Good Sound from a British Sportscar?

From Moss Motoring 1984

By Dan Ben-Ora Los Angeles, CA

My 1966 Austin Healey 3000 came equipped with the original AM radio, a small blown speaker in the console, and a bent antenna. As a fan of maintaining the stock setup, I suffered along with this system for about three weeks. Driving down the freeway with the top down listening to pure distortion through a trashed speaker was not my idea of high fidelity. Can’t get good sound out of a loud convertible you say? Read on.

Stereo Installation. The Austin Healeys use a positive ground electrical system. However, most of the good stereos on the market today are only compatible with a negative ground electrical system. My neighbor, who is a computer repair technician, was walking past as I was attempting to connect my stereo. He told me to try reversing the stereo ground and power wires. This seemed to make sense because the because the positive and negative battery cables are reversed on the Austin Healey. ‘Hey Walley, is that smoke coming from the back of your brand new Sony digital stereo?’ ‘Yes Beaver.’

The correct wiring procedure is to purchase a voltage inverter, available from Radio Shack for about $25.00. Complete wiring instructions are included with it. Most inverters have a lip on each side for screw-down installation. This type of inverter can be mounted alongside the heater box under the dash. Simply slide the two clips which secure the bottom plate of the heater outwards, place the inverter along the heater box and slide the clips back towards the inverter. The clips will hold the inverter securely in place. It can also be mounted in just about any other location in the car with two small screws.

The installation of the stereo is the opposite of removal of the stock unit. You may have to file the edges of the console opening to accommodate a unit with a larger face.

In order to connect the stereo to a hot wire, i.e. one that carries current even when the ignition is off, you will need to install an on-off toggle switch in-line with the power wire to the stereo unit. Unless this is done, the voltage inverter will drain the battery in about 3 days. Also, the toggle switch is very handy when you want to listen to the stereo while you work on the car for a few hours but don’t want to turn on the ignition. The side of the console just above the stereo unit is a convenient location for the toggle switch.

Antenna. A very important and often neglected item is the antenna. The best type is a straight stainless steel antenna. The cost is about $10.00 to $15.00 and reception is usually improved. Don’t bother with antenna power boosters.

Speakers. Finally, the most important aspect of the installation is the speakers. The price you pay for speakers is not nearly as important as where you place them. The kick panels happen to be a very good place for speakers in the Austin Healey. I centered two 5″ dual cone Sony speakers in the kick panels (between the dash and the firewall about 4″ above the floorboard). This can be done with a circular drill bit for stereos, if you have one, or a regular V4″ drill will work by drilling a series of small connecting holes along a scribed circle on the panel. Once the holes are drilled, use a curved file to smooth the edges. The second method is admittedly crude but it beats paying a stereo installer $40.00 to install your speakers.

I didn’t expect much from the system after it was installed but when I turned it on, boom!! Fantastic full bodied sound out of an $80.00 set of speakers. The highs are good and the base is fantastic. I hadn’t realized it but the speaker holes in the kick panels open in directly into those big Healey wheel wells. The resonance is better than trunk mounted speakers because of the separation and size of the air spaces.

You can hear my Healey coming before you can see it. The total cost of the setup was about $320.00 and three hours labor and worth every penny!

Our thanks to Dan for telling us how he wired his Healey for sound. A $10.00 Gift Certificate is in the mail.

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