When did air conditioning, radios, and auto-transmission become commonplace in cars?

Title asks it all. I know they didn’t all come along at the same time, of course, but googling doesn’t bring up much that looks reliable.

So it’s three questions I suppose:

=When did cars start coming equipped with AC?

=When did cars start coming equipped with radios?

=When did cars start coming equipped with automatic transmissions?

I’m not asking about prototypes so much as when did it become a routine option.


Not sure at what point you can say something is commonplace.
From what I know
Auto AC invented in 1928, didn’t catch on right away. Off the top of my head, I can think of no car that had AC prior to WWII. Early to mid 1950s became available on high end cars such as a Caddy or a Lincoln. By 1958 it had spread to lower end cars as an option (My father’s 1958 Dodge had AC available as an option)
Common? Probably mid-1960s.
Radios? Not sure, but probably common by the late 1930s.
Auto transmission? About 1950. I have driven 1951 Chevys that had auto transmissions.

Well, just from my own experience, I had a '62 Cadillac Limousine that was factory equipped with AM/FM radio with Signal Seeker…you hit the seek button and the needle would move across the dial and tune in on a strong signal. It had power windows, automatic transmission, power brakes and steering and A/C. The A/C had separate temperature and blower controls for the back seat. There was a power glass partition that went up and down behind the driver’s seat, so you could probably have it freezing cold in one part and warm in the other part. There was a separate heater core for the back seat that was mounted underneath the car, but only one A/C compressor (made by Frigidaire for GM, I believe) under the hood.

I guess it depended on how much money you wanted to spend.

I’ve never had anything older than that, so that’s the most info I can give you.

My '65 Mustang had A/C at one time, but I think that was a dealer option. The whole thing bolted on underneath the dashboard. The previous owner had removed the inside unit and the compressor because it didn’t work.

Also, here’s a couple of links from eBay motors. I looked at a bunch of unmolested luxury cars from the 40s and 50s and couldn’t find any with factory air. Scroll down to the interior pictures and you’ll see how the setup was.

'54 Chrysler New Yorker with factory radio, power steering and automatic transmission, no mention of A/C, and I can’t see a compressor in the engine shots.

1949 Chrysler Windsor which has a hole in the dash where the factory radio was at one time. It had semi-automatic transmission, which required a clutch to get it going from a stop. This one didn’t have any A/C, but check out the detailed picture of the fresh air/heater control anyway just for kicks.

This 1951 Cadillac has automatic transmission and factory radio, not to mention power seats and power windows.

Our '56 Mercury had “factory” air conditioning, considered pretty rare at the time.

And at the time we were living in a middle/upper middle-class suburb in Texas, so if it was rare there, it was rare everywhere.

My parents had a 50s Ford with a radio which did that (I believe it was a '56 Fairlane).

In a related question, when did vehicles start having right side view mirrors as standard. I just recently noticed that all of the new vehicles on car lots today have the right hand side mirror. I recall when I ordered my 1980 Chevy Citation, the right mirror was an option.

I understand air conditioning started to appear as early as 1935, with the first practical automotive unit invented by the Weinstein corporation, They tried to license it to Ford, but Henry Ford refused to let the name Weinstein appear on the units, anti-Semite that he was. The Weinstein brothers relented, but found a way to get their names on the units anyway - Norm, Hi, and Max.

An old joke, but I like it.

Actually it was invented by a guy named Otto Tinkey in 1928. He got a patent, but got screwed by GM on the deal (I don’t know the details, but I did meet his widow before her death.) Anyway, I was told that he was honored by the SAE for his work shortly before his death.
His widow told me that to test the system he outfitted a car and they drove to Palm Springs in August. She said the locals looked them like they were crazy as they were driving around in 110F with the widows UP.

More anecdote.

We bought a new loaded '65 Olds; it did not have A/C and we didn’t think we were short-changing ourselves on luxo. We bought a new loaded '69 Olds; it did have AC and we didn’t consider it an exotic new thing or ultra-luxo.

The 65 had a two speed auto tranny. The 69 had a 3 (or 4?) speed.

You Americans are so ahead of the curve. In the UK, Air Conditioning has only become standard in mid and low range cars (as opposed to luxury cars) in the last 10 years.


Yeah, but AC is hardly a necessity here. I rarely use mine.

Radios - I remember my dad fitting a radio to our Ford Cortina in the early seventies, so I guess they weren’t standard in every single car then.

That car actually was an automatic, but obviously auto transmissions have never become the norm here.

A/C is virtually a necessity of the climate in much of the U.S.

When I purchased my first car in 1982, it had AM/FM, manual transmission, and no A/C. By the end of the decade, however, I think you to really look hard to find a car without all three.

Growing up in Michigan in the 70’s, most of the cars didn’t have standard air conditioning. Heck, my aunt’s 1984 Escort was purchased without AC. I don’t remember a thing about radios, because no one in my family was really a radio listener in the car. Was that because there was no radio, or we just didn’t use it?

When I was shopping for my very first brand new car in the mid 90’s, I remember looking at Neons that had no standard radio at all. The car I eventually purchased (a 1995 Civic EX) had no factory air conditioning; it was a dealer-installed option (it was a Honda air conditioner, just not available installed from the factory).

I’m still surprised when I see cars with roll-up windows these days. I honestly didn’t know they were still available, and it turns out my own company makes them!

I kind of dislike the fact that automatics are so ubiquitous these days. When manuals are available, it seems like they’re only available with the base model or the puny little engine.

First production car with available air-conditioning was the '39 Packard. It didn’t really catch on until the late '50s; Chrysler, for example, first offered it in 1953 and didn’t offer it on most of their line until 1958.

The first widely available car radio was the Motorola 5T71 in 1930ish, says Wiki, but it was a aftermarket item. In fact, almost all car audio was aftermarket stuff in the early days of car audio. I have no idea who offered the first factory audio.

I remember this because a friend’s dad bought one…A/C was only an option on Chevy S-10 pickups in the 90’s. This was in Wisconsin. It could be pretty miserable in the summer but the guy was cheap…

Here are the options available for the '96 S-10: http://www.automotive.com/1996/12/chevrolet/s10/packages/index.html

The earliest car radios were developed around 1930 by the Galvin Manufacturing Company, which later became Motorola. The “-ola” was a popular suffix at that time, what with the Victrola, Radiola, Rockola jukeboxes, Moviola movie editing, and the like.

The first radios were not factory-installs; they were aftermarket products that required a lot of labor, a lengthy install, and a price tag of $130, which was a substantial percentage of the cost of a car. They also ran on their own batteries rather than using current from the car’s battery. Still, they were pretty popular, and improved models that used the car’s battery and were much easier to install followed soon after. Ford started offering pre-installed radios in 1933.

The 1936 Ford Tudor in my building’s garage (not mine, sadly :frowning: ) has a factory radio. It’s a very neat little package, in keeping with Ford design of the era. The dial is semicircular, with a moderne chrome housing and two tiny knobs, all of it in the exact center of the dash. The speaker is hidden between the sun visors in the mohair headliner. You’d never guess it wasn’t standard equipment.

Pretty much the same here in Canada.

Anecdotally, my family’s 1964 Impala did not have air conditioning, but our 1967 Impala did have factory air conditioning. I was brought up in Los Angeles.