When shopping for a new car, a ham isn’t thinking about performance, color, or gas mileage. Instead, he’s asking himself, “Where can I put the ham radio?” It’s not that a ham will necessarily disqualify a car from consideration based on the ease with which a 2-meter rig can be installed. Rather, he looks at it more as an interesting engineering challenge–the more interesting, the better. After all, if it were easy, it wouldn’t be interesting, would it?
I certainly made things interesting for myself last week when I purchased a 2007 Pontiac G6 GT hardtop convertible. It’s quite a car–200-hp 3.5L V6 (not overwhelming, but adequate), power everything, heated leather seats, awesome Monsoon sound system with XM radio and a 6-CD changer–it’ll be nice and comfy for my half-hour-each-way daily commute.
Any mobile ham radio installation in a modern vehicle presents challenges, and this car has them in spades. Things are a little easier with today’s crop of rigs where the front panel separates from the rest of the radio (meaning a smaller box to find a place for around the dashboard), but there’s still the problem of locating the rest of the radio, routing cables, placing speakers, and slapping an antenna someplace.
Now, don’t think for a moment that I’ve solved any of these problems yet. I’m still cogitatin’ on every one of these issues. Probably the first thing I started to think about was where to put the antenna. I normally favor a trunk lid mount. But watch this video of the roof retracting into the trunk:
(Is that cool, or what?) You can see that, at the very least, routing the antenna feedline needs to be well-thought-out. And when the top’s down, there’s very little room in the trunk, so it may not be possible to mount the radio body back there. On the plus side, there’s a fuse box in the trunk, so it might be possible to draw power from it for the radio if I can find a place to mount the radio back there.
Another challenge is getting the rig’s audio into the passenger compartment. On almost all mobile rigs, the speaker is contained in the radio box rather than the control head, so if the radio box isn’t mounted inside the passenger compartment, you’ll need to mount a speaker for the audio, or perhaps make use of an aux input to the car’s sound system. In my case, the Monsoon sound system doesn’t have a built-in aux jack, but I found a cool little add-on unit from PAC Audio that interfaces directly with my sound system to provide an iPod input as well as an aux input (or HD radio input). Installing this particular unit (at least in my car) requires removing dash panels and the radio, but the result is a seamless integration with the existing sound system. I’m seriously considering one of these just for the iPod interface. You can get this unit with the appropriate wiring harness for about $130 from several places on the web–much better than the $169 MSRP from the manufacturer. Other manufacturers make similar devices, such as Axxess Interface. Another option would be to use one of the FM transmitters on the market for playing the output of MP3 players on your car radio, but they don’t appear to work that well. And any solution that plays the rig’s audio through your car sound system makes it impossible to listen to the car stereo and monitor your rig’s audio at the same time.
So I’m nowhere near actually installing a rig in my new car at this point, and I’m not even sure whether I will install a rig. It’s a pretty sweet-looking car, and I don’t want to junk it up with a less-than-optimal installation job. If I can find a way to integrate a rig cleanly into the car (and be able to take it out again without leaving any residual effects), I may go ahead and do it. If I do, I’ll be sure to post about it here.