My mother bought a Chrysler LeBaron convertible in the mid-’80s. It came equipped with whitewall tires, wire wheel hubcaps, “wood” siding (actually it’s plastic but real wood rots fast when affixed to the side of cars anyway), a turbo engine from that year’s Dodge Daytona Z, and a space-aged digital dashboard. But my favorite feature that more than any other item on the car, one that truly made it a complete ’80s period piece, was it’s synthesized voice warning system. One we came to refer to simply as “The Voice”.
A no-nonsense computerized male speaks out, advising “please close your driver door”, “don’t forget your keys”, even “oil pressure is critical – engine damage may occur” when sensors summon it to. If I neglected to turn the lights off before removing the key from the ignition, I would be sternly warned “your headlights are on.” For some reason, female passengers in the car always seemed to find that particularly amusing. And if, by chance, I opened the door before performing the lights-off, key-out sequence I was treated to three back-to-back warnings. I’d say it qualified as more of a lecture.
On occasion it served truly helpful functions such as informing the driver exterior light bulbs may be burned out. When the washer fluid reservoir level got down to the halfway mark, a sensor would trigger a warning from The Voice. If we didn’t have a bottle of washer fluid with us to immediately pull over and rectify the situation, we were treated to hearing “your washer fluid level is low” every time the fluid level sloshed around when making a turn or slowing to a halt. Or, if mom let me borrow it, when the car was accelerated from a stop at a very fast rate. I can’t count how many times I listened to the washer fluid warning while furiously drag-racing a Toyota Celica or Nissan 200SX (the above-referenced turbo engine made the car faster than you’d believe).
I never cared for the way The Voice completely pre-empted the stereo when it chose to speak – always at the exact point a favorite five-second guitar riff was playing on the radio. After looking in the owner’s manual, we were excited to see a drawing of an on-off switch in the glovebox for The Voice – however when we looked in the glovebox of our car, there was only a gaping hole where the off switch should have been installed. Later research I did on the car confirmed my suspicion that it had been built at a Detroit plant on a Monday. Perhaps that cliche made the car even more authentic to the ’80s.
This first link is a humorous youtube video where a 1986 Chrysler New Yorker with the identical voice as our LeBaron is pitted against an ’80s “Speak-And-Spell”. www.youtube.com/watch
If you ever owned a 1982-on Datsun 280ZX, Maxima or other, you may recall the voice of (what fans call) “Bitchin Betty” www.youtube.com/watch
Below, note the 1989 Volkswagen Jetta ad which takes a shot at cars equipped with voiceboxes. It’s interesting to note that Volkswagen’s own luxury division, Audi, was during that very time turning out talking cars. For proof, here’s an ’80s Audi in action www.youtube.com/watch
(Above: Ad picture image courtesy of Best Of The Past Car Advertisements & Literature stores.ebay.com/BEST-OF-THE-PAST-CAR-ADVERTISEMENTS )
Renault jumped on the talking car, digital-dash bandwagon in the 1980s as well. www.youtube.com/watch
Owners of 1980s Mitsubishi Starions / Chrysler Conquests and other Mitsubishi models may recall the minute-long musical tone that would play after the “door ajar” warning was spoken. While this video shows a Japanese-market car, the tone is the same www.youtube.com/watch
My mother still owns the 1986 LeBaron convertible today (shown below). While the car still runs great today, The Voice is referred to in the past tense for the purposes of this article because it is no longer with us – the victim of an electrical module short in 1993. My mother has never wished to replace the necessary part.