10 Bad Ideas From the JC Whitney Catalog

Craig Fitzgerald

Craig Fitzgerald | Mar 30, 2016

JC Whitney was like the Victoria's Secret catalog for greasy idiots. Yes, there were regular car parts in there, but it was the fantasy of equipping your 1951 Oldsmobile with a hood ornament in the shape of Jayne Mansfield that kept the catalog growing throughout the Great Depression, right on through the point where it was acquired in 2002.

Like Betty Crocker, Häagen-Dazs and Aunt Jemima, there was no guy named "JC Whitney".

The company was founded in 1915 as The Warshawsky Company, a scrap metal yard on Chicago's gritty South Side. Lithuanian immigrant Israel Warshawsky a man who jumped on opportunity when he saw it. Automobile manufacturers were cropping up like dot-commers in the 1920s and failing just as rapidly. Israel bought up the remnants when those companies went under, first as scrap, then as a spare parts empire.

It was his son, Roy, that saw the future in catalog marketing. For sixty bucks in 1934, he placed an ad in Popular Mechanics advertising his "giant auto parts catalog," for just a quarter. The response was immediate and overwhelming, and carried JC Whitney through the war years and right on into the 1990s.

Pre-internet, JC Whitney was a legitimate source of replacement parts for every kind of car that roamed the streets of America. When Volkswagen hit its stride in the 1950s and 1960s, JC Whitney jumped in hard with tons of replacement parts.

That's not what made JC Whitney special, though. What made its catalog a must-read when it arrived in your mailbox was the ridiculous accessories contained within. At the same time, just a few blocks away from JC Whitney HQ, Johnson Smith Company was a world-class selling machine with its full line of fake turds, joy buzzers, rubber chickens and whoopie cushions. JC Whitney took the same approach, but with car people in mind. Here's a look at what made the catalog so memorable:

Winking Animals

Nothing prevents rear-end collisions like a one-eyed cat.

Winking animals were JC Whitney's stock-in-trade. For the low, low price of just $6.95 -- plus shipping and handling -- you could indicate the direction in which you were about to turn through the glowing eyes of Winky the Cat, Duchess the Tiger, or Mac the Dog. Perched on the package shelf, the animals were wired to the turn signals, likely with the weather-tightness of a four-inch piece of Scotch tape.

Horns and Bells

If you were looking for an accessory that dinged, donged, whistled, honked or AH-OOO-GAH'ed, JC Whitney was your hookup. Pages and pages of chrome-plated horns, bells, whistles and chimes let your fellow commuters know that you were a force to be reckoned with.

Barefoot Pedal

The perfect accessory for your dune buggy or custom van, the barefoot pedal was a buck-twenty-nine and transformed your car from merely pedestrian to pure awesome. The truly cool would have a second foot for the floor-mounted headlight dimmer switch. Groovy, man.

Grip King Automatic Electronic Sander

YOU THERE! Are you waiting around for a socialist highway department drone to sand icy roads while you could be pulling yourself up by your bootstraps and doing it the Ayn Rand way? Shame on you, when you could be enjoying the ice-defeating power of the Grip King Automatic Electronic Road Sander! While those other suckers are spin their wheels ineffectually, you'll simply push a button to summon the traction only 50 pounds of sand in the trunk can offer. Easy to install. Simply requires two gigantic holes bored through the inner fenders. (Holes not included.) Also useful for blinding international assassins giving hectic chase.

Denim Stuff

"Join the Jean Scene" with these denim steering wheel covers, litter bags and rear deck mats, because not everybody can drive a Levi's edition AMC product. A perfect partner to the macrame dreamcatcher hanging from your rear view mirror. Get "with it" today! (Squares need not apply).

Gyroscopic Stabilizers

In the go-go 1950s, you could say just about anything in an ad. Case in point, the Gyroscopic Stabilizers offered in the JC Whitney catalog. The claims for these $19.95 items were the kind that could Make America Great Again, if we didn't have weenie lawyers trying to ruin everything with "facts" and "responsible business practices". These items -- which you'd bolt on under your hubcaps -- were claimed to cure every ill this side of Halitosis. Never mind that the gyroscopic effect requires an actual gyroscope. Who are you, Ralph Nader?

Hand Starter for Volkswagen Engines

America really started to go down the tubes when we got used to the electric starter. Why in our day, you cranked over an engine by hand, and if you broke your arm doing it, it built character. For less than four bucks, you could experience the vim and vigor of the dawn of the automobile. Simply wind the strap around your VW's generator pulley and fire your car to life with your own gumption. Hernia truss sold separately.

"Rolls-Royce" Hood and Continental Kit

Now that you've yank-started your Volkswagen, you'll want to add a few accessories to class up the joint. You'll be mistaken for a Rockefeller with this Rolls-Royce hood and Continental fake spare tire hump. No more French's yellow for you, it's Grey Poupon on your tube steak from here on out.

Duplex Left Foot Accelerator

Are you tired of the drudgery of utilizing only your right foot against the inscrutible resistance of your throttle return spring? Act today and enjoy this contraption, which allows your right foot to luxuriate in comfort while that no-good lazy left foot does some work for once. Second barefoot gas pedal required.

Form-A-Louver Cutting and Forming Tool

Nothing gives your car jet-age styling like louvers, to let the hot air out of your trunk. Gone are the days when you have to visit some overpriced "professional" with "experience" punching holes in your sheetmetal. Now you can do it in the comfort of your own dirt driveway with JC Whitney's Form-A-Louver kit. Comes with easy to follow instructions, which advise practicing on Dad's Pontiac before messing with your own jalopy.

Get the Car Talk Newsletter

Got a question about your car?

Ask Someone Who Owns One