Behold, the Telstra Phone Car That Time Forgot

Behold, the Telstra Phone Car That Time Forgot
Image: Zachariah Kelly/Gizmodo Australia

I visited Adelaide this week, and while wine is top of everyone’s agenda when visiting the land of many grapes, one of the highlights for me was this phone car.

You see, dear reader, I am an excitable, hyperfixating mess when it comes to two things: cool, goofy tech and cars. So, imagine my excitement when I came across the “World’s Largest Mobile Phone”, built by none other than Telecom Australia, on a Volkswagen chassis?

This delightful automobile carries a history to it that I’d love to dig deeper into, but for now, I’ll entertain you with what I know.

This phone on wheels dates back to the 1980s (despite saying 1992 on the side). It was built by Telecom Australia, which then became Telstra in 1995.

During the 1980s, it was used in a variety of Australian parades. The National Archives of Australia has this snap of the car from 1980 at Warana in Queensland.

Now, here’s where the history of the phone car becomes a bit of a mystery to me. As you’ll see in the images I snapped, the car as it appears in National Archives of Australia photos is slightly different. On the older version, you’ll see lights on the bottom, and on the newer version, you’ll see a hash key and an asterisk key.

You’ll also see different stickers placed across the car, though I suspect that much of this was a refresh in time for the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona (of which Telecom Australia was an Australian Olympic Team Sponsor, as written on the phone car).

But allow me to entertain you with some recounted history from the National Motor Museum in Birdwood, South Australia, where the phone car is currently on display (by the way, car lovers, you need to go see the collection, it’s incredible).

“This car is a working phone,” the Australian Motor Museum has written beside the Telecom Australia Phone Car.

“It was built by Telecom on a Volkswagen Chassis. They used it for parades and other promotions during the late 1980s. At events, the car was linked to a phone line and the public were invited to press the buttons and call anyone in Australia.”

Well, hot dang, Telecom Australia. Innovation on wheels.

Would I like to drive the phone car? Absolutely. It may not be an electric car, nor would it go particularly fast, but I’m a sucker for things like this. Perhaps the legacy of the car phone lives on in Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, which brings mobile phone connectivity to the modern vehicle.

Long live the phone car.