A Retro Car Stereo With Arduino Inside

For some car enthusiasts whose passions run towards older vehicles, only originality will do. [RetroJDM] for instance has an RA28 Toyota Celica from the mid 1970s for which he has gone to great lengths to source a pristine center console to replace a damaged original.

There is only one problem with the center console on a 1970s Toyota, it doesn’t have a DIN cut-out for the standard-sized car radios that have become universal in the decades since its manufacture. Instead it has a cut-out for a Toyota-specific radio in the old style with holes for volume and tuning knobs to either side of a protruding center unit that would have contained a tuning dial and a slot for cassettes or maybe 8-track cartridges.

His solution is an interesting one, he’s put together his own car stereo in an enclosure suitable for the Toyota cut-out. Inside the radio there is an Arduino Mega controlling the breakout boards for an Si4703 FM tuner and a VMusic3 MP3/USB music player, and a PT2314 audio processor. For display there is a set of retro LED seven-segment modules, and an MSGEQ7 spectrum analyser. The result is a modern radio with FM, line-input, and MP3 player, with all the functions you’d expect. There is no onboard amplifier though, but this function is fulfilled by an external unit.

The finished unit is topped off with a very professional front panel, which you can see in his demo video below the break.

We’ve had very few car radios from scratch here at Hackaday, but we have had more than one bluetooth upgrade or addition of a line-in port.

Thanks [Darkspr1te] for the story.

28 thoughts on “A Retro Car Stereo With Arduino Inside

    1. There is an 8 Chr 5mm green that would look very much like VFD and it’s about $35 which is much more economical then three 4 chr units at $25+ each

      It would be perfect for a hardware emulated retro Single Board Computer as they are serial and pixel addressable – perfect for a modern AVR or something like that.

      It would be good for a modern project to.

      1. I would recommend choosing a display of whatever color matches the rest of the lights on the dash.

        Maybe his dash lights are orange?

        Along those lines… retro displays are cool but.. if you tend to replace your car every few years I would go with something that is RGB.

        That’s not a critique of this build. I’m thinking that someone who takes that kind of trouble to restore the console of a vehicle from 1970 is probably an enthusiast of the era and will keep that car. I’m just making the point that choosing a display for a homebrew car radio is more an exercise of matching the car than picking the one that looks the most retro, modern, etc… in the radio when the radio is sitting there all by itself.

    1. Those AVAGO LED-Matrix things are pretty bright. Direct VFD/Nixie replacement – like OLED, but with proper LEDs ;-)
      And they have 32-step dimming if I remember correctly.

      1. Laser cut acrylic makes a nice blanking plate. Depending on the trim of the car you can either paint the back side of it to match the dash or place some laser cut plywood behind it. For brackets I’ve had good luck using hanger strap. one might think that is a bit less professional but if you do it right the radio isn’t going anywhere and it’s all hidden by the blanking plate anyway.

    1. I agree. The reason it’s got a clear screen is because frontpanelexpress.com didn’t offer colours. I emailed them after, and they said they’d do colours as special orders if want in the future.

    1. Youd think Jenny, being a technical writer of sorts (well maybe not, but she is writing for a technical audience), would learn to distinguish between a true 7 segment LED display and what is actually in the project featured in the article… Everything that has LEDS instead of an LCD module or OLEDS I guess is now considered a ‘Seven Segment LED display” in the modern vernacular? (scratches head)

  1. Just wanted to say – I love it!

    I am looking to do something similar re: a mid 80’s car radio with tape deck that was immediately recognizable as stock.

    I have bought the broken radio already; and can only hope it comes out as good as yours.

    A thing of beauty and function!

  2. What? a retro-look indash unit without an AM tuner? Blasphemy. :)

    Seriously, great work here. AM capability would put topping on the dessert, and AM stereo would be indescribably delicious.

  3. This is my project :)

    It took me about 2 years all up (mostly due to lack of money).

    I’m in the middle of redesigning it with cheaper parts – based on a PJRC Teensy 3.6. I want to make some more. One for my 1982 Hilux, one more for my brother’s Datsun 1000, and another inside a component stereo for my spare room.

    I had thought about adding bluetooth, but I just don’t use it. I much prefer real buttons and dials.

    You can see the project page: http://retrojdm.com/arduinocarstereo.asp

    Here’s the original forum post on DIY Audio where I was asking for help: http://www.diyaudio.com/forums/car-audio/216964-arduino-car-stereo.html

    Oh, and if you’re into old Japanese cars, here’s a bunch of photos of the 1977 Celica it’s in: http://retrojdm.com/GalleryView.asp?GalleryID=1


    1. Nope.
      They used to be available at a huge markup when mini-itx carputers hit it big in the car modding scene, but now the sources have dried up.
      Hit up your local junkyard, pick-n-pull is nation-wide, and look for junk stereos.

  4. Very nice project! And… if you Google for something like “arduino car stereo” this is for sure the best result!
    I’m going to try something similar on a 1984 Buick Riviera. Those usually had 1 1/2 DIN FM/AM Stereos with cassette Players made by delco. I also had a chance to by a Bose / Delco unit with non working amps just for having a housing.

    My goals:
    * USB MP3 Player (will probably use Vmusic 3)
    * FM Stereo with RDS and european frequency steps
    * Internal 4 ch amplifier (e.g. TDA 8571J)
    * use as many of the original knobs and buttons as possible
    * green VF display to keep the original look

    * If space is left inside the unit, keep also the original tape player working
    * Bluetooth

    Let’s see what will be the result…

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