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Radios Published: 25th Jun 2019 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

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The good old days of motoring doesn’t include car radios says Alan Anderson recalling some shocking bad set ups that we did all by ourselves…

I had an opportunity, quite recently, to drive a nice old classic, complete right down to a period DIY-fitted radio which, apart from transporting me back 45 years, struck me that if anything has definitely improved for the better over the decades then it has to be car sound systems, not just their quality and value for money but, crucially how we installed them.

Younger readers may never experience what motoring was like without a radio. Before the influx of Japanese cars, only the poshest, upmarket of models came with one as standard – even Jaguar’s E-type lacked its own sounds – apart from their engines – an additional £50 back in 1972 for the new S3 model, incidentally. You had to be a pretty well-to-do sort to have one in your Cortina or even a Rover 2000 as their prices were astronomical especially as an optional extra when new because they also incurred purchase tax before April 1973. In real life terms, a simple push button installed mono radio cost a typical week’s wage – just think about that.

Worse still, music loving motorists were hit by the Government by an annual licence similar to the tele one. I think it was priced st around 10 bob (50p to you) until this bizarre law (like listening to private stations, how could it be policed?) was dropped by mid 1970s. To side-step this, portable car radios were popular because they weren’t permanently fitted.

Makes such as Radiomobile, Motorola, Pye, Philips, Sharp et al were too pricey for the working class, or teenager with their first car, so you made do with a cheap and cheerful sounding manual tuning funy named radio (a lot of cheap set names ended with ‘tone’) at £15 or so. But at least they were small which helped their fitting because the majority of dashboards had no provision for one so this led to some ingenious if suspect DIY fitting. Old Minis, for example, usually had their box of sounds slung under the passenger side dash, perfectly aligned to seriously wound a knee cap or shin in the event of an accident.

Other reasons for half baked lash ups included a desire to easily transfer the unit to another car as they were far too expensive to let the next owner enjoy. In fact, the better the set up was initially installed, then the more unsightly the interior looked once it was removed as any used car salesperson at the time will recall, perhaps knocking pounds off the trade-in deal. Let’s not forget the dubious wiring bodges while we’re on about it…

But this was simple Simon stuff compared to fitting the speaker – singular not plural as few came with two. Like the radio unit, owners not wishing to spoil the interior trim came up with some wonderfully weird ways to install them, sometimes muffling out the set completely until the introduction of the all inclusive pod speaker. Neat and easy to fit, except it was plonked on the rear parcel shelf which meant that at causing speed – about 60mph – the volume had to be cranked up so much to hear it at the front, that rear seat passengers were deafened as a result, not so much by the noise but by the naff quality of it all.

Tired of Tony Blackburn (who’s still going strong, good on ‘yer Tone-ed), tape players were next thing to have and the choice was between cassette or cartridge but that not before some ingenious manufacturers made mobile record players to accept 45s. How they worked on the move without continuously jogging the needle we don’t know but we have one in our fabulous Mk1 Zephyr convertible and it’s great to watch!

Cassette or Cartridge, in its heyday, was as tribal as City vs United. The former had the advantage of being far more compact, you could play them or record items at home and were cheaper to buy. All cartridge offered as compensation was slightly better recording qualities (because they ran a faster speed) and as they were of a continuous loop were the first form of hands-free. Cheap cassette players only had a fast forward facility meaning you had to ‘flip’ the tape to rewind it. And they think today’s mobile phones are a major distraction…

Cheap players were also prone to jamming or spewing the tape out and then there was the storage problem. No worries with a modern CD auto-changer but with cassettes (which won the war rather like VHF against Betamax videos) you had little option but to fill up every parcel shelf or door pocket available – and boy did they used to rattle around.

I was always amused when travelling in something like an XJ6 to witness all of Jaguar’s finest efforts ruined in a single stoke by the music mad owner…

Stereo upgrades are a new car popular pick but after forking out all that dough many motorists in the 1970s resolutely clung on to their tired old sets until they packed up no matter how out of place they looked in a newer dashboard. Lord Sugar’s Amstrad label used to market one of the most affordable AM/FM radio cassette players for less than £60 back in mid 70s. It was an ok combo but now you can buy, for a similar outlay, a really good radio and CD player, such is progress over 40 odd years although there are a couple of downsides…

Today’s sets aren’t half as simple to operate, boarding on the dangerous and look daft nestling in a classic dashboard.

What you want is an old style radio packed with the latest technology and, thanks to radio specialists, you can have it and for much less than week’s wages.

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