Some of us smoke. Some of us don’t. Some want to smoke and can’t. All of us here drive and have ash or small coins to store somewhere. This means we all have some interest in ashtrays in cars.

1995 Buick Riviera interior
1995 Buick Riviera interior

As regular members here know, I drive an elderly Citroen. Apart from a graunchy gearchange and dangerously pointy doors, it’s the ashtray that causes me the most dissatisfaction. The ashtray is well sized and illuminated by a nice green lamp that creates a ghostly wonderland of cigar ash as I travel about the land under the cover of darkness. I’d call this a selling point.

The tragedy is that the gear lever is so placed that one has to use ridiculously elaborate wrist acrobatics to direct the cigar tip to the ashtray. Another problem is that when the ashtray is open there is a gap between the lid and the fascia. That gap is so large I once lost a whole cigar to the car’s inner workings. Luckily the Habana Feu was not lit at the time.

Wuhrmann Habana Feu cigars. Swiss excellence.
Wuhrmann Habana Feu cigars. Swiss excellence.

Twenty years on, have Citroen learned from the XM debacle? No. I was sitting in a C5 and the first thing I did was inspect the ashtray. If anything ,the position is slightly worse than in the 1989 car. And the ashtray is not so much a tray or receptacle as a very slightly inclined ledge, a sort of ash cranny.

This is not good enough. During any long journey the accumulation of ash will result in a cascade of debris falling onto the fashionably soft plastic. This is a terrible problem. A box of Villiger Export, if smoked correctly, creates quite a lot of material, you know.

2014 Bristol Blenheim

Ten minutes after visiting Citroen I was over at Ford’s dealer across town. I sat happily in the driver’s seat of the current Mondeo, an example in Ghia spec. To Ford’s credit, it’s a lovely interior. Lush, in fact. I don’t have the cash but I really wanted to own this car. But. Butt.

The ashtray lid was a cost-cutter’s paragon. If you try to open the lid by pressing on the upper edge, the lid flexes markedly. It’s made of plastic that is too thin. If the plastic was 1.2 mm thick it ought to have been 2.4 mm thick. Better still, it ought to have been made of metal. And if you reached for the chromed lip on the lower edge of the panel, your fingers tended to slide off. Result: ashtray unopened. Frustration. Rage. Dropped ash.

Once you have finally prised the lid open the Mondeo you find that the “ashtray” is evidently the slightly inclined ledge that Citroen copied for their collage of ripped-off styling cues that is the current C5. “My name is Jacque Fresnois, and I benchmarked Ford’s ashtrays for my work on ze C5 interieur….”

A taxonomy of ashtrays

Two main genera: fixed types or removable (usually known as the Smoker’s Pack, a removable cup with a flip-up lid.)

There’s little to be said about these Smoker’s Packs as they are of scant engineering or aesthetic interest. The ones I’ve seen are made of metal cased in flame-proof plastic. They also seem to be installed at the expense of a cupholder. Evil. Charmless.

Fixed genera are those which are not removed from the car. They are subdivided into those species with a moving lid or the species where the ashtray cradle itself moves (lidless).

The moving lid-types have 1) a lid moving in a plane (left-right or forward-back).
2) a lid rotating around an offset axis (simple flip-up lid on a hinge).
3) a lid moving through a curved path (moving over the tray or under the tray).
4) a lid rotating around a central, horizontal axis (cylindrical lid)
The moving lid design is best suited to large cars with substantial centre consoles. They are usually sited in front of the gear lever.

The moving ashtray concept is lidless. The tray itself moves into a new position relative to the surrounding fascia.
The moving ashtrays are in three types. 1) tray rotates about a central, vertical axis.
2) tray rotates about horizontal axis (hinge type).
3) moving parallel to a plane (drawer, moving from under the fascia).
The moving ashtray is a design found in smaller cars or American sedans with no centre console (with a column mounted autoshifter).

Another possible class is a pop-up type. This would involve the user pushing the lid or cover and the tray/lid assembly rising up from a fascia. Does this exist anywhere?

Ashtrays may be illuminated or not. Illumination is important when smoking and driving by night. They may have a glass, plastic or metal liner. Glass and chromed-finishes are easier to clean and look more attractive.

The cigar lighter may be mounted separately, or located under the ashtray lid. Moving cradles make this a little harder to engineer due to the wiring and mechanical force required to actuate the lighter.

Author: richard herriott

I like anchovies. I dislike post-war town planning.

4 thoughts on “Ashtrays”

  1. I think you need a SAAB 9000 Richard … easy pull out – keep fit DIY style and big enough bucket to hold approx £60 in pound coins

  2. Hi: Thanks for the tip. I did go through a phase of measuring the volume of ashtrays where possible. The Saab sounds like its in the 200 ml class. Impressive. Those huge touch screens have really eaten into the amount of real estate available on the dashboard and console so the poor ashtray has been edged out.

  3. Richard. As I’ve mentioned to you before, I only make an exception for yourself and LJK Setright from my blanket condemnation of drivers who smoke. I am a non-smoker, but this isn’t blind prejudice, just years of observation. To a layman. smoking doesn’t seem that onerous a task, yet many drivers seem to comply to the humorous, but unjustified, barb that Lyndon Johnson made about Gerald Ford being unable to walk and fart at the same time.

    Too often I’ve followed a lone driver, apparently free of distractions, driving oddly. On getting alongside, the cause usually becomes apparent – a child seat beside them, a phone in their hand or a smoking cigarette. On an unscientific count, I’d still say that the last is the most likely. Maybe ashtrays should lock once the car is under way. Or could hands-free solutions be found? A dashboard mounted hookah in place of the multi-touch interface perhaps?

    As Stephen points out, ashtrays have other uses. However, what remains of my youthful OCD makes me loath to put something in a receptacle designed for something else so they don’t have much use to me. I once returned a lease car from work and, entirely unintentionally, I found the ‘smoker’s pack’ in a desk drawer six months later. A small strike.

    Here’s another picture of a Bristol ashtray. Small but convenient….I imagine.

  4. I’ve lost a few pounds as a consequence of having a fully loaded ashtray and being broken into – I should learn but being slightly neanderthal it’s going to take a while. I must admit to being highly amused by Archie Vicars remonstrations regarding ash trays. A fascinating look into what was accepted and now isn’t.
    Not being a smoker – I dislike it. However I protest against the notion that a landlord cannot accept smokers should they choose to do so. All of us have the ability to walk from a pub if you find it unacceptable. To me it is an infringement of our civil liberty and the thin end of the wedge.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: