Awesome or Atrocious? 4 Car Accessories that Used to Be Cool
Automakers have always tried to incorporate the latest and greatest gadgets in the cars they make. If you’re old enough to remember a tape deck or an even eight-track player in your car’s dash, though, you know that cutting-edge technology doesn’t always stand the test of time. Here are a few features that were innovative for their time but you won’t likely find in today’s modern vehicles.
1. Pop-Up Headlights
The first car that could wink its lights at you was the Cord 810, which Car and Driver says was introduced in 1936. It was a shift away from the round headlights of the era. In the 1960s, pop-up headlights became increasingly popular on sports cars because they provided unique styling while allowing cues, but they also allowed automakers to get around headlight height regulations. However, if the motor that raised the lights failed, one headlight was left in the raised position — a familiar phenomenon that Car and Driver calls “winking cars.”
The last mass-produced cars with pop-up lights were the 2004 Chevrolet Corvette and 2004 Lotus Esprit, says Car and Driver. Thankfully, regulations on headlights loosened over time, and car designers began incorporating headlights as part of a car’s exterior style.
2. Record Player
While vinyl has made a comeback, most of us could not imagine playing records in our car. But in the 1950s and ’60s, Consumer Reports says you could do exactly that. In 1956, you could get an optional record player in Chrysler, DeSoto, Dodge and Plymouth vehicles.
The system featured a slide-out turntable under the dash, which could be turned on with the flip of a switch. However, Consumer Reports notes they did come with a number of issues, including the distraction of changing discs and the pressure required to keep the record needle in place wearing out the records. In-car record players (and the eight-track tape decks that followed them) were a long way from the satellite radio or wireless connections we see in cars today, but they did help pave the way for new in-dash entertainment options.
3. Third Headlight
The 1948 Tucker Torpedo sedan pushed the boundaries of car tech in its day. And although only 51 cars were ever made, the Tucker pioneered some innovative safety features, according to Smithsonian.com. Known as the “Cyclops Eye,” the Tucker Torpedo featured a third, middle headlight, says the Speedway Motors Museum of American Speed. Whenever the car was turned more than 10 degrees, the headlight would turn on and swivel with the steering wheel to improve visibility around corners.
Despite the sleek design and innovations of the Tucker sedan, the company closed its doors in 1949. The Tucker legend is still strong — Francis Ford Coppola even directed a movie about Preston Tucker — and 47 of those original cars still exist, according to Smithsonian.com.
4. Hidden Gas Caps
Years ago, automakers used to put gas caps at the back of the car, often in stealthy locations, says Jalopnik. Cars like the ’56 Chevy Bel Air had the gas cap hidden behind a taillight, which would swivel out of the way, while numerous cars from the 1960s and ’70s had their fuel fillers located behind the license plate.
Hiding the gas cap in a trick location streamlined the exterior style of these cars, but eventually, it was decided that fuel fillers that pointed to the rear could be dangerous. The problem was that if you got rear-ended, the pipe to the gas tank could break and spill gasoline onto the car and pavement — creating a fire hazard from even a minor fender bender. As a result, Jalopnik notes, today’s gas caps are generally located behind a fuel filler door on your car’s side.
Automakers have to think outside the box in order to develop new features. While the innovations on these cars may not have stood the test of time, the creative force behind them ultimately helped hone the cars that we’re driving today.
Originally published on May 1, 2012.