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September 1998 4x Forward

Posted in Features on September 1, 1998
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Simple pleasures and mental therapy. That's all I'm really looking for when I'm wrenching on my 4x4s. Sure, I think I can build it better than the factory did, and I'm constantly tinkering and bench racing to figure out how to build the next one, but when I'm in my garage turning wrenches, I like to do so at a somewhat relaxed pace.

This weekend I decided that I had listened too long to the squeaks and rattles that make a mid-'70s GM truck a mid-'70s GM truck, so I went about tossing a stereo in mine. I build engines, install supsension lifts, work on axles-a stereo should be cake. I had mail-ordered a head unit and speakers, and all I wanted was to put the stuff in my truck. No big deal. Right.

First off, I had just returned from driving one of my cars on Hot Rod magazine's Power Tour. The upper portion of my toolbox, the part containing all my handtools, was still in the trunk of my car-in Michigan. Drat-I had to buy more tools.

An hour and $130 later, I was back home, ready to wrench on the thing. I pried the homemade wooden speaker boxes off the doors. This revealed much larger holes hacked into the metal doors than I had expected, which meant the 6 1/2-inch round speakers I had wouldn't even come close to filling the holes. I closed the garage door again and headed to the local stereo shop to swap the speakers for 6x9s. Next, I discovered that I didn't own a tool that could cleanly cut the doors to fit the 6x9s (since the existing holes were more like 5x8). Some creative handling of a 7 1/2-inch angle grinder overcame this problem, but not without fogging ground metal everywhere.

Next, I needed to route the speaker wires through the door and kick panels. The driver-side kick panel just didn't want to come off. The E-brake pedal was in the way, and the top three screws were nearly impossible to get to. It finally came off, and I found that the previous owner had drilled holes just a little smaller than I needed to route the wires. I whipped out the cordless drill (didn't leave that in Michigan) and went to town until the battery croaked. Oh well, it was time for lunch anyway.

After lunch, I finished drilling and routing and screwed the new speakers to the doors. Downhill, finally! Next came the head unit. Call me silly, but I usually mount the stereo in the glovebox (can't see it, can't steal it, I figure). But I decided to mount this one in the dash because I couldn't reach the glovebox, and the head unit wouldn't fit in there anyway. I crawled into a very uncomfortable position under the dash and started fishing the old stereo out from behind the instruments and heater controls. This took way more shoving, bending, and pulling than I was ready for, but I finally freed the thing.

The new head unit was a DIN chassis, which meant it was a square peg that I had to fit in a round hole in the dash. Somehow I managed to hack the right-shaped hole into the dash. The head unit fit, but it needed that metal strap on the back. I crawled back under the dash to look through all the plastic, wiring, cables, and duct work. Aha! A patch of metal above and behind the stereo. I drilled it and attached the strap before I lost sight of it. I bent the metal strap in ways that are never recommended and bolted it to the back of the head unit, which will probably keep the thing from falling into my lap while I'm driving.

May I remind you that all I wanted was a radio to drown out the rattles. I glanced at the fuse box, hoping that some part of this installation would have mercy on me. No way. The previous owner must have tried to light up Vegas with that thing: Every power point on the box was filled, and there were, I kid you not, 15 quick splices in the wires coming out of the box. The last time I started cutting obviously extraneous wires out from under the dash of a truck, the windshield wipers and ignition switch never worked again, so this time I decided to check some of the dangling wires for power and, sure enough, I was able to find a power source for the new head unit.

I have to tell you, this may be the best-sounding stereo I've ever had, not because it's trick, but because it's done.
- Cole Quinnell

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