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History Hits: First In-Car Video Entertainment


While I love cars, as a child of divorced parents with shared custody and a three-hour car ride between them, I will be the first to admit that nothing can compare to the tedium a long car ride can bring upon you. Today, when we have computers in our pockets and the Internet almost everywhere, it is easy to distract from the boring nothing-ness that is the back seat of a car. However, in the not-so-distant past, there was no such devices to alleviate the boredom; if you were lucky you had a Gameboy and pocketful of AA’s.

As a child in the 90’s, I would sit in my parents’ car, and look on with envy, dead batteries a-jangle, as vans and SUV’s drove past with TV’s playing in the rear. To my young mind, there was no higher luxury than watching SpongeBob as we drove through Yolo, CA for the umpteenth time. I never did end up with a TV to alleviate my boredom on those drives, and now that I am an adult, the idea of a television in my car seems like a useless, un-needed luxury. However, I can’t help but wonder: when did the first person loo out their window in boredom as the car next to them drove past, TV blaring? In other words, I was interested in when the first car-usable television set hit the market in a production vehicle. Sorry, no custom jobs here.

I expected my research to lead me to some mini-van in the 80’s or 90’s, however to my surprise I was almost immediately directed to the 1960’s. In 1965, Ford released a product to a limited market for testing; this product was called Autovision, and the market was the Great Lakes area. Autovision was a portable TV set, and as such was not installed in a vehicle from the factory, however it was the first car-optimized television set in the world.

Sold at Lincoln-Mercury and Ford dealers, the television was an all-transistor nine-inch television which had a 12-volt DC cord that could be plugged into the cigarette lighter or a portable battery pack, all for the suggested retail price of $169.95, or roughly $1,315 in 2017 values. But how did Ford end up releasing a TV, when their showrooms were busy hemorrhaging the new Mustang?

An early, non-portable, Philco TV set.

Ford acquired battery, radio and television pioneer Philco in 1961 in order to have an in-house supplier of car radios and other electronic devices, to help fuel their ever-expanding car empire. As Philco was already developing advanced (for the time) portable TV sets, it was a no brainer for Ford’s product planners to insert one into the lineup. Four years after the acquisition, Ford introduced a new portable TV—the Autovision—that was so small they could hang it by a bracket behind the front seats.

While initial interest was enough to expand the product beyond the Great Lakes market, sales were generally low, and the Autovision was not long for this world. This is more than likely a very good thing, as the safety of CRT television sets—operating under tons of vacuum pressure—would more than likely be lacking in the event of a collision, with the Autovision acting as a potential shrapnel bomb.

A second-generation Oldsmobile Silhouette Premiere. The audio of the VCR entertainment in the rear was done by Clarion, of modern NSX tuning fame.

It was not until 1998, with the Oldsmobile Silhouette Premiere mini-van that televisions were to make a comeback. Partnering with Blockbuster (remember them!) Oldsmobile installed a VCR and flip-down LCD screen, with wired headphones in the rear of the van, and once the kids quieted down, the TV was here to stay.

My favorite History Hits are the ones where I am genuinely surprised in my research, with this one being one such article. How did you like it? Let me know down below!

Shout-out to Jalopnik for providing much of the information. Read the original article HERE.

Like the article? Want to read more like it? Check out my website, for weekly history articles and more besides. If I missed something or if you have a question, feel free to leave a comment below, and don’t forget to hit the like button.

Stephen Hyden View All

I recently recieved a degree in History from the University of Nevada, Reno.

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