Back in the day, I remember walking all of a half block from my parents’ business office to Slater Auto to assist them in buying a new 1954 Chevy. It wasn’t much of a challenge.
Truth is there was just one car dealer in town and Clarence Ryg sold but one make of automobile, which limited things quite a bit. Picking the right car off the showroom floor wasn’t too hard as well – since it was the only car on the floor.
I wasn’t old enough to have a driver’s license but that didn’t stop me from having a voice in the extras we would be putting on that new auto – not like there were many choices in that department.
You could have your car with or without a radio. If you chose a radio – then came the big decision – push button or turn-the-knob tuning.
For the kids in the audience, I guess I should add this: radios back then were powered by tubes. When you turned it on the radio usually took a minute or so to warm up. To a teenager, that’s an eternity. When it finally did come on, there was often more static than music.
Actually, back then the number of stations playing music were also rather limited. News, weather and markets were the main menu because older adults all listened to the radio and that’s who paid the bills.
But sounds weren’t the only extras available. Air conditioners had not hit the market, so to keep cool there were little chrome deflectors for the windows that would shoot the breeze more efficiently inside the car. A big steel sun visor could also be installed. If you couldn’t afford one of those monsters, a see-through green plastic film could be stuck to the windows to cut down on glare.
Fender skirts were an add-on for all but the fancy models. The Bel Air came “stock” with skirts – plus a few extra strips of chrome around the fenders and a two-tone paint job.
Naturally, all the stuff it took to make the cheaper 210 or 150 models look like a Bel Air were available at auto parts stores or through mail order places. This enabled someone to buy a cheaper model and give it the high-priced look with a little extra cash (and effort.)
There were also certain extras the kids liked that the parents didn’t quite understand. A good example would be spotlights. There was nothing cooler back in the mid-’50s than a spotlight sticking out on each side of the windshield. Convincing parents of this was usually an impossible task.
Still another big extra was the antenna. I know the kids of today would hardly give any thought to an aerial, but back in 1954, it was an important part of the “look.”
Parents would go along with one antenna positioned near the windshield on the fender but the cool look was two – mounted on the back deck of the car just above the trunk.
These weren’t the only goodies available back in those dark ages – that is, if you paid a visit to the auto supply stores. There were chrome exhaust pipe extensions, foxtails for the aerials, dice to hang from the rear-view mirror – and even a real continental kit (for the person with big bucks.)
Most of the kids couldn’t afford a car of their own, so they would simply add some extras to their parents’ car. This proved to be a real challenge because many parents would allow only so much glimmer before they’d say “enough is enough.”
Besides that, the worst thing a teenager could be accused of was having his decked-out car referred to as a “family car.”
Yep, that was long before the days of the “extra packages” available on today’s cars, and an eternity ahead of when you could spend as much on the options as on the basic car. But it was a time when businesses like Western Auto and Coast-To-Coast could be found on the main street of nearly every town.
Ed Rood is the former publisher of the Tri-County Times.