We've had our ARC-2500 car record player for many years and had it in several of our larger cars. As our interest in micro cars increased, we lost places to put it! There's no room! The place of last resort was the Corvette. Take a look here,
I've done research on these players several times through the years but found little on the subject. In recent years, interest has grown producing a wealth of information compared to just 5 years ago. I'll summarize what I discovered below:
Chrysler Highway "Hi-Fi", P/N 26555
We found that the first mention of record player for cars came from a Chrysler press release dated September 12, 1955. These ended up in 1956 Chrysler/Desoto/Plymouth cars playing 7", 16 2/3 RPM records and possibly, 45 RPM s. Some sources say that it played the new 16 2/3 records only while others say both. I tend to believe it was only the 16 2/3 speed, allowing up to 1 hour of play without changing the record. The 16 2/3 speed record selection then was only music from Columbia records (aka CBS). Making up the collection presented to new car owners (in a 6 record set) were Tschaikovsky's Sixth Symphony, Borodini's Polovtsian Dances, Ippalitov-Ivanov's Procession of the Sardar, the complete score of the Broadway musical show Pajama Game, Walt Disney's Davey Crockett, Gene Autry and Champion, Romantic Moods by Percy Faith and his orchestra, quiet jazz by Paul Weston and his orchestra, Music of Cole Porter and Victor Herbert by Andre Kostelanetz and his orchestra, and dramatic readings from Bernard Shaw's Don Juan in Hell by a cast of top Hollywood and Broadway artists. Remember records at this speed were patented only to Columbia so selection would have been otherwise limited.
Did you start humming Davey Crockett after reading the last paragraph?
These first players were called "Highway Hi-fi's". Here's a picture of a young Lawrence Welk along with a Highway service manual cover to see how it worked (below):
People usually say ask if these players skip while traveling. The Highway apparently did and was considered so bad as to contribute to cancelling this unit as a Chrysler accessory after just one year. The original press release specifically touted shock mounting and stability during turns... which was appparently untrue. Here's an ad for this product...
Good or not, I would think this is a "must have" accessory for showing Chrysler cars from that year.
Phillips Car Record Player AG-2101
Identified as Phillips products from Holland, these were 45 RPM single record players offered for aftermarket use from 1959 to 1963. Phillips had already developed a portable player in 1958 called the Phonoautomat featuring a transport amazingly like today's CD players. After feeding in the record part of the way, the transport then pulled the record in and played! Adaptation for cars was fairly simple but only played one record on one side. Technically, the user had to change or reset it every 3-4 minutes. Here ' an underdash unit, below:
Some versions of this player have "Philips" in raised letters on the case (only 1 "L") which is probably the correct spelling. Multiple references have it spelled both ways.
By 1960, RCA began to produce an improved player that solved several limitatrions of past players, or so they said. According to references, the skipping problem persisted although mine doesn't do it unless really jarred (like driving fast over unexpected railroad tracks). The biggest timprovement was playing up to 12 records using a juke-box type changer!
RCA Model AP-1
Someone from the Chrysler Imperial club already did substantial research
on these units. attributing production from 1960 to 1961. I didn't want to steal his pictures so please use the link above for a look. RCA's were clearly marked with their logo and were the follow-on for Chrysler after the Hi-fis. All car record players were actually mono channel players with pre-amplifiers. RCA AP-1s were made in Camden New Jersey.
Similar models entered the market after 1961 including the ARC-2500. While basically the same unit, changes were made to the bottom plate detail and how much was chromed. There is also some discussion about differences in the oscillator between the AP-1 and 2500 but I don't know the difference. Most restored today for shows have a new pre-amplifier attached and are placed in-line with the radio antenna. That's the way mine is set up and it plays through the radio.
I've heard some car guys only use the case for later electronics such as CD players which I believe is terrible! Each to their own, I suppose.
Sears-Allstate as one of several aftermarket vendors for the ARC-2500. Ours was made by the MC Company of Paramount, California. I've also seen one advertised as made in China! Apparently, these were for sale from several sources during the 1960's.
The player is an upsidedown turntable with the play arm spring loaded (up) against the record. Once the record has played, the arm swings back allowing the record to drop onto the player bottom. Then next one then drops down and is caught to play next. The 10-12 records collect on the bottom until all have been played. The lower half of the unit seen above is a door that swings up to expose the play mechanism. Then, if you like, flip the stack over and push them back up onto the pedestal to start playing the other sides.
As for music quality, it is only as good a your original radio. These are mono-players so don't expect much.
As a final comment, portable TVs were already on the market by the early 1950's even though there were only two broadcast channels in most areas, CBs and NBC.. ABC came later. With that in mind, the idea of a car record player isn't so amazing.