One of the more obscure car related products of post WWII years was the “auto shaver”, an electric razor adapted for use in a car. During the 1950s and ’60s, both Remington and Schick marketed dual voltage shavers that could be employed conventionally in front of the bathroom mirror or plugged into a car’s cigarette lighter port. They were sold as the ultimate convenience for the guy on the go whose hectic schedule often put him in “stubble trouble”.
Unlike the photoshopped image beginning this post, auto shavers weren’t shaped like little cars. They looked like any homebound electric razor, and had been around for years when the two giants of beard mowing, Remington and Schick got serious about promoting them. GM had listed them in the accessory catalogs of their brands as early as 1948; they could be used either on automotive or home voltages with the flick of a switch. At $19.50, $198 in today’s money, a guy would have to think twice before shelling out almost third of a week’s salary for one, especially if he already had a garden variety electric shaver at home.
Casting about for a killer sales gimmick, Remington used a tried and true formula to establish a market for their hybrid shaver: Endorsement by A Famous Athlete. During the winter of 1956-’57, they quietly contracted with elite baseball pitcher Sal Maglie to cultivate a Van Dyke style beard, and fed publicity photos of him grooming and showing it off to a presumably unwitting press without revealing their own complicity in the apparent fashion foible.
Maglie had all the attributes around which to weave a smash-o campaign for their “Auto-Home Rollectric”. As a pitcher for The Brooklyn Dodgers and a former New York Giant, He had a huge profile in the biggest American advertising market, had famously pitched a “no hitter” late in the 1956 season while leading the Dodgers to first place in the National Baseball League, and even sported the perfect nickname: “The Barber”.
So called for his reputation of “shaving” the opposing baseball batter with near-miss pitches, Maglie was also the bearer of an impressively opaque five o’clock shadow. And, he lived conveniently close to east coast production studios. He had just appeared as a Mystery Guest on the popular Sunday night game show, “What’s My Line” on the day before pitching masterfully against the New York Yankees in the 1956 “World Series” (Phil Rizzuto, recently cut by the Yankees, was on the blindfolded panel but didn’t guess Sal’s identity). In the baseball game, Maglie gave up just 2 runs, but had the misfortune to be opposed by the Yankees’ Don Larsen, who pitched a “perfect” game, preventing all Dodger batters from reaching base.
By the new year, Maglie had been seen around town with a novel crop of facial hair, a fashion anomaly in the first half of the twentieth century. In those days, only history professors, jazz musicians and beat poets wore beards, and the public were left to wonder if Maglie was pitching “just a bit outside”. The truth was revealed with kickoff of Remington’s spring ad campaign (released just as Maglie turned 40 years old) that traded upon “baseball’s toughest beard” to promote the effectiveness of the in-car shaver that automatically switched from house to auto voltage when plugged into a car’s cigarette lighter port.
Remington’s agency produced a magazine ad and television commercial that showed “The Barber” sitting in a striking 1957 Chrysler Imperial convertible while attacking his substantial beard with a Remington Rollectric that whisked away the heavy growth in just 22 seconds. The ad encouraged readers to tune in to “What’s My Line”, as well as the wildly popular prime time horse opera, “Gunsmoke” to see video proof of the “historic shave” during program breaks.
A critical concern not directly addressed in the ad was the problem of shaving while trying to drive. With only two hands and two feet to handle five controls, the likelihood of safely wielding a Rollectric while in transit was questionable. They got around this by putting Maglie’s car at rest, so there was no worry about the number of extremities needed to steer, shift and shave at once. Further, the luxurious Imperial was equipped with Torqueflite push-button automatic transmission, so shifting while underway was not an issue.
Yet, the Auto-Home’s safe use was demonstrated, if not verbalized in the Remington TV commercials. In an early one, a traveling salesman in a begrimed 1955 Ford Country Squire (with manual transmission and the 1950s road warrior’s best friend, a fender mounted spotlight) pulls into car wash to enjoy a convenient, safe shave as the car rolls through, eliciting exclamations of approval from the soap jockeys at the other end.
That commercial is later referenced by somewhat odd spot in which another “suit”, hailing the ubiquitous mid century Mopar cab at LaGuardia Airport, is offered a Remington, “all fresh and cleaned and ready to shave” (!) by the driver. “I saw these Remington Auto-Home Shavers on the TV. Some guy was shaving while his car got washed!”, was the scripted line.
On the other hand, Schick smartly embraced the sex angle in commercials for their competitive offering, the Auto/Home Powershaver (note, Remington’s hyphen is replaced with a slash). Schick’s agency separated a long haul airline pilot from the steering wheel of his 1958 Oldsmobile convertible by putting it in the hands of his wife, who revealed a gift “Powershaver” in the glovebox. The advert makes it clear what her man has to gain by using the Schick, as she denies him a kiss before he cleans up with it.
Meanwhile, automakers continued to offer car shavers to pad out their accessory catalogs, even if they didn’t feature them in advertisements. This page from the 1956 Chevrolet handout lists a “GM” shaver that looks suspiciously like a Remington.
But a dual voltage shaver still wasn’t cheap. No wonder then, that inexpensive voltage inverters appeared to fill the price gap and negate the need to duplicate the razor already sitting at home on the vanity. Their actual capabilities were hard to discern in a flurry of flim flam meant to confuse the consumer into thinking they were razors in their own right. “Park safely, relax and enjoy a cool, quick, electric shave with a Trav-Electric Auto-Shaver” was printed on the box of the most popular brand. The Terado Company of St. Paul, MN introduced the misleadingly named, Kar-Shaver, a voltage inverter that that allowed any 110 v home razor to run off a car’s cigarette lighter port. Later, they even hid it in a suspiciously shaver-shaped case.
As late as 1969, Remington continued to offer the Auto-Home razor, updated with an adjustable shaving head in a squared-off case. One wonders how it was selling, given the decision to publicize it through a nationwide car raffle. In a collaborative campaign with American Motors, Remington advertised a give-away of 100 shavers, “with a 1969 AMX attached” (390 cid/4 speed stick!) in the December 1968 issue of Playboy Magazine. All you had to do was tear out the page and take it to a Remington or AMC dealer to compare the position of the “Comfort Dial” in your ad to that on a display image. Of course, a match didn’t guarantee you a car, as its parting words were, “or you may win one of 1000 Orrtronic auto stereo tape decks”.
Nowadays the car shaver concept lives on in Chinese-made units like this one. It’s tagline is, “Bicyclic network Superman speeding blade”.
Such a beautifully obfuscated description shows a deep understanding of the copy writer’s art, if not of western English. The Mad Men assigned to the Remington Auto-Home Rollectric and the Schick Auto/Home Powershaver would be proud.
If that shaver was shaped like what looks like a 66 Valiant Signet, count me in
Nothing beats a straight edge razor. Don’t try to use one in the car though.
Well played on the Photoshop image to lead the article… the car acting as the shaver appears to be a first gen Cougar, which was referred to just last week here at CC as having an “Electric Shaver Grill”.
Well played. ;o)
You’re right. I see Cougar as well.
It was an actual car. I have a nice pic of my older brother, Bruce’s ’67 Cougar parked at my parents’ house in the early ’70s that I used in the photochop. Glad to see you guys got the pun!
I was so hoping an actual Cougar shaver existed.
Despite all the models and decades of commercials saying this new one is the best yet, I have not found a decent electric shaver. I can only imagine how craptastic a car shaver that looks like it was sold by JC Whitney would be.
If this trend had continued, would we have passed anti-shaving laws to prevent distracted driving hygiene?
+1 to the mythical working shaver. I’ve twice paid good money, too. I reckon my face hair must leave bits of blade in the machines rather than vice versa, as they’ve all consistently screamed, buzzed, wailed and then died having done bugger-all of their job.
There is a new “hybrid” razor called the Phillips Norelco OneBlade that’s been getting rave reviews. I plan to pick one up at some point. Might be worth checking out.
It does not shave close like a blade or regular shaver. Minimum 1mm.
My shavers all work fine for about a month, then the rotary blades start getting caught on my stubble. Yes, the blade stops spinning for a moment. The next thing they then do is ‘burn’ my skin where it turns red during the shave.
My stubble must be like Superman’s – Hey, where _does_ Clark Kent get his blades?
It would certainly be more useful than an electric toothbrush for the car. 🙂
It is funny, I used to read a lot of old magazines and paid close attention to the funny old ads. And I don’t remember seeing ads for these at all. But the moment I saw the first picture one old advertising nugget immediately burst into my mind: “LLLLLLLLectric Shaaaaave!”
Toothbrushes and mobility do not mix. Take it from a guy who was walking and brushing at the same time, slipped, and had the roof of his soft palate jabbed / punctured by the pointy head of a toothbrush. Even swallowing just saliva became a nightmare. After a trip to the oral surgeon and lot of meds, things started to get back to normal only two weeks later. This was about three years ago.
There’s no way I’d brush my teeth in a car, even as a passenger, for this very reason.
Sam the Sham ….. I guess The Pharoahs are in the Caravan following …..
Yes, the car-shaped shaver at the beginning does make sense given the references to ‘electric shaver grilles’ I often see here. How well did they catch on? I am sure there would have been some crazy people who would have attempted to shave while driving as they do with everything else. Didn’t they have battery-operated shavers like that in the 50s and 60s? Would have been easier to work with, that’s for sure.
In the past dozen years or so, I’ve used a number of inexpensive, battery shavers in the car. Some were brand-names. Some were not. All made in China. Eventually the foil wears out or the sun warps or disintegrates the cheap plastic.
(It’s a lot safer to shave in a car than texting or touch-screening!)
I do have a vintage ’50s Philips battery shaver, made in Holland. It has a leather case, with a battery compartment that takes a couple C-cells. Never used it.
Also a Swiss-made wind-up shaver from a flea-market many years ago, with a transparent plastic case so one can see the spring and gears whirring.
Happy Motoring, Mark
I’ll just keep my beard, thanks all the same, Ive had one for 50 years or so I’m quite used to it.
I never shaved in the car, and I never liked electric razors. I used a Gillette Mach 3 from about age 12 to 16, then used a straight edge for about a year, but by that point I was getting a 5 o’clock shadow by noon, and I gave up. I started trimming it once a week to a number 3.
Around my sophomore year of college, I concluded that if god wanted us clean shaven, he wouldn’t have given us facial hair to begin with. I brush it, and I let my barber neaten it every six months or so. But I decided to try for a Dusty Hill look last time. I think it’s an improvement.
Years ago when I had a very regularly time morning routine I’d often be at the same stop light that took a couple of cycles to get through with a guy doing his shaving with a battery powered unit. At that same light I also regularly was stopped near a guy eating a bowl of cereal.
It’s the unregulated ’50’s version of a safety campaign: No Hairy Driving.
The mind does boggle as to where one plugs in the Chinese bicyclic model. Anyway, I understand that in Beijing, the traffic is such that many trips would require rechargeable shears let alone razors – and that’s just for the women.
Eccentric and amusing post.
One more old thing to watch out for at tag sales…….
Electric shavers are not for everyone .
I tried them and always got poor results to I went back to blades, when I got married my Wife was a Cosmetologist (fancy word for Hair Dresser) and she said ‘ let me give you a nice hand shave with e straight edge razor’ so I did, she complained my bristle was like wire and it damaged her blade .
No wonder electrics never worked well for me .
I have a nice Norelco I used to trim my mustache until it suddenly died after ten years of good service .
? If you shave in the car, won’t you get itchy from all the hairs down your shirt front ? .
How about the odd whisker that somehow gets stuck in a fingertip? Surprisingly annoying.
Itchy hairs all down the shirt front – my first thought also. And on the drive home, when it’s all fallen onto the seat (and like a crumb in a bed, it AIN’T gonna brush away), you’d soon have a prickly freckle and there, THERE folks you’d have one hell of a distracted driver.
You’re not alone. Electric razors simply don’t make a lot of sense. When they’re new and the blades are sharp, they shave well enough, but the fast moving blades heat up and quickly cause irritation and burn. I think that was the main rationale for the introduction of after shave lotion like Lectric Shave.
Then there’s the issue of the blades having a very short, finite life where the shaver actually works. It’s not long before electric shaver blades get dull and simply stop cutting whiskers. So, when the blades are new and working, it burns. When it’s not burning, it’s not shaving. Electric razors might be okay for occasional use when it’s not practical for a traditional razor with shaving cream and water, but that’s about it. Otherwise, your face is burning and you’re constantly replacing expensive electric shaver blades.
Of course, these are all assumptions not based on fact.
They are fact. My bristles kill electric blades. Aren’t they made of titanium or something?
What other cars can we think of with electric shaver grilles? I’ll toss this one out:
Early ’60s “Warthog Dodge”
The “many tiny holes” grille that Denali-trim GMC models used through the ’00s always reminded me of a shaver foil.
1966-67 Dodge Charger.
Of course, this is an assumption not based on fact.
Olds Achieva. I recall Whitney’s offering a cigar lighter powered razor in their mail-order catalog at one time. Think there was a wind up version from Germany available also.
Just so fellas .
Why I don’t like eating when I’m driving either .
Coffee of course, gets a pass and every so often I spill the damn cup and get REALLY pissed off .
I have to unbolt & remove the seats to shampoo the carpet and I’m sure there’s still some I never quite get out .
A fun post, nicely researched and put together. I’ll just add this little thing–you’re welcome to snag it, Barry K:
Thanks, George… got it! I looked at the roads around Solihull. I could see this happening… particularly in 1952, when the guy had to shift gears.
Solihull–was he driving a Rover?
. . .
several years of choice
I can’t get a good shave from an electric razor when I’m standing in front of my bathroom mirror, let alone behind the wheel…
How about Mike Connors as “Mannix” shaving in his car during the opening credits of each show? I believe it was the Dart GT convertible.
That’s easy. When Mannix was driving the Dart, Gail Fisher was waiting for him and he had to look good for her. Having some shadow whiskers was okay when he had the Toronado convertible and it was only grungy Joseph Campanella at the office.
Just the usual, non-fact-based assumption.
Wow that’s pretty sharp. I didn’t know about it or I would have included Mannix in the story… Wonder if that was a product placement?
I’m very OCD about shaving. First I do it with a Braun Foil-Type shaver (the only brand that’s worth a crap IMHO!) . I do it while catching the morning news in front of the computer. Then, I go to the bathroom and go over it with a triple-blade razor to tidy things up.
Having said that, I long ago discovered the joys of “plucking”. Every couple of weeks on a Sunday, while watching as movie or 2, I use one of these paper clamps and yank them out by the roots. Tedious? Maybe. The upside is that for 2 weeks, shaving is very easy, since the only ones that come out are the ones I missed plucking. After 20 years it doesn’t hurt any more, and the whiskers have become thin and wispy, less than half the diameter they were when I first starting doing this. No 5-0’clock shadow problems for me.
The funny part is I can set a watch by them re-growing. Pull them out on a Sunday afternoon, 2 weeks later like clockwork, on Sunday afternoon, I can feel them coming back in. Full disclosure. I DO NOT do this to my upper lip. That’s just too painful.
I’ve had a couple German Braun foil shavers. They worked fine – but eventually the foil wore out and replacements cost more than I paid for the shavers!
Currently, I use a battery Braun foil shaver I found brand-new, unused & unopened at a thrift-store. It works OK but needs to have fresh batteries to really stay effective. And it’s made in China!
I’n not commuting to work anymore, so I don’t need to shave in the car.
Happy Motoring, Mark
Mechanical windup shavers are the simplest solution. No cords, no rechargeable LI batteries. I think Braun used to make them. I’ve got a Russian windup made in the ’80s, bought on Ebay. Works nicely, served well in the last power outage!
Small correction: Starting in model year 1955, there was no longer any such thing as a “Chrysler Imperial.” Imperial became its own make that year … although so many folks, then and now, write/say “Chrysler Imperial” that you wouldn’t know it. Chrysler itself didn’t do enough to distance the Imperial and Chrysler marques and help clear up the confusion.
Anyway, the car Sal Maglie was in would have been a 1957 Imperial Crown convertible.
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Remington manufactured cars between 1900 and 1904, with the factory located in Utica, NY. The company was backed by Philo E Remington.