Another Reason the Old Days Weren't So Great: Car Audio

Murilee Martin
by Murilee Martin
another reason the old days werent so great car audio

Even though I write a lot about old cars, I still think they were actually pretty terrible. If you’re over 35, you probably remember how broken-down cars with the hood up were once an every-half-mile sight on the shoulders of American highways during heat waves… and then there’s the crummy— yet expensive— sound you once got from car audio systems. Let’s take a tour of Radio Shack’s car-audio accessories for the 1966-1986 period, shall we?

Yesterday, I was thinking about the inherent terribleness of AM radio, and that reminded me of the scrawky 9-volt-battery-powered transistor radios you used to see all the time during the 70s, which led to a recollection of (and inevitable Google search for) Radio Shack’s brightly-colored “Flavoradios.” From there, it was just a quick jump to the amazing Radio Shack Catalogs website, which has scans of just about every page of just about every Radio Shack catalog going back to 1940.

We’ve become accustomed to electronic equipment being quite cheap, but it was not always so. In 1986, for example, Radio Shack’s best 30-watt(!) AM/FM/cassette stereo sold for $299.95. That’s $615.61 in 2012 bucks! Nowadays, even the most desperate crackhead won’t bother to bust your car window to steal a CD player, much less a cassette deck.

Join the conversation
2 of 87 comments
  • Keoni_ Keoni_ on Feb 06, 2013

    Are you sure you lived in the 80's? Stereos were great, you just had to know what you were building. Granted the Radio Shack stereos and the base model speakers sucked. The absolute must have key to a great system though was a Radio Shack Power Booster. Without one of those powering your system in the 80's I don't care what you had it was second rate, bar none, that's it, last word. Cant remember the names but you didn't want the cheaper one of the two they sold throughout the 80's and basically just changed face plates periodically. One was a 40 watt and the other an 80 watt. The 80 watt was basically an 80w amp with a 7 band equalizer built in that you mounted under your dash. 80 watts doesn't sound like much by todays standards but a Pioneer Supertuner III, four Jensen 6x9 triax's in your rear deck for the base(Yes Jensen!! They were also a must, nothing but the 6x9 triaxs though) two Pioneer TSX-9's on each side of the rear deck and a pair of 6" Pioneers in the front would make your GM A-body the envy of the school. I built basically that same system in half a dozen A-body Muscle Cars I had owned throughout the 80's and I swear when I fired up that Radio Shack power booster usually with some old school Van Halen you could see the glass bowing back and forth from the base and the Pioneers could almost shatter it from the highs. That little Radio Shack unit was awesome. They need to still be making them. Simple to install, quick and easy to tune perfect. To heck with the new stuff, Bridged reversed subs, 50 band equalizers, seperate tweeters, gain knobs, 19lbs of wire spider webbing your car, sure the modern stuff sounds great but you need to be a NASA electrician to figure it all out. I'll take an old school powered system any day but with a modern flat screen, iPod and GPS capable deck of course.

  • In 1988, in my then brand-new Nissan Hardbody truck, I installed a Harmon Kardon cassette deck with Dolby "B" and "C" with a pair of Infinity KAPPA 3-way speakers in both doors. The sound quality was really second to none, especially with TDK cassettes recorded in HX Pro. Upgraded to a Soundstream CD unit that also pulled out of the dash. Remember the days when you carried your tape deck/cd player with you in that carrying case with a zipper. Yes, the not so good old days. (And yes, I worked p/t for Radio Shack and also installed Radio Shack car audio and cellphone units, and yes RS stuff was junk, overpriced junk).

  • Kwik_Shift Once 15 Minute Cities start to be rolled out, you won't be far enough away from home to worry about range anxiety.
  • Bobbysirhan I'd like to look at all of the numbers. The eager sheep don't seem too upset about the $1,800 delta over home charging, suggesting that the total cost is truly obscene. Even spending Biden bucks, I don't need $1,800 of them to buy enough gasoline to cover 15,000 miles a year. Aren't expensive EVs supposed to make up for their initial expense, planet raping resource requirements, and the child slaves in the cobalt mines by saving money on energy? Stupid is as stupid does.
  • Slavuta Civic EX - very competent car. I hate the fact of CVT and small turbo+DI. But it is a good car. Good rear seat. Fix the steering and keep goingBut WRX is just a different planet.
  • SPPPP This rings oh so very hollow. To me, it sounds like the powers that be at Ford don't know which end is up, and therefore had to invent a new corporate position to serve as "bad guy" for layoffs and eventual scapegoat if (when) the quality problems continue.
  • Art Vandelay Tasos eats $#!t and puffs peters