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Old School Car Accessories

Cars didn’t always have all the features we experience today, so some interesting accessories were needed. Here’s some old school car accessories!

Today’s Drivers Have It Easy

2021 Ford Expedition infotainment center - ford.com
2021 Ford Expedition infotainment center - ford.com

When driving around in a modern car, it’s easy to forget how luxurious the space is even on the most basic of today’s models. We’ve got multi-zone climate controls, heated and ventilated seats, premium entertainment systems with touchscreens, turn-by-turn navigation, and enough advanced technology that the car basically can drive itself. Things weren’t so accommodating back in the early automotive days. You’d be lucky if your car came with basic heating or air conditioning. But there were some crafty work arounds that people could install on their cars back then. Here are some old school car accessories that are known as antiques to today’s youth. Have you had any experience with any of these back in the day?

Seat Belts

1928 Ford Model A - carsforsale.com
1928 Ford Model A - carsforsale.com

Yeah, that’s right. Seat belts weren’t always standard equipment found in early cars. That sounds ridiculous I know, but what’s even more shocking is that once some brands did end up adding standard lap belts, customers would request they be uninstalled! However, there were some safety conscious drivers back then that would have had this old car accessory installed on their Ford Model A or Desoto Sedan.

Car Cooler

Car Cooler - Waylon Wire's Old Iron on youtube.com
Car Cooler - Waylon Wire's Old Iron on youtube.com

Air conditioning was considered a luxury feature for some old cars. A lot of people back then relied on open windows to really feel any kind of relief from those hot summer days. There were plenty of items to help remedy this problem out there though. Wind deflectors that would angle air into the partially open window, electric fans could be installed on the dash, or my favorite option – the car cooler. This old school car accessory mounted to a closed window and acted as a swamp cooler. The cylindrical gadget would catch incoming air and generate cool air through the help of evaporating water found within it. The hotter it was outside, the more cool air could be generated. It worked great for drier areas like New Mexico, but living in a humid climate would typically just intensify the muggy feeling.

Car Heaters

HaDees car heating ad - ply33 on forums.aaca.org
HaDees car heating ad - ply33 on forums.aaca.org

On a similar climate control front to AC, interior heaters were not always common for older models. Aftermarket retailers jumped on the niche and provided a couple of different car accessories to help keep passengers moderately warmer when the snow fell. A lot of these old car heating accessories relied on the cars radiator to create a heating element. There were those that utilized a fan to disperse heated air, and there were unique contraptions that ran hot water from the engine through stylized piping across the front of the vehicle to generate heat.

Window Demister

Holden Screen Heater - classics.honestjohn.co.uk
Holden Screen Heater - classics.honestjohn.co.uk

You thought dealing with frosted or iced over windows was hard today? Imagine having no defrost options whatsoever. That was the reality that car owners faced back in the day. Thankfully, some aftermarket manufactures in the ‘50s and ‘60s came up with the window demister. These were essentially heated clear plastic that could be adhered to the windshields and would run connections to the engine bay for a heating element. These weren’t really a lifelong solution, as they’d eventually quit working or they’d fall apart being mostly composed of plastic. Plus, these stick-on demisters were a “one size fits all” type of deal, so a perfect fit and completely heated window was never really in the cards.

Exterior Sun Visor

1957 Chevrolet 3100 - carsforsale.com
1957 Chevrolet 3100 - carsforsale.com

This is an old school car accessory I wouldn’t mind making a comeback. That classic sun visor over the front windshield was a pretty common car accessory during the ‘50s and early ‘60s. It didn’t really help with aerodynamics and probably isn’t as effective as the sun blocking methods used today, but there’s no denying that those visors looked pretty cool. Classics like the Chevrolet Task Force or Mercury Monterey don’t look quite right without a sun visor attached to them.

Dashboard Compass

Classic MG with dashboard compass
Classic MG with dashboard compass

We can rely on built-in GPS navigation or ask Siri for directions when we get lost in modern cars, but early drivers only had a paper map, basic area knowledge, and a dashboard compass. The dashboard compass was essentially a labeled piece of plastic floating in some clear fluid that’d provide the driver with what direction they were heading. It made for a simple yet effective little car accessory. Hopefully drivers didn’t end up with one that was cheaply filled with water, because having to wait for a compass to thaw isn’t helping anyone.

Curb Feelers

Curb Feelers - keiser31 on forums.aaca.org
Curb Feelers - keiser31 on forums.aaca.org

Rearview cameras, tons of sensors all around the body, and even the capability to let the car park itself have made parallel parking a breeze. Curb rash is virtually nonexistent with all the technology found in modern vehicles. Cars back in the 1950s had their own handy technology for parallel parking too though. Introducing Curb Feelers. These old school car gadgets were composed of a long spring or some metal wires that would jut out from the fender. They acted as a warning to the driver by making a scraping sound when they came too close to the curb.

Brodie Knob

Brodie Knob - oreillyauto.com
Brodie Knob - oreillyauto.com

I’m sure there are plenty of these still being used on old farm trucks today, but the Brodie Knob isn’t as popular as it once was. The Brodie Knob is a spinning, single handed grip addition to the steering wheel that helped with making adjustments using one hand and opened up the use of the free hand for stuff like shifting. It was also helpful in the time before power steering, providing a sturdy grip on the wheel to make unassisted turning maneuvers more manageable. The Brodie Knob was also notorious for being unsafe during emergency responses and was known to hit the driver in the hands or arms when the wheel circled back around.

Car Phones

Car phone - benzworld.org
Car phone - benzworld.org

The emergence of the cell phone has all but destroyed the existence of the car phone. It used to be such an outlandish concept that it was commonly portrayed as highly advanced technology in famous hero cars like KITT or 007’s DB5. Only the most elite had car phones built into their rides. Think a suit wearing Wall Street type in the back of a 1990 Lincoln Continental. While the ‘90s is about where we’d think of the time of the car phone, it technically goes back farther than you’d think. The first example of this old school car accessory dates back to 1946 when the Bell Telephone Company introduced a car phone that worked using radio waves.

Cassette Tape Adapter

Tape adaptor - Technology Connections on youtube.com
Tape adaptor - Technology Connections on youtube.com

This might hurt for some Millennials out there, but the cassette tape adapter is considered ancient technology to some of today’s younger drivers. This car accessory helped people jam out to their CDs or plug in their iPod to an older car radio that featured a cassette player. The emergence of Bluetooth, Sirius XM, and music streaming platforms have pretty much killed the cassette tape adapter. Feel old yet? I know I do…

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Jesse McGraw

Jesse McGraw brings his life-long car obsession into his writing. A fun childhood that involved growing up around race tracks, working on a rusty ‘99 Dodge Dakota held together by zip ties, and collecting Hot Wheels developed into a strong appreciation for automotive history. If there is an old, obscure, or rare car, he wants to know about it. With a bachelor's degree in Web Development & Design from Dakota State University, Jesse can talk shop about car or computer specs, focusing on classic cars, imports, and car culture.

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