Stereo Installation Into a Third Generation F-Body

Installing a radio into a Camaro or Firebird can be a simple project for anybody that knows how to use a screwdriver and crimping pliers can handle.  The key is to buy the right equipment.  You need a mounting kit, a wire harness adaptor and possibly an antenna adapter.  Radio sizes are measured in DIN sizes.  Most aftermarket radios are referred to as DIN sized radios.  These are the same size as stock Ford radios and most imports.  Some imports use a Double DIN size.  This is the same size as two DIN sized radios stacked on top of each other.  GM cars use a DIN and a half sized radio.  What this means is that you either have to buy an aftermarket DIN and a half radio, or buy a normal aftermarket radio and use a mounting kit when you install it.  The mounting kit will mount to the big GM opening and then the radio will mount within the mounting kit.  Either way, installation is pretty simple.  On the firebirds, remove the grey trim piece by pulling easily.  There are two clips at the bottom, and one on each side of the top.  A firm tug should permit it’s removal.  On the camaro, there are 4 torques screws to remove, one in each corner.  Be careful though, the top left corner of the trim piece has a notch holding it in.  After the other three corners are free, slide the piece 1/4" to the right, then it will be free and can be completely removed.
    Now you will see that the stock radio is held in by four screws, one on each side.  Remove these screws and the radio will pull out.  Unplug the wiring harness and the antenna and you’re all set.  The install kit will require some assembly.  Some kits are made better than others.  I only reccomend Metra or American International kits.  Follow the instructions in those kits and you’ll be fine.  The kit will fit into the dash just like the stock radio did, except that it will stick out.  This is necessary because your new radio will be deeper than the stock radio was.  Don’t screw the mounting kit in yet though.  Now it’s time to fool with the wiring harness.  If you bought the adapter, your life will be a lot easier now and in the future when you need to remove this radio for any reason.  If you decided not to buy an adapter, you need to cut the factory wiring and wire the radio directly to the car wires.  This is not a good idea because you don’t have enough room in the dash board to make your connections, and it will make your life unnecessarily difficult.  Go buy the wiring kit.  If you bought any radio other than a Pioneer, you should notice that all of the colors on the wiring harness you bought match the wires on the harness that came with the new radio.  This makes life easy.  Crimp or solder the matching colors together.  Do not just twist and tape the wires, or use wire nuts.  Neither method is reliable or safe.  Before crimping or soldering them, double check the wiring list that came with the harness and the radio to make sure that all the colors do in fact perform the same functions.  On Pioneer radios, most of the colors will not match the wiring adapter, so you will have to rely solely on the wiring lists.
    Now it’s time to remove the thin steel cage from your new radio.  You will notice that there is a cage about 3" deep that is around the new radio.  Slide the radio out of this cage and put the radio aside.  This cage should slide right into the hole in the mounting kit.  Then you can use as many of the tabs as possible on this cage to hold it securely by bending them back until they press on the back of the mounting kit.  Now is a good time to see if you need an antenna adapter.  A lot of GM vehicles use an antenna plug that is too small to fit into an aftermarket radio, and the adapter is needed.  On my 85 IROC and my 86 Firebird, I did not need the adapter.  If the wiring will unplug from the new radio, unplug it and plug the wire adapter into the factory wiring.  If the wiring will not come off of the new radio, then hold off for now.
    The next step is to screw the mounting kit into the car.  Set it into place, then pull the wiring harness and the antenna wire through the cage.  Now you can mount the adapter plate.  Now is a good time to plug the wiring harness back into the radio, along with the antenna.  If you have a radio that did not have the removable harness, now you can plug that piece into the factory plug.  Turn your key back and try to turn on the radio.  Tune to any local station and just make sure that you hear music coming out of all 4 speakers.  Use your balance and fader controls to insure that every speaker works, and that your left to right and front to back integrity is maintained.  If it is, you can just tuck the wires through the hole, and slide the radio into the cage until it clicks.  Congradulations, you just installed your radio.
    If you want to do a trick installation, you can mount the radio flush into the dash.  This is an unbelievable pain in the ass in Firebirds, but a lot easier in Camaros.  In the Firebird, the center console offers no depth, so you have to make depth.  You have to remove the center console and cut away large amounts of plastic from the back, and reposition the L shaped mounting bracket in the back.  Then you can mount two 7/8" blocks to the bottom of the console, and mount the radio cage to that with plumbers straps.  You can position it properly so that the front of the radio is flush with the trim piece.  Then make a cover plate that fills in the open space around the radio and hot glue it to the factory trim piece.  Make it to fit without the trim ring that came with the new radio.  I made this piece out of 1/8" plexi and painted it black on the back side.  The ebony finish matched my Kenwood PS907 perfectly, and made a very custom looking setup.
    I haven’t attempted to do a flush mount in the Camaro, but there is a ton of room behind the radio so no cutting is necessary.  My Camaro came with the cheap radio though.  If yours had a better radio, there may be a brace across the back that needs to be unbolted and removed.  There is also no ‘floor’ to the center console in the Camaro like in the Firebird, so you can not make a mount like I did in the Firebird.  I haven’t tried it yet, but it looks like the best way is to fabricate a sunk-in mounting kit to mount to the factory screws, and then glue an additional trim panel to the factory trim piece.

Front speaker installation
    The 82-92 f-bodies use a 4×6" speaker in the dash board.  The installation of front speakers into your car is more challenging than the radio, and if you are not comfortable with using a dremmel and a heat gun, you may not want to try this.  On the Firebirds, most 4×6" aftermarket speakers will not fit easily into the Firebird dash because they have bigger magnets than stock speakers.  Plate speakers usually have a large magnet that is offset, and definately will not fit without a little pursuasion.  This is far from an impossible task, however.  In the Camaros, there is a lot more room, and most speakers will fit without modification.
    To put 4×6" speakers into your car, first you need to remove the entire top dash pad.  The firebird grills may look removable, but they’re not.  Even if you do manage to get them off, you still won’t be able to get the speakers out.  The dash pad is simple to remove though.  There are 4 screws in the top of the dash pad in the defroster vents.  Remove those.  There are also 6 or 8 screws on the front underside of the dash pad.  Remove these.  The dash pad is now ready to come out.  It’s a tight fit to get it out, but if you keep it straight, it will come.  Sometimes it helps to have a buddy on the other side.  You will now see the 4×6" speakers in the dash.  In the Firebirds, they are mounted right to the plastic dash piece.  In the Camaros, they are mounted to a removable steel tray.  Do a test fit with one of the speakers in the dash.  It will probably fit on the passenger side, and not on the driver’s side in Firebirds.  Check to see what is in the way.  If it is just plastic pieces, you can grind them away with a dremmel.  If the back of the heater box (which is also plastic, but you can tell the difference) you will need to heat it and bend it back.  Get the heat gun and a 2×4 that has been rounded at the end.  Large amounts of heat can cause a windshield to crack, and even though you probably won’t get it that hot, it’s a good idea to take precautions.  Tape some paint sticks (or something else about  1/8" thick that isn’t meltable) to a piece of aluminum about 1 square foot.  Tape the whole assembly to the windshield near the heat gun.  This will keep the windshield cool.  Anyway, put the heat to the plastic heater box, and with the 2×4, poke it easily until it becomes soft.  Then remove the heat and slowly push the soft plastic back with the 2×4 and hold it there until it cools.  To another test fit with the speaker and repeat as necessary.  If you manage to poke through the heater box, don’t panic.  if the hole is small enough, plug it with hot glue or duct tape.  If the hole is a little bigger, use a bigger piece of duct tape and spread hot glue over it.  The passenger side speaker should drop right in, but if not, get the good ol’ dremmel back out and go to work.
    In the Firebird, using speakers with a tweeter that sticks up could cause problems, but this is easily fixed too.  if the dash pad will not go all the way down, take note of where the tweeter touches the grill, and use the dremmel to grind away a 2" circle around that spot.  You should only have to remove 1/8" or so of material from the bottom, and this will not be visable after they are re-installed.  A better plan is to cut away the whole slotted area from the grills.  Just leave the thin frame part around the slots.  Then get some speaker grill cloth from Radio Shack or a car audio store, and wrap the cloth around the frame and glue it to the back.  Use spray adhesive, not hot glue.  Hot glue will melt in the summer and the cloth will sag.  Removing the plastic slots and using the grill cloth will give you much better sound and I HIGLY reccomend it if you think you’ve got the skill.  Re-install the grills and you’ll have a better-than-factory appearance.  A little known fact is that one of the only differences between the base stereo and the factory stereo in the Firebirds was that they replaced the plastic grill piece with a cloth piece for better sound.
    In the Camaro, remove the steel frame by taking out the four screws.  It is easier to remove that frame and mount the speakers to that, then re-install the whole frame.  You shouldn’t have any clearance problems in a Camaro, but if you do, use the dremmel and heat gun accordingly.
    If you are using the radio to power the speakers, you might as well just use the factory speaker wire too.  Running better wire is not necessary unless you are using an amplifier to power the speakers.  Running speaker wire from the amp will be discussed in the wiring section.  Before you remove the stock speakers, you had to unplug the factory plug.  Cut this plug off of the wire, but leave a 1" tail on the plug incase you ever want to put it back.  Now just connect a one foot piece of speaker wire that came with the new speakers to the stock wire with crimp connectors or solder.  Plug in the new speaker, and re-install it.  Putting the dash pad back is a pain until you do it a couple times, but you’ll get it with a little patience.  Congratulations, you just installed new speakers.
    If you want something better than 4×6" speakers in the factory location, you have a couple of choices.  Q-Forms makes custom kick panel pods that hold a pair of separates.  You could also build some from scratch, but that is too involved for this article.  Installing Q-Forms is straight forward and is no harder than installing a set of kick panels.  Just run wire from your source (amp or deck) down to the kick panels, and follow the instructions that come with the Q-Forms.  I like to put dynomat on the back side of the Q-Forms to reduce vibration.  Dynomat is a rubber adhesive mat that helps to reduce vibration.
    Another choice is to install separates or co-ax speakers in the lower door.  If your car does not have power windows, you can fit up to a 5 1/4" speaker in the door easily.  I managed to cram an oversized 6 1/2" down there, but I don’t reccomend it.  I had to heat the kick panels to push them in far enough for the door to close with the speaker grills installed.  I don’t reccomend that you start cutting holes in your doors unless you are confident that you can do it.  There is not enough material to mount the speakers to within the door, so a steel panel needs to be riveted into the bottom of the door, and the speaker then attached to that.
    When mounting separates, your best sound quality will be achieved by keeping the tweeter relatively close to the mid.  I mounted my tweeter in the kick panel.  It was a piece of cake.  Drill a 2" hole into the kick panel with a hole saw, glue the tweeter in, and hook up the wire.  After removing the kick panel, you will see a square rubber patch that covers a hole in the steel.  Mount the tweeter so that the back will be over that rubber piece.  It will give some depth relief to the tweeter.    You can also mount the tweeter into the door, but I reccomend that you do it like I did.  It helps equalize the path length between left and right speakers.  By putting them farther forward in the kicks, it raises your image to dash board height, and presents the image in the middle of the dash instead of being skewed to the driver side like with dash speakers, or just door speakers.  I strongly believe that other than HLCD (Horn Loaded Compression Drivers) mounted under the dash (which is beyond the scope of this article) this is the best situation for proper sound stage and imaging available in these cars.  If you have power windows, then the window motor is in the way and the doors have to be built out.  This is beyond the scope of this article so if you are faced with that situation and do not have the necessary skills, I reccomend that you leave it up to a professional.

Mounting rear speakers
    The rear speakers are a 6×9" speaker that is mounted in the piller behind the side windows.  Remove the screw that holds the clothing hook to the car.  Slide the fabric cover up, then pull it out.  You will see the speakers held in by four screws.  Remove them, unplug the speaker, do what you will with the new speaker wire (see the instructions for mounting the front speakers) and put the new speakers in.  There will be no clearance problems.  If the tweeter protrudes on the new speakers, it may be necessary to modify the covers.  Wherever the tweeter hits, break off that piece of wood.  There should be no noticable differences once they are put back onto the car.  If you are not happy with doing it that way, you need to remove the fabric, cut away the entire perforated area, mount a metal or plastic screen over the opening, then re-attach the fabric with spray adhesive.  By using a metal screen, you can bend it as necessary to make room for the protruding tweeter.  Getting that lousy screw back through the coat hanger hook and into the hole in the car can take forever, but eventually you will find the hole and can tighten it up.  Congratulations, you now have new 6×9" speakers installed.

Mounting an amplifier
    If the rear well is taken up by a subwoofer box or anything else, you can not mount the amplifier down there.  You can either mount it directly behind the back seat, or in the storage compartment in the back, providing that it will fit.  I don’t reccomend using the storage compartment for high power amplifiers because you will not get proper ventilation.  If you mount the amp to the hump right behind the back seat, DO NOT SCREW IT DOWN!!!  Your gas tank sits 3/4" below that hump.  Even if you only use 1/2" screws, if you get into an accident it could puncture the gas tank and cause very serious problems.  You can get 2" wide strips of adhesive velcro.  Stick two strips down the full lenth of the amp, and stimply stick the amp to the carpet.  This will stick extremely well.

Subwoofer mounting applications
    There are a few different methods available for mounting subwoofers in thirdgen cars.  The most popular, and worst sounding method is to build or buy a plate that covers the rear hatch area.  The subs then mount to that plate.  The plate is available for about $40 or can be built for $10, and is a complete no brainer to install.  After it falls a few times, you will want to remove the passenger side plastic panel, and brace the long flat part by hot glueing a piece of wood in.  You may also want to staple velcro to the front edge of the plate.  By doing these two things, the plate should not fall.  But, like I said, plates do not sound good.  It is impossible to isolate the back side of the plate form the front side, and your sound and powerhandling will suffer severly.  A far better choice is a box of some sort
    For those who are on a budget or just don’t care for big subwoofers, you can buy a single 8" or 10" tube and put the appropriately sized subwoofer into it.  Before buying a 10" tube, do a test fit to make sure it will fit down into the well.  Most 10" tubes may require a shoe horn to get it down into the well, but once past the latch mechanism will fit very well.  A single 10" tube with a good sub will usually play LOUDER than two 12" subs mounted to a plate.  Like I said, plates are a bad idea.  I put a Blaupunkt 10" sub (not even a real good sub) into a tube in an 86 Trans Am, and he gets spl’s above 120db.
    If you want more bass than a single tube can give you, you will need a box to hold two 10" or 12" subs.  Some pre-made boxes are available, but I don’t reccomend them.  All the ones that I’ve seen are made from 1/2" particle board.  I’ve seen good 12" subs blow these boxes right apart.  You want at least 3/4" particle board with lots of internal bracing, or better yet, MDF (Medium Density Fiberboard).  To get this, you will usually need to have the box custom made.  The box in the picture is the box that was in my Firebird.  The long rails were there for other reasons and do not need to be there on your box.  I will post dimensions for the box next time that I go home to measure the box.  The box fit snugly into the well and did not move, slide or vibrate.  I won’t have exact volume specs for the box until I get the measurements, but I believe that it is around 1.5 cubic feet per side.

Various wiring associated with the stereo
    This is bound to be the most time consuming, biggest pain in the ass of the whole installation.  This will be broken down more toward areas of the car vs. different wires, but before that, a little background.
    The Front part of the car:  If you are running new speaker wire from the radio to the front speakers, you just need to drop the covers over each foot well and pull out the radio.  You can poke the wires behind the center console and grab them near the radio.  On the other side, use a coat hanger from the dash speaker location until you can reach it from underneath.  Tape the wire to it, and gently pull it back up.  That’s about it.  For the rear speakers, you need to pull up the kick panel, the door sill, and then play games near the rear speakers which will be dealt with when I discuss that part of the car.
    To run RCA wires through the car, it’s the same deal.  Run it behind the kick panel, under the door sill, and then through the back part that will be discussed below.  You want to run the RCA wires on the opposite side of the car as the power wire.  If you are running speaker wire up from the back, run it right with the RCA wires.
    To run power wire, you need to work a little harder.  Run the power wire on whatever side the battery is on.  That means on Camaros, it’s the passenger side and on Firebirds, it’s the driver side.  Determine what gauge wire you will need to run, then plan accordingly.  For 10 gauge or smaller, you can probably find a pre-drilled hole to run the wire through the firewall.  For 8 gauge or bigger, you will need to drill your own hole.  There are very limited places that you can drill holes under there.  You need to find a spot that will not interfere with other places.  For example, on Firebirds, you should have a good spot to the left of the clutch pedal, right near the top of the carpet.  Use the clutch pedal and other items that  run through the firewall as reference when determining your spot.  Drill an oversized hole and put a rubber grommet in, then run the wire through the rubber grommet.  After the wire goes through the firewall, you can run it behind the firewall down to the frame rail.  With thick wire, you can tuck it below the frame rail under the carpet.  If you feel around you will find split loom tubing with factory wire, and you can tuck the wire below this and it will be 100% hidden and in a safe place where it will not chafe.  You need to go behind the seatbelt latch, then come back up near the end of the door opening.  This is where it all gets fun.
  The middle and rear part of the car:  This part is a pain.  You need to remove the 6×9" speaker, and the plastic piece on the car right behind the side window.  That’s held on by a screw right above the door, and a snap at the top.  With that off and the door sill off, you can pull the plastic molded panel out. You don’t need to get it all the way off, just get the lip that goes around the door area off.  It takes a lot of pursuasion, but I haven’t broken one yet.  Sometimes it takes the leverage of a couple of strategicially placed screw drivers.  After that is off, you can snake a coat hanger from the 6×9" location down to the floor near the rocker panel. Once you get that, you’re golden.  Find a 10 foot long piece of scrap wire, tape it to the coat hanger, and pull it back to the 6×9" opening.  After that, un-snap the plastic trim on the rear side of the car.  If you’re on the passenger side, it’s the piece with the spare tire under it.  Use the coat hanger to reach to the spare tire area (or the corresponding spot on the other side if you’re running the wire down the driver side) and pull it the rest of the way.  DO NOT EVER REMOVE THIS WIRE!  This wire will always be here for future use.  You can now tape the power wire, the RCAs or whatever to this 10 foot wire to snake it through.  Once you get your wires to the back, you can put the interior panels back together.  That one piece near the door is even harder to slip back over the lip than it was to get off, but patience and a little skill will get it back.  Once you’ve got your wire in the back area, just poke it under the plastic and into the hatch area where it can be hooked up to your other equiptment.

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Jimbo’s Qualifications:
MECP Certified Installer
IASCA Sanctioned Sound-off Judge
3 years of retail/installation experience
4th year Electrical Engineering Technology student at RIT