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Chrysler's in-car phonograph

A dewy-eyed look at early advances in car tech and a variation on the first DRM.

The Columbia phonograph in a 1956 DeSoto
UAW-DaimlerChrysler National Training Center

Not much surprises us nowadays on the CNET Car Tech channel. In this age of mobile, voice-activated, wireless, digital, high-definition, mesh-networked, in-car infotainment, we hardly bat an eyelid as torrents of new automotive gadgets comes down the pike.

The forerunner to the auxiliary-input jack UAW-DaimlerChrysler National Training Center

But here's something that made us sit up and take notice: an in-car phonograph. According to an article on the UAW-DaimlerChrysler National Training Center Web site, these record players--made by Columbia and offered as options on 1956 Chrysler, DeSoto, Dodge, and Plymouth models--could handle 45-speed records as well as 7-inch records in the new 16-2/3 format. The players were installed on a slide-out turntable beneath the dash and hidden behind a drop-down door that could be opened at the push of a button. Way before people were banging on about multimedia convergence, drivers could switch between the radio tuner and the phonograph with the flip of a switch and use the same volume and equalizer controls for both sources.

Alas, problems abounded with the system: Records skipped as the car encountered uneven surfaces. And an exclusive content arrangement with Columbia meant that drivers could listen only to artists signed to Columbia Records. According to the UAW Web site, the option initially lasted for only one model year, and despite resurgence a couple of year later, it was finally abandoned.

While we flatter ourselves that we might have been able to anticipate some of these problems (had we been born), we salute the pioneers of Car Tech.