My Mustang Ford
Classic cars and subwoofers have never been seen as a perfect match but the classic car market is experiencing rapid growth amongst a new type of owner who wants the luxury of excellent audio in their treasured classic.
“I’ve got a 1966, cherry red Mustang Ford”. These words penned and sung by Chuck Berry ring in my ears every time I think of Bill Mathieson’s white one! I was fortunate enough to be given the opportunity to visit Bill in Scarborough and find out all about his treasured classic and its impressive audio system.
As a scientist, one could be forgiven for believing that fate or Karma could never have an affect on his life. However, Bill’s story is one of serial coincidence.
Bill and his then new wife Stella settled in Scarborough in 2003 to be close to work. Bill worked at the university in York. Shortly after settling in Scarborough he began to search for a garage as he had always wanted a classic Mustang. His pursuit for suitable garaging was to take 10 years! Sadly, Stella passed away in 2013 and this seemed to trigger a chain of coincidences leading to his eventual ownership of his magnificent Mustang.
Just three months after her passing, the perfect garage came up for sale across Scarborough from where he lived. He snapped it up as you would if you had been searching for so long. During his long search he had spent many an hour online looking at American sites and drooling over Mustangs. He wanted a 1966 four speed manual. During this time, he spotted the perfect car for sale in America. The vintage of the vehicle was important, as although larger than the average UK road vehicle, it was the last year in which the smallest Mustang was made. After this, the model became too big and too showy for Bill’s tastes.
As a pure coincidence the very car that Bill had spent time following online came up for sale in the UK at a new company set up just around the corner from Bill’s mum’s address!
The vehicle was already in very good condition when it arrived but Bill had some necessary repairs and upgrades to carry out. Many of these he did himself including upgrading brakes from drums to discs, fitting a servo unit and replacing the steering box. Other renovations he has carried out with the help of a local company that specialises in Austin-Healeys, Murray Scott-Nelson. Bill explains that he enjoys the physical nature of the work he carries out. The ability to affect the condition of the vehicle with hand tools rather than a computer is something that he finds extremely therapeutic.
Bill got to a stage where his new daily driver was in very good shape physically and aesthetically and as he drives 5000 miles a year in it, he turned his mind to what could be done with the audio. As with most guardians of such vehicles, he wanted things to remain as stock as possible and so his first step was to send the original mono AM radio off to a specialist company, Tadpole Radio, to have the innards renewed. This involved replacing pretty much all of the electronics and refreshing with an FM/AM tuner. This failed to improve the sound sufficiently so, he set about finding a company who could help him to build an audio system that he could actually hear over the roar of the exhaust note on his cruises around the country and continental Europe.
Fortunately, he came across FOUR MASTER Source Sounds in Sheffield. Proprietor Paul Ellis loves cars and music in equal measure and so the challenge of installing something with a modern sound in this American classic was one he could not turn down!
Bill has a deep appreciation of music borne in part by his early training as a cellist – a classical background really does enable people to pick music apart, particularly in the context of complex classical arrangements for orchestra. Paul is equally adept at listening to and analysing the way instruments are balanced and uses this to good effect when setting cars up.
The initial discussions were about aesthetic. Paul convinced Bill that he could build custom speaker pods in the front kick panels and trim them in seamlessly. Bill was adamant that Paul should take nothing away from the original structure and that the system did not require alternator or battery upgrades. That meant a build was the only way to go. The kick well builds contain a pair of Hertz Mille Pro MPK 165.3, 2-way component speakers. These are run actively with two channels of an extremely power-efficient Audison Prima AP8.9bit amplifier driving the tweeters while another two channels run the 6.5” woofers.
The trimming of the build is truly exceptional and Bill reports that even other Mustang owners have to look twice before noticing them. The colour match of the trim material is exact to the original. The builds are flared to focus sound upward towards the ears.
While cruising, this car makes a lot of noise. Much of this is picked up through the tyres and amplified by huge expanses of door panel. This was quietened very effectively by the application of Skinz sound deadening material, although the car still speaks loudly when asked to!
The interior volume of this vehicle seems huge and so Paul recommended rear fill speakers. These were an original option but were not fitted to this vehicle when Bill got it. After some digging around on line, Paul managed to find some original chrome-rimmed, cream-grilled rear shelf speaker covers. He also built a fresh rear shelf with enough substance to accommodate a pair of Hertz Mille Pro MPX 690.3, 6 X 9 coaxial speakers. These are run from the remaining two pairs of channels of the Audison Prima AP8.9bit bridged to offer plenty of power.
Again, the trim work is exceptional and everything looks like it came straight out of the factory.
Behind the rear seat is a void that is now taken up by a custom sealed enclosure housing a Hertz Mille Pro MP 250 D4.3. This hefty subwoofer can take a lot of power and in this application, needs to in order to operate over the aforementioned exhaust note. Paul has installed an Audison Prima AP1 D that pumps out 540 watts RMS into the parallel-connected dual voice coils.
Returning to the source, we discovered that Bill’s iPod played via a Bluetooth module into an FM modulator, as this was the most efficient way to get audio to the front-end of the system. For those who do not know, an FM modulator effectively sits an audio signal on a FM radio frequency. In order to listen one needs to tune the radio into the modulator. It would be logical to assume that quality of the source would be compromised as a result of this long chain to the input of the amplifier. We have run blind listening tests previously that have revealed a degradation in dynamics when using Bluetooth streaming rather than wires. However, the biggest improvement we were able to experience was as a result of streaming music from Tidal as opposed to Spotify.
The first track I threw at the system was Elvis Costello’s version of “Ship Building”. Elvis is a great singer and as the co-writer of the tune, has all the emotive connection required with the thought-provoking lyric. The clincher for me though is the Chet Baker trumpet solo!
I was immediately impressed by the high frequency content on the track. Clear and precise cymbal hits without a hint of harshness or distortion. The mid frequencies were forceful but without muddying any of the rest of the frequency range. This is not a bass-heavy track and although there was a sense of the presence of a mighty subwoofer the track didn't really exercise it in a meaningful way.
Imaging took some getting used to, to be honest. The rear speakers seemed to dominate and overpower the front speakers to an extent. This is easily fixed in set up however and I would imagine that with a tune up via the magic ears of Paul, this could be fixed straightaway. The soundstage filled the entire width of the vehicle and instrument separation was fantastic.
Time to wake things up somewhat so I selected Elian Elias’ lively version of Bob Marley’s “Jammin’”. This offered a greedily grabbed opportunity for the AP1 D amplifier and mighty MP 250 to show what they could do. As we have come to expect, sub bass from an Audison and Hertz combination is always faultlessly integrated with the rest of the frequency range. In this vehicle there was enough sub bass available to make the chest wobble sufficiently to demonstrate the power available. This busy track was articulated perfectly and I would suspect this would be exactly the same if we were to listen to something more bass heavy.
At this point, we had all begun to enjoy the balance of the speakers. The rear-heavy contour just kind of suits the vehicle. We could imagine bowling down an open road with the windows open blasting out some roadhouse blues or 60’s rock and roll and having a great time.
I had a thoroughly great time meeting Bill. I admire his dedication to making this vehicle the very best it can be. From an audio point of view, I think I would prefer the soundstage to be moved forward to make the most of the spectacular kick well builds. I feel this would lift the image that did leave me ever so slightly, wanting to look down to my feet in search of high end. Having said this even as it stands, every element is there and overall the car is as entertaining to listen to as it is to travel in when Bill squeezes his right foot to the floor just for fun! “That probably cost £5 in fuel”, Bill shouts as he demonstrates the exhaust note of the mighty 4.7 Litre engine to us and we head back to the garage from the seafront!
Bill’s Top Five Driving Sounds:
“Back in Black” - AC/DC
“My Mustang Ford” - Chuck Berry
“September Fields” - Frazey Ford
“Tweeter and the Monkey Man” - The Travelling Wilburys
“Mr E's Beautiful Blues” - Eels
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