Putting Stereo Music in Your First Car

Underdash eight track player, complete with exposed add-on wires

Our kids are starting out, for the most part, like we did, with their first cars being older and cheap. It’s a rite of passage. When you start out with an old piece of junk, you learn to appreciate a nicer car when you can afford it.

However, a key difference between our kids’ first cars and ours is basic and fundamental: We likely had an AM radio with a single front dash speaker in ours. The old Toyotas and Hondas MY kids started out with had decent FM stereos that also played cassettes.

That would have been a dream to many of us, to get that first car already equipped with stereo. No, we had to install that first one ourselves. And we had to do it on a budget

So, tired of hearing that scratchy AM radio in my 1966 Ford Falcon (although it DID pull in WLS!), I went to the local Wal-Mart (and this was 1976, before the rest of the world had ever heard of the store chain) and purchased myself an under-dash eight track player and a set of plastic wedge speakers. Total investment: about 50 bucks.

But no 50-dollar investment ever enhanced an automobile as much, I assure you.

70’s wedge speakers for the rear deck

Installation consisted of finding a place under the dash of the ancient four-door Ford where two screws could be affixed and the player would sit within easy reach of the driver. Then, a wire was to be run to the fuse box to pick up power (you preferred an always-on lead, so you could listen to tapes at lunch without turning the key on). Next, you snaked two wires under the carpet and along the edge of the back seat until they finally appeared at the rear deck, where you placed your wedge speakers as far apart as possible. They had screw holes to mount them solidly, but I didn’t bother.

Get all the wires screwed down in the back of the player, then you hold your breath while you plug that first tape in.

To this day, I’ll never forget the rush I felt when the first notes of the cheap sound-alike tape I had also purchased filled the interior of that car. The song was Sweet Thing, sung to sound like Rufus. To this day, I have never been as thrilled to hear stereo music as I was that summer night in 1976, with my 50 dollar eight-track setup in that 500 dollar car.

The wedge-mounted speakers, about four inches in diameter, had little treble and absolutely no bass. But the difference between a single speaker in the dash and sweet stereo from the rear deck was profound.

Some things never change. I still drive an inexpensive car (to work), a 1990 Tercel that cost me $2400, a new engine included in that price. However, it has a sweet sound system, including an amplified subwoofer, nice front and rear speakers, and a player that lets me load up a flash drive with mp3’s and have many hours of perfect quality tunes.

But as much as I love that system, there was something about the way Sweet Thing sounded in 1976 that was better.

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