High-Tech in the 1950′s: HighWay Hi-Fi – Where The Vinyl Meets The Road, Part 2

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56 De Sotos were equipped with hi-fi record player for the enjoyment of their owners.

HI-FI ON HIGHWAY: Owners of ’56 DeSotos will be able to listen to a full hour of uninterrupted high-fidelity music right in their cars, the company announced recently.

DeSoto is introducing Highway Hi-Fi, a record player which operates through the car radio as another Chrysler Corporation “first” in automotive luxury.

Forty-five minutes to one full hour of continuous play are featured on each side of the 7-inch records. A choice of classical and popular recordings, and even reading of selected subjects, are available for listening pleasure. A set of 35 recordings will be available with the optional record player.

The exceptional fidelity was designed to compensate for the normal traffic sounds of the road. The Highway Hi-Fi turntable is mounted just below the right center of the instrument panel. It is isolated from all shock by a three point suspension of soft sponge rubber.

Highway Hi-Fi was especially developed over a period of years for Chrysler Corp., by the Columbia Broadcasting System Laboratories. The player is built by CBS-Columbia and the special records are pressed by Columbia Records.

Those who invest in one of the Highway Hi-Fi players might give a thought to improving their auto radio for hi-fi reception.

A few inexpensive changes can extend the audible range of reception considerably on most sets. The most common change over is replacing the coupling condensers to the audio output tubes with larger sizes to extend bass response.

Most good radio service technicians can take care of this for you.

From Practical Auto Radio Service and Installation by Jack Greenfield (1960, Gernsback Library Inc.) pg. 152:

automobile-phonograph-01In 1955, one of America’s major auto manufacturers introduced the first “Highway Hi-Fi” set — a phonograph designed especially for use in that firm’s 1956 model autos (Fig. 908). Highway Hi-Fi was an oddity. After the 45 — 33 1/3 — 78-rpm confusion of 1948, along came the 16 2/3-rpm unit to add to the jumble. Oddity is especially appropriate when one considers that the music this phonograph was to play was on a special 7-inch disc with a standard center hole (not 45-rpm size) and cut 550 grooves to the inch (twice that of a conventional 33 1/3-rpm LP record). It required a super-special 0.25-mil stylus (today’s stereo styli are available from 0.5 to 0.7 mil) at a stylus pressure of 2 grams.

So if you were to find one of these records today, you probably wouldn’t be able to play it on a normal turntable without causing damage. A note on the record sleeve warned, “This record is made for use only on the Highway Hi-Fi player in automobiles. It should not be played on other machines equipped with standard or microgroove needles.”

Where did one find these unique records at the time? The original owner’s brochure explained all that and more in classic mid-century marketing prose.

Read Part 3


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