SEMA News—April 2013
By Drew Hardin
Photo Courtesy Petersen Archive
Dick Scritchfield was a relatively new addition to the Car Craft magazine staff when he drew the assignment to cover the growing auto-stereo trend in the magazine’s January 1967 issue.
“If you haven’t already bolted a tape deck in that machine of yours, man, you’re either living outside of the ‘in’ group or have never heard an automotive stereo tape player in action,” he said in his opening paragraph. “Stereo might be great at home, but in a car—it’s something else. Just to drive along while listening to your favorite music coming at you from all directions is what most stereo owners refer to as the new surrounding sound.”
True surround sound, of the multi-speaker, mega-watt, AM/FM/CD/MP3/satellite/HD radio variety, is state-of-the-art in cars today. In 1967, Scritch was describing the birth of stereo in cars—a movement led by Ford in 1966—and the differences between four- and eight-track tapes.
“Bill Lear, manufacturer of the famous Lear Jet aircraft, set out with his engineers to design a cartridge and player that could handle eight sound tracks rather than only four,” Scritchfield wrote. That would allow a full one hour and 20 minutes of uninterrupted music. Ford’s choice of the eight-track player “started a feud akin to the early days of the 45 and 33 LP records. The four-track players had marketed more than 600,000 units when the eight-track Lear design was chosen as the Ford standard.”
Motorola stepped up to manufacture the Lear player in the quantities required by Ford, and “other members of the auto industry followed by offering eight-track players in their ’67 lines as optionals.”
In the opening photo for his guide, Scritchfield parked his iconic Ford roadster in front of a stereo store owned by actor Skip Young and his partner Bob Williams in Woodland Hills, California. To populate the photo, Scritchfield gathered several of the store’s employees around Young (at center in the photo), who, among other roles in the early days of television, played Wally in “The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet.” Young is holding a Muntz Stereo-Pak, one of several four- and eight-track players marketed by Madman Muntz.
“By keeping the price under $100, Muntz has been able to move his stereo units with tremendous acceptance,” said Scritch.
Tremendous acceptance for the time, maybe. But while the four- and eight-track manufacturers were duking it out for market share, a little-known device called the audiocassette was slowly improving in fidelity. Once it matched the eight-track for music reproduction quality, those big, bulky eight-track cartridges would become instant relics—or collectibles, depending on your point of view.