – meant that buyers couldn’t get the music they wanted. The option was discontinued after the 1958 model year. Image source: Deviant Art