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Motor Mouth articles 2009

The weird world of car accessories

SLIDE your vinyl disc into the dashboard-mounted record player, check your dancing Elvis doll is fixed firmly to your mirror and be sure your musical air horns are primed for action – yep, this is accessorised motoring, 60s-style.

Kitsch was the fashion – still is, for many – and the whole crazy shebang is best summed up by the fluffy dice, the nodding dog (now resurrected and adopted as an insurance company’s emblem) and countless other cash-devouring bits of nonsense.

The whole car accessory industry, in fact, goes back to the very dawn of motoring when a plethora of gadgets – some ingeniously simple, others gloriously eccentric – were intended to part the invariably comfortably-off drivers from their groats by helping them overcome the numerous problems confronting them.

A new book entitled ‘Nodding Dogs and Vinyl Roofs: The Weird World of Quirky Car Accessories’ by Stephen Vokins provides an amusing A to Z of many of the gadgets and trinkets that have tempted – and often embarrassed – motorists over the past 100 years or so.

In those early days the focus was very much on making motoring more reliable and more comfortable, but there were plenty of oddball inventions nestling among the sensible stuff – like pipe smokers’ companion sets, leopardskin rugs made out of real leopard and mascots galore, including a lucky swastika for the bonnet. That was in the days before Hitler’s lot gave it a less attractive meaning and stripped it of its reputation for bringing good luck.

Accessorising your car really had its heyday in the post-war years, though, and the Stateside influence was strong. You could buy bolt-on fins to Americanise your 1950s Ford Zephyr, stick-on bullet holes to emphasise your gangster image, which must have cut quite a dash in Dorset, and even a pump-powered finger-raiser to show other motorists what you think of their driving. Yes, really.

There were electric kettles that ran off the car battery so you could have a brew as you drove, as long as the battery was up to it; there were open-mouthed animal mascots that fixed on to your exhaust pipe, pop-up spoilers for extra thrust and seat or steering wheel covers of every flavour.

And, yes, you really could buy a gramophone so that pop-mad 1960s drivers could listen to Kathy Kirby as they cruised around in their Ford Anglia or Standard 8 – but because the needle had to be so heavy in order to stop it bouncing around, records tended to give up the ghost after a couple of plays. Radio music stations probably put paid to that particular problem.

‘Nodding Dogs and Vinyl Roofs: The Weird World of Quirky Car Accessories’ by Stephen Vokins is published by Haynes. RRP: £5.99.

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