They really don't make factory options like they used to
I'm always interested in zany product design, so I was delighted to see an article by Sam Foley on MSN Autos on some rather outré factory-installed options that emerged from the fertile minds in Detroit over the years. Here's Sam's excellent list:
Highway Hi-Fi. This was a Chrysler accessory in 1956. Alas, we were a Ford family, but this wasn't the sort of thing my father would have gone for, anyway. Who needs a hi-fi when you can listen to the Red Sox, sing "When It's Too Hot for Comfort, and You Can't Get No Ice Cream Cones," or holler "Bab-a-loo-ey" out the windows when you drove through Worcester's Lincoln tunnel.
A hi-fi in the car. On one hand, having a built-in, slide-out record player isn't all that different than having a CD player, other than that, with a CD player, your choice is only as finite as your CD collection, while Highway Hi-Fi selections were a bit limited. And, since Highway Hi-Fi only supported special purpose seven-inch disks, you couldn't play your 78's, 45's or 33's on it.
What choices did you get?
Let's see, egg-heads could have served up Tchaikovsky's Sixth. For Broadway fans, there was the score for Pajama Game. (How many times could you listen to "Steam Heat"?) And Gene Autry singing "Davy Crockett"? I was not aware that old Gene, the Singin' Cowboy, had covered that one. I believe that the version that my brother Tom played incessantly - and I do mean incessantly - on our little kiddy record player was sung by none other than Fess Parker, who played Davy. (And, great, now I'll have 'killed him a bar, when he was only three' running pell-mell through my skull for the next forty days and forty nights.)
Lack of selection wasn't the only problem with this feature. Although the in-car record player was designed not to skip, it did.
Personally, I would have preferred listening to the Albanian Hour on WNEB, or to an endless loop of Kate Smith belting out "God Bless America."
Oldsmobile Car Watch This honey of an option took the old clock on the dashboard and attached it to the steering wheel, where it would wind itself every time you turned the wheel. Unfortunately, these clock/watches were costly and didn't keep time as accurately as those embedded clocks that ran off the car battery - plus they were hard to read, unless you were on the straightaway. Despite all this, it was adopted by several brands, including VW. But that was in 1951, and by the time the first Beetle's starting showing up on our shores a few years later, the self-winders were history.
Auto Tents I guess I was out of the country when GM brought this out in 1973. First available for a Chevy Vega, a tent that opens out of your hatchback or from the back of your truck has been adopted by a number of makes and models over the years. I can't do any better than Sam Foley's commentary on this one:
In retrospect, it makes perfect sense that a company on the long road to bankruptcy would try to develop the perfect way to live out of your car.
Electric Shaver In 1957, Ford slapped a part number on a Remington electric razor with a cigarette lighter adapter on it. What self-respecting man in a gray flannel suit wouldn't have wanted to shave off that 2 o'clock shadow before calling on Acme Industries? And it seems only fair to let a guy freshen up in his auto, when, way back in 1939, Chevrolet offered a Mary Pickford Makeup Tray.
No need to pull over to powder your nose, you could do it right there in the car. Note that our Mary is applying her maquillage from the passenger seat, which is where American women sat when girls were girls and men were men. That is, unless Mr. and Mrs. were going out to dinner with another couple. In which case, the men sat in front, and the women sat in the back seat. Without having access to the mirror - let alone the full makeup kit available to them -when the couples got to the restaurant, the ladies would immediately decamp to the ladies room to reapply their lipstick - the better to leave a greasy red lip imprint on a highball glass.
The Swing-Away Steering Wheel is something that I actually do seem to remember. Could we actually have had this option in one of our Fords? Not if it were extra, but I do have some recall of seeing people swing their steering wheel the hell out of their way so that they could get out of the car more easily.
I'm still getting buy with my 1980's formica kitchen counters, but if I decided to go for a 2009 Maybach Landaulet, I will definitely opt for the Granite Trim.
After all, I roll in New England, where it gets icy and wet, and I'll bet that bit of extra weight really helps the Maybach hold the road. And so what if, when it comes to collisions, it's even more capable of crushing the other guy than a normal road-hog. It's MY safety first, isn't it? Out of my way, Smartcar.
And, let's face it, if you're driving a Maybach, you've got a little 'got it, flaunt it' in you, and what better way to underline that than with a granite trimmed car that probably gets 1.2 MPH. (Maybe Maybach will borrow "Like a Rock" for the advertising that I just know they'll be doing on the shows I watch, now that the economy's bottoming out.)
The Airscarf. When I was a kid, it was definitely worth fighting for a window. But the only window worth fighting for was the one on the passenger side of the back seat. If you were stuck on the driver's side, behind my father, you couldn't open the window, even a crack, even if it was 92 degrees and humid, and we were stuck behind a road-tarring crew on our way to Nantasket Beach. That's because - cue my sibs - "Daddy will get a stiff neck."
Thus, I would have loved to be able to offer my father the option of the Airscarf, which "pumps warm air through the seat's headrest." Ah, bliss. Alas, it's only been available since 2004 - 33 years too late for my father. And, alas, it's only available on Mercedes convertibles. My father was a Ford man, all the way. Plus a convertible? What an insanely impractical car to have in New England. The only one we knew who drove a convertible was my cousin Barbara.
One of the highpoints of my childhood was the day of my sister Kathleen's confirmation, when Babs took Kath and me for a ride - top down -in her pale turquoise convertible. We drove down past Our Lady of the Angels to "buzz" (Barbara's word) our cousin Ann Kelly. (It was a double stand-out day for Kath. Because our parish was so large, kids didn't get individual confirmation sponsors. Instead, an esteemed couple from the parish was selected. Kath's year, it was my parents, so she got the distinction of having her own, personal sponsors - Aunt Margaret and Uncle Ralph, parents of the insanely impractical Babs who, in real life, is neither insane nor impractical, convertible aside.)
Starlight Headliner I had to read this one through twice, and I still don't really get it, so I'll let Sam do the honors here:
Luxury is Rolls Royce's reason for being, leaving one to question what could the factory offer to its clientele that it doesn't already include? The cars come standard with motorized, retractable Spirit of Ecstasy hood ornaments and pop-out Teflon-coated umbrellas hidden in secret door compartments, for goodness sake. How about a recreation of the night sky using hand-strung fiber-optic waveguide lights in the headliner? It's true. This $8,400 option can be customized to any layout the customer desires. If a $380,000 car isn't enough of a statement of one's power and influence, then you can rearrange the heavens for your amusement.
Apparently, I just don't spend enough time in and around Rolls Royces.
Aroma Diffuser There are few things I hate more than getting into a cab and spotting the tree-shaped air freshener dangling from the rear-view mirror. Or, even worse, an open scent bottle of something that smells like vanilla mixed with patchouli oil. Gag-or-ama. So, even if I lived in Japan, I don't think I'd want a "scent diffuser" diffusing chemical cinnamon stick, piney woods, and strawberry delight aromas. As if we're not taking in enough pollutants already.
With that, I'll thank Sam Foley for his delightful round up of options that truly underscore the meaning of the word.
Nothing as flamboyant as these options, but I did post a while back on in-car computing.
And I want to send a little virtual waft from the Mercedes airscarf to my sister Trish who sent me a link to the MSN article.