Car buffs of a certain age are very familiar with the JC Whitney catalog, chock-full of items to accessorize their automobiles.
Well the Chicago-area company, based in LaSalle, is celebrating its 100th anniversary. To help commemorate that milestone, JC Whitney last week released a fun collection of some strange and colorful items that have been offered for sale on the pages of its catalogs over the years.
"As we celebrate our centennial anniversary, it's only natural to look back at some of the classics found in our catalog," JC Whitney President Shane Evangelist said in a news release. "We found more than a few crazy accessories from the past, especially around the 1960s, (like) turn signal stuffed animals and record players, things that make you shake your head and laugh. But we also found a few hidden gems that were ahead of their time, precursors to today's in-car gizmos."
By combing through past catalogs of the 1950s and 1960s and speaking with auto enthusiasts, the staff at JC Whitney came up with the following ten creative, unusual and just plain bizarre automotive accessories that were once for sale:
Under dashboard record player
Was this an early version of the AUX port? The integrated MP3? No. But it was an interesting idea: hook up a portable record player to the car radio. It played 45s with the claim that it "performs smoothly even over rough roads, rough curves, even during fast starting and stopping." There were also full-size record players available for travel trailers during the '40s and '50s. Vintage sale price in the 1960s: $59.95.
Auto radio phone
Well before the cellular revolution arrived, it took specialized equipment to turn your car, truck or boat into a low-power radio station to conduct business and stay in touch with family. Here was everything you needed, including the transmitter/receiver and antenna to give you a range of up to 10 miles. Unintended benefits included looking like a business mogul or law enforcement officer to passers-by. Vintage sale price in the 1960s for multiple components: $169.
Door Re Me door chime
A music box that plays a song melody when the car door is opened. This accessory offered an easy way to class up your ride … and surprise that special someone. Available in four different versions, including "Ave Maria," "Let Me Call you Sweetheart," the "Anniversary Waltz" and "I Love You Truly." One wonders: Would a modern day version of the Door Re Me chime "Shake it Up?" Vintage sale price in the 1960s: $4.98.
Foot-operated radio switch
Serious drivers want to know: Why move your hands from the wheel to tune the radio, when you can do it with the tap of your foot? And what's the difference between this and today's advanced head's-up display telematics? Vintage sale price in the 1960s: $2.95.
Left-foot accelerator pedal
Give the right foot a rest from all that tiring movement! Ad copy boasted benefits like "Rest the right foot" and "easily install on any make or model car … with or without a clutch." A popular modification for drummers who wanted to practice their footwork while driving. Vintage sale price in the 1960s: $3.98.
In-car coffee maker
A brilliant product that never made it to the big time, this idea came around long before Starbucks was on every corner. This kit served four cups of coffee. For the price of a few tall lattes you received all of the items to percolate, pour and organize your cream and sugar … all while securing the coffee maker while you rushed to work. The perfect accessory for cup holders! Vintage sale price in the 1960s: $17.
Race/sports car recordings
Want classic? The precursor to audiobooks? How about a spoken word biography of Carroll Shelby, or Sir Sterling Moss. You could get it in the JC Whitney catalog and, of course, play them on your onboard record player. Record album recordings of famous races at Le Mans, Monaco or Silverstone were included. Vintage sale price in the 1960s: $5--$5.95.
Anything that has the word "Gyroscope" in the title is sure to get car fanatics dreaming about the scientific possibilities of whizzing widgets. The stabilizers claimed to increase tire life, automatically balance wheels, iron out bumps and improve handling. (Did they do your laundry?) Vintage sale price in the 1960s: $19.95 (set of two).
Fuzzy car muffs
Why? Because cold weather makes people loopy enough to put fuzzy warmers on their cars. What was promoted as a "countrywide rage" featured wrapped fuzzy white fur over rearview mirrors, window visors and car club plaques. It's like driving a polar bear! Today's Boston version would undoubtedly include a snow shovel. Vintage sale price in the 1960s: 79 cents--$1.50.
Winky and friends
Whatever happened to Duchess and Mac? Just like a musical super group, these plush characters enjoyed some success in the JC Whitney catalog until Duchess and Mac left to pursue solo careers in the automotive turn signal and brake light industry. A reunion has been discussed. Winky was sold in the catalog until around 1987. Vintage sale price in the 1960s: $6.95 each.
For more photos, visit JC Whitney's centennial website, 100.jcwhitney.com.