Corvette Audio Woes

Speaking of audio system repairs (in my last post), I have to do something with the sound system in the Corvette as it’s slowly dying. The radio works, usually, but the CD player is dead. I don’t even have cassette tapes any more, although to play stuff from my phone, I use a cassette tape adapter. Don’t laugh too hard, it works. It doesn’t sound great, but it’s better than the FM radio adapter / transmitter.

I’ve been pondering what do do about the audio system for some time actually. This is actually a pretty standard C-4 dilemma. Do you repair and keep the car original or upgrade? Both have their own set of issues. I mean, let’s be real. It’s a C-4 Corvette.  It’s not going to become as much of a collector car as other models and even with the 40th Anniversary trim, it’s still a C-4.  Further, while repair is possible, it’s several hundred dollars at least, and perhaps as much as $700 for a rebuilt head unit. There are several other pieces as well that look equally expensive to repair as well. Plus, even if I service it, it’s still going to be a twenty-seven year old electronic device utilizing technology that even older.

The other option, replacement, is a bit less problematic once you get past the “keep it stock” thinking. But there are still two issues both grounded in Chevy’s decision to put a Bose audio system in the majority of the C-4s. The system sounded good in its day–actually mine still sounds good when it works! But it is not standard in terms of size or configuration. The head unit is neither single nor double DIN, and is often referred to as “1.5 DIN” in size. A sindle DIN system can be installed using after-market kits, but the ones that I’ve seen don’t look right. They’re out of place in the 1990s monochromatic cockpit of my ’93. Further the affordable (from my perspective) single DIN units lack features. Although there is one single DIN configuration that attracts me. It features a pop-up touch screen that looks interesting. But touch screen systems and gadgetry of any sort get very expensive very quickly! Further, I don’t particularly want to add a screen that will occlude the Driver’s Information Center and climate controls. That’s not a deal-breaker but certainly to be kept in mind.

I’ve read of people successfully installing a double-DIN system, but the modifications required to fit such a unit into the the dash put me off. We’re talking demolitions.

The second issue with replacement has to do with the nature of the Bose system. Rather than a head unit running to an amplifier, running to the speakers, each speaker in the C-4 Corvette has an independent amplifier on-board. While you can certainly rewire, and adapt the rear enclosures for standard 6×9 speakers, that adds time and expense to the project. I’ve looked at some installations that feature android tablets or similar installed but they also seem to require extensive modifications to the dash or to impede my view of the Driver’s Information Center.

But wait: remember the post before last (Raspberry Pi is a really useful platform) about the utility of card-based computers?  Well it turns out that fellow member of the Corvette Forum, Wes Westhaver has put together a touch screen “infotainment” system for his early model C4 that is controlled by an RPi. His site is and he’s got a pretty detailed write-up of the project in the blog there.  It’s attractive in that it requires little or no cutting into the existing wiring harness. It ties into the speaker harness with standard hardware and everything run by the RPi is completely independent of the Vette. Wes’ software is licensed under the GPL too. He’s also put together from home-brew hardware including a Power Management System that shuts the computer down cleanly when the ignition is turned off, or a FM radio receiver. With the RPi, you can use USB peripherals such as a touch screen, a GPS receiver, or thumb drives. You can’t beat what he’s put together for less than $300 at any price. Further, some quick research reveals that the RPi has been used as a “carputer” in several different ways, so there are options even there.

There is a catch in that there are differences between the early and later C-4s and thus some of the information on Wes’ page may not apply to my car. In fact, that’s where I started this evening. I’ve been looking at the factory service manual in order to get an idea of how to tie the RPi into the ‘Vette audio system. I’ll have to do some adapting but I don’t see anything too challenging. Except building the the electronic pieces, that is. I haven’t built a radio since the mid-seventies and that’s part of this project.

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