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Say watt? 10 famous retro car audio partnerships

The car business is no stranger to partnerships, but few joint ventures have the marketing potential of a famous audio manufacturer and an established automotive company. Did you know such associations dated back to the 1980s?

While not every partnership on this list may be music to your ears, that's not the point: Let's consider 10 of the most famous retro auto-audio partnerships.

 

Read the full article on Hagerty.com: https://www.hagerty.com/media/automotive-history/say-watt-10-famous-retro-car-audio-partnerships/

Replies (46)

Replies (46)

I once put a Sparkomatic audio system in my car.  Somebody stole my car; when I came out, the car was gone but the radio was still there.

Intermediate Driver

Funny you mention that Nakamichi was known for cassette decks in the '80's.  The Nakamichi in my '95 SC400 sounds incredible playing cassettes (even the couple old, worn-out ones I still have left) and only very good with the standard 12-disk CD changer mounted in the trunk.  And the cassettes don't skip over every moderately-sized bump you encounter either!  🙂

Pit Crew

Two things made decent auto stereos possible: air conditioning and soundproofing. Prior to that, no matter how great your system was, because of wind and road noise you couldn't hear much at any speed above 50 mph. And anyone over 40 remembers ripping out whatever system was in the car and replacing it with a Blaupunkt or Nakamichi stereo and larger aftermarket speakers, something that isn't possible anymore because of the way that today's stock stereo systems are integrated with the GPS and so on. Anybody else remember when Cadillac offered the option of an AM/FM/CB radio? Or when Blaupunkt radios were AM/FM/SW (shortwave, which was popular in Europe at the time)? Or the fun of tuning in stations a thousand miles away on your AM radio late at night? 

Detailer

While not famous, there is Chrysler’s Highway Hi-Fi record player by CBS that was an option from 1956-1959. The player and records were non-standard since they were designed for use in a moving vehicle.  They were not very reliable and the selection was limited. For 1960 and 1961 Chrysler teamed up with RCA which had a player that could play a (14) record stack of conventional 45s. A quick internet search brings up some interesting reads on these audio marvels.  

Passenger

My 1984 Corvette came with a Bose system. I bought it used in 1990 from a local used car dealer & it had been broken into on his lot. One of the Bose speakers was missing &, at the time, GM was the only place I could get a replacement. When it came in I was floored at the price but bought it since I had to put a security deposit on to get it ordered. At that price for one speaker, I could have replace the whole system with a good quality one from Circuit City & saved a bunch of money. Never showed me much as far as sound quality goes but I only paid $8500 for the car so had room to play with but then the rack & pinion crapped out so not such a great deal after all.

Pit Crew

Remember when Ford owned Motorola for a while? Not that it made much difference,

New Driver

I am old enough to recall people who had record players in their Chryslers which obviously was a recipe for scratched records.
So it seemed like a huge advance when we put 8-track tape decks under the dash. 

We learned that stuffing a book of matches in the 8-track aperture helped to keep it running. And it would invariably click to change tracks right in the middle of your favorite song. You other older drivers will remember every road trip, seeing yards of unwound tape on the side of the road.

Pit Crew

I had McIntosh in my 2006 Ford GT....

Bose has lost its mojo (if it ever had it in the automotive world).  Honestly, they have done themselves a disservice by putting their name on sub-par systems.  One frequent issue has been supplying (what may be) good speakers for systems that have bad bones.

Intermediate Driver

They missed one of the more interesting Bose/GM systems, as far as the car it was available in.  That being the '82 '83(?) Oldsmobile Cutlass Ciera.  That car was a new branch of the Cutlass line being front wheel drive model, prior to the Ciera Cutlass' were rear wheel drive.  At the time front wheel drive was new to cars larger than sub compacts, out side of the Toronado.  I recall a friend having bought one of these new Cutlass Ciera's and he's spent the extra money for the optional Bose audio system.  I remember the sound being great, and also the price for that option was up there, though I don't recall how much.  At the time, anyone having the new front wheel drive Cutlass with the Bose system had stepped up the very latest technology.

 

As far as Chrysler being late in their match-up with Infinity in 1987, one needs to understand that Chrysler had a very good no-name sound systems in they cars by around '83-'84.  I remember being shocked by the very good sound in my parents brand new '84 LeBaron.  But again, one needs to consider the time.

In the early 1980's we were just coming out of the weak muted audio system of the 1970's.  I've always thought car radio's from the 1960's sounded better than what we had in the 70's, and that the systems of the later 1960's were becoming more like what we would have in the '70's.  And the 1960's systems weren't as good as the what we had in the 1950's.  Though I have to mention my first car a $125 '64 Chrysler New Yorker, in very good shape.  My Dad bought it for me from our local Pontiac dealer, and it was eight years old at the time.  It had the normal radio in the dashboard with a big 6X9 speaker facing the passenger compartment instead of the facing the windshield like most cars, and also a single 6X9 speaker in the rear deck.  What was special about this particular system is there was a push-pull knob on the lower part of the dashboard.  Pulling the knob out kicked-on a reverberator mounted in the trunk behind the rear seat.  That reverberator transformed what was a nice sounding radio into what the Chrysler owner's manual called "Concert Hall Sound".  And it did.  I actually heard what I imagined was being seated in one of those big old playhouses with the wooden floors and seating more like church benches rather than those in a theater.  All of my friend's were wowed by it, as was my Dad.

 

A few years after a friend of mine who was older than me and I were out bombing around one night, and we came across a used car dealership that had a few old cars mixed in with the usual five to eight year old cars this place sold.  My friend spotted a 1958 Buick like the one his Dad had back in the day.  We got out to check it out and never having seen one I was taken with the heavily laid-on chrome and stainless GM stuck onto Buick's that year.  It was unlocked, and we were looking over the interior, and my being the closest my friend said "Turn on the radio".  I said there's no key.  He said I'm sure these work without the key being on.  I did and nothing happened.  My friend said wait a minute or so, if it's working the tubes have to warm up.  Sure enough a few moments later that radio produced the most magnificent sound.  I was aghast.  The sound was so full and rich.  And it was all coming out of one speaker in the dashboard.  I was completely impressed.  The best way I can describe what it sounded like is one of those big old tall stand-up radios with the wooden cabinet and a large amount of fabric covering a huge speaker.  Those big old radios people had in the 1940's.  We spent a good five minutes hearing the sounds from different stations and trying the tone knob for different effects.  I was very taken as I had no idea that there was anything that good in cars back in the 50's.

What I've learned over the years is auto sound systems have changed for both the worse and the better.  Each car I've had didn't necessarily have a better system in it, though at times a system was noticeably better.  If I had to pick a favorite I don't think I could.  It certainly isn't the ten-speaker Harmon/Kardon in my newer MINI Cooper.   What I have noticed is that the build on cars for at least the past ten years have become more and more alike.  Things like the design of the doors and gasketing, and small components under the hood, it's as though there are only one or two manufacturer's of a given component and all the car manufacturer's use those.  It makes me wonder if we'll reach a point when all car audio systems will sound just about the same.  I know this won't happen so long as there's money to be made involving a big name audio corporation match up.  But maybe we'll reach a point that there won't be much to for systems to stand apart and then all of them would sound just about the same.

New Driver

Man, what a great trip down memory lane. Such outstanding sound systems, Bose, harman/kardon, JBL and I thinks it's funny AMC had Jensen. Great article, well written.

Intermediate Driver

Alpine was a pretty good system in some 90's and 2000 Lincolns

Passenger

AMC pairing with Jensen speaks volumes about why AMC was on death's doorstep at the time. While other brands were partnering with brands that consumers associated with high quality, AMC was offering K-Mart $69 Jensen units usually only purchased by high-school kids who couldn't afford anything better. That AMC thought it was a good idea to advertise this explains a lot.

Intermediate Driver

Comprehensive discussion of premium car audio. I had forgotten about some of these pairings. My first Corvette, a ‘92 had the Bose Gold which couldn’t be appreciated in that noisy cabin. Who thought the tweeters should be mounted in the footwells at your feet? Thank the audio gods of today for noise cancellation. Repairing those 4 amped Bose speakers drove me to the brink. Today one can easily have them rebuilt or replaced with readily sourced rebuilt units. 

Pit Crew

Saab and Clarion!

Pit Crew

Fixing BOSE speakers was quite easy, if you knew what you were doing.  For the most part speakers were 2 ohm, instead of the GM typical 10 ohm.  To fix a BOSE system is actually quite easy, if you do not mind installing aftermarket amps,  Run the signal from the radio, which was usually color coded exactly like the factory wires, but the BOSE wires would have a shielded ground just like a coax cord, but instead of having one wire with a ground they used 2 wires and a ground.   Route that wire from the head unit and then attach it to the amp where an RCA plug would be, an then use the Amp to power speakers.   This also allowed you to power a sub or any other list of things to improve on what was already great sound.   

 

I have had several BOSE radios over the years, by far the best sounding were the early units from the 80's.  The BOSE radio in my 2007 Tahoe is not near as good when comparing to my 2005 and 2006 Buick Rainier, and my Rainier is garbage compared to my 1990 Riviera I had with the BOSE.  That sound was phenomenal, Many a time I had people comment on how good that radio sounded, they were shocked to hear it was completely stock.

Intermediate Driver

Not sure how you define 'car audio partnerships' but I think I remember BMWs coming with Blaupunkt stereos back in the 70s/80s.  They were popular items for thieves, helping to popularize the acronym BreakMyWindow for BMW. 

New Driver

Awesome rundown! Would love to read a list of your top aftermarket picks!

Pit Crew

What about Alpine and Lamborghini.

Passenger

I remember when anything but an AM radio was all that was available from the factory for most cars.  When Lear came out with the 4-track tape decks, it was hot stuff.  By the time I got one, the the 8-track had hit the market.  I put one under the dash of my '65 Doge with two 6" X 4" speakers hidden on each side.  No boxes, just speakers.  But it was still better then the AM radio and I could actually choose the music!  But getting to the song you wanted took time.  When I got my '73 Trans Am with an AM/FM stereo, I added a factory 8-track and upgraded the rear speakers, this time enclosing them under the package tray with insulated boxes.  Talking about the high-end sound options that came withing a decade or two reminds me how times and quality we will accept now have changed. 

Passenger

In the late 80's the Ford / JBL Premium Sound system was cutting edge technology - it was a fully digital cassette deck with a toggle switch for volume control, the power switch had a thin red horizontal stripe , and tuning was controlled by V-shaped rocker switches with diagonal grooves. This was known as the EPC, and other models had their own designations, like ESR. Sound was generated by a pair of pre-amp IC's and an external amplifier good for 20 watts per channel, and every unit had a pair of auxiliary inputs on the back so the factory could add an external CD player.  In order for the head unit to play a CD it needed to receive a pulsed 5 volt signal from the CD player known as the DAD status, which I assume is an acronym for Digital Audio Device. Cars not equipped with an external CD player had to have a "continuity plug" inserted into the back. The cassette deck was electronically controlled by motors - there were no spring loaded mechanisms that would eject a cassette tape. Every function was controlled by a 40 DIP (dual in-line pin) microprocessor supplied by Motorola. Main power of the EPC was supplied by the battery, whereas previous models, like the ESR were powered through the ignition switch. There were 5 printed circuit boards, plus two in the head unit, and two in the tape deck. This radio was common in Lincolns, and available in selected Ford vehicles like the Taurus and Thunderbird. I can remember riding in our neighbors brand new MN-12 Thunderbird SC and feeling like my ears were blown out by the level of volume from the stereo. This radio lasted for only 3 years, and was replaced by a newer model in which all of the buttons looked alike and felt the same, but internally had much fewer printed circuit boards and simplified electronic circuits with fewer components because of the rapid advancement of technology in the late 80's. Over time, every single one of these head units failed to produce sound from the speakers - the problem was not the external amplifier, but something inside of the head unit. There were two businesses that repaired radios for Ford Dealers - one was Auto Radio Specialists in a funky, small, brown building in the little Italy section of downtown San Diego, and they had a small room on either the second or third floor with 4 workbenches. The manual for the radio is a 3 inch thick binder. Sometime in the late 90's or early 2000's the radio repair business was consolidated to one location in Kansas. I have several of those EPC radios, and I'd like to repair one to use in my 1989 Ford Taurus, and I'm planning on joining the Puget Sound Antique Radio Association in the near future.

Pit Crew

And then there's one of the best names most have never heard of-Fugitsu Ten, who made the AM/FM/CD decks in Lexus and some top end Toyota cars. They also got into the US retail market as the Eclipse brand. Awesome sound and build quality, but too expensive for most and only sold through fairly exclusive dealers. They set up a great US HQ in California, but didn't let them run anything. US engineers had to call Japan to get permission to take a poop.  

Advanced Driver

No highs, no lows, it must be bose...

Passenger

you forgot the one that started it all in the 1970's. The Alpine  audio and the Lamborghini Contach. Every teenager had that poster on there wall in the 1970's, I know I did.

New Driver

I had a Bose system in a '95 Maxima that I thought sounded very good for a stock unit.

Definitely better than the Beats system in my 2013 Charger and the Sony system in my wife's 2018 Flex.

New Driver

Jaguar bounced all over the place for systems. The early 90's they used Alpine, but I've seen B&O in the 2010 XJ, and I think they used others too.  Boston Accoustics in my 2005 Chrysler 300C Heritage. A friend has a 2005 Nissan Sentra with a factory Rockford Fosgate system.  Seems like Bose has had the longest lasting relationship with GM than any other.

Pit Crew

The B&W stereo in my new Volvo sounds great.

New Driver

Ford from the dark ages had Philco, although I could never understand why they were proud of it. LOL. Actually, my 2013 Ford Escape has a Sony labeled sound system that is excellent.

New Driver

I'm quite sure that my 82 Camaro had a Delco/Bose system in it, which sounded great.  Maybe the statement that the Delco/Bose thing started in 83 is a tad off?

 

Passenger

I've had 2 or 3 recent GM cars with the Bose system (the last being with a supposedly upgraded optional unit with Centerpoint) and been seriously underwhelmed. I now understand the longtime line about Bose and no lows, though in my current car the highs are far too prominent as well, so who knows. One thing I never understood with GM was that occasionally they would stray from Bose for a few models. My friend has a 2012 Regal GS and it has a factory h/k unit IIRC.

New Driver