Buick "Trans-Portable" Transistor Radio (1959)


Have you ever seen a Buick radio? This "Trans-Portable" transistor was sold as an option for 1959 Buick automobiles. Similar radios were also offered for 1958/1959 Oldsmobiles and Pontiacs.

This is a "take-along" radio like my Blaupunkt Derby, which could serve as both a car radio and a portable.

The idea is that you plug the radio into the car when you're driving, then, after you arrive at the beach (or wherever), you unplug it and carry it along to provide music wherever you go.

My Buick set came with a classy leather case. The Blaupunkt is larger and did not have a case, as far as I know. Here are photos of both radios.


Like the Blaupunkt, this one would be mounted in a special carrier in the car, and connected to the car's onboard power and electronics through a cable. On the left side of the radio as shown in this photo is a long rectangular 10-pin connector where the cable would be plugged in. On both sides of the radio are holes where sturdy pins from the carrier would be inserted. (You would obviously remove the radio from its leather case before plugging it into the car.)

This is an AM radio receiving the standard broadcast band. When used as a portable, it is powered by 6 volts from 4 AA batteries.

The construction of this set is robust, as you might expect. The case is made of thick cast aluminum, anodized in a gold color. The radio's printed-circuit chassis fits into lengthwise slots in the case parts, allowing you to slide the whole thing apart for service after removing the metal end caps.

The built-in ferrite loopstick antenna is housed in a separate plastic compartment at the upper back of the case. Part of the plastic cover has been broken on my set, which led me to ask, "Why didn't they make this part as strong as the rest?" Then I slapped my forehead, when I realized that the antenna would naturally need to be outside the all-metal case in order to receive any signals at all.

After I first published this article, I received more information from a Buick owner:

This was an option in 1959 Buicks. It is a two piece unit, this radio and a unit
permanently installed inside the instrument panel. The portable unit is inserted 
into a rack located in the glove box. The permanent unit handles the circuitry to
the car battery, car antenna and speaker and has two additional transistors. The
portable has six transistors and runs off four batteries.

The exterior of the instrument mounted unit appears to be a regular radio while 
the portable is hidden in the dash to discourage theft. The instrument panel unit
will not operate without the portable. The other difference is that if you have a
regular radio, you need to wait when turning it on for the tubes to warm. With 
the portable unit, the radio plays as soon as it is turned on.

There is very little information on these radios in the sales brochures from Buick.
They usually only show the portable unit, and don't explain the working concept.


Some time later, I found a vintage auto website which features an advertisement for the similar Oldsmobile Trans-Portable. Click the image to read the sales brochure information, with a bigger view of the glovebox mounting. (This info is included by permission of that website's operator.)

This kind of dual-purpose radio never really caught on in the USA, probably because cheap shirt-pocket type transistors quickly became available. The concept survived longer in Europe, where both autos and radios were comparatively more expensive.

You can read about more European radios of this type in my Blaupunkt Derby article.

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