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Homepage. This page: 1950s-70s Accessories & optional extras

Popular car accessories

After-market and dealer-fit options and upgrades
Probably for as long as motorcars have been available to buy, there has been a healthy supply of bolt-on accessories to further individualise the car, should that be one's desire. The gleaming car purchased from the showrooms, say in the 50s and 60s, was a compromise, a gathering together of just enough gizmos and widgets to keep Mr or Mrs New Car Buyer content, and make the new car appealing enough to make it worth chopping in the old banger for a shiny new motor. The accessories list was of course a tool available to the dealer to try and woo a wavering buyer into signing on the dotted line, its amazing how the lure of some furry dice and a set of floor mats could swing a deal. Such adornments cost the dealer little in cash terms, but gave him or her a handy tool to convince Mr Average that the new Himber Sooper Snope or rakish Sunburn Brylcreem was a 'must have' purchase.

Some optional extras available for cars years ago

Cheap gimmicks like mats and mudflaps wouldn't cause the dealer to lose much sleep over his profit margin, but other factory options he may have been less willing to throw in for the sake of a sale. Factory options catalogues of the day were full of tempting add-ons, all of which were designed to make the daily drive less of a dreary proposition. Why not shell out a few pounds and have the latest in-car wireless fitted to your new car? tune in to Radio Luxembourg or a pirate radio station even, and whistle away the hours spent behind the wheel, with Jerry and his pacemakers along for the ride with you? Outdoorsy types could even specify a pull-out Phillips car radio, with on-the-hoof power coming from a disposable battery housed in the casing. Perfect for picnics sir!

Basic or de-luxe model sir?
Some cars came as bog-standard base models, or, for a few shillings more, as a slightly more plush deluxe version. The difference between the two might be less than startling - the deluxe may benefit from options such as bumper overriders, opening quarterlights, extra brightwork, and hedonistic pleasures such as a sunvisor for the passenger. Heady stuff. If the deluxe was a bit too much of a hit in the pocket, Mr New Car Buyer could always buy the poverty-spec model, and upgrade to deluxe spec over time, buying the whiz-bang gadgets as and when finances allowed.
optional car spotlamps
Other favourites on the factory options list included a heater (many cars even in the 60s didn't have such a luxurious fitment), electric windscreen washers, furry seat covers, a reversing lamp, spot lamps, and for the frost-bitten motorist, the all-essential grille muff. If the motorist was a bit of a tightwad, he'd forego the wispy warmth offered by a Smiths heater, and opt for the much more reasonably priced string and leather driving glove approach, with optional trilby naturally. All fairly tame when compared to modern-day accessory lists, laden with pricey offerings such as Sat Nav, parking sensors, vast alloy wheels and '300 speaker' stereo setups.

Under the bonnet & other performance accessories
Of course not all bolt-on goodies were there to make the motorist more comfy. Transforming a car with the performance abilities of a canal boat, into a tarmac-tearing hoodlum-mobile has always appealed to some, especially the younger motorist who has yet to experience the joys of terminal oversteer and backwards journeys through a hedge. For this motorist, the after-market tuning market has always been a goldmine of opportunity and wallet-emptying frivolity. Some tuning accessories were more successful than others. Chequered tape stuck to the roof of an 850 Mini, and a quadruple bunch of Lucas fog and spots hanging off the front grille, will do little to 'up' its get up and go, but looked jolly cool nonetheless. Paint the roof white and nick some badges from a Cooper, and you've got you're own Works replica with which to pull some skirt at the local dance.

twin SU carburettors fitted to a BMC A series engine
Offering tuning accessories has been big business for years, and really exploded in popularity in the 1950s when specials builders began to take humble Fords and Austins, rebodying them with exotic looking plastic shells, and tuning them up like mad.

Twin carb setups, fancy manifolds, wild cams and improved exhaust systems were all now available to the home tuner, for a price. As the 60s came into being, interests changed and switched to upgrading basic production models, an idea popularised by the way the basic Mini was upgraded to Cooper and Cooper S spec by the Cooper Car Company, previously better known for their successes in circuit racing.
Companies such as Downton and Speedwell could provide you with all manner of cracking extras and upgraded parts to really make your once-dull car fly. Read more in the car tuning companies pages.

Plain-jane steel wheels were being tossed into skips and rivers up and down the country, and replaced with groovy alloy wheels, just like those seen on Monte Carlo winning machines.

groovy Wolfrace alloy wheel
Some inventions though promised the world, but offered very little, when it came to making a car go quicker. Who remembers the bolt on things that could be fitted onto the back end of the exhaust, designed, we were told, to suck the exhaust fumes down the pipe quicker, allowing the engine to breath? whether they worked or not is anyone's guess, but as I never saw them on proper race cars, I think its a fair bet that they were useless.

Other gizmos were available that promised miraculous improvements in your car's economy, but would probably not get away with such grand claims today if they were still being sold. Magnetic contraptions bolted to a fuel line promised amazing savings on one's fuel bill, as did a little gadget that you'd fit into the HT lead from the coil to the distributor, that fattened the spark by making it jump a gap within the sealed unit. It may have helped of course, but the improvements would have been barely noticeable with many such gadgets - better economy could have probably been achieved simply by fitting a heavier spring on the throttle pedal, or driving with the windows always closed (wound down windows would increase drag and fuel consumption).

Car accessories - part 2 --->

A new feature is being put together at oldclassiccar, whereby some of the old gadgets and gizmos that I've accumulated over the years, that relate to motoring, will get a mention. Visit 'my motoring gadgets' to read more about them!

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