Sunday, February 13, 2011

Yeah, But Back in My Day...

Sometimes it's the strangest things that start my mind to working down odd paths.

This morning I was reading Car Lust, one of my favorites, and found this post. Truly the end of an era.

But it got me to thinking about how car sound used to be a 'gateway drug' to customization of what used to be Mom & Dad's car.

Back in my day, when dinosaurs like Pontiac and Oldsmobile ruled the land, and you would rather be caught naked in the gym on Prom night than drive a 'furrin' car, usually the very first thing that happen to your first car was the tune box. Usually before you even washed it, or put gas in it for the first time.

The FM converter. Plugged into the antenna wire between the antenna and the radio, and suddenly you could avoid the stigma of AM only. You still had just one speaker, and it always sounded high pitched and tinny, but, man, you had FM. For $9.95 at Kmart.

It usually took a couple of paychecks, but eventually you became enamored of a little higher quality sound in the ride, and sprung for the AM/FM in dash stereo unit that came with the wires and TWO speakers! $29.95 for the Kraco brand at Kmart. Since installation usually required dismantling the dash, most of the interior and sometimes cutting holes into part of the car, installation usually took place at a friend's house, where you assured his Dad you had permission to do this work.

White lies like that are just a few weeks in Purgatory; well worth the benefit of the NEW AND IMPROVED sounds your car made. It was also almost worth the Hell you went through when Dad found out what you had done to HIS car.

But the new wore off of that system pretty quickly too. Everybody else was listening to Tape Decks in their cars, and you were stuck with only FM. In 1978 you could still buy an aftermarket 8-track unit, and you did have a collection of 8-track tapes. Cassettes were an unproven technology- and cost money. It was either buy a fresh new cassette deck, and not have anything to listen to in it, or get an 8-track deck.

You could by a new stereo 8-track, but hey; that was 75 bucks. Down at the junk yard (they're called Auto recycling centers now) you could get a used factory unit for half that, some times less, if you bought one of the less popular side-by-side knob units like Chrysler and Ford used in their high-end stuff.

So you had to cut up the dash a little more. and there were no factory trim pieces to hide the mess you made of the cut job, No dremel tools in them days. When you cut a hole in a metal dash it was with a hammer and cold chisel, tin snips and, if you were lucky, a rotary file chucked up in a corded drill. Precise cuts were as common as Cadillacs in the high school parking lot.

But it was worth it. Now you could listen to your music on your schedule at a volume that almost overrode the muffler and the wind noise at highway speeds. You were Stylin'!

Then came that first job after graduation and the first car you could by with your own money. It came down to two; Grandma's 15 year old, low mileage Buick that you could get a couple of hundred, or that 10 year old Mustang that has been hot-rodded and modified to the point where even Lee Iaccoca wouldn't recognize it; for a grand- cash.

Grandma's Buick had an AM Radio.

The Mustang had a cassette deck.

Yeah; it was no contest. Your cousin who got the Buick drove it for two years and it didn't cost any more than gas and oil.

And an FM converter that you sold him for 5 bucks.

The Mustang ate parts like you did popcorn at the drive-in. When you could afford the drive-in. You spent more on parts that first year than the car cost you, and twice that the second year.

But you didn't care. You had a stereo cassette deck.

Even if you did have to play it in the driveway, waiting on parts.

While you rode with your cousin in Grandma's old Buick.

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