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Sam Skelton on installing modern In Car Entertainment equipment in your classic

We all love old cars at Classic Motoring but if there is one thing we prefer to go with our old cars it is modern sounds. Yes we may have suffered pod-speakered AM radios back in the 1960s and 70s and some of us even had the luxury of an eight track player or cassette. But you can’t deny the quality of modern car hi-fi units or the great value they represent. Flicking through old car mags of the mid 70s, you’d find cassette players and radio- cassette combos from around £45 upwards – almost a week’s wage… Today, the likes of Halfords sell good well known radio/CD units for £50 or less!

The trouble is that a modern stereo sitting where a push- button Radiomobile used to reside looks naff. You can cheat of course and install modern equipment, say in your classic’s glove box or under a seat but then they’d be awkward to operate on the move. From a fitting standpoint you may run into trouble with your car’s polarity as sets and cars have been ‘Negative’ earthed since the 1970s. The best answer we think is a period radio fitting with modern wizardry.


Companies such as The Vintage Wireless Company (0161 973 0438) will take your old radio and replace the innards with anything your heart desires. CD Changer compatibility sir? By all means. An MP3 jack? Certainly. The world is your oyster – but alas your bank balance will start to look deflated if you start to
get excited by what’s on offer. That said you’ll also gain a fully overhauled unit into the bargain – we’ll touch on this later.

Before you go this route, there’s a fair bit you can do to your existing equipment and single biggest thing you can do to improve the sound in your classic is a simple and cheap one. Replace those cheap original speakers. As time goes by the foam in original ones deteriorate, as do the paper cones which transmit the sound.

This can lead to unexpected buzzing or crackling, and generally makes the aural experience far less pleasant. Modern speakers tend to be of hardier construction, with plastic cones and tougher foam, and can even improve the sound quality of original equipment radio installations. From £7 per speaker from some high street outlets, it’s a no-brainer to kick things off.


What about head units? Let’s face it, even if your 60s/70s/early 80s classic has one, it will not be very good at picking up stations. Nor will it be very good at keeping them. And though you may get an eight-track player, try to find the eight-tracks to go into it… There are two routes the would-be classic car loving audiophile can take to get superior sound quality. Neither is necessarily a superior method, but personal preference tends to dictate which is the wiser option.

Route 1: you could go for something vaguely period. The radio from a better or slightly later model in place of an original often gives better quality and more modern features. This route works well with more modern classics where a slightly newer radio won’t look too out of place, and where CD changers were just beginning to appear. The price depends upon source and it is possible to source complete radio and CD changer installations from 1990s luxobarges for two figure sums, which an hour or two in the garage will see plumbed neatly into the facia of your 1980s family classic. It will look pretty standard to the untrained eye and you can pick up these period stereos cheaply and easily at autojumbles.

Route two is to head for the local electrical retailer and buy a modern unit. Off-the-shelf radios are capable of far more now than any classic could hope to offer – from digital reception to USB sockets and iPod adaptors.

They’re cheap too – with DAB car radios at one well- known automotive outlet starting at under sixty quid There is, however, one problem with aftermarket radios of this type. Yes we’ve touched on their appearances but some dexterous folk cunningly disguise this by a fake radio cover.

Granted, it still looks a bit out of place – but when an older car is in regular use it needs a decent radio in order to stay enjoyable for that long, dull commute! And it’s a similar story with cherished classics. There are few sights sillier than a modern radio in the cockpit of an MGA – but stop for a second and think. The fact is, we all imagine we look better than we really do when in our classics – there is no way that Mr M. G. Midget resembles (Lotus test driver) Roger Becker at the start of The Italian Job, no matter how much he lets his imagination run free. The way the radio looks in the dashboard is no different – it does the job and it helps the owner get the maximum possible fun out of his or her pride and joy.

So total outlay? Let’s say £75 for a good head unit, £15 for a pair of speakers and some wire. And it will be the most satisfying ninety quid you ever spent, if the car gets a decent amount of use.

Finally don’t neglect the poor old aerial. A new high quality modern chromed unit (not cheap we admit), properly fitted and screened will improve reception no end and essential for today’s FM frequencies… But only if you scrape the underside to bare metal to achieve a good earth says Alan Merchant of The Vintage Wireless Company. He adds that restored cars are the worse culprits for this because owners lavish lots of paint and rust proofing on the body – and loath to disturb it afterwards!


The Vintage Wireless Company is well known for making old radios from 1930s onwards sound great. You can either send your existing unit for overhauling and modernising or purchase an already-modified unit off the shelf.

This gives you a lot of choice including manual tuning or push button. The simplest mod is to transplant modern AM/FM systems where LW/MW used to reside but you can go further and have MP 3 and iPod compatibility if desired. Costs? Well, a straight rebuild to FM spec of a set you provide is £240, adding MP3 is an extra £66 or £150 with MP3 and iPod facilities combined. As an example Alan Merchant will sell you a lovely Radiomobile 1095 ready to go for £330. Going retro looks an expensive road to take – but actually it’s only going back to the good old days of the 1970s in real world terms!

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