Here’s a fun experiment: if you know what that car-shaped thing up there is, try to explain it to a nearby child. If you actually manage to convey the purpose of that thing and the surrounding context of technological development, society, and culture that made it a viable product, I’m guessing the child is regarding you with a heady mix of pity and contempt. You know what that thing is, right?
Just in case you’re not a miserable old bastard like myself and you’re baffled, I’ll just go ahead and tell you what that cheesy ‘57 Chevy plastic electric car-shaped thing is: a VHS tape rewinder.
Yes, back in the miserable, dark, pre-internet era, if you wanted to watch a particular movie or other audiovisual content at a particular place and time, you had to physically haul your ass to a retail establishment that owned thousands of plastic boxes with a spool of tape inside them, tape strung between two plastic reels.
The surface of that tape held magnetic particles that encoded the analog audio and visual signals that, when played back through a clunky machine called a VCR, connected to a (usually) CRT television, played your movie, often shittily.
Of course, you had to hope the place you went had your movie, and that no one else had taken home that plastic box of tape with your movie, and after you watched your movie you then had to rewind the tape so it’d be ready to play for the next person, or be subject to a monetary fine.
We lived like animals. Filthy animals.
That’s where this car-shaped thing came in: there was a whole sub-industry of machines that just rewound tapes, because your VCR was too busy or precious or you just wanted a reason to buy a plastic thing that sort of looked like an Acura NSX. Sort of.
There were versions of these that didn’t look like cars, of course, but who the hell would want that?
These things were once in every other house you were likely to visit, but now the whole ecosystem of technology they once served is about entirely gone and forgotten, so they remain strange curios that hint at a bygone era of inconvenience.
Looking back at these things, they were usually red, and usually sports cars or exotic cars. Nobody made a light blue Toyota Tercel VHS rewinder, sadly.
The most recent car I’ve seen on one of these has to be this New Beetle one, which had to have come out sometime in 1998 or 1999.
DVDs were well established at this time, and required no rewinding at all. I’m guessing this has to be one of the very last automobile-shaped VHS rewinders ever made, and in 1999 this thing could only have been sold to a very small group of semi-luddites who appreciated a bit of whimsy in their obsolete tech. That’s not a huge group, even if I count myself.
You can still find these things on eBay, if you really want a gift for some gearhead friend that says “hi, friend! I hope you like useless shit!”