• 2018

A Great Honking Time

It’s hard to imagine a busy city without the background noise of honking car horns, but it wasn’t always so. In Britain, during the early 1800s, steam carriages were all the rage. During this time period, a law was passed that required them to be preceded by a man on foot, blowing a horn and waving a red flag. This was for the safety of pedestrians and livestock. It soon became obvious that a driver-operated horn would be a far more effective warning system.

All the Bells and Whistles

In the early days of the automobile, drivers had a choice of warning devices, including whistles, bells and bulb horns. The most popular choice in America was actually bells, and by the early 1900s, the bulb horn caught on.

Soon, there was a call for warning devices that could be heard from at least an eighth of a mile away. A variety of new devices came into market, including some that were powered by the exhaust system. One such device was called The Sireno. Named after Greek mythological figures, it was said that it could be heard from a mile away. Another device, the Godin, used the advertising slogan, “You press as you steer, and your pathway is clear.” The Gabriel, a multi-toned horn, became extremely popular thanks to its novel and piercing sound.

The Klaxon was the brainchild of Miller Reese Hutchinson, an inventor who would go on to work with Thomas Edison. His horn could be operated by a small hand crank or by using the car’s
batteries. The Klaxon produced a directional and loud sound, which would become the basis for today’s modern diaphragm car horns.

Over the years, manufacturers have often experimented with the sound of horns. One of the most distinctive sounds of the last century is the “Aoogha” sound of the Model T and Model A. Another development was the use of two horns — which resulted in a unique tone. Up until the 1960s, most American horns were tuned to E flat or C. Today, many manufacturers have moved up the scale a notch to F sharp and A sharp.

From the early days of men blowing horns and waving red flags, to today’s sophisticated modern, two-toned warning devices, the car horn has certainly come a long way.


Due in part to its familiar horn, the Plymouth Road Runner was destined to be a huge hit. From its introduction in 1968 until 1980, people fell in love with this exciting muscle car. “So they took a Plymouth Belvedere, put a big engine in it, then they wanted to give it some personality,” said Bill Robinson, retired Plymouth Styling Assistant Manager and member of the Ramchargers Racing Group.

If you grew up in the ’60s and ’70s, you probably spent Saturday mornings watching Wile E. Coyote try to capture The Road Runner by using the latest ACME explosives, which means you likely remember seeing Chrysler Corporation’s Plymouth Road Runners speeding down the road and then hearing their one-of-a-kind “beep-beep” car horn that sounded amazingly similar to the cartoon Road Runner. That familiar sound in a car horn was developed by the Sparton Corporation of Jackson, Michigan. While most modern car horns have two notes, the Plymouth Road Runner’s horn only had one. There were rumors that the high-pitched horn was actually the sound of a forklift truck.

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