Classic Accessories: Five Really Cool Old Car Add-Ons



August 07, 2012

From car coolers to car tents, what are the most functional and unique car accessories of the last 70-odd years? To open up the discussion, here’s a shortlist of some that aimed to enhance and car’s usefulness and versatility, plus a few that just made owning and driving a vehicle more fun.

Boxed Lunch

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One of the coolest car accessories from driving days of old has to be the “running board picnic suitcase.” Back before a fast food restaurant graced every corner, traveling families packed picnic lunches to enjoy along the route (or while father was patching the inner tube of a flat tire). While original picnic suitcases can still be found on eBay and specialty websites like www.classicaccesories.org, car makers stopped offering them around the same time they stopped making cars with running boards.

Better Than a Bobblehead

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Iconic, kitchy, and quite possibly the most beloved car decoration of all time, the “Hula Girl Nodder” was created in the 1950s and quickly became a popular dashboard accessory thanks to the influx of American soldiers into Hawaii during WWII. According to the blog, Retro Planet, original Hula Dashboard Dolls had a hole in the bottom where a magnet could be inserted so that the doll could be attached to the metal dashboards of cars.

Curb Appeal

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If you’re old enough to remember when whitewall tires and flashy chrome hubcaps were all the rage with American drivers, you can probably also remember this little gadget that saved those precious tires from scraping over concrete when parking at the curb. The blog Yesteryear Remembered offers this short homage to the simple yet functional “curb feeler” that some folks still affix to their cars to give their favorite ride that classic ‘50s look.

In The Spotlight

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Unless you’ve ever been stranded alongside the road with a flat or some midnight engine trouble, the early American driver’s preoccupation with exterior lighting might seem a bit odd. Spot and fog lights were popular accessories on most early automobiles. Those from Appleton were the most popular because they were stylish and reliable. Coveted by restorers, Appleton spotlights sell for anywhere from $50 to $100 on eBay with some of the more rare models (once offered as standard on some early American cars) fetching hundreds of dollars.

Comfort Cruise

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Passengers of early, open-air convertibles didn’t just swaddle their legs in any old blanket to ward off the chill of a Sunday morning drive. Instead, they used something called a “lap robe.” Typically made for the season (silk in summer, alpaca fur or wool in winter and fall), lap robes were listed in the early “Packard Approved Accessories” catalogs (see above) along with a host of other items, some of which you can see at www.classicaccessories.org.

Thousands of car accessories have come and gone over the years. Some, such as car radios and “car coolers” (the predecessor of modern automobile air conditioning) were so successful they became standard equipment on modern cars. What are your thoughts on fun automotive add-ons? Take a moment to comment below or head on over to the HVA’s Facebook page to share your favorite and see what other members are saying.

 

Comments

  1. Robert Hardisty Southlake, Texas

    I have a 57 Lincoln Conv. it has auto lube system to lube the front end with a push of a button, tuessue despenser, stop lite reflector, push button on the floor to chanb=ge the radio ststaions, curb feelers, auto locking cionv. top,aux. lights,power antena,.Some great inovations here. Bob Hardisty

  2. Steve winters Reno nv

    Don't forget about " HOT AUGUST NIGHTS" going on in Reno NV right now! 10000 classic cars and auctions and swap meets.Biggest little car show in the world

  3. Steve winters Reno nv

    Don't forget about " HOT AUGUST NIGHTS" going on in Reno NV right now! 10000 classic cars and auctions and swap meets.Biggest little car show in the world

  4. Steve winters Reno nv

    Don't forget about " HOT AUGUST NIGHTS" going on in Reno NV right now! 10000 classic cars and auctions and swap meets.Biggest little car show in the world

  5. Chris Nashville, TN

    What, no swamp coolers?

  6. Bill Hanson Eugene, Or.

    We have a wicker picnic basket that goes with us on our Triumph TR-6....great fun

  7. Richard K New York

    Just bought a 1965 Thunderbird hardtop and I just had to have a pair of fuzzy dice hanging from my rearview mirror. Has to be one of the most popular accessories too.

  8. Richard K New York

    Just bought a 1965 Thunderbird hardtop and I just had to have a pair of fuzzy dice hanging from my rearview mirror. Has to be one of the most popular accessories too.

  9. MARY WILSON lakeland fl.

    My 1930 Model A Fordor Sedan has a wicker picnic basket on the running board. It is complete with plates and tableware. An expandable metal bracket holds it in place.

  10. Thomas Pettie Corinth, Ms.

    I have (or had), just sold a 1956 Imperial Southampton 4dr that had a "roadside set". Set has four arched curved back folding wooden chairs and a wooden card sized folding table. The chairs and table are painted the off-white colour that matches the center of the dash. The chair seats are upholstered in the eagle pattern that matches seats, and the table has a black leather inset matching the car colour. Each chair is in a dove grey felt envelope as is the table. The set is designed to fit in trunk, (table fits flat part of trunk and chairs stand on edge by spare tire), leaving room for luggage. This set did not come with car .It was bought at dealership as an after market item. I know this because my mother purchased one for her car.

  11. PAUL MAXEY United States

    what about the prisum that used to go on the dash so you could see the traffic light when you had a sun shade ?

  12. Mr John Hedblom Glendale, CA

    Don't forget the Sun Visors over the windshield. The color matched the body/ Also the coolest accessory, the blinds for the rear window.

  13. Mr. Chuck Cowford

    What, no Suicide Knobs for the steering wheel - my favorite was the Marilyn Monroe on the red satin sheets - whee! Portawalls for the poor folks who couldn't afford whitewalls. Under dash mounted, swing out tissue box...ladies loved it. Compass with a suction cup mount - everybody had one. :-)

  14. Woody Slapout, AL

    Then there was the plastic half-moon that stuck on the windshield so you could see the image of the stoplight without sticking your head over the steering wheel. And the headlight visors (I have them on my '29 Ford) that did nothing but look good, except for the ones with the amber ball on top that let you know if you had your high beams on. Oh, and the rubber cover you could buy to go over the high beam button on the floor that made it easier on your left foot if you were driving barefoot. Neat stuff!

  15. Woody Slapout, AL

    Then there was the plastic half-moon that stuck on the windshield so you could see the image of the stoplight without sticking your head over the steering wheel. And the headlight visors (I have them on my '29 Ford) that did nothing but look good, except for the ones with the amber ball on top that let you know if you had your high beams on. Oh, and the rubber cover you could buy to go over the high beam button on the floor that made it easier on your left foot if you were driving barefoot. Neat stuff!

  16. Mike Rosen Danville, CA

    The infamous "curb feeler" - every car my dad owned in the fifties and early sixties had a set of curb feelers. When most cars were driving around on blackwall tires, my dad always went for the whitewalls. The curb feelers were on the car to keep my mom from scraping up those beautiful whitewalls. Most of the time they did their job. The other item that was on most of my dad's cars was the "suicide knob" on the steering wheel. When he would get a new car, the first two things he did was put the knob on the wheel and then put the curb feelers on. Now he was ready to go!

  17. Ron Hamm Los Angeles

    Don't forget "suicide knobs" that fit on the steering wheel for one-handed steering and also the semi functional Continental spare tire cover.

  18. Cor66vette Somewhere south of Maine

    Re: In The Spotlight - My brother had a '64 Impala with a spotlight mounted outside. He bought it used but what the hey? A spotlight on an Impala?

  19. Cor66vette Somewhere south of Maine

    Re: In The Spotlight - My brother had a '64 Impala with a spotlight mounted outside. He bought it used but what the hey? A spotlight on an Impala?

  20. Cor66vette Somewhere south of Maine

    Re: In The Spotlight - My brother had a '64 Impala with a spotlight mounted outside. He bought it used but what the hey? A spotlight on an Impala?

  21. Gary Sacramento

    Don't forget about the flipper or spinner hubcap, my father had these on his beautiful'49 Olds fastback, they were cool, also fenderskirts were big on the older cars.

  22. Gary Sacramento

    Don'tforgetabouttheflipperorspinnerhubcap,myfatherhadtheseonhisbeautiful'49Oldsfastback,theywerecool,alsofenderskirtswerebigontheoldercars.