A Car Story

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Today is a good time for a car story, to take our minds off the other story.

This story’s related to my story of a about a month ago, about upgrading the out-of-date factory-installed CD-playing (but no Bluetooth-playing) stereo in my ’02 Nissan Frontier with an up-to-date system.

Well, I just attempted the reverse.

I re-installed the very out-of-date AM/FM radio – forget stereo – that came with my 1976 Trans-Am when it was new back in the fall of 1975. I had it on a shelf in a closet for the past ten years at least, after I got it back from a guy I sent it to for restoration to as-new condition. In the meanwhile, I listed to the aftermarket stereo – with tape deck! – I had installed in the car back in the ’90s, when tape decks were still the duck’s guts. Also installed back then – when Clintigula was doing his cigar thing with Miss Lewinsky – were a set of then duck’s guts speakers, two in the dash and two out back.

This was twice the speakerage my car originally came with.

And thence came the rub.

I did all the groundwork to get the old/not-original and now very out-of-date stereo tape deck out of the TA. This requires removal of the center console – to get at the underside of the dash – followed by some torturous maneuvering under the dash, to get at the brackets and wires that hold and plug the works in situ.

I did all that – which was when I discovered that the stereo shop that installed the deck back in the ’90s had mauled my car’s wiring like a Rottweiler tearing up a toy poodle. Bad enough that they cut so much. Worse was that these professionals didn’t even use proper connectors. Wires were twisted together and then taped.

Yes, I paid them to do this. They might have read a manual.

And now I paid the price. I built a new harness to replace the mauled and gone one. A custom rig to connect the TA’s original AM/FM to the things it needed to be  connected to, such as a 12V power source and then the wires running to the speakers.

Whereupon I encountered a problem.

It had not occurred to me before I began to dig into it – and not until I had gotten very deep into it – that the original 1976 radio and ’90s-era speakers weren’t compatible. Not the wiring   – and not the power.

Four speakers vs. the original two and the originals not designed to broadcast the palsied signals emitted by a 1976 GM radio – which isn’t much different than a 1966 radio. As The Six Million Dollar Man might have put it: We don’t have the technology.

Or the speakers.

The TA’s original GM speakers, thrown in the trash circa 1994, which is probably too long ago to have any hope of finding them in the dumpsters today. Or anywhere else. Because who in his right mind – back in the ’90s – would have saved a set of shitty GM speakers from the ’70s?

I wish I had.

Because now, if I want to listen to the monotones of the mid-’70s, I will have to scrounge a set of original GM speakers from the ’70s. I expect this will be snipe hunt of epic duration and frustration. Which brings up a thing I have since learned and practice religiously:

Never throw away anything original to your classic car. Because a day will come when you will desperately wish you had it back.

Someone else – unknown to me but close to me in a way – is going to learn this lesson, too. My friend Tim who is a professional mechanic gave me something the other day. It was something one of his customers asked him to throw away.

It was the original Quadrajet four barrel carburetor and cast-iron Pontiac intake manifold from a 1979 Trans-Am. A 400, 4-speed Trans-Am, last of the line and vey rare.

I now have on my workbench a complete, intact, numbers-matching “W72” code four barrel and matching intake; the poor Trans-Am now has an aftermarket intake and a generic Holley carburetor.

Some day, the owner of that poor Trans-Am (or perhaps its next owner) is going to pine for the “correct” intake and carb that’s no longer on the car. He may post ads in Hemmings; may scour the field at Carlisle. He will likely have as much luck finding his car’s intake and carb as I am going to have finding my car’s long-gone speakers.


So, what did I do?

For now, I reinstalled the ’90s era stereo tape deck. It’s not original, obviously. But it still works – and having the tape deck is kind of cool.

. . .

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  1. Parts express has tons of speakers and speaker parts. Just get something the same size, shape and ohms. I wouldn’t worry about watts because you’re not going to over power the speakers with that stock radio.

  2. I bought a 2005 sequoia with probably the cheapest, crappiest, goofy-blue-lightshow stereo installed. It was literally one of the cheapest you can buy. So I replaced it with a better one.

    To call the wiring an abortion would be downplaying. Whoever installed it chopped the crap out of the wiring harness. It was utterly pointless too. For the want of a $30 adapter, which would have simply plugged in, they ruined the harness. Worse yet, they hacked off the wires right at the connector, making it impossible to fix and do a proper install on the new one.

  3. On the speakers I figured it was an impedance problem and found this:

    A better idea of the problem can possibly produce a cheaper solution to make the 1990s speakers work. Maybe a power resistor put somewhere it won’t get too hot if its a 4ohm/10ohm issue? I don’t know but someone out there probably does.

      • Now if I could just find a new air filter for my 83 Honda CX650 Custom. Seems they have all gone to motorcycle air filter heaven.

        • I have a brand new Honda GL 650 EMGO filter. I sold my Gl and have no use for it. You can have it but I haven’t a clue how much the shipping would be or if they’ll let me in the office to send it in our new police state.

          Honda # 17220-ME2-000
          Emgo # 12-91120

              • Thanks Eric but no luck there either. I am pretty sure I will have to tenderly remove the existing glued in paper element and create a foam insert.

                • If it’s of any help:

                  The air filter on my tractor is a rare one, and I never had any intention of paying the $123 that the dealer wanted for one- so I went on the Donaldson filters website, and with a little digging, found one of theirs that would work with just a very minor modification; then cross-referenced their part number…and LSS, I can get a suitable filter now through NAPA for <$30.

                  • Don’y know why but Honda went out of their way to design and construct this one. It is a heavy metal case in the shape of a D, a wrap around metal band with air holes, then metal caps top and bottom – all glued together. Then it snuggles into its perch with a thick gasket sealing it to the air intake and the housing cover holding the whole thing together. Itr is really a one off design.

                    • Hi Torino,

                      One could say the same about the whole CX/GL lineup! Great bikes – and engines – that Honda put a lot of work into an then just dropped. My GL650 is among and maybe the best overall bike I have ever owned. Not especially fast but almost maintenance-free and unkillable. The thing is almost 40 years old and I have never done anything to it beyond routine tune-ups every once in awhile.

  4. I learned when I was teenager that places that installed car stereos were hack places. I have always done it myself. Thankfully my current maverick which its AM radio was long gone when I got still has its speaker. In mavericks the am radio single speaker is inside the dash at the top but only accessible from below. Too difficult to get at so nobody bothers it. It gets unplugged and left in place. I don’t recall the harness being messed up just poorly run wires. As to an original AM radio, I have one from my previous Maverick on the shelf.

    And I don’t throw out much of anything automotive wise and then only broken stuff that isn’t rebuildable.

    And good score with the intake and the Q-jet. Nothing like finding something good in scrap pile.

    • Mark my words: (I’ve been saying this for a few months now) For some reason, they’ve decided to abandon the electric car and self-driving car agendas. I guess whatever they wanted to accomplish has been done. Even the Chinese have stopped subsidizing EVs (As of about 2 months ago IIRC); States are starting to up the registration fees; etc. etc.

      It can’t be that they’ve just now realized that the whole idea was farcical, because of the fact that the infrastructure to charge them does not exist, or that people are starting to catch on to the fact that EVs are no “greener” than any other car, because the “emissions” are just relocated from the tailpipe to the smokestack……

      Thus, this is not just a personal decision of Trump’s- it is perfectly inline with what’s going elsewhere. Watch the European countries slowly start to rescind their EV mandates. (I know that CAFE has nothing to do with EVs….but the relaxing of it is inline with the overall gist of what is going on overall).

      Common tactic: Overstate what you really want…and then settle for less- thus making one seem beneficent for “relaxing the initial objective.

      I have a feeling that this whole Corona boobdoggle was a distraction for more than just the “Stimulus”. After weeks or months of nothing but Corona this and Corona that, to the exclusion of almost everything else, a memory hole has been created….and most people will just forget about much of the fervor surrounding everything which preceded it.

  5. I prefer everything retro/original….but AM or even AM/FM radio? uhnonononono! Or even cassette for that matter! I’d put in an MP3-capable CD player in ANYTHING! There’s just no going back when it comes to that!

      • Ha, Jason, I wouldn’t know what to do with that thing! I just have CD players in my vehicles, which play MP3 CD’s- I don’t even have the antenna connected for the radio!

        My Excursion came with(From the previous owner) some kinda Motorola Bluetooth thig-a-ma-jig -I think it’s for channeling sailfawn calls through the stereo. I disconnected it. It’s got a little thing that looks like a computer mouse, that was stowed up in one of the visors, which I assume is it’s “antenna”(Transponder)

        I just make a new CD every few years, and I’m good.

        • It’s pretty simple, you just stick the thing into the cigarette lighter, tune the car radio and the unit to an empty channel, and you can plan MP3s from a micro-SD card or USB flash drive. The factory AM radio in my car is a kind of strange vertical design that no other company used, no aftermarket radio would fit in the dash even if I wanted to install one. It’s not just a standard radio turned sideways either, it’s this one that AMC used in their large cars for years:


          • Wow, Jason! It’s been a long time since I’ve seen one’a them vertical radios! I had forgotten about them!

            Nice thing about the Ford trucks of the last 20-something years, is that they have that big double-DIN slot that you can put virtually anything into (But of course, what I use is just single-DIN….so half the space becomes a little sorage nook, thanks to the necessary mounting adapter!)

        • Oops, that should have been “…you can play MP3s…”

          One of the things I use the gadget for is I’ll put Eric’s radio appearances on a flash drive and play them in the car. What will those inscrutable Chinamen think of next?

  6. Excellent article, as always Eric.

    It was 1964 or so, I had just gotten my license. Dad “gave” me Mom’s 1956 Chevy, 2 dr post, power pack heads, three on the tree.

    Back then, I made pretty good money washing/waxing/detailing the neighbors’ cars. And, I spent the dough on cars and girls; yes, my love was fumes — fuel and perfume. Over the next year, I had the seats “rolled and pleated”, the body “chromed and decked” and the car painted a beautiful dark blue, highlighted by Crager mags


    Of course, I had to have a three speed, floor mounted, Hurst shifter and a tachometer.


    But, the crowning, late-night, lets-go-parking necessity, was a state of the art AM/FM with an under-dash record player


    which really worked well.

    And with it, speakers front and rear (parcel shelf), with a mechanical reverb box.


    It too worked OK so long as you rode easy over the railroad tracks.

    To finish this story, once I got into sports cars (Porsche 356 coupe and convertible) the car went to my three year younger brother. He literally drove the wheels off; see, one of the front bearings seized and the wheel collapsed; however, old Chevys were super tough. The ’56 suffered little damage.

  7. So Eric, are you looking for the correct Delco speakers, or speakers that fit the factory opening? In the latter case, depending on the dimensions of the opening, you should be able to find speakers that fit, and that factory AM/FM can tolerate a pretty wide range of speaker impedances. 1976 speakers in any case would probably be rotten from the heat, UV, and humidity of 44 years duration…not to mention the lost pennies, Loonies, drive-in tickets, dustballs…:-)

  8. Eric, There is a company called Retrosound, Summit racing carries quite a few. You can get a faceplate which looks and feels like the original radio, but has modern amps, tuner, and bluetooth for digital audio (lose the cassettes- they will wear out anyway). They are designed to install in place of the original without hacking up the wiring harness. Worth a look.

    In re the stereo installer hacking, this is far more the rule than the exception. You should look at how the wiring is done in emergency vehicles- I’ve dealt with quite a few fire trucks and ambulances, as well as a few donut rollers. Invariably they look like they were wired by a drunken monkey with a hacksaw, a unibit, some bubblegum, and some tape (not necessarily electrical- often duct and sometimes scotch…).

  9. ODE TO THE QUADRA-JET. When I was a young buck we couldn’t wait to trash the “Quadra-bogg” and slap on a 4150 series Holly- the bigger the better don’t cha’ kno. And an aluminum intake to “save weight and flow better”. Ugh!

    It was about 5 years ago that I began to restore my ’71 Eldorado conv. It has a Q-Jet on it that was calibrated for 500 inch 10:1 caddy mills by hair thin metering rods and some other orface changes. I have a buddy who built street/race Q-Jets to earn his way through engineering school. I learned what an amazing thing a properly tuned QJ can do. Nothing against Holly- but their carbs are racing carbs. What they do best is wide open – nothing less that the butterflies in vertical position. They meter off-WOT fuel poorly compared to a QJ and do a straight-up lousy job atomizing raw gas from idle up to almost WOT. In short not ideal for street driving. The QJ is a spread bore which keeps the A/F velocity high. As the QJ transitions to all flaps open (via vacuum) the A/F ratio is nearly seamless. The QJ is infinitely tunable including the sometimes necessity of drilling a #8 bleed hole in the secondaries to keep them fro popping open too quickly. The fuel pump/squirt system is excellent too- of properly shrouded. Becker told me he’s seen raw gas hit the windshield from the unshrouded fuel dump. (air cleaner off apparently)

    Iron manifolds can be port matched and cleaned up with a carbide grinder to flow pretty darn well. Ditto heads. Pontiac had iron “air gap” intakes since the 60s. They flowed great. A properly tuned QJ atop a modified iron manifold is all you will need to melt tires on the street. You can’t stop those old hot rods, nor can you turn them very well either. What they are however is an ass load of fun to drive and a lovely time capsule that lets us look back to simpler happier days. All that snort and rumble had another advantage too- our little girlfriends got the good vibrations….. 😉

    • I agree, the Q-jet was a great carb once you went through it. I swear though everyone I did the butterflies would open so far the they were closing again. sometimes in the neighborhood of 25-30%. Most of the adjustments on those things though was just bend linkages.

      • Hi Grant,

        The QJet is maligned almost as unfairly as Libertarianism! And for the same reason: Many people just don’t understand it. Especially the “two part” secondaries, with mechanical butterfly doors below and an air-door above – the two not physically connected. The choke system is another area of Mystery. Many QJets I’ve acquired have a damaged (plastic) heat stove housing cover; people break it by trying to adjust it while the engine is running – and pulling vacuum.

        • ***”Many people just don’t understand it”***

          Ha! As I was reading yours and Grant’s posts, Eric, I was thinking to myself: I have to get a car with a Q-jet one day, JUST so I can have an excuse to master the infamous Q-jet- since my only experience with them was when I was young, and didn’t know squat about cars. I ‘m just ignorant of their workings….and I hate being ignorant about anything. The desire to not be ignorant about the workings of cars, is what led me to start tinkering with cars- but by that time, the Q-jet was already largely a thing of the past.

  10. If your cassette deck from the 90s still works, you’re doing very well. Mine all quit a long time ago (automotive and otherwise). They’re getting very hard to find. I have many old cassettes with content that will be hard if not impossible to replace.

    • I can play both kinds of tapes, 8-track deck under the dash and a cassette adapter for the newer type tapes. (Well, there was also the older “Mad Man Muntz” 4-track system but I upgraded to 8-track ages ago.)

      • Funny. I ran 8 track in my Renault Alliance convertible 20 years ago. Nobody ever stole the deck or the tapes and I got 8 tracks with lots of fun music for nothing or near it. Added a lot of weight to that fine steed though… Funny I hated the car but it never failed me and took all the abuse I gave it.

  11. I don’t expect the AM radio spectrum to continue untouched by the government beyond the moment when Rush Limbaugh signs off for the last time.

    What might save AM is that the bandwidth would be extremely limited.

      • Yea,,, I remember cruising Central Ave in Phoenix in the 60′ listening to KOMA out of Oklahoma City. Had the windows down (old school a/c) so fidelity wasn’t my major concern.

        • The fiddle-tie(fidelity) wasn’t so important back then. ’cause the music was actually good- as were the times. Same with TV- you could watch The Honeymooners in black & white (A show that shot for practically nothing, with one camera; one set….) and it was great; today, people have all sorts of high-definition this, and huge-screen this, with realistic color, and all kinds of features up the wazoo….but there’s not a damn thing worth watching.

  12. If the picture in the article is of the actual speakers you need, they look identical to the ones out of my 1987 Suburban. I think they were 4″ x 10″.

  13. “Never throw away anything original to your classic car. Because a day will come when you will desperately wish you had it back.”

    Good point. If one makes the commitment to keep a classic car, make enough space to keep all the original parts.

    It’s easy to understand why so many factory radios were removed and replaced during the ’70s. Huge advances were happening in audio technology, and in the music, to take advantage of that.

    Eric, if you’re going to re-instal a non original radio, why not maximize your effort by installing a unit with both bluetooth, and good audio?


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