Words by Raj Hunjan
One of the biggest interior upgrades you can make to a classic sportscar is with the audio system. Just like all consumer electronics, audio technology has moved on hugely. The days of putting up with a 2 Watt mono output stereo have long gone. Today we have on offer music hard drives, digital radio, satellite navigation, phone synchronisation, Bluetooth musicstreaming, internet connection, iPod connectivity, television and movie playback. However, sticking in the latest colourful Halfords unit may not be in keeping with the look of the car. There are many other possibilities available, here is a summary of what’s possible in your classic.
Option One: Concealed audio system
Fitting a hidden modern audio system enables you to retain the original stereo and its functionality. The modern unit can be hidden under a seat, in a glovebox or in the boot and is controlled with a remote control from the driver’s seat with no visible wires. The SecretAudio SRMS system, made by Custom Autosound is a 200 Watt system with iPod connectivity, USB hard drive compatible and is able to control a CD changer. Expect to pay around £350 plus fitting at a local car audio specialist.
+ No visible evidence of a modern stereo installed in the car. Wireless remote can be operated from up to 40 feet away.
– Installing wiring for the stereo might be a huge task depending on the concealed location you choose in the car.
Option Two: Modify existing stereo
Modifying existing stereo units is a little known possibility that some enthusiasts would find ideal as it allows you to retain the existing look of the interior audio, with up to date electronics hidden within the existing unit. This process is not for the faint hearted as the original electronics are ripped out. In their place you get iPod connectivity, FM tuner, Bluetooth music streaming and phone synchronisation for hands-free operation. Tadpole Radios, based in Colchester offers this modification service. The standard conversion includes refurbishing the outer case, fitting new electronics and costs £365, an option with Bluetooth connectivity costs £545.
+ Includes refurbishing the outer case metalwork if necessary. Externally appears to be the original unit.
– Removes the existing electronics so permanently impacts originality of the stereo. Likely requires original speaker system to also need upgrading.
Option Three: Retain existing stereo to control a concealed headunit
This is another option that Tadpole Radios offer, they can provide a slave Sony headunit and carry out all the necessary modifications to your existing stereo so that it can power up and control the hidden Sony unit. They stock a variety of ready to fit systems ranging from Blaupunkt, Grundig, Motorola and Radiomobile. The Sony interface ready classic head unit including the additional new head unit costs £435, £50 extra for Bluetooth and £50 extra for DAB. This interface option can be built into your existing stereo for £400.
+ Authentic period stereo to suit older classics still “works” but is actually controlling a modern unit . Doesn’t impact original interior design.
– Requires the space to fit a hidden Sony headunit in the car.
Option Four: Hunt down a period upgrade stereo
This option particularly suits modern classic’s, especially from the 90’s onwards, as some cutting edge technology was available off the shelf back then. Alpine is one such company which made premium stereos that were class leading in terms of sound quality. High end cars may have included these on their options lists in the first place and you can still get hold of new or nearly new units if you look hard enough and have patience for your ideal setup to come up for sale on eBay. Prices are heavily dependent on the age, condition and rarity of the head unit you are looking for. As a guide, the popular Alpine 7909 which is regarded as one of the greatest head units of all time sells for around £800 secondhand. It is real audiophile grade and as a result the 7909 still enjoys a strong cult following among car audio enthusiasts and this keeps prices high.
+ Keep existing audio in storage and fit the aftermarket equipment with enhanced audio qualities.
– The cost of the most desired period upgrades will be as expensive as the latest and greatest modern audio equipment (if not more-so). Rubber and plastic components may perish over time, so ensure any unit is fully
operational before purchase.
Option Five: ‘Period-look’ modern stereo
It is possible to buy a modern unit with all the latest features that is deliberately designed to look ‘just so’ in a vintage interior. Head units for DIN style and even earlier DIN-D setups are available. Retrosound produce highly adaptable head units that allow you to adjust the size and even location of the controls that enables it to fit into many classic sportscars. The price is completely dependent on the model you decide to buy, but the RetroSound One is £160.
+ Keep existing audio in storage while you use your car and then return it into car if you need for shows or when you sell the car. Modern performance with vintage aesthetic appeal.
-Not truly authentic, real car buffs will easily spot it’s a modern unit that looks retro.
The Ultimate: Becker Mexico Retro 7948
This is the ultimate period look unit, it features voice control, bluetooth, european sat nav, dual RDS tuner, card reader, iPod connection, CD changer compatibility and even basic internet browsing. This unit has been out of production for years but collectors will pay well over the original price of £1500 for even a used model. They occasionally come up for sale in forums and on eBay, but expect to pay over £2000 for one of these.
There is plenty to consider when looking at in-car audio and it is worth spending some time looking into your preferred options by speaking to specialists listed in our additional resources. What’s clear is you don’t have
to put up with poor audio even in the oldest classics and there is something available to suit all budgets.