Should you upgrade the stereo in your classic car?


There’s arguably nothing better than vintage cars and classic tunes, and mixing them together is just about the best thing ever, the equivalent of KFC’s famed Double Down that threw out the bread in favor of just giving us what we (or I) wanted, fried chicken, cheese and bacon.

But, that said, classic car owners face a unique conundrum when it comes to music. While they can upgrade their stereo system so they can play their favorite CDs or MP3s, they also risk diminishing the look and value of their ride. Depending on who you ask, the end result can be something like ordering a copy of “Who’s Next” only to find out its the deluxe edition with an extra disc of subpar extras.

Chances are, you’re already used to using your MP3 player or smartphone in your primary car, which can make the switch to radio or 8-track harder when you take out your classic ride. Even, Michael Arbaugh, the chief designer of Ford interiors has said that MP3s are the future of car stereos.

“That’s oceanfront property when you are talking about the center stack,” he said in a statement. “I think anybody under 30 is probably using all MP3 devices. They don’t buy CDs.”

But, even if you aren’t sold on upgrading, you may at least want to know your options.

1. Installing a new head unit – According to CNET, the popular consumer tech website, MP3-compatible head units that also play CDs are readily available and inexpensive. Popular models retail for only around $100 and can be found online for even cheaper. With these, you can plug in and play your favorite tunes while pushing the limit on the highway.

But, head units may require a little installation work and maybe even professional service, and depending on the model, they may take away from the look of your car. Though, some antique radio dealers have found creative solutions to this predicament.

2. Using a hard drive system – This method offers more music than a new head unit, as with an 80GB hard drive installed in the trunk, you can haul around more than a few record collections without decreasing your fuel mileage with extra weight. In addition, since these usually come with a head unit, you can search for songs, playlists or artists right on the radio dashboard.

3. Using cassette adapters – If you’re classic is a late ’70s Corvette or mid-80s Thunderbird – or really any car from the late ’70s to early ’90s – you have the easiest route to playing your favorite tunes. Cassette adapters – which enter a deck like a regular cassette tape – allow you to play an MP3 player or smartphone right through the speakers without alteration.

While this option may be the best, it can also be dangerous. Remember that you may want to make a playlist for the ride, as doing too much shuffling can cause you to take your eyes off the road. After all, you don’t want to be the guy who crashed an immaculate ‘vette simply because you couldn’t handle a few more seconds of Duran Duran’s “Rio.”

Now that you know your choices, you may be wondering what this will do to the price of your model. While hard to predict, especially if you’re selling it on the open market, data from Hemmings indicates that classic models with modern conveniences typically retail for high prices. In particular, its forums list a 1970 Oldsmobile Delta 88 Royale with an upgraded MP3 player and price tag of more than $20,000.

At the end of the day, it may be best for you to do what will allow you to enjoy your car the best. If you don’t mind listening to the radio because you know that that radio is an original piece, you may want to stay put. If you’re all about excitement, maybe hearing “Who’s Next” with the wind in your hair is worth the price.