Car Radio CDR

I have a lot of projects. Too many projects. I guess it is how I keep from getting bored. What I have chosen for this Aesthetics of Design final project is actually a component of a bigger project I am working on; a 1970 Chevrolet El Camino restomod. When I acquired the vehicle the only interior parts it had were the dashboard and steering wheel. I have had to install floorboards, carpeting, seats, dashboard gauges and more. Some off the parts it still needs are a headliner, door panels and a radio. The last one is what I have chosen for this class.

My dashboard

There are a few mainstream solutions that I considered. I could install an OEM radio unit. It certainly would look like it belongs in the dashboard. Such a unit is hard to find, and even harder to find in working condition. Furthermore, I would be limited to the technology and sound quality of 50 years ago. Multiple options were available from the manufacturer. A bottom-of-the-line unit would get AM stations, and nicer ones would have FM or maybe even an 8-track player. If my goal with the El Camino was to do a factory original restoration this is probably the route I would go, but for this project I do not value originality as much as I value coolness and functionality.

Idential dashboard with stock radio

Another option would be to install one of the widely advertised aftermarket radio units made by brands like Pioneer or Kenwood. They provide great sound quality and plenty of modern features like iPod connection, Bluetooth and hands-free calling. I would have to cut a larger hole in my dashboard, as the vehicle predates standardized dash unit sizes. Among various Chevrolet models of the same year radio dimensions would differ. A 1970 pickup radio probably wouldn’t fit in a Camaro. More importantly, I HATE the was aftermarket radios look. They look fine on their own, but shiny chromed plastic and flashing multicolor LEDs look like they belong on the Starship Enterprise, not some shitbox Honda and even less a vintage Chevy. I feel this is what ties this project to this class: I want the features of a modern unit, but with a different aesthetic.
The only part of that dashboard that isn’t metal is the plastic radio unit.

There are actually units on the market that are made to be modern radios for vintage cars. They try to mimic what a factory unit looked like with the addition of modern features. This sounds like a perfect solution, but there are too main points keeping me from purchasing one. For one, they are expensive. For two, most reviews express that they have poor build quality and do not last. The following video was uploaded by a frustrated customer.

I will be building my own radio unit. I have research and made a plan for how I will tackle the electronics portion using an Arduino, ICs, and other widely available components. I have yet to do any assembling, building or coding for the electronics.

Bubble diagram of electronics plan

The radio must look like it belongs in the car. How well desired aesthetic is achieved dictates whether or I consider the project a success. I have an old radio that I will be using the housing and knobs from, but I will not be using the face. It is a 1980s aftermarket radio and has a boring, ugly face. I think that I will bend sheetmetal to construct the face. I do not think I will be able to successfully recreate era-correct “chachunka” station preset buttons. I do, however, want to shop around and get some good buttons with satisfying tactile feedback. I will be using a LCD display, which will be hard to make fit with the vintage aesthetic, but is necessary for the features I would like to have.

Arduino, Chevrolet, El Camino, head unit
Previous Post
Design Review Report: Terrarium
Next Post
Jae’s Design Review

10 Comments. Leave new

  • William Benson
    March 18, 2019 1:14 pm

    The electrical aspect of this project seems difficult. I think you can get close to a manufacturers aesthetic as far as quality. Definitely go with the button idea! I can’t wait to see how it turns out!

  • I am really excited to see how this project turns out! I am mostly interested about the bluetooth/chip integration. I usually love after market stereo systems but I completely agree why the aesthetic wouldn’t work with the car that you are working with now. Are you going to take some old stereos apart to figure out the wiring or just watching youtube videos? Also if you are ordering from SparkFun keep in mind Atlas now gets deliveries and has “will call” if you dont want to have to drive all the way down to SparkFun.

  • Nicholas Degenhart
    March 18, 2019 1:11 pm

    I love this project. Using an Arduino as the “brains” behind the radio is a great idea. Have you thought of looking into the analog circuitry that radios from the period used? It may be a cheaper option.

  • Very cool concepts for new style car radios! I’ve always agreed that these after production stereos are too flashy so creating one to fit the time period would be a very exciting project.

  • Max Buechler
    March 18, 2019 1:10 pm

    I like how the aesthetic is driven by the car that it is going into, and the purpose is to make it fit with the car look. Are you going to make a custom body for all the electronics to fit into, or are you going to re-purpose an existing radio case that is close to what you are looking for?

  • This looks like a really cool idea! I think it’s awesome to replicate the aesthetic of old radios with new technology. I can’t wait to see what your final product looks like.

  • Ellie Pearson
    March 18, 2019 1:09 pm

    Fun slide transitions during your presentation! This sounds really cool but challenging because of the electrical element. The aesthetic is cool and I like that you are thinking about the radio aesthetic in a certain time period.

  • Andrew Lapham
    March 18, 2019 1:09 pm

    I think you might be the only project with heavy electronics. I think this is an awesome project with some lofty goals. Would you say that your aesthetic is vintage or maybe like a certain time period? Looking forward to see the final project.

  • Yousef Alqattan
    March 18, 2019 1:08 pm

    I like the idea of creating a radio for a car, you made good points about how aftermarket radios just don’t fit in our cars and we should just stick to the car radio. Have you tried getting your hands on the radio you want to build, as the heavy resistance button with the “ca chunk” sound could be achieved by just using the same components.

  • Jared Campbell
    March 18, 2019 1:08 pm

    I like the idea of mimicking the aesthetic of what the car radio will actually look like but with modern materials. Maybe you can find a way to make the “clicky” buttons or at least fake that effect.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Fill out this field
Fill out this field
Please enter a valid email address.