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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High-Tech in the 1950’s: HighWay Hi-Fi – Where The Vinyl Meets The Road, Part 1

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Hi-Fi-1956-Imperial-01Hey, vinyl fanatics, have you ever wished you could listen to your records while cruising in your car? From the mid-50’s to the early 60’s, Chrysler made this dream a reality with two generations of in-car phonographs. The original Highway Hi-Fi hit the streets in Autumn of 1955, for model year 1956 — a factory option in the full Chrysler Corporation line of vehicles: Chrysler, Dodge, Plymouth, DeSoto and Imperial. I’ll try to stay out of the way and let the past speak for itself.

From Chrysler Press Release — for use October 12, 1955:

For 1956 Imperial introduces the high fidelity record player. Small, neat and compact, the unit measures only slightly more than four inches high and less than a foot wide. It is mounted under the instrument panel, and plays through the radio speaker.

Each side of the 7-inch records is good for between 45 minutes and a full hour of uninterrupted play. A choice of popular and classical recordings, as well as recorded readings, is available. A storage space at the bottom of the unit holds five records. These are held flat by light spring pressure which prevents them from warping.

The records are of true high fidelity quality and the frequency range of the record player reaches 10,000 cycles per second. The door of the player opens downward and the turntable chassis can then be pulled out for easy record changing. The records are centered over the spindle by stops at the rear of the turntable.

An elastic three-point suspension cushions the turntable against road shock, and is designed to pivot about a point on the arc swept by the stylus as it traverses the record. This reduces turntable motion to a minimum in the vicinity of the stylus.

The pickup arm, though conventional in appearance, moves only in a horizontal plane. Hence, there is no problem of the arm itself bouncing when the car travels a rough road. Only the stylus can move vertically, and this is spring-loaded to hold the point against the record with a pressure of two grams.

The pickup arm is also counter-weighted, so that its center-of-mass is at the pivot point. This offsets the tendency of the arm to swing in response to fast acceleration, heavy braking and hard turning. In repeated tests of the record player, mounted in a car and driven over various kinds of road surfaces, it has proved extremely difficult to jar the arm off the record or even make the stylus jump a groove.

From 1956 Plymouth Sales Brochure:

Hi-Fi-1956-Imperial-02Highway Hi-Fi is the greatest motoring entertainment feature since the car radio. This is a true high-fidelity phonograph. Non-breakable seven-inch records give up to a full hour of uninterrupted play on each side.

While you’re driving, you can operate the Highway Hi-Fi with complete safety…no need to take your eyes from the road. Just pull out the drawer that’s within easy reach of your right hand. Press the tab and swing the stylus arm and it automatically positions itself on the record. When record has finished, press the tab when you wish and swing the arm to “off” position.

A wide selection of records is available. Classical music by the world’s greatest artists. Hits from the Broadway stage. And recorded readings by stars of the legitimate theatre.

Hi-Fi-1956-Imperial-03Highway Hi-Fi gives superb performance no matter how rough the road. You can drive over railroad tracks or the bumpiest dirt road — even around sharp corners without needle jump. Rugged testing has proved that it’s almost impossible to jar the arm off the record.

Be sure to see and play exciting new Highway Hi-Fi — exclusive with Plymouth in the lowest-price field!


Read Part 2

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