Column: Car clocks have changed a lot 


I was sitting in my car the other day and noticed the clock was a couple minutes slow. I pushed a couple of buttons and it was fixed.

It wasn’t always that easy. When I was a kid the car clock was always slow, if it was running at all. And if the car was more than a month old, it usually wasn’t.

I remember two kinds of car clocks. In the 1930s and 40s the clocks were the wind-up kind, just like the bedroom alarm clock. You had to wind it every day, which meant if the car sat for more than 24 hours it would stop.

My dad used to start the engine and then, satisfied the car was running, would wind and set the clock to match the time on his Pocket Ben pocket watch.The second type of car clock showed up in the early 1950s. It was electric, sort of. What that means is, it was still a spring-loaded wind-up clock, but the car’s electrical system did the winding. If you sat in the car when it wasn’t running, every couple minutes you would hear a click – the sound of the clock being wound. With each click it would run for three minutes.

The problem with both of these was that wind-up clocks with delicate balance springs couldn’t take the rough ride that the roads offered back then. As a result, any car more than a month old and a few dirt road miles on it generally had a broken clock.

Unless it was a Rolls-Royce. As the most famous car ad of all time proclaimed, “At 60 miles an hour, the loudest noise in this new Rolls-Royce comes from the electric clock.”

Of course, today’s digital clocks changed everything. I’m guessing that includes the clocks in the Rolls-Royce.