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Posted on Fri, Oct 16, 2009 : 9:05 a.m.

Chrysler record players and the potato car

By Laura Bien

With automakers now rolling out a range of 2010 models, today's "Tidbits" takes a peek at offbeat automotive snippets of the past.

In 1956-57, Chrysler experimented with installing record players in cars. In the first year, 3,685 buyers opted for this novelty; in the second (and final) year of the program, only 675 did.

"The needle on that system came down from above onto the record and one of the chief complaints was that the needle jumped when the car went over bumps," said the May 3, 1965 Ypsilanti Press.

"In 1960-61, Chrysler used a different type record player which was installed in the glove compartment. In this unit, the needle was pointed upward and the record was lowered to it, thus reducing the amount of distortion. The system never really caught on and was dropped."

The article also details the exciting new development of cigar-box-sized 8-track players, to appear in 1966 Ford cars. Motorola made the players, RCA provided the music, and the Lear Jet Corporation "set up a Detroit plant to build tape cartridges and make tapes."

Chrysler's automotive record player probably worked best while driving at slow speeds, but sometimes slowness was a problem. In the summer of 1921, the Ann Arbor Automobile Club petitioned City Council to increase downtown speeds from 10 to 15 miles per hour and from 15 to 20 miles on the city's outskirts. Quoted in the Ypsilanti Daily Press, the club said "the slow speed has two evil results: it tends to congestion and to law breaking." The group pointed out that the higher proposed speeds conformed to Michigan state law that mandated 15 mph in cities' business sections and 20 mph in residential areas.

"City Attorney Bonisteel, who was present," added the paper, "told the auto people that they would find the common council fair-minded on the proposition. 'Present your arguments for conformity to the state law, regulating traffic in cities, and I think the probabilities are that they will adopt your view'."

With cars speeding up, it was necessary to ensure safety, but Ypsilanti's efforts to regulate traffic were improvisatory, as the December 20, 1930 Ypsilanti Daily Press noted. "When the patient public of Ypsilanti becomes aroused," said the paper, "there is reason to believe that the complaint is justified."

"For some time the matter of traffic regulation in Ypsilanti has been an experiment manipulated according to the fancies ot whatever group of men happened to have charge of that particular branch of city affairs."

"Mushroom lights came first and after several had been installed at considerable expense, their uselessness was finally recognized and they were discontinued as signals, although several remain for motorists to dodge and for pedestrians to stumble over."

"Next came a shipment of stop signs to be scattered around the city," continued the Press. "Some served as a traffic aid, others as a hindrance. They are still in effect and so long as the police department exercises judgment in enforcement of the Stop Street ordinance, there is little objection. To compel every motorist to stop at every Stop sign regardless of the time of day ot the traffic condition at any particular point would be ridiculous."

The article went on to complain about "the preposterous and most exasperating traffic signal in Ypsilanti," a light on Michigan Ave. at Park St., erected to protect schoolchildren but unnecessarily slowing down Michigan Avenue traffic outside of school-crossing hours.

Also in 1930, local car companies were doing their best to motivate sales during the Depression. Some of the most strident advertisements in town came from the E. G. Wiedman Auto Co., at 212 Pearl Street (where the downtown bus stop is today).

"Wiedman is offering the greatest values in years," says the ad. "Plenty of cars to choose from-each and every one priced at a real low price." The special, a 1930 Ford Coupe, was offered for $195 ($2,500 today).

But an even better deal came about 3 years later, when Otto Hopp obtained a car for mere peanuts--or, rather, potatoes.

"A car belonging to Elmer and Elaine Avery, Railroad St., is claimed to have been loaned to Otto Hopp, Saline Rd., for 30 days," said the March 17, 1933 Ypsilanti Daily Press. "In return Avery was to receive several bushels of vegetables and potatoes."

"Mr Hopp claimed that he understood that he had purchased the car, but had never received the title. In settling the dispute it was decided that the title to the machine would be surrendered to Mr. Hopp and Mr. Avery would receive 10 bushels of potatoes and $1 in cash."

Now, those were some valuable taters!

Laura Bien is the author of "Stud Bunnies and the Underwear Club: Tales from the Ypsilanti Archives," to be published this winter. She can be reached at

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