BUICK GRAND NATIONAL TRANSFORMATION

The Buick Grand National is a unique vehicle. Only available for a short time in very limited numbers, the Grand National is easily recognizable and very valuable almost 30 years since it hit the streets. This car is a very desirable example, made in the last year of production, and in excellent condition. The vehicle was previously owned by our neighbors at S/S Motorsports, who tripled the horsepower and added many upgrades to the body and suspension to handle the power. The new owner fell in love with the car right away, with everything except the sound system.

Most Regal’s of this time came with the same audio options: a pair of 3.5″ speakers in the dash, and a pair of 4×10″ speakers in the rear. Those have to be some of the worst choices for quality sound ever. This car had the rare “Concert Sound II” option which added a set of 4″ speakers to the doors. With almost all of the audio systems we design, it is important to us and the client that the original look of the car is not lost is a sea of electronics and speakers. Obviously we have to make changes, but those changes should reflect the lines and style of the car they are in.

Our first step was removing the old equipment and seeing what room we had to work with. The radio was easy, with the factory cassette player yanked in favor of Sony’s top-of-the-line mechless headunit. This piece does not have a built in CD player, instead the operator inserts their phone or other USB device into the front of the radio. As CD’s begin to go the way of the cassette tape, these unit will continue to increase in popularity. You can also see the two gauges added by S/S Motorsports when they upgraded the engine.

To upgrade the door speakers, another set of 4″ speakers simply wouldn’t do. The largest speaker we could fit without cutting into the original plastic door panels was a 5×7″. The extra length of the speaker did pose a problem for the original Concert Sound II grilles. We carefully removed the badges and carpet wrapping, and rebuilt the grilles to fit the Focal 5×7″ speakers. Then the grilles were wrapped in the same carpet and the Concert Sound II badge was reattached. Only a true critic of this classic would be able to tell that these grilles are 3″ longer than normal. The 4×10″ speakers in the rear were completely rotten from age. Our original hope was to install a pair of 6×9″ speakers in their place, but that would have either caused us to modify the drip rail of the trunk lid or not create a tight seal on the speaker. Neither of those were acceptable options for us. Without a tight seal between the front and rear of the speaker, the bass frequencies from the back side work their way around and cancel out the bass coming from the front side. Instead, we installed another set of Focal 5×7″ speakers that, with a little help from Stinger RoadKill, sealed tightly to the car without cutting of the chassis.

For amplification, the 5-channel HDP5 from Hertz was a great choice. The tiny footprint (smaller than a sheet of paper) and huge power output of 900 watts was just what we needed. The subwoofers are also from Hertz. Then Energy line of subwoofers allowed our client to enjoy the bass the way it should be, without overpowering the system. Then enclosure is a sealed design, using multiple layers on the front baffle to give it dimension. The amplifier is flushed into the right side of the enclosure to conceal the wiring. As always, we covered the trim in matching materials, and for an extra effect, we fabricated thin rings wrapped in black vinyl that cover the mounting screws on the subwoofers.

The finishing touch was when the client told us he wished these cars were available with cup holders. We fabricated this two-tone solution that attaches solidly to the car and fits the lines and colors.

MORE THAN JUST AUDIO: NISSAN 370Z

We get asked all the time, “What else do you do here?” It is often tough to give a response to this question, because there are so many other things we offer at SRQ Custom Autosound than car audio. You may already know that we offer full in house upholstery service, but there is much more. This Nissan 370z is an excellent example of some of the restyling we can perform on your vehicle. Of course we also installed a top shelf audio system in this Nissan 370z, and we will cover that as well.

Like many of our new clients, this one came to us after having a terrible experience from another store. They attempted many of the same style changes that we executed, but the quality of their workmanship was not up to par. Luckily for everyone the other store was able to strip off what they had done and refund our client, so we could start with a blank canvas. Our clients original goal was to spice up the exterior of the car with some carbon fiber accents. Originally this included the roof, emblems, and pillars behind the doors. The other store that attempted this had jagged cut marks, wrinkles and bubbles. We took our time over an eight hour day and got every detail just right.

During the other store’s attempt to wrap the roof, they tried to wrap the roof and the antenna without removing the antenna. This had a tragic result. We took the time to remove the entire top half of the car’s interior so that we could properly remove the antenna and then wrap the two pieces separately. While we had the interior apart, we also wrapped the headliner and sun visors in black suede. We found several panels on the inside of the car that could also benefit from some carbon fiber accents.

While all of this was happening, we also took the time to smoke the factory tail lights, while leaving the reverse lens clear.

For audio upgrades, we replaced the stock radio with Pioneer’s flagship radio, the AVIC-Z140BH. The factory amplifier was removed and replaced with an Arc Audio KAR series that powers the Hertz Hi-Energy components up front and the JL Audio 13TW5 subwoofer in our custom made enclosure. In all, by the time this audio system was completed, we did not have to drill a single hole into the car, and only had to modify one little piece of plastic in the car. We are able to create an amazing audio experience and still be able to return this vehicle to stock when it is time to sell it. No one else in our area can do that.

LABOR & LABOR : APPLES & ORANGES

As a retailer, we are shopped daily for the best price on a particular product. We are often shopped for the best price on the installation of those products as well. I will demonstrate in this blog entry that unlike a Pioneer video headunit, all installations are not created the same. The subject of this comparison is a late model Mercedes Benz E55 AMG sedan. Our client originally had all of his equipment installed at another Sarasota retailer, and left satisfied. Why wouldn’t he? To be honest, when we got our hands on the vehicle, it sounded great.

The car has a Clarion headunit and Phoenix Gold speakers, amplifier and a pair of Rockford Fosgate 10″ subwoofers. Our store doesn’t sell any of that equipment, but it is still all good quality gear. The reason that we encountered this vehicle was because of a small problem after the installation. After getting the car back, the Airbag light was on in the dash, so the client took the car to have this fixed. The dealer was unable to clear the light, and that is when the concern came in. The dealer, who is familiar with our work and has complete trust in our ability, brought the car to us to see if we could find where the other retailer had caused this fault that would not go away.

After a quick look through the installation which seemed OK on the surface, we found numerous problems behind the scenes, and provided an estimate and redesign of the audio system. After seeing examples of our work and the testimony of the dealer, we began work on rebuilding the car. I have a soft spot for European cars and I really did not feel that the original installation lived up to the image of an AMG Mercedes. Without selling the client any new equipment, we changed everything else to make the car look better, sound better and work better.

The first problem we found right away was the amplifier installation. With the car totally assembled, no one would know what is happening behind this trunk panel, but that doesn’t make it right. The amplifier is a Phoenix Gold 1300.5 5-channel amplifier that runs the speakers in all four doors and the subwoofers. In this case, the amplifier is screwed into the block of wood you see behind it with two screws and that is all. The block of wood is not mounted to anything, the whole thing is more of a wedge fit, I cannot imagine this is how Mercedes would have done it if they wanted an amp there. You can see a pair of noise filters dangling from the amplifier as well, which were only needed because the signal cables used on this installation are the cheapest wires on the market.

Whenever we add an amplifier to a vehicle, there is a fuse inline that protects the battery from explosion in case there is an accident where the battery cable becomes pinched. The rating on that fuse is important too. The fuse needs to be big enough to allow the power needed by the amp to flow through it, but not needlessly big that it will not serve its purpose in an accident. The Phoenix Gold amplifier is 1300 watts, and can easily consume 120 amps of electricity when played hard. The fuse in this installation was only 60 amps, which creates a bottleneck limited the current flow to the amp and its potential.

Here is a view of the package tray behind the back seat of the E55. This looks pretty good on the surface, and I have to say it is some of the best fabrication work I have seen from this retailer. However, some serious corners were cut during their installation that do not make this worthy of the vehicle. The surrounding panels in the car are all gray suede from the factory, but this new package tray panel is wrapped in black speaker box carpet. The suede panels that are on either side of the tray originally tuck into this tray, but those locations were covered over and the suede panels were simply smooshed to the side. All three of the headrests for the rear seat were permanently removed to fit the box for the two Rockford subs that is suspended from the package tray.

This is the view of the enclosure from the trunk. In principle this is a great way to funnel all of the sound from the subwoofers into the car and eliminate trunk rattle, but not with these subwoofers. This is typically done with shallow woofers so that the enclosure is only 2-3″ thick, this one hangs almost 9″ from the rear shelf, and makes it very difficult for storage. Again, the wrong color carpet is used to wrap the box and raw metal is exposed above the box.

Here is the body of their box separated from the package tray. It is also separating from itself. The numerous layers of wood that are stacked where the subwoofers were mounted were not glued to each other, only nailed. There were leaks between the layers, and anyone can see how sloppy the holes cut for the woofers are. This box with the subs weighed in over 60lbs, and was hung from the package tray by a dozen wood screws. The package tray is only a 1/4″ piece of wood, and would likely not survive the weight and vibrations forever.

This is the radio installation. Like many vehicles, the factory radio is ergonomically shaped to the dash and requires a mounting kit to make an aftermarket unit fit properly. This is the dash kit made by Best Kits, the same one we would use. Some parts of this kit were cut off, then glued back on, and there are several gouges from screwdrivers on the kit. It just looks terrible.

Here is our radio installation. We took this beaten and battered dash piece and brought it back to life. We also made it an exact fit to the Clarion radio with fiberglass filler, then applying a texture and repainting.

Here is the process where we created a new package tray for the E55. This one incorporates the Mercedes star as part of the grille over the subwoofers. We used aluminum mesh to match other accents in the vehicle, the correct AMG suede and finally the center piece of the trim is a charcoal acrylic shape that keeps the car looking classy and really pops. We also reshaped the sides of the tray so that the factory pillar covers now fit as they were intended by Mercedes.

You have to look closely to see the Phoenix Gold amplifier hiding in there, but it is. Bolted securely to the structure of the vehicle, the amplifier is easily accessible, but will no longer fall back and forth in the fender.

Finally, this is the view of the completed trunk. Our new enclosure for the subs is twice the size of their box, but because we made better use of the space available, almost the entire trunk is still usable. Also, the enclosure we built was first modeled using the best computer programs, something that allowed our enclosure to play 6 dB louder than their box. 6 dB is substantial, otherwise they would have to add six more subwoofers or 1500 watts of power to get that much more output. We were able to do it with physics and good planning.
This is not a unique example, we encounter a similar situation almost every week. Before you trust someone to put your vehicle under the knife, ask to see detailed examples of their work. We can show you this level of detail on over 100 vehicles, and no one else can. For 2011-2012, SRQ Custom Autosound was recognized as one of the top 50 car audio retailers in the nation. Owner Ryan Pepsin was also recognized as one of the top 15 installation technicians in the country.

ADVANCED FABRICATION TRAINING

On September 11th of 2011 legendary fabricator Bryan Schmitt of Mobile Solutions came to SRQ Custom Autosound to give a full day of intense training.

Even though myself and my staff all have more than a decade of experience, in this industry you never stop learning. I felt it was important for us to take advantage of this opportunity to learn time saving and skill building techniques that would bring all of our installations to the next level. Our advanced facility was a perfect choice for Schmitt’s training, with all of the space and tools he would need.

This event wasn’t just about us, we also opened up the training to other technicians who wanted to attend. In all we had eleven of the top technicians in Florida on hand, and everyone learned something new. The training was covered in the industry magazine: The 12-Volt News. A reprint of that article appears below:

LAKELAND/SARASOTA, FL (09.15.11)- On Saturday and Sunday, September 10th and 11th respectively, Bryan Schmitt and Mobile Solutions conducted installation workshops with Boulevard Customs and SRQ Custom Autosound.

Of late Tempe-based Schmitt has been racking up the frequent flyer miles – most recently in Dallas for Knowledgefest and down under in Australia for the CAM event.

“12volt shops need to know how to price and sell the talents of the installation pros on their staffs. Our workshops show attendees, first hand, how to generate revenue through custom installation. The Mobile Solutions workshops include hands-on projects. Conducting sessions in a retailer’s shop provides a real world experience for everyone. The questions and interaction with those in the sessions is so valuable for all” Schmitt stated to 12voltnews.com.

This one day fabrication training consisted of several key topics that were discussed in detail in addition to live build demonstrations throughout the day. This is a very “hands on” type of training. One of our many focuses for the training is how to be faster and more efficient at doing custom work. This ultimately help our dealers charge more money from the beginning of sale, because they can establish a higher perceived value with their customers before the work begins.

The class consisted of: Several Table saw tricks, Building several router jigs, using Smart Templates, Massive time saving tricks for Fiberglass enclosures and trim panels, Different methods of creating inlays and complex seaming techniques for upholstery along with the latest vinyl wrapping and custom speaker grill assembly techniques.

Saturday’s session at Boulevard Customs in Lakeland was attended by dealers from Fort Charlotte, Benetta Springs, Tampa, Dade City, Kissimmee and Chattanooga, TN. Jon Lackey, Boulevard Customs owner orchestrated the Lakeland event. “Having Bryan conduct a full day session in our bay was terrific. Everyone picked up several things they can use in their shops immediately. The hands-on aspect of Bryan’s demonstrations is so valuable” Lackey told 12voltnews.com. Addictive Audio supplied the pizza for lunch that energized all for the afternoon session.

From Lakeland Schmitt motored down to Sarasota for Sunday’s workshop with SRQ Custom Autosound. Owner Ryan Pepsin commented to12voltnews.com “Bryan delivered an amazing fabrication training. We learned new techniques to build better and more profitably. Our staff members are pumped. A big thanks to John Schneid for breakfast and Elettromedia for lunch. We had dealers from Tampa, Sarasota, Bradenton, along with a couple freelance installers, wanting to learn more.”

John Schneid, Dynamic Sales and Marketing, shared with 12voltnews.com “As a manufacturer’s rep principal covering Florida I am always looking to learn and see how brick and mortar dealers can add value to their customer’s experiences. Shop staffs who attended the two Florida sessions Mobile Solutions conducted gained so much. Our industry needs more activities like the Mobile Solutions sessions in Lakeland and Sarasota.”

A big 12voltnews.com hats off to Jon Lackey and Ryan Pepsin for working to make these Mobile Solutions workshops possible.

VW BEETLE: DOUBLE DIN CONVERSION

For this build we took the modern VW Beetle and updated with all the exciting new options available in car audio that we never offered from the factory.

Our client for this build approached many other audio specialists, but was unable to find anyone else to give them what they wanted. The standard radio opening only allows for what is known as a Single-DIN radio. These are the more common aftermarket sized radios, known for their 2″ by 7″ face plate. In recent years, the Double-DIN radio has become very popular by the OEM and aftermarket segments, with a 4×7″ face that allows for an LCD screen for navigation and advanced audio controls.

Above you can see the stock dash bezel of the Beetle. The dashes of these car were originally covered in a soft paint material that scratches very easily, and eventually becomes a tar-like layer that everything sticks to. You can see that the normal radio size is very similar to the 2×7″ opening, with extended rounded corners.

First the radio and dash bezel need to be removed from the car, and stripped. Here the soft paint coating has been removed with lacquer thinner and a lot of sanding. The plastic has been thoroughly scuffed and cleaned of any oils, silicone or cleaners.

The dash bezel was cut evenly along the bottom of the factory radio opening. The aftermarket radio is wrapped in tape to prevent damage during the molding process. The A/C controls mount to a plastic housing that is permanently attached to the dash frame. This housing was removed from the dash frame with a Dremel tool and reattached 2″ lower to allow the needed room for the radio. The radio is attached to the dash bezel by drilling holes in the support bracket of the bezel. At this point, all of the components are secured in their final location, and it is time to fill in the gap.

The gaps between the two halves are filled with pieces of ABS plastic that have been scuffed and chemically treated to bond to the existing plastic and the body filler that will finish the job. This is the final test fit after the plastic has been smoothed, and further smoothed out using premium body filler. The next step is to paint or cover the dash and reinstall all the components.

F-250 CENTER CONSOLE SUB ENCLOSURE

For this project our task was to fit two massive JL Audio 13w6 subwoofers in an equally massive truck. Although the truck is huge, there is very little available space inside to add something of this nature. We decided the most logical approach was to remove the factory center console and mount the subwoofers in its place.

Normally for a console like this, we would want the subwoofers to face downward. This allows the subs to load off the floor, but also protects them from damage and the eyes of thieves. The latest design of the Super Duty incorporates an  airbag crash module on the floor under the center console. Having the subs face downward and clearing the module would make this enclosure awkwardly tall. By facing the subwoofers up, we are able to build a bump into the bottom of the enclosure that tucks the module in between the magnets of the JL Audio 13w6 subwoofers.

The bulk of the console above is contoured to the floor of the truck and the sharp angles on the front of the console match the styling of the rest of the vehicle. The pillars are made of 3″ wooden discs glued together. Either end of the pillars has a threaded insert to allow it to be bolted in place from the top and bottom.

The armrest is made from baltic birch. This wood is stronger and lighter than MDF, and will hold up better to repeated use. An insert made of 1/4″ MDF will hide the bolt heads and act as the base for a removable cushion.

The enclosure is wrapped in matching vinyl with the same stitch pattern as the seats. The armrest is wrapped in contrasting black to match the armrests on the doors. The AUX4 switch on the dash illuminates the subwoofers with several blue LEDs mounted under the armrest.

SOUNDS THAT KEEP UP WITH YOUR HARLEY

If you own a Harley Davidson, you already know it is loud. If you own a modern Harley Davidson, you know that the sound system is lacking. Working with technicians at Harley-Davidson, our retail partners at Arc Audio have designed a system that takes your tunes up to the level of your exhaust.

At SRQ Custom Autosound, we carry the full range of Arc Audio systems for Harley Davidson bikes, which include five package systems, as well as a la carte parts. As a retailer and technician, I love that all of these kits bolt and wire into the bikes without having to make new holes or cut wires on the bike. The kits start off with a drop in speaker replacement and amplifier upgrade, and from there offer several speaker upgrades while keeping the same powerful amplifier. The Arc Audio KS125.2 Mini is the heart of the system. This amp kicks out 70 watts per channel, nearly seven times the power of the factory system.

The guys at Harley Davidson give you a pair of 5.25″ coaxial speakers from the factory. I will say they are better than most factory car speakers, but they are still a .99 cent speaker at best. The Arc Audio speakers bolt right into the factory locations without modifications. Need more? A funnel-like adapter allows us to mount a 6.5″ speaker to the existing location for even more sound.

Our recent installation of the kit is pictured below. To really optimize the sound, we took it beyond the top level MPAK5 and used a pair of Hertz Hi-Energy coaxials. Using the spacers from the kit, the speakers bolted right in. We also decided to beef up the wiring between the amplifier and speakers, with all the connections soldered. For even more durability, we swapped out the included mounting for a set of aluminum brackets I made. These brackets attach to unused threaded holes inside the fairing and allow us to bolt the amp in place using stainless hardware and not modifying the structure of the bike.

FORD EXCURSION CUSTOM SUB ENCLOSURE

Our first feature article is going to feature a recent build in a Ford Excursion. I have built this enclosure a few times, always with great results. The idea is to create something stealthy that will fill in the need for sub bass without attracting attention from thieves.

Whenever possible, we try to maintain original equipment, like the spare tire, but in this vehicle, the spare isn’t very practical. Weighing in over 100lbs, it is hard for one person to change alone, and even then the factory jack won’t get the thing up in the air safely. Our first step is to remove the spare and take measurements. We want our enclosure to be slightly smaller than the spare so that there won’t be any suprises when we fit it back in later.

After I have taken measurements for our subwoofer enclosure, I build three wooden discs. All of them have the same external diameter, two are solid and one is a ring 1.5″ wide. The first disc and the ring are attached with several sticks to create a shallow barrel.

The barrel is wrapped with 1/16″ wood called chip-board. The inside of the barrel is then reinforced with several layers of fiberglass mat and resin.

The baffle for this subwoofer enclosure is made from the third disc. The subwoofer holes are cut out and the port is attached. The baffle is bonded to the rest of the enclosure and the corners are rounded over with a router. Finally the enclosure can be carpeted and installed. We used the threaded bolt from the spare tire to mount the enclosure without having to make any modifications to the vehicle.

For the final touch, the original tire cover slips over the enclosure and conceals it from prying eyes.