Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Kicking Up The Volume

Back in February I installed a RetroSound brand radio.  It worked fine but I was only able to squeeze so much sound out of the single dual voice coil speaker in the dash when the top was down on the highway at 65 MPH with the traffic, wind, and exhaust note.

Fortunately, CJ Pony Parts (CJPP) had one of their 20% off sales in March so I set out to examine their offerings in kick panel speakers, the simplest speaker expansion option available for a convertible.  The others being door speakers requiring special, deluxe, interior door cards as well as cutting into the door panel's sheet metal.  The other option is to install speakers in the rear interior quarter trim panels which would also require much modification to install and make look stock.   CJPP offered two kits for the 68 convertible.  One kit featuring Pioneer speakers and the other with generic speakers with every thing else remaining equal.  After some deliberation, I was able to rationalize the purchase of the cheaper of the two kits with the following arguments: 1) How bad could the cheap speakers be?  and 2) If they truly are that bad, I could always upgrade the speakers from a 3rd party such as Amazon for potentially less money than CJPP was charging for the pioneers.  So, I pulled the trigger and awaited their arrival.

A few days later a largish box arrived at my door which I ferreted down to the garage and tore it open.  Inside was a pair of black (you could only order them in black) plastic kick panels and a set of el-cheapo speakers (Pyle).  I immediately noticed the complete lack of instructions and the lack of any discernible way to mount the speaker in the kick panel.  I searched the web and stumbled across a video on YouTube posted by CJPP on how to install the speakers.  This proved to be VERY helpful but not to go too lightly on them, a note in the box would have been nice.  Long story short, the grill of the speaker pops off and you just drive 6 screws through the edge of the speaker into the plastic.  The speaker kit comes with 3 screws per speaker and some clips but I opted to use 6 of my own #6 sheet metal screws to secure that sucker down so there's no rattling or such.

After affixing the speakers to each of the panels, I removed the speakers and then scuffed the crap out of the plastic with a scuff pad.  Why would I mistreat my brand new, shiny, kick panels like this?  To remove any shine from the panel as well as any errant release agents so that the 68 Light Parchment paint from NPD would stick to them!  Next, I sprayed them with "Prep Clean" and gave them 4 - 5 coats of paint and let them sit.  Additionally, I painted the speaker grill covers.

Shiny new black kick panels and el-cheapo speakers

Back side of the panels.  Speaker grill removed.

Scuffed up in preparation for paint

After paint

Speaker mounted with 6 screws.

Grill affixed and side cowl mounting holes drilled.

The speakers were then screwed back onto the panels with their 6 screws and the grill covers replaced thus completing the assembly of the speakers.  Before they could be installed, however, one more task needed to be completed first.  Wiring!  I pulled the console radio panel out of the car and removed the speaker harness from the back of the radio.  I had previously installed two connectors for the dual voice coil dash speaker but now need to solder on the remaining two connectors for the kick panel speakers.  I had ordered a couple more pairs of the wiring extensions from Jegs because they contain the retro-style dual pole connectors.  I cut a pair of them in half and soldered one to the speaker lead and one to the radio harness and repeated the process for each harness/speaker pair.  The speaker leads were then plugged into the speaker contacts.

Radio speaker harness "before"

The two-pole extension chosen for it's connectors

Extension cut in half and soldered to the speaker harness

Other end of the extension soldered to the speaker lead.

Business end of the speaker wire jacked into the voice coil leads

Ready to install

To remove the original, speaker-less, kick panels, the sill plate first has to be removed from under the door followed by removing the two screws holding the panel to the side cowl.  The new panels were then slid in taking care to keep the wires projecting from the top of the panel to allow them to be routed across the firewall to the back of the radio.

I ran into a snag with the passenger side as the kick panel was too tall to fit between the dash and the top of the inner rocker so I had to remove about 1/4" from the bottom.  After that, the height was okay but the speaker contacted the cowl side and didn't allow the panel to lay flatly in position.  Instead, it bows out slightly but the plastic is flexible enough to allow the installation to continue.  I'm unsure what happened other than needing an even narrower speaker.  I did not encounter the same problem on the driver side which confused me even more.  So, this mystery still remains to be solved but until then, the install is usable.  Regardless, the screws were driven into the side cowls and the speakers were affixed in their new positions and the sill plates replaced.

Remove the sill plate

Remove two screws

Exposed side cowl

Speaker doesn't sit flush

The passenger side panel is too tall.

Cutting off about 1/4".  Should have done this BEFORE paint!

That's better.  Speaker installed.

There's a slight gap between the sill plate and the panel that wasn't evident with the original panel.

Driver side ready to route the wire

I then crawled up under the dash and carefully routed the wires along the top of the firewall to the back of the radio.  The radio's speaker harness was then reinstalled and the speaker leads plugged into their counterparts appropriate for LEFT and RIGHT.

The nest of radio wires.  See if you can find the new wires for the kick panel speakers

Passenger side done.

Driver side done.

Finally, the radio panel was reinstalled into the console.   I nervously (yeah, things go POOF when wiring is done incorrectly) turned the ignition key to "accessory" and was rewarded with the radio coming on and tuning into 105.1 (the BUZZ) to the tune of "Radioactive" by Imagine Dragons.   I fiddled with the radio fade and balance controls and confirmed that both speakers were functional and in their correct "left" and "right" settings.

I must admit that the sound quality is not exactly blowing my mind or anything but it is definitely possible to crank the radio much louder than I could previously.  I hear some rattling during times of heavy bass but generally, this will do fine for Summer cruising.

Regarding the physical projection of the speakers out into foot well, I don't find them obtrusive at all.  I think this is partly due to the fact that the car is an automatic so there's no whacking the speaker grill with my foot when I attempt to press the clutch.  There is some obstruction of the windshield washer pedal but I don't use it all that often.

I think they look "stock enough" for my tastes.  If the sound of the speakers begin to annoy me, I'll just pick up a pair of Pioneer or similar if I need to.  The nice thing is that to remove and replace the speakers, all I need to do is remove the grills, remove the 6 screws, unhook the speaker leads from the speakers and replace them with the pioneers.  No need to pull the kick panels again.


  1. El-Cheapos will be good enough, at least for Hey Jude. Radioactive might deserve a subwoofer.to accompany them.

    1. I agree Risto. Hmmm.. a subwoofer... interesting idea.

  2. I'm impressed that the parchment paint worked so well on those kick panels. My console is black and I wondered how such contrasting paint would work. Nice description and photos as I would expect from "Alex's Mustang Restoration Manual."

    1. Thanks Dennis. The key to changing vinyl or plastic part color is preparation. Get it clean and then clean it some more.

  3. Very nice look! Super smooth and clean..........a personal favorite! Excellent work as always!

  4. There you go, testing out the products that I am thinking for my own car. Nice work as always.

    1. Haha! I'm always happy to be your guinea pig Grant. :-)

  5. That looks great but how did you get it to mount flush with those deep speakers?

    1. I just left the backs of the speakers pressing against a padding layer, against the sheet metal. The panels will deform outward a bit but you can fight them into position.