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Highway Hi-Fi

Lawrence Welk and his Chrysler Highway Hi-Fi.

Under the heading of Cool ideas that Failed was the Chrysler Highway Hi-Fi.  Before the 8-track tape deck, the cassette player, the CD player and Sirus was this unique aftermarket record player.  Long the most innovative car maker, Chrysler made this music maker for all its Chrysler cars starting in 1956.  By 1960 it was all but abandoned, having failed to produce the results the engineers wanted

I had one of these in my old 1961 Imperial, and once I purchased Miss Frump, my 1963 Dodge 880, I knew I needed another one.  The pictures below are my Hi-Fi and while I haven't yet really had enough time to restore it, it seems to be in pretty good shape.  I was lucky to find this for a relatively low price as they are extremely rare and expensive, when you can even find them.  They come up on Ebay once in a great while, and when they do there is usually furious bidding for them.   I've seen ones in great shape go as far up as $600-700.  I found mine for under $300, so it was a bargain.  

These are usually a little pitted in the chrome area, but mine is pretty well preserved.  My key latch seems to be a bit broken but it will still serve the purpose and work with reasonable functionality.

Open the front latch and pull out the deck.  There you will see what is essentially a record player.  My unit needs a good scrubbing, grease the ball bearings and probably a new foam insert that can be had from a company that produces replacement items.  If there is a needle it probably needs a new one, but they sell for around $400, so if I can get the red light to work, then that is good enough for car shows.  Problem is its up North with Miss Frump and I'm down here.  It'll have to wait.

The records themselves were made with deep grooves so the needle would stay put.  

Reasons the Highway Hi-Fi failed:

  • Records were manufactured for the older set with artists like Tchaikovsky's Symphony #6, Music of Cole Porter, Romantic Moods, the Music of Victor Herbert among others.  If they would have used Elvis or maybe modern teen music, it may have become essential for younger Chrysler drivers.
  • Even though the stylus was weighted by 2 grams and the grooves were deeper than conventional records, the needle still jumped when the car ran across railroad tracks or bumps in the road.
  • It was an extremely costly add-on to usually already expensive Chrysler cars.
  • Although the records were long playing, it was still cumbersome and dangerous to change records while driving. 
  • When trading cars it was probable you would have to give up the Hi-Fi and the records due to its Chrysler proprietary anchoring.

Miss Frump is hardly in the same class as my Imperial, but she is still neat and unique in her own way, and while others may claim it is like putting a bonnet on a pig, I prefer to think it is subtle make-up for an already classy lady. 


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