Highway Hi-Fi
M   U   S   I   C       O   N       T   H   E       R   O   A  D


Between 1956 and 1960, Chrysler offered a  phonograph mounted under the dash for the better models such as the Plymouth Fury, Chrysler New Yorker, Dodge Royal Lancer, Imperial, and of course the 300 series. The Highway Hi-Fi, as it was known,  promised 45 minutes of music and entertainment on specially constructed 16 rpm discs, all provided from Columbia Records' vast library of classical music, children's records, and  radio plays. The phonograph stylus and tone arm were mounted  inside an outer tone arm shell, so sharp bumps and jolts kept the needle in its specific groove. Uh, right. Ever hear of Bendix Fuel Injection, guys?

You could put a record on the turntable, start your car and drive about 30 miles ( 80 in a 300, they went faster) while your Highway Hi-Fi played the record you selected. Unfortunately, if you wanted to listen to another record you had to stop the car, slide the record off the turntable, flip it over or get a second record, start the turntable, put the stylus back on the record, and drive merrily down the road wondering why Patti Page sounded like she had hiccups.

Highway Hi-Fi was developed by CBS laboratories. Peter Carl Goldmark was born in Budapest, Hungary in 1906. He studied physics at the University of Vienna, where he received his B.S. in 1929 and his Ph.D. in 1931. He began his career working for a radio company in England. In 1933, he emigrated to the United States and worked as a construction engineer until 1936, when he joined CBS as Chief Engineer of the Television Department. At CBS, Goldmark created  the first commercial color television system. His system used a rotating red, green and blue disk. He conducted experiments with the system from the top of the Chrysler building in New York in 1940. King Kong was gone by then, so it was safe to work in tall buildings again.

Goldmark claims that the Highway Hi-Fi phonographs were developed for specific sizes and models of Chryslers. When they went into production the units were installed by dealers, and Goldmark was shocked to learn that dealers were installing them in the wrong types of cars. And, of course, since bumps affected those cars differently, the phonographs didn't work correctly.

If you wanted to swap the Highway Hi-Fi into your Pontiac or Ford, get out your tool kit; the Highway Hi-Fi output was attached to your audio amplifier, making it difficult to change without taking the entire radio out of the car. Chrysler made some adjustments to the product, including an option to play standard 45's, but by 1960 its car phonograph option was discontinued. I guess they figured you wouldn't be in any mood to listen to opera after changing the plugs in your 300F.

RCA Victor also offered a car phonograph, the Victrola, and this one played standard 45's. To make sure their product could be used in almost every car, RCA convinced several aftermarket car radio manufacturers to add phono jacks to their radios to make installation of their car Victrola easier.

The RCA player was the model AP-1,  introduced in November 1960, and it could play fourteen 45-rpm records automatically.  The unit had a storage compartment towards the bottom  where up to 14 records were  pushed up on the spindle. The records stayed on the spindle the same as with other 45 players. The player played the bottom record on the stack first. When the record was finished, the tone arm moved out of the way and the record  dropped off the spindle into the storage area. The tone arm then came  back to play the new bottom record. According to their owners, it worked quite well.

The Consumer Reports testing lab noted that the RCA car phonograph's stylus "did not jump the grooves even when the car was moving at various speeds over broken pavement, cobblestones, and deep holes," because the needle was using an extremely high tracking force. The drawback to this was excessive wear to the records. The  RCA "45" only lasted through the 1961 model year. 
Some sources list the "45" as officially available only in Plymouths and De Sotos, but if it was available in one division, it would probably be no problem to order it for any marque,  even if it wasn't listed in the catalog. The original price is said to have been $39.55 for the phonograph and 60 cents for the bracket set.

Another technology company, Phillips / Norelco, created the Auto Mignon, a single play 45 car phonograph which the company boasted could be attached to any car radio, unlike the more popular Filet Mignon, which could not. You could slide your 45 into a narrow slot in the front of the player, similar to today's car CD units. But this player had many drawbacks;  along with a record wrecking high tracking force, you could only play one record at a time. Hey, stop complaining and turn on the radio. It was a stupid idea in the first place.

The  car phonograph experiments ended when Earl "Madman" Muntz and his 4-track stereo (precursor to the 8-track tape) became a much more viable option for portable recorded music. As the record companies produced 8-track tapes of popular recording artists, 45's returned to the home stereo system.

From Chrysler Press Release -- for use October 12, 1955:

For 1956 Imperial introduces the high fidelity record player. Small, neat and compact, the unit measures only slightly more than four inches high and less than a foot wide. It is mounted under the instrument panel, and plays through the radio speaker.

Each side of the 7-inch records is good for between 45 minutes and a full hour of uninterrupted play. A choice of popular and classical recordings, as well as recorded readings, is available. A storage space at the bottom of the unit holds five records. These are held flat by light spring pressure which prevents them from warping.

The records are of true high fidelity quality and the frequency range of the record player reaches 10,000 cycles per second. The door of the player opens downward and the turntable chassis can then be pulled out for easy record changing. The records are centered over the spindle by stops at the rear of the turntable.

An elastic three-point suspension cushions the turntable against road shock, and is designed to pivot about a point on the arc swept by the stylus as it traverses the record. This reduces turntable motion to a minimum in the vicinity of the stylus.

The pickup arm, though conventional in appearance, moves only in a horizontal plane. Hence, there is no problem of the arm itself bouncing when the car travels a rough road. Only the stylus can move vertically, and this is spring-loaded to hold the point against the record with a pressure of two grams.

The pickup arm is also counterweighted, so that its center-of-mass is at the pivot point. This offsets the tendency of the arm to swing in response to fast acceleration, heavy braking and hard turning. In repeated tests of the record player, mounted in a car and driven over various kinds of road surfaces, it has proved extremely difficult to jar the arm off the record or even make the stylus jump a groove.


From 1956 Plymouth Sales Brochure:

Highway Hi-Fi is the greatest motoring entertainment feature since the car radio. This is a true high-fidelity phonograph. Non-breakable seven-inch records give up to a full hour of uninterrupted play on each side.

While you're driving, you can operate the Highway Hi-Fi with complete safety...no need to take your eyes from the road. Just pull out the drawer that's within easy reach of your right hand. Press the tab and swing the stylus arm and it automatically positions itself on the record. When record has finished, press the tab when you wish and swing the arm to "off" position.

A wide selection of records is available. Classical music by the world's greatest artists. Hits from the Broadway stage. And recorded readings by stars of the legitimate theatre.

Highway Hi-Fi gives superb performance no matter how rough the road. You can drive over railroad tracks or the bumpiest dirt road -- even around sharp corners without needle jump. Rugged testing has proved that it's almost impossible to jar the arm off the record.

Be sure to see and play exciting new Highway Hi-Fi -- exclusive with Plymouth in the lowest-price field!


From Original Highway Hi-Fi Owner's Brochure:


Highway Hi-Fi is the startling new development for motoring enjoyment. It gives the motorist a delightful traveling companion that will entertain with music and the spoken word. Highway Hi-Fi, the most unique advancement since the automobile radio, enables the car-owner to listen to his favorite classical recording, the tops in popular music, drama, children's stories -- indeed, he can select from an across-the-board listing of world famous artists performing their specialties. The modern motorist may now program the entertainment he wants as easily as tuning in a radio.


After you have played and enjoyed the six records you receive with the Highway Hi-Fi instrument, you will want to add to your collection. In this brochure you will find a listing of the initial library from which you may choose, an array of the finest in hi-fi sound, a fitting complement to the Highway Hi-Fi record player.

Simply check off the ones you desire on the order blank enclosed and mail it. The records will be shipped prepaid if your check or money order accompanies your order. Postage and C.O.D. charges will be added to the price of the records if you prefer that method of shipment.

NOTE: For regular information on records to be added to the Highway Hi-Fi Library in the future, make certain that you fill out and mail the Registration Card enclosed.


The records designed for the Highway Hi-Fi are precision-made of the finest materials known to the industry. Like any other quality product, reasonable care should be taken in their use. They should be handled by the edges and occasionally wiped clean with a soft, slightly damp cloth in the event that dust collects on their surfaces. When not in use, the record should always be kept in its protective sleeve and stored in the compartment under the machine or in the specially designed carrying case you can order separately to house your growing library.

Like any high fidelity instrument, the care of the stylus is of prime importance. Although the specially designed pick-up and arm permit only a two-gram stylus or needle pressure against the record, and wear, therefore, is negligible, you may wish to replace the stylus after long use or accidental damage. They may be ordered from the same source as the records for $2.50 each.

From 1960 Plymouth Sales Brochure,
The Solid Plymouth 1960 pg. 23:

How many miles do you get to a stack of 45s?

Music to while away the miles? You can choose between Plymouth's Push-Button De Luxe radio at a truly low price, or a new Hi-Fi radio with push-buttons that pull in stations that are states away with a sound that compares well with a living room console.

And you can enjoy, if you will, your own favorite phonograph records from home. This is another feature you will not be able to get in any other low-price car this year. To make it possible in Plymouth, RCA perfected an unusual automatic record player that fits handsomely within reach, right under Plymouth's instrument panel. This RCA Victor "45" record player handles your standard 45 rpm records smoothly and safely. It plays up to 14 of them consecutively -- about two hours of uninterrupted music of your own choosing. As the records play, the automatic changer stacks and stores them for you. The storage space actually holds many more than 14 records, so you can change the repertoire after each stack if you enjoy your records as much as we suspect you might.