High-Tech in the 1950′s: HighWay Hi-Fi – Where The Vinyl Meets The Road, Part 4

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From Practical Auto Radio Service and Installation by Jack Greenfield (1960, Gernsback Library Inc.) pg. 152-153:

Highway-Hi-Fi-02The Highway Hi-Fi unit cost almost $200 and generally was available only as an accessory through an authorized automobile distributor. This tended to keep its distribution and use exclusive. In addition, the special records this unit played were not the type available in the neighborhood record store. Nor could these records, once bought, be used inside on the conventional home phonograph. When an owner disposed of his auto, he inevitably had to turn over his record collection with it, unless he took the Highway Hi-Fi set with him (in which case installation in his new car became a problem).

To complicate matters further, Highway Hi-Fi was not an automatic changer but a manual record player. To be sure, the special records it played provided a full 45 minutes to 1 hour of listening per side. At the end of each play, however, it was necessary to pull the unit partially out of its case to gain access to the record, reinsert a new side and manually operate the tone-arm mechanism to switch the turntable on and to engage the stylus in the record groove (in the manner indicated in Fig. 909).

Highway-Hi-Fi-03In addition to all this, Highway Hi-Fi utilized an ac induction motor, incorporating a vibrator power supply into its design to convert the auto dc power to a suitable ac operating power (Fig. 910). (The reader will recall that the electromechanical vibrator is a notorious noise producer, and perhaps has the highest failure rate of all the components used in auto radios.) The owners of Highway Hi-Fi were determined to be a small, exclusive minority, and like all small, exclusive minorities, they were destined to fade away.

Other sources peg the unit’s price at $56.95, FOB New York, with the price of bracket packages ranging from 75 cents for Chryslers to $2.55 for Plymouth and Dodge.

1959 was a vinyl-free year for Chrysler, but they had not given up. They found a new dance partner in RCA, who had plans of their own for auto audio domination. The 1960 model year saw the debut of the RCA “45” Phonograph. No odd, one-off format this time — the “45” played normal, everyday 45-rpm 7-inchers. Probably not so coincidentally, this was a format that RCA had an interest in pushing. But regardless, you could now pick up any single in the record shop, hop into your car and give it a spin while you go for a spin.

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Some sources list the “45” as officially available only in Plymouths and DeSotos, but as any Chrysler fan will tell you, nothing’s impossible with a Mopar. Meaning; if it was available in one division, it would be no problem to order it up, no matter what the nameplate — even if it wasn’t listed in the catalog. The original price is said to have been $39.55 for the phonograph and 60 cents for the bracket set.

Read Part 5

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