Money Matters Team

Cool car gadgets

By Money Matters Team 10/01/2013

We take a look at some of the original in-car inventions that delighted road users of yesteryear.

Today engineers at Google are creating cars that can drive themselves, but in the past, drivers were just as addicted to new and ingenious devices as their modern counterparts. Here we take a look at some of the original in-car inventions that delighted road users of yesteryear.

Car radio

Image by Franci Bourgouin via Flickr

In-car entertainment dates to a romantic evening in 1929. Pals William Lear and Elmer Wavering drove their girlfriends out to watch the sunset at a popular beauty spot overlooking the Mississippi River in Illinois. Wouldn’t it be nicer, they thought, if we could listen to music in the car? Thus, they came up with a radio that would work despite the interference caused by the car’s engine.

When they took their creation to a radio convention in Chicago, their idea caught the imagination of one Paul Galvin. So keen was Galvin to develop the idea that in a bid to convince his bank manager to finance the project, he installed a radio in the bank manager's car. Unfortunately, within half an hour, it set the vehicle alight. But Galvin persisted, bringing to the world in 1930 the first, ‘Motorola’ mass-production car radio.

Bike radio

Image by HuffyHistory via Wikimedia Commons

We may be talking cars, but we just couldn't ignore this one. The 1955 Huffy Radio Bike was every paperboy’s dream; but it had its drawbacks. While the fake fuel tank radio looked superb, tuning it while riding was a recipe for disaster.

The battery technology of the time was a bit of a let-down too. Sealed unit batteries had not yet been invented and zinc-carbon cells didn’t last. Carting a heavy, lead-acid battery around on the back of a bike was dangerous, as well as hard work.

In-car sound system

Chrysler was the first major car manufacturer to have a go at installing a complete sound system into a car. The year was 1955 and cassette tapes were still well over a decade away. The solution? An in-car record player. A slide-out unit under the dashboard could carry around 45 minutes of music on vinyl discs. The system was a disaster. Even the super soft, wallowing suspension of the 1950s cars wasn’t enough to stop the needle jumping every time the driver encountered a pothole.

1930s sat nav

Image by Davecito via Flickr

Of all the pre-electronic age car gadgets, perhaps the most ingenious was the attempt in 1930 of a company called Iter-Avto to introduce a rolling navigation system. A scrolling paper map was housed in a metal box on the dashboard. The scrolling mechanism was connected by a cable to the speedometer, so that the portion of the map visible advanced with the progress of the driver. Go off-route, though, and unlike a modern-day navigation aid, you’d have to pull over and insert a new map.

Drive-in movie theatre

Image by Rutlo via Flickr

The drive-in movie theatre is not necessarily a car gadget, but is certainly an iconic part of car culture in 1950s and 60s America. At their peak, there were 4,000 of them across the United States. The original idea was the brainchild of chemical company executive Richard Hollingshead Junior. In 1928, he experimented with a screen nailed to a tree in his driveway and a projector mounted on his car bonnet. Fast forward to the present and September 2012, when Smart unveiled their new concept car complete with – you guessed it – a movie projector housed in the bonnet... a real case of ‘back to the future’.

Modern day gadgetry

Back to the present, it could be said that in-car entertainment now reflects that of a long-haul passenger plane. Journeys can be spent watching the latest DVD or playing your favourite computer game, if you’re not driving of course. For the music lovers, catching up on what’s new on Spotify will make that trip even quicker. With all these valuable gadgets, it's worth considering whether your car insurance policy will cover them. They’re expensive enough without having to fork out for replacements.


This Money Matters post aims to be informative and engaging. Though it may include tips and information, it does not constitute advice and should not be used as a basis for any financial decisions. Sainsbury's Bank accepts no responsibility for the opinions and views of external contributors and the content of external websites included within this post. Some links may take you to another Sainsbury's Bank page. All information in this post was correct at date of publication.

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