Aaron Widmar
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Videocassette Vehicles: Remember VHS Tape Rewinder Cars?

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VHS Video Cassette Tape Rewinder Car 1957 Chevy red VCR memorabilia top
Photo: The News Wheel

As the debate rages regarding the future of physical media, my mind has been reflecting on the types of audio-visual media that I grew up with 30 years ago. I’ve been particularly nostalgic for the VHS cassette and its associated equipment, including the giant bulky VCR and — one of the most unique pieces of automotive memorabilia — a car-shaped tape rewinder.

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See, back in the day, VHS cassettes used spools of tape to store audio-visual information. When you were done watching the movie on your VCR, you had to rewind it to play it again. These videocassette rewinder cars were far more interesting than your basic VHS rewinder that resembled a plastic rectangular slab — about as visually interesting as the video cassette itself.

You’d pop the greenhouse open or hood up — in our case, by pushing the front license plate — and slide the black plastic cassette in. If your car was “cool,” it was an automatic … meaning it would automatically start rewinding when you pushed the top down. Its headlights would light up as you heard the rev (or, more accurately, the shrill whir) of the motor rewinding the tape in the VHS cassette. It was obvious why some geniuses envisioned a tape rewinder that looked like a car based on its sound!

VHS tape rewinders explained (for the young folks)

Why was having a separate appliance to rewind your video cassettes necessary when the VCR could do that?

Products like video cassette rewinder cars were designed to rewind video tapes much faster. Plus, they would spare the VCR from enduring extra motor wear and getting gunked up. VCRs were also more likely to create kinks in the tapes when sped quickly, which would basically create playback glitches as a scratch on a DVD would.

For context, VCRs usually cost hundreds of dollars, while VHS tapes of popular films cost $40-$80 — and that’s all in 1980s prices. Adjusting for inflation, that’s about twice as much as what you’d pay for a new Nintendo Switch and a Super Mario game today! In contrast, basic VHS tape rewinders could cost $10-15 at the time.

That made VHS tape rewinders clearly smart investments at a great value. Even if you only rented your videos from Blockbuster, a rewinder would preserve your VCR and avoid hefty penalty fees — or just be a kind person. “Be kind, rewind!”

VHS Video Cassette Tape Rewinder Car 1957 Chevy red VCR memorabilia Front
Photo: The News Wheel

What model video cassette rewinder car did you own?

I loved my family’s video cassette rewinder car and have fond memories of it from my childhood. Our “model” was an officially licensed replica of a red 1957 Chevy Bel Air — shiny silver grille and all. And officially licensed by General Motors! It was my mom’s favorite car, although it wasn’t pink like she dreamt of.

While the intent of the auto-rewind feature was to “set it and forget it,” I would often lay on the carpet and watch the car as it did its work — much like how a kid stares entranced at a microwave.

Videocassette rewinder cars came in all types of models, like a black 1963 Corvette, a knockoff Lamborghini, and even your generic, boxy 1980s sedan. Seemingly every A/V company was producing their own car-shaped video rewinders, from Solidex to Kinyo. There was even a car-shaped rewinder released as official movie merchandise for the 1988 film Never Say Die.

The AutoWinder from Quantum International was a popular line of rewinders, with automobile designs resembling ultra-sleek cars of the future — but now serve as a time capsule of 1980s automotive fashion.

What type of VHS tape rewinder did you have during the ‘80s and ‘90s? Were you one of the cool families that had a car-shaped rewinder?