Obviously there's no need for me to describe why it was necessary to build a 92-pound boombox out of plywood and car parts. Instead, let us see how the Turbo II Junkyard Boogaloo Boombox came to be...
In the beginning, there was the Tercel. When your friend's beater '86 Tercel wagon throws a rod and it's not worth fixing, what do you do? Why, you run over and pluck some parts off it before she lets the junkyard truck take it away!
In this case, I grabbed the alternator, jack, speakers, and a few other bits. Most importantly, I got the battery- it was new-ish and in good shape, and you can always use an extra car battery around the house. But then I thought of the boxes full of weird car parts I had sitting around, including a decent cassette deck, when it hit me...
Back in the early 80s, you used to see break dancers with crude boomboxes made from a car battery, car stereo, and a bunch of speakers, all bungeed and duct-taped up to a dolly. The concept was sound, but the execution a little crude. What if you were to build that sort of boombox the right way, using not only a car battery but <em>all</em> car parts? Well, you'd really have something then!
I'd already scratch-built several dash panels for hot-rod beater cars, generally using street-sign aluminum and junkyard gauges and switches, so this concept wasn't totally without precedent for me. Above is a dash I put together for a '65 Impala, complete with '66 Buick speedometer, Opel clock, and Fiat warning lights.
What I learned building dash panels was that you don't have to have world-class fabrication skills (or tools) to have fun building something out of junkyard parts. In fact, it's not about the skills, it's about the idea- have a good idea and you'll find some way to make your meager skills and cheap tools do the job.
That means a trip to the junkyard! Hooray! I had a pair of fuzztastic 4" round dash speakers from the Tercel, but I needed some bigger units to provide the bass for those Erik B & Rakim beats I'd be playing. This '93 Mercury Grand Marquis looked promising.
Sure enough, the Mercury was packing some nice factory JBL-made 6x9s on the back deck. Good thing it's Half Price Day!
I was also going to need a fusebox- it wouldn't do to have my new boombox catch on fire due to a short in the wiring- so this Mitsubishi Galant was my next junkyard stop.
In most cars, the underdash fusebox is a big hassle to remove, so I went for the one under the hood; later on I would just slice off the part with the relays, leaving me with a nice, small fusebox that would fit easily in the boombox-to-be.
A boombox must have an antenna, but since I'd already planned to name this one the Turbo II (Turbo I being the prototype bungees-and-dolly box I'd seen on Telegraph Avenue circa 1981) I realized I'd need to have two antennas. Power antennas. So I went hunting for 80s BMWs, which packed power antennas and- supposedly- reliable German engineering. Like this one, for example...
Well, that's easy enough! Just a few bolts and the antenna is mine. Halfway done! Oh, wait...
Fortunately, I had brought along a toolbox-sized 12-volt battery pack (originally intended for use in powering camcorder spotlights) so I could test any potential Turbo II power antennas. And it's a good thing I did, because the vast majority of power antennas in the junkyard are bad. Some of them do nothing when you hit them with the juice, some groan miserably and then stall, and others just go click-click-click. Above is a shot of one such test being performed.
The good news is that the yard was packed with Volvos, BMWs, Saabs, and Mercedeses with power antennas (most of the Japanese power antennas are grabbed minutes after hitting the yard, and I'm pretty sure I don't need to explain why I didn't consider American power antennas). After testing over thirty lemons I had found precisely <em>one</em> winner. Finally, I came upon one of the last Beemers in the yard...
Success! This antenna works great; it shall be mine!
I was also going to need some classy ashtrays- you know, a real boombox needs ashtrays- so I hit this '77 Jag. Foolishly, I also pulled a couple of the marker lights and some switches off the old cat; yeah, I should know better, but I thought it would be funny to have some Lucas Electric stuff on the boombox. This decision would definitely come back to haunt me during the construction phase.
Then a quick stop at this Datsun Z for some marker lights; just remove a couple of screws per light and they come right off.
Lead-acid batteries emit hydrogen under some circumstances, and it would be kind of a drawback to have Turbo II go up in a blinding flash of flying plywood and metal. Must be safe- must provide vents to let that flammable gas escape. Well, what's safer than a Volvo? 200-series Volvo wagons have these nice rectangular flow-through vents, so I grabbed several. The Swedish Safety Aura clinging to these components will doubtless increase safety beyond mere ventilation!
All right, time to get started on the precision Turbo II case. Since anything with a car battery is going to be on the heavy side to begin with, there's no need to fool with weight-saving measures; forget skimpy thin plastics or easily dented metal. 5/8" plywood is the obvious choice! If you look real closely at the back deck area of the Crown Vic in the background, you can see Wanky The Safety Cat observing the proceedings.
Meanwhile, some of the components and tools get laid out on the dining-room table- I mean, workbench. Damn you, insane Bay Area housing prices and my inability to afford a place with a shop space of some sort!
Meanwhile, in the shop- I mean, back yard- the panel cutting begins. Six pieces of plywood for the six sides of the boombox.
The bottom, back, and side panels get screwed together early on, since this section will form the base structure upon which the top and front panels (which will contain most of the active components) will be supported. I thought of using glue as well as screws, but decided against it, just in case total disassembly is ever needed.
Measure once, cut twice! Or something like that. Good thing plywood's cheap!
First car bits to be installed are the power antennas, since their bulk and finicky nature mean everything else will need to be built/installed around them. Here's the right-side antenna held in place with L-brackets and some steel wire.
The left-side antenna needs to be held out about 3/4" from the back of the case, so that the two antennas may cross over each other when extending for that "rabbit-ears" look so crucial to a good boombox. Here's a spacer to accomplish that task.
And here's the left-hand antenna in place. Plumber's tape is the boombox-maker's friend!
Because the antennas have different extended lengths, it was necessary to space them in such a way that they'd form a nice even "V" when fully extended. The left-side antenna sits down quite a bit lower than the right-side one; already this arrangement is causing design headaches- will the battery still fit?
Label the antenna electrical connections now to avoid confusion later (this applies to all connectors in Turbo II). Power antennas have pretty simple wiring (unless they're Toyota antennas, in which case they have ungodly complicated microprocessor-controlled setups); you have a ground wire, one wire that is powered up when the ignition goes on, and one wire that goes hot when the radio is turned on. If the ignition and radio wire are both hot, the antenna extends; if only the ignition wire is hot, the antenna retracts.
Next, it's time to cut the hole for the fusebox; it needs to be on the back panel, where the fuses can be accessed. I thought of rigging some sort of access door, but then figured a simple opening would be fine.
And here it is, ready for later fusebox installation.
The front panel is going to need a lot of holes cut. I laid out some of the items I planned to use in the boombox, so I could figure out what pieces I'd be using and where to put them.
After much measuring and trial-and-error, the front panel is marked up and ready for cutting. Lots of strange shapes and sizes here!
But before cutting, it's a good idea to make sure the stuff most likely to be defective (i.e., any component with moving parts) isn't malfunctioning. Here's the cassette deck hooked up to power and speakers. Ready for action! This deck was a brand-new Audiovox GM factory-replacement unit I picked up cheap on eBay, thinking it would fit a Geo Metro I had at the time; unfortunately, the deck was intended for use in the Chevy Beretta and the Metro was actually a Suzuki, so the deck languished in one of my many Boxes Of Orphaned Car Parts for years.
Some of the items are circular (e.g., round speakers, voltmeter, etc) but of course they're oddball metric sizes and/or never meant to be installed in 5/8" plywood, so nice precision circular hole saws won't do the trick here. Go, plywood-shredding Universal Hole Saw! Gggrrrnnnchh!
Time to show a mugshot of my precision boombox-case-making tools! Yeah, I cheated and used a table saw earlier, but most of the work on this thing was done using the four tools you see above.
Here the clock and voltmeter holes (both standard 2-1/16" gauge size) are cut, plus the oddball center-and-screws hole for the 60s Toyota Corona marker light I had once used as a big obvious oil pressure light in some souped-up bomb or other. Nice to use up those random car parts taking up space!
The cassette deck fits in its hole, which required all sorts of reshaping and notching for the various bolts and flanges needed to mount it in the dash of a '95 Beretta. At this point I am starting to kinda regret having selected 5/8" plywood, as no car components are designed to mount in any surface that thick.
Time to take a break from the front panel for a bit. The Volvo 245 flow-through vent fits nicely over an easy-to-cut rectangular hole on the left side panel. I'll be using one vent each on the sides of the boombox, plus another on the top.
Since car batteries tend to leak sulfuric acid when sloshed enough, it seemed wise to put some sort of anti-acid tray beneath the Turbo II power supply. Here's the bottom section of an old marine battery box, cut down to fit beneath the power antennas. If the boombox gets upside down it might still leak, but otherwise it should exude minimal H2S04 onto the shoulder of its operator.
Some means of holding the battery in place would be needed, so I drilled a couple holes in the back panel and slid a pair of 9" carriage bolts through and around the battery.
Then feed the bolts through a steel strap with a couple holes and the battery is held firmly against the back panel. I'll take the battery out for now, so I won't have to wrestle it around for the rest of the build.
Since the hold-down strap won't do a good job at preventing vertical battery movement (and you just know the incredible groovosity of this thing is going to cause a lot of vertical movement), a section of 2x2 is screwed in place at the level of the top of the battery. This will hold the battery down.
This thing is going to be heavy, so it's necessary to have some sort of bracing from the handle on the top to the bottom panel that supports the battery. So, cut some 2x4s and apply wood glue...
...then some lag bolts on the bottom to get those 2x4s well-secured...
...and there they are! The handle will attach to the tops of these 2x4s, through the top panel.
Since there are now four nasty table-gouging bolt heads sticking out the bottom, the boombox will need some adjustable furniture feet on the bottom panel. Drill a hole, tap in the plastic insert with a hammer, and thread in the foot.
Time to finish cutting the front panel holes. Here's a set of cardboard templates I made for some of the rectangular items; these will get a lot more use when it comes time to build the top panel. I'm already learning what a hassle it is to mount dashboard components in plywood when they were meant to go in thin metal or plastic panels.
The front panel holes have been cut! Now it's time to start installing car parts into it...
First to be installed, the rear marker lights from the '77 Jaguar. However, because we're dealing with Lucas Electric components (see the dreaded mark of the Prince of Darkness himself on the reflector plate), both lights reveal themselves to be total failures on testing. The diagnosis: incredible amounts of corrosion on anything resembling an electrical contact.
Several hours of filing, sanding, soldering, and general total rebuilding later, the Jag lights are working fine and ready for installation. Yeah, my ironic gesture of including British parts in this thing is turning out to be a full-scale pain in the ass. But hey, they look great- just like a Jaguar! But don't worry- the Lucas Electric saga isn't over yet, folks!
The Mercury Marquis speakers fit just fine in their oval holes. Four screws apiece and they're fixed in place.
These Low Fuel warning lights came from early-70s Peugeots; you used to see these cars frequently in the junkyards 15 years ago, and I always pried these cool little lights out of the dash when I saw a Peugeot during a junkyard expedition back then. I figured I'd use them for a project some day; now that day has come! Some of these lights needed new bulbs and, being French, their bulb-replacement operation was a real hassle, requiring bending back of some finicky little finger-puncturing metal tabs. The lesson learned here: British stuff doesn't work at all, French stuff punishes you for trying to use it. Anyway, the cardboard template for this light's mounting hole came in handy when it came time to cut six identical holes in the plywood.
Here's one component that may not be a car part; I picked up this indicator light at the legendary (and, sadly, now defunct) Quinn's Electronics in Oakland. Quinn's is where Wozniak bought many of the parts for the Apple I prototype; a decade earlier, the sound equipment used by the Grateful Dead was built using many Quinn's-obtained components. I figured I needed at least one Quinn's piece in the Turbo II. Since this light required a 1/4" or thinner mounting surface, I had to counter-sink the mounting hole so I could get the mounting nut to bite.
When you're running a boombox from a car battery, you want to know how much juice you have left. No sweat- you can find nice universal-mount VDO voltmeters in lots of different easy-to-find-in-junkyard VWs, Porsches, and Audis from the 70s and 80s. Here's one I snagged from a junked Audi 100.
Once again, 5/8" plywood makes mounting components a challenge. Here, I must use tinsnips to shorten the legs of the mounting bracket for the voltmeter in order to make it fit. The Volvo clock will get an aircraft-grade hoseclamp-and-epoxy treatment. We'll skip the details of all the gizmos on the front panel and just hit the high points from this point on.
As the components go in, they get wired. Part of the plan for this project was to use wire that I already had on hand, so there will be no standardizing of colors. What, you think I'm made of money and am going to spring for all new wire? That's crazy talk! As long as I label everything and use sufficient wire gauge size for the power needs of each component, all will be well. Here I'm labeling the main ground wire for the front panel.
I'll be using turn-signal flashers (four of them) to make the various flashing lights do their thing. Better test everything first! Good thing I had some extra flashers (grabbed from 70s Chrysler vehicles in the junkyard, as the flashers are easy to find and remove), because a couple of them were bad. A turn-signal flasher wants a specific load in order to flash at the right rate (or flash at all), so a lot of trial-and-error was necessary here to work out which lights would be on which flasher circuit.
Here's a view of the back side of the front panel. Most of the components are installed and now it's a matter of hooking up wires, testing stuff, etc.
The table's looking pretty messy already, with little bits of wire insulation everywhere. I don't want the car battery in the house, so I'm testing components using the same camcorder-light battery pack I used for testing power antennas in the junkyard.
Switches... wires... tools... they just build up. Damn, a proper shop would be nice!
Here are the three flashers I'll be using on the front panel's lights (the fourth flasher will work the lights on the top panel and will be installed there). They'll be zip-tied in place.
The three main sections of the boombox (top panel, front panel, and base section) will connect to each other using connectors hacked out of junked cars; that way I can disconnect them and remove a panel if I need to work on it separately. The connector set above is from the power window control wires in a late-80s Crown Victoria; I also grabbed connectors from under the dashes of several Japanese cars. If the wire gauge on a connector set was too skinny, I'd solder up two or three leads in parallel to get the equivalent of 10- 12- or 14-gauge wire.
Every real boombox needs to be able to play 8-tracks! This fine Radio Shack player was $11.95 (with shipping) on eBay and worked perfectly. Here it is mounted and wired.
So now the wiring on the front panel is more or less done. Let's take a look at some of the details...
For you lovers of factory speakers, here's what the JBL-built Ford 6x9s look like from the rear.
The bundles of wires are ziptied to keep them orderly. The wiring harness is already more complicated than the dash harnesses in many cars. For this reason it's important to test everything over and over- it's hard to fix a wiring problem once it's buried in tape and zipties. You can also see one of the 4" Dai-Ichi speakers out of the '86 Tercel that supplied the battery.
Now it's time to get rolling on the top panel. Once I've selected which car switches to use, I need to mark the outlines for the holes that will mount them. Here's where the cardboard templates come in very handy.
It's a little hard to make out the pencil marks, but here's the top panel ready to be cut. This panel will hold all the switches, the handle, some lights, and the ashtrays and lighters.
Once again, the jigsaw bites into plywood.
Since everything associated with the Jaguar parts must be a hassle, so is it with the pair of Jaguar ashtrays. Because of the way the ashtray lids hinge back, a vertical cut on the top edge of each mounting hole will cause interference when the lid is opened. Therefore I must use a Dremel to angle the openings enough to provide lid clearance. This requires many trial-and-error test fits, but eventually the ashtrays work fine in their holes.
Here is the top panel with some of the holes cut. The two ashtray holes and three lighter holes are on the right.
I'll be using a slick '84 Toyota Cressida Electonic Controlled Transmission switch to operate the power antennas and FM modulator. Unfortunately, the switch has weird bladelike bits that mean I need to cut a hole with notches.
What a hassle! But, after lots of test-fit-and-cut-some-more action, the switch fits fine.
All right, the top panel holes are all cut! Now it's time to start installing stuff in it.
But wait! I realized- with great groaning and slapping of own forehead, that any boombox worth its salt needs a cup holder! So back to the junkyard to grab a slide-out cup holder from a '90 Toyota Tercel. This style of cup holder just needs a long, narrow opening for mounting. The only place such an opening would fit would be right above the 8-track player. So, I remove the 8-track and the right-side Jaguar light and mark the outline of the new hole.
I put some masking tape over the existing components (don't want them clogged with sawdust) and started cutting.
And there it is! I had to grind off some mounting lugs to make it fit in the slot, but that was a quick job with the Dremel.
The cup holder was supposed to mount in the Tercel's dash using some screws, but that wouldn't work in the plywood face of Turbo II. JB Weld was called for here- just mix some up and run a bead around the edge of the cup holder case.
While I'm working on the front panel, it's a good time to install the very crucial Turbo logo. Some of you might recognize it as the emblem from an 80s Chrysler product. Mix up yet more JB Weld and slather it on...
And there ya go: Turbo II, baby!
The front panel is done! Its connectors will hook up to the top panel and base section once they're ready. Now, let's return to the top panel.
This '79 Toyota Corona air-conditioning switch will be used as the "ignition" switch, activating the stereos and some other components. It mounts using a little threaded flange...
...like this. One big hole, one small one, and a screw. The rest of the switches pretty much just snapped into their holes, with more or less persuasion and cursing.
The Jaguar ashtrays were originally held in place with these brackets. Of course, they were meant to mount in some flimsy sheet metal, so I had to shorten them. The lower bracket in the photo is the modified one.
And the new ashtray brackets work fine. Guess I'll have to start smoking now!
Since I'll want to be able to play external sources of music (e.g., CD player, MP3 player, etc.), I'll need an FM modulator. This unit wires directly inline to the antenna cable feed into the radio, so outside RF interference isn't a problem. A little plumber's tape and it's mounted proper-like.
Here's the modulator installed, with power wiring and audio cables.
The modulator's audio cables go to a pair ofmale/male RCA connectors that pass through to the upper side of the top panel. The external music source will connect from the other side.
Fiats and Alfas of the early 70s had these neat metal warning lights; back when those cars were common in the junkyards I grabbed all I could find (you may recall seeing them in my Impala dash earlier). Those Italians sure have a sense of style!
Here we see five Italian warning lights installed and wired in the top panel.
The control switches get wired. The smell of solder never leaves me at this point.
The flasher for the top lights is ziptied to the Datsun marker light.
The loose wires are stapled down.
Since Turbo II is going to be portable (in theory), it will need a good sturdy handle on top. So let's go back, back, back in time... back to 1995, when I drove the ol' beater '65 on a move from San Francisco to Atlanta with all my possessions on board. Since I was going Joad-style- that is, with stuff tied on the outside of the car- I rigged up a bracket out of plumbing parts and mounted it on the trunk lid, providing a secure place to lock my bike. Over a decade later, I still have this bracket, and now it will serve a new purpose.
The outer holes on the handle brackets will be used for lag bolts that will go to the 2x4s installed earlier; the inner holes get bolted to the top panel, using fender washers on the back side.
The top panel is finished! Here's the outer side.
And here's the inner side. Lots of connectors.
Since Turbo II will need to be able to power 120VAC household appliances via a DC-AC inverter, it will need an outlet. So, we slice off a computer power cable and hook up the wires to the connectors on an outlet.
Add the correct hardware and it's ready to go.
Using zipties, the inverter (a type originally designed to plug into a car lighter socket but now hardwired) is attached to the rear panel with some eyes and zipties.