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Orchestrating Automobile Technology: Comfort, Mobility Culture, and the Construction of the “Family Touring Car,” 1917–1940

From: Technology and Culture
Volume 55, Number 2, April 2014
pp. 299-325 | 10.1353/tech.2014.0054



During the social and technical construction of the affordable “family touring car” in both the United States and Europe, one of the urgent projects was the abatement of noise. As a part of the emergence of “automotive comfort,” noise abatement took place during one of the costliest operations in the history of automotive technology: the closing of the body. From an open tourer, the car, during the interwar period, developed into a sedan, encapsulating the driver and his passengers and drastically altering their sensorial intake, especially sight and sound. Thus, car engineering became an engineering of the senses. In this article focusing on the American car culture, it is argued that sound “orchestration” was necessary to enable the automotive subject (the nuclear family) to concentrate on what it liked most: gazing outside the car body. The tourist gaze was rescued through the orchestration (both domesticating and fine-tuning) of the car as a sound machine.