By on June 21, 2013

It started innocently enough: Derek Kreindler posted the above photo on Facebook for nothing more than a few social media lulz. Which triggered a memory on my end of Al Gore’s Internet: of a cellular phone residing in the console of my Lincoln Mark VIII. Even worse, it reminded me of the way-cool hack to make it work in the digital age. The conversation went downhill from there, and the boss man suggested I blog all about it. Won’t you join me in the cellular madness?

Before I start: my Mark VIII never came with a cell phone.  But I, the upwardly “mobile” (tee-hee, get it?) junkyard dog that I am, grabbed most of the functional bits from a crusher bound Mark VIII: phone-handset, the plastic cradle, and a voice activated A-pillar speaker/button assembly for about $20.  It plugs and plays, if I grabbed the module from the trunk.  Provided that black box was actually worth something. It is not, especially if you upgraded to an aftermarket stereo.

So I, much like The Esteemed Mr. Kreindler, just did it to show off. Or look stupid. Either way, this system commands attention. Especially if someone looks at the A-pillar.

The result is some sort of highbrow-historical respect: last year a friend borrowed the Mark. Upon noticing the brick inside the center console she busted out the Android, expressing glee from her first encounter with a gen-u-wine cellular car phone. Smartphone texting about an analog phone: now ain’t that some shit?

Imagine a fantabulous world where you could re-use this impressive (looking) system in today’s fully digital society! Queue the obligatory Panther Love:

YouTube Preview Image

Without getting into the nitty-gritty, this video shows how cell phones from the Golden (Dark?) Age of In-Car communication need not go gentle into that good night.  The obscenely talented and/or tragically bored among us can convert the analog system to digital…and still run the factory’s “hands free operation” gadgets. Like, awesome.

Which begs the question: would you make the change, teach an old dog new tricks, if you could? And would it be less annoying/obnoxious than many newer in-car entertainment systems?

Send your queries to sajeev@thetruthaboutcars.com. Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry…but be realistic, and use your make/model specific forums instead of TTAC for more timely advice.

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21 Comments on “Super Piston Slap: New Tricks For an Old Car Phone?...”


  • avatar

    I would probably not do it on a Mark VIII (well, I might, if it was a factory install and I loved the car). But I was recently looking at photos of a 1990s-vintage Aston Martin that had an elaborate custom phone installation done by AM Works Service (at what was surely a terrifying-to-mortals price) before the car was delivered. If I owned that car, I would definitely want to preserve that work and try to make it functional. (Actually, if I owned that car, I’d eBay it and buy a Mk 1 Vanquish S instead, but that’s another discussion.)

  • avatar
    Zackman

    I have a “dumb phone” that has all the bells & whistles I need, because I refuse to pay for a data plan, as I use my phone very little – I don’t need it to conduct business or anything, so I’m content with Bluetooth when I’m in my car, so adapting some old tech wouldn’t do me any good.

    However, as I still listen to 45 rpm & LPs on my ancient stereo on occasion, a project like this intrigues me.

    Back when the Buick Roadmaster came out in 1990 – the bathtub model that looked better than the Caprice – it came with a car phone on the upper models. Really cool at the time!

    Question: Unrelated to the discussion at hand, but why do (primarily) young people have to always be on the phone, especially while driving? What’s so important, and who do you HAVE to talk to?

    Just curious.

    Me? I like to cruise in mostly silence unless a ballgame is on, or something interesting happens to be on the radio (rarely), or music occasionally. I’m not one who needs something to entertain me… Now when wifey is with me, it’s chatter and laughter all the time!

    • 0 avatar
      Summicron

      “why do (primarily) young people have to always be on the phone”

      Cycled a Gen-Y type through our office recently. I gave him a chance because he was very tech savvy and interviewed well. After a year with us harsh boomers he transferred out. He just couldn’t understand why we’d object to always seeing Cracked.com on his computer while his assigned projects went nowhere. He was this kind of phone-creature.

      Incessant message alerts, private fits of laughing or anger in response to same, constant diversions to check-out something JIST OOAWWsome! on YouTube…. the usual technologically extended kindergarten of 20-somethings.

      • 0 avatar
        west-coaster

        Let me guess. He complained to his friends that you were “denying him his rights.”

        • 0 avatar
          Summicron

          Pretty much.

          Thing is, he’s a good kid. We still keep in touch and occasionally get together. Everyone likes the guy, we’d all just like him to work somewhere else.

          Because with all his native intelligence and pertinent training, he has absolutely no concept of what “on the clock” means. When the mood strikes he can work like a demon. But what employer can wait for moods?

          • 0 avatar
            bryanska

            We hire lots of millenials. The trick is to spell out expectations & timelines clearly, and tell them beforehand you accept no deadline extensions. You literally have to tell them what you want done, and when to deliver it. Then go over their work afterwards with them, and point out all the things they did wrong.

            They’re not lazy, they’re just not intuitive to what you want. And they don’t sniff out a project’s core value very well, so they don’t know how to add it. Thus their first-draft is oddly subpar.

            But after you give them good instructions, and a deadline, they’ll work 40 hours a week getting it done. Just not all in a row. They work after hours and on weekends at home, contrary to popular opinion.

          • 0 avatar
            Summicron

            Everything you say is so accurate it’s giving me flashbacks. We’d actually reached a happy accord as far as job performance went. I think it was his feeling of cultural isolation among us admittedly conservative oldsters combined with a much shorter commute to his new job that decided him.

            Too many awkward moments when he’d enthusiastically share Tosh.0 videos or arrive beaming with a new fauxhawk and didn’t get the expected response.

          • 0 avatar
            SoCalledMillennial

            Wow, another sweeping generalization about an entire demographic based on anecdotal evidence. Let me give this a try:

            I’m 30, but I work with a 60 year old, in fact he’s my boss. So let me tell you all about the Baby Boomers, because I’m an expert. We’ve lost so many contracts because he refuses to get a smart phone and be available outside of work hours, or when he’s away from his desk, or when he takes one of his 4 weeks + of earned vacation. Hey, he’s a good guy, he’s just a ludite, just like all the rest of them. He gets on my case for arriving late, because I have to commute from across the bridge via bus in traffic, since I didn’t buy my house 30 years ago when things were actually affordable. What’s with the boomers lack of appreciation for what they have??? Our company has seen zero growth because we have an antiquated billing system, I tried to introduce him to the latest software, but he says he knows best, so we keep extra administrative personnel, and I make less $. WTF is wrong with these geezers? It’s not that they don’t mean well, but who can wait for them to get in touch with modern reality??? I guess he’s more interested in playing golf and working on his ’57 Chevy, sporting tie-dye and reminiscing about the summer of love…

            I’m thirty and can tell you that for every slacker there are just as many ambitious hard working individuals, at any age. Enough with these stupid generalizations.

    • 0 avatar
      mattfarah

      I’m 31, so I’m not THAT young, but presumably of the age you’re talking about. When I’m in my office, things are constantly being hurled at me (figuratively), and all I can do is deal with them as they come up. From cars being run around, compressors going, music being played, it’s very difficult to have an actual phone call; plus I rarely have 20 undistracted minutes to make that phone call.

      My F150 is quiet, comfortable, and has bluetooth, so when I’m in the car by myself, that’s when I get phone calls made. Can’t talk now? Call you back on my way home from work. Can’t talk in the restaurant? Call you on the way home.

      Now, I have three jobs at the moment, and all of them require little more than a cell phone and a laptop computer. My work exists in time and space, 24 hours a day. I’d rather not be on the phone all the time, and truth be told, I fucking hate talking on the phone, because I almost always have something going on right in front of me that’s more important than what’s happening on the phone, but it’s a real part of my job and when the phone rings, I have to answer it.

      Short answer: I’m on the phone because I’m working, so yes I HAVE to be on the phone and no it can’t wait.

  • avatar
    Lie2me

    I would have happily sent you the set-up from my ’94 Maxima, which I believe is still in a box in the back of a closet for free if I knew you were interested in such a relic. I do remember it working quite well and very easy to operate while driving and before anyone even thought about texting… and why would you when you could, hey, just call them-up?

  • avatar
    SkookumFord

    My Mark VII came with a phone in the center console. The antenna was glued to the back window, I had to remove it when I installed my tint. I also discovered a thin black box in the trunk when I was installing an OEM 1-disk CD changer. At the time I had no idea what it was, but it looks just like the one in the video. I wonder if it would be possible to wire some sort of bluetooth module into the factory stereo, instead of hardwiring a whole phone in there.

  • avatar

    There’s a whole generation of Hipsters that would pay dearly for the chance to be ironic. I think you may be sitting on a gold mine.

  • avatar
    west-coaster

    Around L.A., there are still plenty of 1980s Mercedes-Benz and Jaguars with first-generation cellular phones nestled in the console or bolted to the side of the center stack.

    The tipoff is always that glass-mounted antenna – or just its whip-less base – on the rear window. (Those became such a status symbol in the Bush 41 era that Pep Boys and other purveyors of automotive stick-on crap started selling fake ones.) Whenever I see a pristine S-Class or Jag XJ parked somewhere and wearing one of those, I take a peek inside.

    Sure enough, more often than not there’s still a Motorola, Panasonic or Oki handset inside, often labeled with the carrier’s logo. The phones are long obsolete (though I think through some obscure FCC law they can still be used to make 9-1-1 calls), but the owners of the cars probably didn’t want to have them taken out, only to leave the mounting holes marring an otherwise perfect console.

    To me, these relic phones are the perfect accessory of the era. Kind of like putting “fuzzy dice” on the rearview mirror of your ’57 Chevy.

    • 0 avatar
      brettc

      My wife’s 2000 Jetta had a “car phone” installed by the original owner. It consists of a Motorola microphone that clips to the top of the A pillar and then there’s an antenna base stuck to the rear windshield. The phone never existed but there were mount holes on the right of the center console. I’ve never bothered to remove them because it gets more hilarious as time goes on. Since the car is getting on in years and she wants heated seats and power windows, we’ll probably replace it with either a Jetta or maybe even a Cruze next year. And that car will have Bluetooth. (I wonder how old school Bluetooth will seem in 2023?)

      • 0 avatar
        west-coaster

        By 2000, a lot of the “car phones” mounted in cars were actually car kits, which allowed the flip-style phones to be mounted in a cradle and operate hands-free.

        My 2001 Golf still has the remnants of the one I had installed in it in 2002. Really just a funny flat antenna stuck to the inside top of the windshield and some guts stuffed under the dash somewhere so I don’t really notice them. I had the guy use a special mount that used the mounting screws for the HVAC panel, so no holes in the console.

  • avatar
    genuineleather

    My grandmother had the same Lexus/Motorola phone in her ’95 LS400. It functioned well into the mid-2000′s when she finally sold the car.

    Really fantastic reception and sound quality; today’s bluetoothed cells are still a step back in that regard.

  • avatar
    Lorenzo

    You want to know how long this has been going on? A neighbor bought a 1956 Chrysler Windsor brand new, and had a military-style portable phone put in the back over the hump. He was a retired army Major, but all us kids in the neighborhood called him General. According to rumor, he once told someone his “driver” was sick so he was driving himself that day. Nobody ever saw the phone in use, but it sure looked impressive in its polished wooden box!

    • 0 avatar
      Lie2me

      Somewhere in that Chrysler there were two big boxes (transmitter and receiver) for that “portable” car phone. Probably took up a forth of the trunk space

      • 0 avatar
        Lorenzo

        I read somewhere that Chrysler’s first AC unit had parts of it in the trunk. Then again, those cars had huge trunks and the AC parts were small. Still, most of us kids figured the phone was fake.

  • avatar
    kmoney

    I have the same lex luthor that is in the first picture. The original Motorola phone kept killing the battery while parked — and was obsolete — so I converted the original steering wheel mic and controls to run a bluetooth car phone. It’s actually surprisingly easy, if you can find the wiring diagram to reverse engineer. Trips people out to have steering wheel controlled wireless handset in a car from 1991.

    One thing I miss about the old analog car phone. Its broadcast wattage was 3.5 watts, meaning it could pound signals way farther than my handheld device could ever hope to. Going camping and having crystal clear calls miles from anywhere where my cell had long given up was a nice touch.

  • avatar
    MadHungarian

    Seems to me that back when these hardwired “car phones” were common, you didn’t hear as much about distracted-driving issues. Of course, you couldn’t text or read email. Also, it was very easy to operate those big keypads by touch.


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