For every option or feature on a new car, there are dozen that never took off. Whether the market was too limited, the price was too high, or if it was just a flawed idea from the start. Almost every established manufacturer and orphan brand alike have at least once given a product that should have never made it out of the design studio the green light for production.
Some of these products paved the way for more refined and usable adaptions, while others lived only to be a unique footnote in automotive history. Some, on the other hand, have lived long enough to find desirability on the car enthusiast scene and are now that one rare option that no one opted for that serves as a bragging point.
10 DeSoto Cigarette Dispenser
DeSoto always served as a division to showcase and test the newest of Chryslers technology and gimmicks before they were deemed viable or not for the market. If they showed success within the DeSoto division, they would then trickle down to the rest of the corporate lineup. In the early 1940s, most Americans who were of driving age smoked cigarettes, so for the 1942 model year, engineers at Chrysler decided to implement an automatic cigarette dispensing system as an option across the DeSoto lineup. Buyers could open a door on their steering wheel horn cover and load an entire pack of their favorite cigarette brand. While motoring, the driver pulls a small spring-loaded knob at the bottom, and a fresh cigarette would present itself at the top of the steering wheel.
The option showed initial success with the brand before Chrysler quickly switched over to wartime production just a few months into the 1942 model year. When Chrysler returned after the war, executives had long forgotten about the option. However, with aftermarket companies producing similar dispensers in the ’50s and ’60s, maybe Chrysler did miss out on offering a profitable option.
9 Packard Caribbean Reversible Seat Cushions
The Packard name was one of great regard in the 1950s. Packard flagship Caribbean was one of the most expensive cars you could buy on the American market in 1956. Available in an assortment of dazzling tri-tones both on the exterior and interior, the Caribbean represented peak 1950s American excess. Among the pages of features on the Packard Caribbean, one stands out in particular, reversible interior seat cushions.
Depending on the day, the buyer could reverse the seat cushions to a different coordinating pattern that still accentuated the dramatic exterior. One side featured durable quilted leather dyed in a choice of several colors for top-down days, while its reverse featured finely patterned cloth. Representing the top of American luxury Packard gave buyers a choice over what their interiors would look like daily, something that has never been replicated.
8 Chrysler Highway Hi-Fi
In the later 1950s, Chrysler was in the middle of their Forward Look renaissance. Chrysler was hitting record profits and reinvesting massive amounts of money into their research and development department to keep the momentum going. Many last engineering breakthroughs came from this era, such as Chryslers famed torsion air ride, torqueflite transmissions, radical styling, and even the beginning of the ill-fated turbine program. One lesser-known option that made into production was the Chrysler in-car record player branded as the Highway Hi-Fi.
For the first time, buyers could listen to their music whenever they wished. While initial versions for the 1956 model year took unique records that had to be purchased at the Chrysler dealership, a later version arriving in late 1957 took traditional 45 RPM recordings. While thanks to a spring-loaded arm, the record avoided skipping, buyers were upset because prolonged use with the player would damage the record after prolonged use. The option trekked on before quickly fizzling out in the 1960s with the introduction of the 8-track.
7 Cadillac Brougham Glovebox Bar
Cadillac has always been synonymous with prestige and luxury, this brand enthusiasm dating back to the depression was renewed when Cadillac introduced its ultra-luxury Brougham for the 1957 model year. At a price of nearly $14,000, which equates to $132,000 in 2021 with inflation, buyers expected the car to feature just about everything they could dream of, and it did. Within easy reach of the driver was a full bar located in the glovebox. Magnetized shot glasses ensure drinks stay put.
After 1958 the flagship brougham was discontinued, and an in-car bar was never in reach of the driver again. With modern drinking and driving laws, it is hard to believe something like this ever existed, but in the 1950s, it was just another luxury feature.
6 Oldsmobile Transportable Radio
Automotive technology in the 1950s was rapidly progressing forward alongside technological advances in other consumer markets. For the first time, music could be lightweight and portable with the widespread adoption of transistor radios. While other car manufacturers were adapting transistor radios into their lineups, engineers at GM’s Delco were coming up with something altogether different. A car radio you could slide out and take with you.
The radio was introduced on the 1958 Oldsmobile lineup. Whether at the beach or on a picnic, drivers had a portable radio at their fingertips. The radio was powered by four batteries and featured a single speaker. When inserted in the dashboard, the radio sent audio through the car speaker. Ports at the back of the radio provided a connection for the car’s antenna and a direct power source. Oldsmobile dropped the in-dash radio in 1959, and a different portable radio became available as an accessory in Pontiacs and Oldsmobiles that charged in a port in the glovebox. For the 1960 model year, GM dropped the idea altogether due to ease of theft and lack of sales.
5 Mercury Breezeway
In a time when the majority of cars were not equipped with air conditioning, ventilation was important. Mainstream manufacturers focused on venting in the fenders and cowl, as well as different wing window designs. Before the Second World War, it was not uncommon for the rear window in coupes and sedans to roll down. Still, it didn’t make a comeback until the Mercury Turnpike Cruiser in 1957 before disappearing as quickly as it reappeared. In 1963 it made another return, now tilted in at the base for easier use in all weather. The ‘Breezeway’ window allowed air in the passenger cabin to flow out at highway speeds freely. Its unique tilted design prevented water from back flowing in if a light shower occurred while motoring.
Mercury buyers enjoyed the rear breezeway from 1963 until it was phased out in 1968. While pickup trucks and some SUVs today integrate a similar feature, passenger cars have yet to bring the idea back.
4 Toyota Ice Maker
Despite an uninspiring model name, the 1984 Toyota Van featured a lot of unusual features. The Toyota Van offered something different for van buyers, from a unique cab-over design to outside of this world exterior styling. One of the most impressive options was the combination refrigerator/ice machine available on the LE trim. Cooled by A/C refrigerant lines and placed in between the front seats, the option made sense for many buyers who used their vans for camping on the weekends.
The versatile Toyota Van enjoyed great success in North America until the updated Previa replaced it in 1990. While an ice maker was available in the Previa, it was reserved for the European market. While some ultra-luxury vehicles offer this feature today, the Toyota Van remains unique for providing it in the low price field.
3 Saab Night Panel
Saab’s aviation heritage trickled to their line of cars in a multitude of ways. The Saab night panel was introduced on the newly refreshed 900 in 1993 before quickly making it to the lineup. When the night panel is activated, all gauges (aside from the speedometer), the infotainment, and the climate control lighting switch off. Allowing the driver to maintain focus on the road and reduce instrument glare. Suppose something pressing like a low fuel warning occurs; the system switches off to bring your attention to the cluster.
The night panel feature gained positive feedback from the automotive press but failed to attract adoption by other manufacturers despite Saab’s stance that it improved nighttime driving safety. Saab kept the feature as standard on all Saabs throughout the rest of the companies history, but as of 2021, no other company has replicated it.
2 Fiat 500 Perfume Dispenser
Fiat offers an extensive array of options for buyers to personalize their cars. One option that became available upon the 2007 release of the current generation 500 was the oddly branded Fiat 500 fragrance dispenser. A small electric fan allows a Fiat scent of your choosing to fill the car’s cabin. While better-integrated fragrance dispensing options are available in ultra-luxury vehicles, this represents the only time a low-cost vehicle has entered this department.
Though the fragrance dispenser wasn’t a pricey option at just $108.00, it was quickly discontinued. It’s not hard to understand why when you consider a fragrance plug-in essentially accomplishes the same task without losing a cupholder and a charging port. Thankfully for those that did opt for a fragrance dispenser, official Fiat refills are still available.
1 Volvo S80 Heartbeat Detector
Volvo always reminds consumers that it takes buyer protection seriously. While this usually translates to safety, it also translates to anti-theft features. When Volvo introduced its freshly designed S80 flagship for the 2007 model year, it was full of Volvo’s latest technological feats. The new tech included a system that monitored heartbeats on the interior based on vibration detecting sensors in the car seatbacks. If an intruder is in any car seat while the car’s alarm is activated, the alarm won’t go off, but an LED on the key fob will illuminate.
While from a technology perspective, the feature was impressive, it had little real-world use. It mostly made it to production as proof of Volvos engineering capability more than anything else. The feature continued in all S80’s until 2016, the successor of the car, the S90, did not implement a similar feature.
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