Car Phone Driven from Curiosity to Commodity to Collectible
Like many technological firsts, the first "car phone" was large, clunky and highly impractical. In 1901 Swedish engineer Lars Magnus Ericsson installed a telephone in the back of his car. It worked quite well as long as the car was stopped and plugged directly into phone lines via two long wires. On the plus side, talking on the phone while driving was hardly a concern. While it was the first phone-enabled car, wireless capability was clearly the next necessary evolution. And unfortunately it would be a rather long time coming.
Cutting the Cord
Phones would continue to grow in popularity and shrink in size and price as the decades wore on. The phone was gradually making its way from novelty to commodity. But the car phone wouldn't get its big break until the "yuppy" days of the 1980s.
While a Corvette and a CB radio would’ve helped you stand out in the '70s, if you really wanted to keep up with the Joneses in 1987, you needed a slick BMW and a chunky car phone.
Ultimately, the rapid progress of cell phone technology meant the car phone had a relatively brief window of relevancy. Though car phones were more popular than conventional "cell phones" during the 1980s, the 1990s would see cell phones handily eclipse car phones for popularity.
The traditional car phone has fallen into obscurity and is mostly used by people who operate out of very remote areas where regular cell phone service is spotty. Though it requires some creative electronic work to get an old car phone to work with a modern network, it can be done for those who want to add a ‘90s feel to the interior of their car. However to really impress your friends, you’ll need to find a way to play Snake on your car phone.
I have scoured the junkyard many times for a car phone to install in my 1989 Swift GTi for an ironic ‘90s twist. I’ve peered into many Mercedes, Jaguars and BMW’s but my search remains fruitless. I still think the contrast of a business oriented car phone in such a silly car would be great fun.
Return of the Car Phone?
With automotive and communication technologies advancing at unprecedented rates, the only sure bet for the future is that the two will continue to grow together. And who knows, maybe people 20 years from now will laugh at our antiquated Bluetooth enabled cars.