Getting “board” with rebuilding a Delco cassette player

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For most, a dead or dying classic radio is a useless piece of technology, easily replaced with a remanufactured example or newer one that boasts modern accoutrements like an AUX port, Bluetooth, USB interface, or even a full smartphone interface. It takes a special kind of automotive restorer to tackle the innards of a car stereo, especially the more complicated ones from the feature-packed 1980s.

However, that’s exactly what Ronald Finger did while as he pursues a full restoration of the 1985 Pontiac Fiero that pulled out of a field. He documented everything he’s doing to breathe new life into Pontiac’s star-crossed sports car, including what went wrong inside the Delco stereo.

The 1980s were an impressive time for growth and maturity in automotive electronics, and while Ronald’s Delco stereo isn’t quite as memorable as a Delco-Bose audio system, this unit had electronic tuning, an auto-reverse cassette deck, and enough power for four speakers.

An annoying problem creeps up with these radios as time goes by, long after warranties expire: the Delco’s circuit board has electrolytic capacitors that eventually fail and lead to poor audio quality. The fix is to replace them with more modern ceramic capacitors … except when that is not the problem! Apparently the circuit board in question already had the improved ceramic capacitors, which forced Ronald to fully disassemble, clean and re-solder the board’s faulty connections in pursuit of a functioning system. The end result? The display, all lights and buttons work once more. And much like an older Ferrari, it’s a good idea to do a belt service before reassembling a cassette player: Don’t worry, it only involves a cheap rubber belt, cleaning with isopropyl alcohol, and strategically placed lubricant on the mechanisms.

Did Ronald’s hours of research, labor, and testing work on the Delco stereo’s circuit board? You better believe it did! Not only has the Delco radio gone back to full functionality, it proves once again that Ronald’s efforts to restore a Fiero are both worthwhile and anything but boring.

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