A Car Story

By Eric Peters

April 8, 2020 5 min read

Today is a good time for a car story, to take our minds off the other story.

This story's related to my story from about a month ago, about upgrading the out-of-date, factory-installed, CD-playing (but no Bluetooth-playing) stereo in my '02 Nissan Frontier with an up-to-date system.

Well, I just attempted the reverse.

I reinstalled the very out-of-date AM/FM radio — forget stereo — that came with my 1976 Trans Am when it was new, back in the fall of 1975. I had it on a shelf in a closet for at least 10 years, after I got it back from a guy I sent it to for restoration to as-new condition. In the meantime, I listened to the aftermarket stereo — with a tape deck! — I had installed in the car back in the '90s, when tape decks were still the duck's guts. Also installed back then — when Clintigula was doing his cigar thing with Ms. Lewinsky — were a set of then-duck's-guts speakers — two in the dash and two out back.

This was twice the speakerage my car originally came with.

And thence came the rub.

I did all the groundwork to get the old/nonoriginal and now very out-of-date stereo tape deck out of the Trans Am. This requires removal of the center console — to get at the underside of the dash — followed by some torturous maneuvering under the dash to get at the brackets and wires that hold the works in situ.

I had done all that when I discovered the stereo shop that installed the deck back in the '90s had mauled my car's wiring like a Rottweiler tearing up a toy poodle. It was bad enough that they cut so much. It was worse that these professionals didn't even use proper connectors. Wires were twisted together and then taped.

Yes, I paid them to do this.

And now I paid the price. I built a new harness to replace the mauled and gone one. A custom rig to connect the Trans Am's original AM/FM to the things it needed to be connected to, such as a 12-volt power source and then the wires running to the speakers.

Whereupon I encountered a problem.

It had not occurred to me before I began to dig into it — and not until I had gotten very deep into it — that the original 1976 radio and '90s-era speakers weren't compatible. Not the wiring — and not the power.

The car had four speakers versus the original two, and the originals were not designed to broadcast the palsied signals emitted by a 1976 General Motors radio, which isn't much different than a 1966 radio. As "The Six Million Dollar Man" might have put it: We don't have the technology.

Or the speakers.

The Trans Am's original GM speakers were thrown in the trash circa 1994, which is probably too long ago to have any hope of finding them in the dumpsters today. Or anywhere else. Because who in his right mind — back in the '90s — would have saved a set of crummy GM speakers from the '70s?

I wish I had.

Because now if I want to listen to the monotones of the mid-'70s, I will have to scrounge a set of original GM speakers from the '70s. I expect this will be a snipe hunt of epic duration and frustration. Which brings up a thing I have since learned and practice religiously:

Never throw away anything original to your classic car. Because a day will come when you will desperately wish you had it back.

Someone else — unknown to me but close to me in a way — is going to learn this lesson, too. My friend Tim, who is a professional mechanic, gave me something the other day. It was something one of his customers asked him to throw away.

It was the original Quadrajet four-barrel carburetor and cast-iron Pontiac intake manifold from a 1979 Trans Am. A 400, 4-speed Trans Am, last of the line and vey rare.

I now have on my workbench a complete, intact, numbers-matching W72 code-four barrel engine and matching intake; the poor Trans Am now has an aftermarket intake and a generic Holley carburetor.

Someday, the owner of that poor Trans Am (or perhaps its next owner) is going to pine for the "correct" intake and carburetor that's no longer on the car. He may post ads in Hemmings; he may scour the field at Carlisle. He will likely have as much luck finding his car's intake and carburetor as I am going to have finding my car's long-gone speakers.

Sigh.

So, what did I do?

For now, I reinstalled the '90s-era stereo tape deck. It's not original, obviously.

But it still works — and having the tape deck is kind of cool.

SET IMAGE) epe040820adAP.jpg (END IMAGE) (SET CAPTION) View the car story this week. (END CAPTION).

Eric's new book, "Don't Get Taken for a Ride!" is available now. To find out more about Eric and read his past columns, please visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.

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