One of the most-coveted and trickiest upgrades to execute in a classic car is its audio system.
Unlike projects like upholstery or exterior paint, the wiring of your car’s existing system can vary tremendously based on the car’s maker. Depending on age, your car might be equipped for AM radio, FM radio, cassette tapes or something more obscure.
There are a lot of options in terms of adding new speakers, working with the existing look of your stereo, and finding the right balance between modern technology and vintage appeal. Assuming you’re not taking your vehicle straight to a shop, we have a few basic approaches before you get into the more complex questions.
The easiest approach is to use an FM modulator
This is a hard-wired connection that uses the FM component of your stock radio. The audio quality will be similar to what you get on an FM station, but without any of the static or wandering of signal since it’s a hard connection. Modulators give you an auxiliary input to which you can connect an iPod, smartphone, or any other device with a 3.5mm jack.
Best of all, this plugs in behind your radio, so it remains hidden from view and preserves the look of your classic car. This leads to our second option, which operates on a similar principle but offers a more modern advantage.
Consider a hideaway Bluetooth adapter
One of the great joys—and safety improvements—today is wireless connections. Bluetooth is a wireless connection that gives you the benefits of an FM modulator without needing to plug your phone in. There’s nothing that kills the vibe of a classic car like seeing a garish cable feeding into a smartphone, so this is a great way to preserve the look you want.
A hideaway box can be ideally stored in a glove compartment so that you can get at it if you need to. A discreetly placed microphone somewhere near your instrument panel can even let you make and receive phone calls. And navigation can be relayed over your phone, as well. Bluetooth is a wonderful thing.
A line-level converter can bring your audio quality into the modern age
Say you don’t want fancy doo-dad smartphone connections. What if you just want your existing audio system to sound better? A line-level converter is a small, discreet box that lets you add an amplifier. An amplifier is a quick way to give your audio system more power. It might very well be that your speakers have potential that isn’t being tapped by your existing stereo. This little gadget is your key to clearer, sharper audio.
Bring out the big guns: a signal processor
This is a more substantial, though not large, piece of hardware that would have to be hidden in a front or rear trunk. It works by taking your existing stereo’s signal, giving you more sound mixing options, and then sending that signal out to a more complex network of audio speakers. If you’re looking to replace your two- or four-speaker setup with the more modern 10+ speaker arrangement that modern cars favor, this is the choice for you.
Depending on your level of involvement, adding value to your vehicle’s audio system could be a weekend project or something worthy of a specialty shop. We hope we’ve given you some things to think about and that you can see the vehicles at our next show in December with more potential. Happy restoring!