The CarAdvice team reveals what's hidden away in their sheds and backyards awaiting some TLC.
"Don't waste your money on a new set of speakers
You get more mileage from a cheap pair of sneakers"
Really, Billy Joel, what would you know? Listening to music while cruising in your car is one of life’s greatest joys. Eclipsed only by singing along to said music.
Unfortunately, the factory speakers in my 1990 Mercedes-Benz 190E had long-since passed the point of enjoyment, with the paper cones in the rear set dishing up the sort of sound distortion Trent Reznor could only dream about. The front set too, seemed to amplify every grain of dust that had fallen on them over the past three decades.
Happily though, replacing the speakers in an old Mercedes is the perfect remedy for the lockdown blues, and a relatively rewarding DIY project as well. Plus, ignoring Billy Joel is one of my secret hobbies.
I want to keep the car looking stock, so I set out to remove the factory grilles to measure the old speakers against a new set that would fit without further modification.
The front grilles were simple, remove two screws on the front-side of the grille using a socket driver, then pull the whole unit toward you to release the clips. In typical over-engineered Mercedes fashion, three screws are identical, but the one on the binnacle side of the right-hand speaker is longer, to allow for the change in dashboard height.
I was able to pry the four-inch speakers from their cavities and unclip the leads. Neither speaker required any further mounting hardware as the design of the grille simply pressure-fit them in the hole. I have to say its pretty cool to see the original Mercedes part-numbered speakers still in good, albeit dusty, condition after 30 years.
The rear shelf was even easier, with just four self-tappers holding the grille over the speaker which sits in its own cup so as to not touch the metal parcel shelf. Again, a few moments with a socket driver and these were out, but in much worse condition than the front.
I assume years of baking in the sun hasn’t helped, but these seemed to be generic Japanese speakers, and not Mercedes items, suggesting they had been replaced previously. The damage to the paper cones was clearly evident, and parts simply came apart in my fingers when I touched them.
With all four speakers and their neat wiring clips removed, it was time to find some new ones.
As both sets are basic four-inch units, a quick search online had some slim fitting Sony Xplod three-way speakers, where the tweeter-cone didn’t extend beyond the profile of the speaker housing, on special at Supercheap Auto. Click, pay, send – they arrived on my doorstep less than 36 hours later. Nice.
Before getting too carried away, I felt a test fit was in order, as despite the new speakers looking to be the right size, you never know with these things!
The parcel shelf was easy as the speaker itself fits neatly into a plastic ‘holder’, and the four tabs on the outside of the speaker line up with the existing screw holes. The dash though, is not so forgiving.
The tabs on the speaker don’t fit with the raised trim sections around the mounting hole, but these are conveniently designed to be removed with a set of cutting pliers. Trimmed up they fit nicely. On to the wiring.
The new Sony units came with wiring which attaches easily to the large positive and smaller negative terminal. So that I can keep the connections from the factory speakers, it’s easier to remove the existing cable from the old speakers and simply connect these to the new ones.
I fired up the soldering iron for the first time in about 20 years and was able to neatly remove the old cables, and securely connect them to the new ones, insulating along the way with trusty electrical tape. Using a cardboard fruit box as a work bench, and the noise of the kettle to suppress my clandestine kitchen activity, I was done before the Netflix ‘da-dum’ came around a second time.
Putting the rear set back in was a process not dissimilar to replacing Tony Stark’s reactor ‘heart’. I fed and coiled the cables into the plastic well, and placed the speaker into the bucket, taking care to line up the tabs, and replaced the grille. The front set were even easier thanks to the existing Mercedes wiring, and it took only a few minutes to secure them and replace the grilles.
Radio on, antenna up and all four came to life.
The Becker head unit has a lower power rating than the speakers, so even at full volume there is no distortion, beyond the usual radio static. The sound isn’t exactly what you would call amazing, but the new speakers are much brighter and more importantly, don’t rattle, so I’ll call it a win.
Sadly the Becker’s tape deck doesn’t work, but as noted last update, I managed to source a new old-stock Becker Pacific head unit which will be the next item of attention! I just need to find some suitable period-correct cassette tapes!
Current Status – Wired for sound
Odometer – 213,088km
Next up – Scouring op-shops for period correct cassettes
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