Why in-car record players became a historic flop

50s 11/10/2018

In October 1955, The Chrysler Corporation launched high fidelity record players for their 1956 line-up of cars.

Called the Highway Hi-Fi, it was one of the first pieces of technology that gave cars the ability to play vinyl. More importantly, it became one of the first devices that allowed drivers to listen to music without the need of a broadcast signal. Understandably, this invention didn't thrill the radio industry.

However, there were some restrictions to the Highway Hi-Fi. The unit itself measured about four inches high and less than a foot wide - meaning 33⅓ rpm records at 12 inches in diameter were too big for the car and the smaller 45 rpm size didn't play as long.

So it should come as no surprise that the Highway Hi-Fi was short-lived as Chrysler only offered it for two years. Its demise is suggested to be the hefty price tag of the player, a cost that would equate to $2600 NZD today. 

This doesn't count the additional cost and constraint of buying records exclusively from Columbia Records that made the specific 7-inch discs in 16⅔ rpm format.

Car record players soon made way for the next new crazy piece of technology: the eight-track tape deck. Chrysler introduced it as an option in its 1968 cars.