New series. Mr. Chapman delves into the parts bin of history to unearth stuff people used to like adding to their cars. This month: Electric windows.


Hands would be callused from the unergonomic knob provided for the operation

Could Britain’s rampant obesity problem actually have arisen in the forearm area? For surely the nation’s upper-extremity flabbiness can be partly blamed on the near universal fitment of electric windows in cars these days.

There would be absolutely no chance of suet pudding travelling directly to the limb area between shoulder and elbow in times gone by. Winding down a car window to pay a bridge toll or shake a fist at a lorry driver entailed exercise the like of which was rarely encountered outside the world of lock gates or fireman’s hose reels.

Hands would be callused from the unergonomic knob provided for the operation, and bendy internal mechanisms were apt to slacken, meaning the glass itself was apt to slip down and admit cold air like a Geordie lass’s boob tube of a December evening.

Electric window lifts, soon abbreviated to electric windows, first appeared in expensive American cars of the 1940s, with Daimler the first British carmaker to fit them as standard in 1948. But such gliding, whirring assistance was a luxury, as far removed from the average motorist’s life as a cappuccino at a transport caff on the A1.

Fortunately, and after about 15 years during which British drivers continued to find pride in their sinewy arms, accessories behemoth Britax decided the country needed an automatic wind-down.

It started to import the Windo-Lift DIY electric window kit from America, where presumably it had been invented by ‘scientists’. The apparatus was to be wired to the battery by the car owner, in a move that Britax called (and check out the riders) ‘a fairly easy job for the average handyman’, with the controls manifesting themselves as ‘two small and attractive housings’, one on each door.

All being well, the windows would then race up and down at, in the argot of the early 1960s, ‘the touch of a button’, allowing the average British upper arm to expand sufficiently that a large tattoo of Tommy Steele or Beryl Reed could be proudly displayed.

Here you can see the gear fitted to a choice 1960s motor, a Lancia, I believe a Flavia, You can also see that the door panel of this delightful Italian sports saloon seems not to have withstood the butchery needed to remove the window winder and install the Windo-Lift button nacelle. The Lancia’s snug-fitting and carefully-moulded panel has been replaced by a sheet of ill-fitting Fablon or an opened-out bin-liner. Nice work, Britax. And you can’t help but notice that the model’s blouse is doing a discreetly good job in hiding a suspected bingo-wing.