Replica company

Hard Craft: developed with The Vintage Wireless Company

At the time, my grandfather used to “warm up the cordless” mounted on the dash of his Riley. The crystal glass screen would glow a soft yellow like the BBC Special test match fade to crackling medium wave – because at the time, TMS was broadcasting on the MW frequency of the third program. At the same time, a new smell would fill the cabin increasing the smells of old leather, oil and tobacco. And it’s that sweet smell that hits you when the old-fashioned doorbell rings and you enter Alan Marchant’s shop, The Vintage Wireless Company in Sale, Manchester.

What is this smell?

How much does your car cost to insure? Find out in four easy steps.

Get a quote

“It’s years of baked dust, tobacco, old wiring insulation,” he says. “Everyone is asking the question.”

They don’t make people like Marchant anymore, or his treasury of a shop, where I’d surely spend a king’s ransom if I had such a sum. Here, racks of wireless sets (because that’s what they are, not radios) line the shelves. The materials are beautiful and tactile: French-polished faces, crackle-finish paintwork, open grilles, glass valves, germanium transistors, and the warmth of bakelite, the first-ever synthetic plastic made from coal tar and alcohol. wood. Charming dials and switches tell your ears and fingers when channels are selected, when things are on or off, long before ergonomics and haptic feedback are even words.

Tea is steeped (I’ve bought cake, coffee and nuts since you asked) and we sit and talk about the art and science of listening – and yes, in the background, Tuffers tells a shaggy dog ​​story about SMT on longwave, of course.

“I love the radio,” he says. “There is an intimacy and a personal aspect to the spoken word, which fortunately has not been lost.”

In a world where classic cars are an investment product, with restorers, dealers and consultants generously compensated for their efforts, Marchant is an underrated profession. This is no longer a profession for Marchant, as at 71 he is throwing in the towel after countless repairs and restorations on these old warriors of the waves. He is considering partial retirement working on home wireless sets, hi-fi splitters and record players. In the tracks on his workbench right now is a super rare Clavioline, it’s one of the first electronic synthesizers, used on those classic opening bars of the Tornado’s 1962 instrumental hit, Telstar.

So this is a specialist article, about a specialist who is no longer a specialist, not that Marchant doesn’t have useful information about the car stereo industry.

Marchant’s first encounter with vintage electronics came when he was just nine years old. So it seemed natural that after his training, he got a job as an electrical engineer at Granada Television, where he could play with germanium transistors and valves as he pleased. But the way the repair business was going left him frustrated (“We don’t fix things anymore,” he says, “we just replace boards”). When he was offered a dismissal in the 1980s, he accepted it “and tried to combine my two hobbies; old radios and old cars”.

Thus was born the company Vintage Wireless and in these times of shortage of specialist companies, many have made their way to the doors of Marchant to have their old devices restored. We’ll get to that in a moment, but Marchant’s oscilloscope, logic tester and soldering iron have touched the hearts of some of the best automotive wireless sets in the world. An indication of this is when I mention that famous story of Stirling Moss listening to Raymond Baxter’s Goodwood TT commentary in Rob Walker’s Ferrari 250 SWB while leading the race.

“It was the voice of his master [HMV] together,” says Marchant. “I fixed this real radio.”

Repair of classic car radios

He reviews some of his favorite sets he has restored over the years, including the HMV/Radiomobile 100 produced between 1946 and 1950, which was the first HMV radio to come out of a partnership between EMI and Smiths Industries. With push-button station selection, a built-in speaker and a separate power supply, the R100 has a warm sound and a wonderfully tactile quality. In fact, it was the inspiration for the in-car entertainment panel of the eighth Rolls-Royce Phantom, which was the first car owned by BMW.

The 1935 American Arvin attracted Marchant’s admiration because of its sheer quality which surpassed many domestic sets of its day. The set had a separate control panel that could be custom designed for fairings from different manufacturers – “with the car stereo, presentation is everything,” says Marchant.

The Pye TCR1000 was the very first transistorized car stereo despite only having one transistor. By all accounts, it was so up to the minute that Mike Hawthorn, Britain’s first Formula 1 world champion, had this radio fitted to his Jaguar Mark I to replace the standard HMV unit. Marchant found himself restoring a load of these Pye sets for a company that made replica Hawthorn Jaguar models.

The vertically stacked HMV 4220 unit is also mentioned, as it was such a nice set fitted to the Rover 75 Cyclops and 75, 60 and 90 models built between 1952 and 1955.

Repair of classic car radios

Then there is a radio that is close to my heart, the HMV Radiomobile 500T, since it is the one that will equip my Triumph GT6. A hybrid unit with valve tuning and a transistor amplifier, it is according to Marchant, “beautifully proportioned and the finest car radio ever made”.

He also credits this classic ’60s Motorola 114 unit with its Wankel-style volume and adjustment dials on each end of the unit. “It’s a great fit for ’60s black-and-white dashboards,” Marchant says, “and it performs great too.”

These were all expensive sets, fitted after production, usually at high cost to first owners. That’s why, as Marchant explains, older sets would be recycled into owners’ new cars, and why the age of the set doesn’t always match the car’s license plate.

The question is, however, should you have these old sets restored to how they were when new? It starts with what exactly will you listen to? Radio 4’s long wave transmissions (which include MSD, the Shipping forecast and traditionally a check for British nuclear submarine commanders that Britain was not a pile of radioactive clinker), were due to close in 2011, but received a reprieve. They are tuned for hash, however, with the Medium Wave output of Radio 4 Extra and Radio 5 Live.

In other words, if all you have is an MW/LW channel, your listening options are set to become rather limited.

So why not install DAB (Digital Audio Broadcasting) compatibility? Again, change is on the way. For starters, the DAB plus channel is more popular on the mainland, and then there’s the complication of tuning in to DAB stations, which would test the patience of even a modern car user.

Marchant has some interesting insights on this. First on replacing your original device with a modern ‘classic’ set. “These classic repro units don’t really suit me,” he says. “It’s often a cheap radio with a bit of chrome, but with digital displays and the internals aren’t of the best quality.”

Regarding the renewal of internal components in accordance with the original, as Marchant says: “you simply replace the original parts with new parts, but you have to remember that this is an old set 70 years old, which is not only expensive, but can also have mechanical parts that prove to be unreliable.

The Vintage Wireless company store

Marchant thinks the answer lies in Bluetooth, where you can simply link the set to your mobile phone and access radio over internet services such as BBC’s Sounds or iTunes, your music playlists and even your phone and navigation instructions. by satellite. “I would highly recommend this as the way forward,” he says.

Essentially, your impeccably original looking car stereo becomes an amplifier to play just about anything you choose to play through it. It is not a cheap solution and you should choose your specialist carefully. Marchant recommends the service of experienced specialists such as Yorkshire-based Agenta Audio. I have also heard good reports on Tadpole Radio in Colchester.

Again, none of this will come cheap. Upgrading the basic components to offer FM and digital compatibility is over £700, while adding an auxiliary input costs around £150 and Bluetooth compatibility will be more than £700. around £240. But it does kind of protect your radio for the future, because while nothing is forever in the world of automotive sounds, Bluetooth seems set to stay.

“Bluetooth is going to be around forever,” says Marchant. “I even have a Bluetooth toothbrush…”

He doesn’t reveal how it sounds on the car stereo, but I think we can guess…

Read more

Reviewed and rated: DAB adapters for classic cars
Polished to Perfection: Behind the Scenes at GDK Veneering
Hard Craft: the marvelous miniature slot cars of Ramón Cubiró