(Like a great b-movie or underfunded horror flick, sometimes stuff that’s real shitty has an allure. This can be said about the 8-track tape. I remember my father loving his collection of shitty cartridges, all lined up in a case for the car. Now, if you can manage to put an 8-track player into your custom boogie van, that shit will gain you serious punk rock points. The epitome of shitty sound, but a collectors item nonetheless. Here’s some blather we found on the interweb. – FATS)
The popularity of both four-track and eight-track cartridges grew from the booming automobile industry. In September 1965, Ford Motor Company introduced factory-installed and dealer-installed eight-track tape players as an option on three of its 1966 models (Mustang, Thunderbird, and Lincoln), and RCA Victor introduced 175 Stereo-8 Cartridges from its RCA Victor and RCA Camden artist’s catalogs. By the 1967 model year, all of Ford’s vehicles offered this tape player upgrade option. Most of the initial factory installations were separate players from the radio (such as shown in the image), but dashboard mounted 8-track units were offered in combination with an AM radio, as well as with AM/FM receivers. Muntz, and a few other manufacturers, also offered 4/8 or “12-track” players that were capable of playing cartridges of either format, 4-track or 8-track. With the backing of the US automakers, the eight-track format quickly won out over the four-track format, with Muntz abandoning it completely by late-1970.
Despite its problems, the format gained steady popularity because of its convenience and portability. Home players were introduced in 1966 that allowed consumers to share tapes between their homes and portable systems. By the late-1960s, the 8-track segment was the largest in the consumer electronics market and the popularity of 8-track systems for cars helping generate demand for home units. “Boombox” type players were also popular but eight-track player/recorders failed to gain wide popularity and few manufacturers offered them. With the availability of cartridge systems for the home, consumers started thinking of eight-tracks as a viable alternative to vinyl records, not only as a convenience for the car. Within a year, prerecorded releases on eight-track began to arrive within a month of the vinyl release. The eight-track format became by far the most popular and offered the largest music library.
Eight-track players were fitted as standard equipment in most Rolls-Royce and Bentley cars of the period for sale in UK and world-wide. Optional 8-track players were available in many cars and trucks through the early 1980s.
Ampex, based in Elk Grove Village, Illinois, set up a European operation (Ampex Stereo Tapes) in London, England, in 1970 under general manager Gerry Hall, with manufacturing in Nivelles, Belgium, to promote 8-track product (as well as musicassettes) in Britain and in Europe, but it struggled and folded in 1974.
Quadraphonic eight-track cartridges (announced by RCA in April 1970) were also produced, Ford being particularly eager to promote in-car quadraphonic players as a pricey option. Neither Chrysler, General Motors, nor American Motors ever offered a quadraphonic tape player. The format enjoyed a moderate amount of success for a time but faded in the mid-1970s. These cartridges are sought by collectors since they provide four channels of discrete sound, unlike matrixed formats such as SQ, which Columbia/CBS Records used for their quadraphonic vinyl records.