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Grace
Hagerty Employee

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/

67 REPLIES 67
Cameron
Pit Crew

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

Sajeev
Community Manager

Oh that is WAY harder!  There's too much good stuff out there, and I have only sampled a fraction of it! 

Flashman
Instructor

Interesting and well-researched; you seem to know your way around audio in general, with perhaps a specialty in autos.  However, I did find a "Linoln" and a "Harmon" in the article.

Sajeev
Community Manager

Thank you for your kind words, @Flashman! And thanks for finding those issues, I just fixed them. 

Land_Ark
Intermediate Driver

My contribution would be to add Kia Souls were (are?) available with Beats speakers and I recall that when I was looking at Suzuki Kizashis I noted that the upgraded stereo was branded Rockford Fosgate. And while RF is fine, it certainly doesn't provide the panache of some of the higher end offerings. Though I think I'd prefer it over Fender - who I appreciate for making my Strat, but I didn't think they made audio equipment.

 

I recently went looking for a replacement for my approximately decade old Kenwood Excelon single din head unit and I was really disappointed by what is available. It's as if development of the units stopped in 2008. The displays are no different with the blocky digital letters/numbers. I ended up getting a USB Bluetooth receiver and kept my old unit.

Sajeev
Community Manager

I added an Kenwood Excelon about two years ago to one of my cars, and I wonder if yours has the 5-volt pre-outs, all the sound staging/configuration options, full RGB color control so the display matches the dash perfectly.  And of course integration with iPods (not CarPlay because it's only a 1DIN size) and some sort of Android integration (also not Android Auto) with fast charging for my phone whilst streaming audio.  Check out the specs on the KDC-X502 sometimes: https://www.kenwood.com/usa/car/excelon/kdc-x502/features.html 

Land_Ark
Intermediate Driver

I just went and looked, mine is a KDC-X792 https://www.crutchfield.com/S-0dpq8wPlKm3/p_113KDCX792/Kenwood-Excelon-KDC-X792.html I have built a custom setup in the glovebox so I could put a factory AM radio in place - which replaced the Kenwood tape deck I had installed in 1994 - which replaced the original AM radio. The new one has 1 USB which I ran to the slide out ashtray just below the radio and for a while I had an MP3 player connected to it. But each time I started the car it would start on the same track and I'd have to go into the glovebox and hit random since it sits with the battery disconnected most of the time. The struggle is real. I'm happy with it and realistically as long as I was able to get Bluetooth to work, it's more than adequate - especially since no one ever sees it. I'm just surprised that overall the looks of the units hasn't changed. I remember a few years back you could get one with a mini LCD display - think 2.5" TV. That seems to have been abandoned and overall only features have been added. But what I'm really excited about is figuring out how to reinstall my ultra '90s HiPhonics Olympian Series II 12" subs and Profile 4x400 California amp. The original way of bungee cording it to the car just doesn't suit me anymore. Especially since after every tight turn I'd have to go slide it back in place and plug it back in.
BD
New Driver

How about Philco-Ford?

Sajeev
Community Manager

Having owned Philco-Fords, there's little connection with the design, tuning and quality of components to truly call it a partnership.  It's not like Delco-Bose. 

GPConcours
Passenger

One of the more interesting systems ever designed around a specific car is the Kenwood system in a McLaren F1. They even used lighter weight materials in the CD changers. don't want to use the balance, of course

Sajeev
Community Manager

Oh wow!  I will have to research this one! 

LarryT
Pit Crew

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

Sajeev
Community Manager

I found an advertisement for Motorola highlighting the partnership...can't see if they did anything to tune the audio system to the car, which of course wasn't a thing back then. 

Utopia1
Detailer

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!  🙂

ed
Detailer

I had a 2002 SC430 with the Mark Levinson system which did not have AUX or Bluetooth, but it had a cassette player.  I used one of those wired cassette adapters to stream from my phone.  Even then, one of the best sound systems I've had on wheels.
avanti5010
Pit Crew

The Nissan Juke also used Kicker subwoofers.

RoadDog
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. 

Sajeev
Community Manager

That's a good question: everything (i.e. mostly nothing) I can find about the Blaupunkt stereos in BMW/Porsche, Beckers in Mercedes implied that the audio company wasn't involved in engineering a whole audio system, including speakers. This also includes a full on marketing blitz (ads, mentioning in sales brochures, fancy emblems in the interiors, etc.) to highlight the partnership. Delco-Bose was the first of the engineering handshakes from what I can see. 

okfoz
Detailer

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.

MattK
Detailer

I always liked the Delco Bose setup for GM. I wasn't a crazy Audiophile or anything but I thought they sounded really good for a "Stock" system. Plus with all the radio thefts of custom installed systems going on in the 80s and 90s, Thieves never bothered with them. 

Sajeev
Community Manager

Radio theft is a good point, that's a great reason to get a factory upgrade instead of aftermarket! 

stevecobb45
Detailer

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.

JSievers
Advanced Driver

The premium Boston Acoustics system in my 2006 Chrysler 300 was the best factory stereo I have heard to date. Exceptionally smooth and well-balanced sound that could be played at high volume without becoming harsh or brittle - a BA trademark. The Harmann-Kardon system in my second generation 300 was crap in comparison, but probably cost FCA less money. 

Sajeev
Community Manager

Agreed! My Dad had a 2005 300C with the BA audio, it was probably the best thing in that car. 

Foersch
Passenger

Remember when Detroit was pumping out SUX2000s with the Blaupunkt upgrade right before Delta City got under construction?  Those were the days.

thetossedtool
Intermediate Driver

Saab and Clarion!

ScottM
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. 

deloreanguy
New Driver

Craig and DeLorean Motor Company - one of the earliest tie-ups in the late 70s.

 

https://images.app.goo.gl/dg6Mr2q94xbhii2r9

Sajeev
Community Manager

Oh I like that one! 

Dstuckmann
Passenger

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.  

deloreanguy
New Driver

And Alpine and Lamborghini! What car kid or car person in the 80s didn't have that poster on their wall?

 

https://images.app.goo.gl/19kFMuhtcMV6GNwa6

 

https://images.app.goo.gl/tLYLq319jRHoszhz5

Tim
Instructor

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.

Sajeev
Community Manager

You really hit the nail on the head with this. 

Greg_B
Pit Crew

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.

SilentBoy741
Advanced Driver

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.

Sajeev
Community Manager

Same applies for owners of Pyramid audio. 

Bud
Passenger

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

CarciergeReggie
Detailer

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.

Grumpy
Pit Crew

What Happened To Blaupunkt (or Bosch GmbH)?

Gone_Fission
Passenger

How did you miss Lamborghini and Alpine??, Quite possibly the original and most famous audio/auto partnership ever. Alpine was factory fitted to every Lamborghini from the early 80's (Countach) through to the late 90's culminating with the 'Diablo VT Alpine edition'

Sajeev
Community Manager

Yup, that was a mistake on my part!  

hunternicholas
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.

Sajeev
Community Manager

Sorry but I see no mention of Delco-Bose in the 1982 or 1983 Olds Cutlass Ciera sales brochure, only for the Delco ETR (electric tuned radios) that were an option. The cost of Bose stuff would make it tough to sell Delco-Bose in any Olds but a Toronado at that time. 

Barry22
Passenger

And before the hifi audio IIRC, I believe there was...

Blaupunkt w/BMW, Porsche and probably VW, Ford and Philco and GM and Bendix.

And I'm sure there were others.

ed
Detailer

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.

ClayD
Passenger

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?

 

Sajeev
Community Manager

Your Camaro had the optional ERS (Extended Range Sound) stereo which was not designed by Bose. I checked the 1982 Camaro sales brochure and I see no mention of Delco-Bose. Ditto 1983. It makes sense, as these types of systems started on expensive cars before trickling down to more affordable cars. Sorry, hope that's not coming across as a knock on your car, but it was more affordable than a Cadillac Eldorado. 

ClayD
Passenger

Maybe it had Bose speakers installed as a dealer option. My rusty old memory associates Bose with that car for SOME reason! ERS rings a bell too. Last time I saw that car was 1984, still miss it.
Marcsten
Pit Crew

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.