Updated: Dec 27, 2019
Modern Radio in the Original Location!
As all of you that read the blog can see, I have been working on the dash and all of the accessories Ford offered - and then some. Now that the Heater Control Assembly had been cleaned, lubricated, and re-installed it was time to work on the radio. 1955 was an interesting year for Ford in many ways. It was the last year for the 6 volt system (and for many other car manufacturers here in the States), the Y block grew a little more in cubic inches, and from what I understand it was the first year that Ford offered a factory A/C system complete with a dash that had louvers. Compared to a 1954 model and its attendant styling, the new model year received serious changes in body lines. The styling was very well received by the general public and Ford decided to keep the same body lines for the 56 model, with just a few changes here and there. Probably the most serious improvement would have been the lower rear roof line of the 56 hardtop models.
One nuance of the 55 model year was the dash and its attendant circular controls. This theme was carried through, even with the radio. The irony is that a 54 radio looks very much like a 56 radio, but the 1955 model year radio is a unique bird. This is mostly governed by the circular shape of the opening and bezel. Aftermarket units are as rare as hen's teeth, and companies stopped making replacement units years ago. The old 6 volt radio original to the car gave up the ghost years ago. Back a short time ago I had located Ford's best model for the year that also included chrome pre-set buttons like the model in the photo on the left. I considered the options available:
1. Remove the radio completely and install an original "delete" plate.
2. Repair a 6 volt radio and keep it that way, using a voltage reducer.
3. Send the radio out to a shop that will restore it and convert to 12 volts and solid state (remember that the original uses vacuum tubes).
4. Wait until an aftermarket unit comes available. (RadiosForOldCars has a listing for a brand new aftermarket radio that looks and acts like original yet has modern appointments such as Bluetooth. It is not yet available as of July 2018)
5. Look for an over-the-counter radio that will fit the hole. (the most unlikely option in my estimation when I first started weighing the options.)
Most of the above options meant a considerable amount of money with no guarantee of longevity, and they might have also included using an original style speaker (that is indeed singular since Ford only had one speaker if you had a radio - there was an option for a rear speaker but it was rare). I never dreamed I would be able to find an over-the-counter radio but as you can see in the title photo that was exactly what was located! While posting on the y-blocksforever forum I came across a thread written by a 1955 Ford owner named "Melly" who showed a few pictures of an aftermarket marine radio that fit the original radio bezel perfectly.
I decided to purchase a kit from the company that included the exact radio Melly described along with a set of two speakers to match. Here is a picture of the kit all laid out on the table:
The unit was a Boss Audio brand MGR350B Marine radio that included such features beyond the AM/FM tuner as Bluetooth, USB, AUX, and both regular speaker and RCA style leads for a powered amplifier. The full kit (MCKGB350B.6) contained the 240w radio, 6.5 inch 90w speakers, wiring, and a marine antenna for the tuner lead of the radio. All of this was purchased for right at $100 online.
First up was to make sure the radio fit the bezel and to begin installing hardware to keep it secure.
This was pretty simplistic work. As the photo shows, the diameter of the face meets the inside diameter of the bezel almost perfectly and the bracket secured the radio to the bezel just like it should.
Next came the bench test to make sure that everything worked as advertised. While this is a new unit I decided to bench test the radio and speakers to become familiar with the wiring schematic, see how well the speakers sounded, be familiar with the controls, etc. My iPhone connected via Bluetooth with no trouble whatsoever.
Everything worked as advertised, and I was amazed at how loud the speakers were sounding off, even at 1/3 the level available. The USB and Bluetooth worked flawlessly. The "Unknown" readout above is simply because the YouTube video I was playing from my phone was not recognized by the radio's player. However, the USB certainly recognized a number of songs that I played and put the titles up on the display. This was not the only time I was impressed by this radio.
The next piece of work to perform before installing the unit into the dash was to consider the mounting of the speakers and how to fill the rectangular hole at the bottom of the bezel. (Original radios have their push buttons sitting through this slot.) For the speakers I decided to mount them under the front seat (for now I was not in the mood to disassemble the interior to remove the seats and gain access for the wiring and rear mount antenna cable). This meant that I would have to build boxes. The other issue was settled by inserting a laminated piece of card stock that read "Fairlane" for the elongated slot in the bezel.
At first it was disconcerting to see so many wires coming out of the back of the radio, but this was because there was enough wires for four speakers, wires for the amp leads if needed, USB, antenna, AUX, power, ground, and all of that. The instructions were written pretty well.
I decided to keep the instructions in the glove box since they also contain certain elements of Bluetooth operation, switching between modes, and include much of what we might call a "user manual."
You can follow the build for the speaker boxes by examining the pictures below. I went with a 9.25" square box size that would fit under the front seat. The plywood is 1/4" and was pretty easy to work with.
The black material is universal trunk flooring that I bought in a sizable roll. Contact cement was used to secure the material to the box and the holes were left to be cut out later after the glue dried. The staple gun was employed to secure the material to the bottom of each box.
A word about wiring is in order. I used spade type leads for each of the speaker and power hookups for the radio.
On the workbench, all of the terminals for the leads from the radio itself were crimped and insulated with heat shrink tubing. There was quite a bit of preparatory work that went in to getting the unit and speakers ready to be installed in the dash and under the front seat.
The picture immediately above shows the wiring for the main power and the two speakers. What is not shown above is the separate ACC wire that helped to give switch power. Essentially with this unit you can charge any USB wired device while the ignition is off, and the radio has "memory" to know whether or not you left the radio on or off the last time you had power going to the unit through the ignition switch. (an example is shown in the final video of the post)
I ran the speaker wire and antenna cable towards the passenger side of the car, using the inner "rail" of the lower part of the dash to rest the wires upon as they were guided to the front seat via the passenger door post (behind the kick panel) and under the carpet. From there it was a simple hook up of the speaker wire terminals to the leads I had made from the speaker boxes. This video explains a little bit of the work:
The last video below is a good representation of what the radio is capable of putting out. I was surprised at not only the quality but the decibel level of sound.
We will see how the quality holds up over time, but for now I very satisfied with the fit, function, and appearance.