Radio Daze

1985 Mercedes 380SL (Instruments)I wanted a 380SL for several reasons. The biggest is that I’ve always wanted a convertible so I can enjoy driving around in the summer with the top down and feel the wind and sun. Of course, though, if you’re going to have a convertible like that, two things that really help make it more fun to drive around with the top down are a fun, pretty, intelligent woman in the passenger seat and a radio for good music. I can’t really give anyone advice on how to find the former, since that’s an individual’s choice, but I can add a little about what I had to do with the latter and how I got a radio/CD player working.

When I bought my 380SL the radio was one of the lowest priorities on my list because I knew if it didn’t work well or if I hated it, then I could just swap it out and put in the one that came with my 450SL. I knew the radio worked, but it had a cassette deck in it, so I thought it wouldn’t have a CD until I looked closely at it. After buying the car, I found it had a 10 CD changer as well. It may sound odd that I didn’t check that first, but when I found this car on the Internet on a Thursday night, I wrote down everything I was concerned about and drove up to Ashland, about a 30 minute drive and got to the shop at about noon the next day. I had already contacted Mercedes and was penciled in for an inspection if I liked the car. My concerns were to make sure the body was in good shape and there weren’t rust issues, to be sure there were no mechanical issues the inspection would find as serious, and that it just looked and felt good. The radio and some items like if there are a few tears in the seat covers are almost frivolous. If there’s no rust and the body and mechanical systems are in great shape, replacing seats or seat covers or a sound system are trivial in comparison.

While shopping for a car, I found many people did not realize it and saw people very interested in cars with a nice interior who weren’t going to check out the engine or other factors. They didn’t know much about the engine but figured if it started and the car could move forward, it was in good shape. Personally, I like people like this. They focus so much on aesthetics that usually easily fixed that they often buy the klunkers and leave others who are more careful to go for the good ones. Less competition on the good ones means no price wars. This is why I didn’t pay attention to the sound system until about 5:15, after the car was officially mine. Yes, I said 5:15. I first reached someone by phone at 11 am, was there at noon, and by 5:15 pm I had test driven the car, then gotten permission to drive it down to Richmond for an inspection, been told by the Mercedes mechanic it was in great shape, gotten a fair price, stopped at my bank for a certified check, paid for it, filled out the papers, picked the car up from a nearby inspection station, and then drove it back to the shop lot where my other car was parked so I could move all my stuff to my new car! All that in just over 5 hours!

For those that don’t know Virginia law, I’ve talked about two different kind of inspections. The first is a pre-purchase inspection by someone who knows the type of vehicle. The pre-purchase inspection is what told me I needed to put in 2 trans mount bolts, needed to fix the soft top release mechanism (which I just realized I haven’t written up yet) , and replace part of the fuel line. The other inspection was required for the seller and is the yearly state inspection all cars licensed and garaged in Virginia have to go through.

Once I got in my new car and had transferred everything from the old one, I looked in the back at what I thought was the CD changer. It was easy to figure out so I started loading it up with my CDs. I don’t want to leave a lot in the glove compartment or in my car during the summer when I leave it parked with the top down that could easily be stolen, so I only put burned copies of CDs I have at home in the car. That’s when I had my first problem with the radio: the CD changer did not read burned CDs well. Out of 10 CDs in the changer, it read something like 2 and didn’t even read them all the time. Then I realized the changer was easy to spot when the car was parked. It was on the deck behind the seats and not in the trunk. I liked that because I could change CDs easier, but it wasn’t as safe. I also found out that it was not easy to just pop out a CD to put in a new one I wanted to hear. I got the car on Friday and by the end of the weekend I was fed up and wanted my old single CD player and radio in the old car.
Transferring the radioMost of this is straight forward so I don’t need to go into more detail here. I removed the radio from my older 1973 Mercedes 450SL (for those unfamiliar with these models, the 450 has the same body and interior as the 380SL, my new car). I had already checked the radio in the 380 (again, the one I had just bought) and saw that, while both radios had wiring harnesses and plugs, they were not the same size, so I would have to cut the wires and reconnect them. The wiring from both harnesses was what I’ve seen as standard with the same color coded wires on both radios (I double checked. The installation manual for the radio on the 380 was in the glove compartment and I downloaded the .pdf form of the manual for the radio in the 450SL from Sony.) Any wires I might confuse, I labeled with paper stuck to the wires with tape (as seen in the picture on the left). I also labeled all the wires in the dash on the 450 as I cut each one. While there is some color coding, it would still be easy to confuse some of the wires. Once I got the old radio out of the 450, I took it over to the 380. You can see in the picture what I did: instead of removing the old radio, I put the two side by side so I didn’t have to label the wires. I cut a wire from the old radio and immediately connected it to the new one.
CD ChangerWhen I finished putting in the new radio, I pulled the old one out and had to pull the cable leading under the carpets and back to the rear deck behind the seat to the CD changer. If you’re doing something similar, remember to eject the magazine and get your CDs out before disconnecting the radio or changer, since, in this case, I could not eject the last CD that was still in place to be played without restoring power to the changer! Once everything was out, I put the radio that was in the 380 and that controlled the CD changer into the 450 and ran the cable to where I would put the CD changer. Other than testing, I didn’t want the changer in place. I knew I was going to sell the 450 and figured the buyer might want to mount it in the trunk. When I did sell it, I told him that it was not fastened down, which also meant they could leave it on the back deck behind the seat, then easily pop it off the cable and store it in the trunk if they parked it in a high risk area, or they could fasten it where it was, or put it in the trunk.

I guess I should be completely honest and say the speakers in the 380 were worn out and I swapped all for of them out to the 450, bought new rear 6″x9″ speakers and put the almost new front speakers from the 450 into the new 380. I finally had a car with a nice sound system! It’s not ultra-high end, but it does sound good and the buyer of the 450SL was happy with his sound system. One day I want to setup a shock-mounted embedded computer in the trunk to store music in so I can listen to my full music collection in my car and control the selections and what the computer plays back from a unit on the dash, but that will be a while. If possible, I’d even like to get a Becker AM/FM/Cassette faceplate like the 1985 380SL originally had and mount that on a custom designed system to control a computer music player. The face plate would match the car’s production era, but I could pick whatever music I wanted from my collection. Until then, I’m quite happy with what I have!

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