Turning up the volume is part of why I love cars (and music)

We dedicated the May/June 2023 issue of Hagerty Drivers Club magazine to the deep connections between music and cars, including several fun lists featuring your favorite car songs. Come back often or click the Music & Cars tag to stay up to date on these stories as they roll out online. You can also jam with our custom Music & Cars playlist on Spotify, available here.

Music has always been important to me. When I was a kid and working for my dad, I’d always turn on the radio and listen to my rock favorites. When Dad wasn’t around, I’d crank up the volume. When he’d return, he’d make a fuss and I’d have to turn it down. Once he got so fed up with me blasting my tunes that he took a pair of wire cutters and snipped right through the power cord. I still don’t know why he didn’t get a shock.

I had a 1966 MGB when I was in high school. I didn’t bother putting in a new radio. Instead, I enjoyed listening to the great sounds coming out of the engine bay and the dual chrome tips of a Stebro performance exhaust. The more musical the car, the less I needed a radio. I’m sure that’s a tune many of you can relate to.

I was still in high school when I got my 1959 Beetle. Instead of converting the car from 6 volts to 12 volts in order to power the new radio, the eight-track player in the glovebox, and the FM converter, I installed a 12-volt battery under the seat beside the 6-volt battery. I finished off the installation by sticking a pair of home speakers in the back seat. I used that radio so much I had to charge the 12-volt battery every few days, but it was always worth it.

After high school, I went off to Idaho for college. When I flew home on Christmas break, my father and I rebuilt a crashed 1971 VW Super Beetle. The car had no radio. There wasn’t even a cutout for one, and there was no way I was driving from Connecticut to Idaho without one. Unlike the MGB, this was not a car I wanted to listen to, especially not for 2000 miles.

Like most college kids, I didn’t have much money, but I did have an eight-track player, a set of headphones, a drill, and a saw. With a little bit of cutting, I managed to install the tape player in the glove compartment, and I drilled a hole in the dash to fit a headphone jack.

Eight-tracks revolutionized the way young people listened to music. The freedom to play them loud, without Dad around, was magical. eBay

The next problem was that I had only four tapes, which I played over and over: Cream’s Disraeli Gears; Magical Mystery Tour by the Beatles; Are You Experienced by the Jimi Hendrix Experience; and In the Court of the Crimson King by King Crimson. I stopped in Chicago and spent a night with my aunt and uncle, who slipped me $20 as I was leaving. My uncle told me to buy a few more albums, knowing that I’d be sick of the ones I had by the time I reached Idaho. I remember picking up Santana’s first album and using the rest of the money for gas. Today, driving with headphones is illegal in many states, but back in 1971, it was blissful to blast my music and drown out the sounds of the air-cooled engine and the winds howling across the Great Plains.

If I’m in a newer daily driver, such as my truck or my wife’s Volkswagen Atlas, I’ll usually have the radio on. When my grandson is with me, we’ll listen to Little Steven’s Underground Garage on Sirius XM because it has the music I love and a lot of deep cuts that you don’t hear often. I’ve always enjoyed sharing my cars with him, and I love making the great music I grew up with a part of that.

Of course, just like in my teenage years, when I’m driving something that comes with its own great soundtrack, such as my 1965 Mustang GT350 or my Pursang Type 51 (an authentic Bugatti replica), I’m not listening to any music. I want to hear the sounds of the car.

Sandon Voelker

Like many others who graduated from high school during the Woodstock era, music was and is a huge part of my life, but so are cars. Whether it’s folk music, early rock-and-roll, the blues, hard rock, or even fusion—I love it all.

While I was still living at home, I rarely had the chance to play my music loud; Dad was always close by with those wire cutters. So my car was the one place I could play a favorite song and turn up the volume. Again, I’m sure many of you can relate to that.

Some of my all-time favorites included “Tripe Face Boogie” and “Dixie Chicken” by Little Feat, and I’m convinced that the best road-trip song of all time is Steppenwolf’s “Born to Be Wild.” Unless, of course, I could downshift, bury the throttle, and listen to a high-performance engine going through the gears instead.




This article first appeared in Hagerty Drivers Club magazine. Click here to subscribe and join the club.

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    I installed my first amp in my first car, which wasn’t a 4.0 amp or a 4.0 install and it was all still through the factory speakers. Over time I upgraded my talents and equipment to full-on systems with tweeters in the A-pillars and subs in the back. I’ve since downgraded to loud enough to hear clearly with the windows down and enough bass that I can feel. One thing that most of my radios have now is a USB port. One – I despise commercials and two my taste in music generally doesn’t mesh well with ‘the big three’ radio genres

    Whoa… EIGHT-TRACK TAPES! I may still have a couple stashed someplace.
    Wayne, we have nearly identical car-audio histories—I had two headphones clipped to the seatbacks of my ’71 Mustang; and was your FM Converter the type that got inserted like a tape? Mine was.

    Your original four tapes show impeccable taste, especially King Crimson and Jimi. Still amazing.
    My paltry first few included Mountain’s “Flowers of Evil”, with a bitc/in’ live portion.

    In 1990, I lived in NYC and had a street-parked 74 BMW 2002 with A/C . Car stereo theft was a popular thing, so I got a pullout radio that I could take with me. (Soundstream TC-305, Benzi Box and a/d/s amps and speakers. Nice and loud!) Unfortunately, the radio position in A/C cars was low in the console and removing the radio was blocked by the shifter. So I removed the A/C and made a custom console faceplate which mounted the radio up high enough to pull out.

    I still have that car, and a somewhat updated version of that system, but as a more mature gentleman now, I’d much rather have the A/C and a hidden Bluetooth head unit. Maybe someday!

    The first brand new car I bought was a ’74 Dodge Charger, which only came with an AM radio. I promptly hung a quadriphonic 8-track under the dash, (I also had a quad 8-track recorder at the time, and transferred my albums to it) and then found an FM tuner cartridge that plugged into the tape player. I also still have all five of the albums Wayne mentioned. But I don’t feel the need to drown out the sounds of the air cooled 4 cylinder in my VW Karmann Ghia convertible, which was built the same month I graduated from High School.
    I’ve been a bass guitarist since 1967, and I would have always said there’s no such thing as too much bass. Until they started putting sub-woofers in cars, and many of them that’s ALL you can hear.

    Many of us were teens in the ’60s. We saw the Yardbirds at the Village Theater, which Bill Graham the next year, 1968, bought and renamed “Fillmore East.” We never missed Procol Harum when they came to town. Saw the Who in summer of ’66, the Lovin’ Spoonful. Saw the Mothers. Zappa an underrated guitarist (but a little of his Orange County doo-wop meets Bela Bartok went a long way). Paul Butterfield Blues Band, the Airplane, the Dead played Central Park Sunday afternoons summer of ’68, went to Woodstock. Got it. Lotta that stuff still resonates.

    But guess what? Some of us then and now also like Rachmaninoff, who himself liked fast cars, Vivaldi, Chopin, Brahms, Debussy, Ravel, Joan Baez who loved her Jag E-Type as Michelle Phillips hers. Steve Winwood, Jack Bruce and others were classically trained musicians. We saw Quicksilver Messenger Service at a Halloween party in Boston, 1968. Their lead guitarist, John Cipollina, grew up with and loved opera, as did the Grateful Dead. Paul Butterfield was a classically trained flautist.

    They, and the Beatles, were “hipper than the room.” Long John Baldry, John Mayall, Charlie Watts all Jelly Roll Morton fans. So were Motown’s Funk Brothers, who contributed to so many of the gems by the Four Tops, etc.

    Good stuff, wheeled or musical, doesn’t need loud. We liked the Yardbirds because they understood
    d y n a m i c s. The late Jeff Beck transcended his time, reveled in jazz, and played symphonic pieces–well. He was terrific unplugged, too. BTW, he and the world’s leading Forumula One driver, Lewis Hamilton, vegan, which didn’t slow them in the least. (Beck died of bacterial meningitis.)

    Do you see where i’m going with this? In other words, there are centuries of music, and 120 years of automobilia.

    But you’d never know it reading filler like the above aimed at the lowest common denominator. “King Crimson” was for stoned kids who grew up in households where their only exposure to classical music was their parents’ Mantovani and Liberace records, snippets on the Ed Sullivan Show, for which pompous dreck like “In the Court of the Crimson King” sounded profound after smoking enough dope.

    In 1958, Miles Davis said “You know you can’t play anything on a horn Louis hasn’t played — I mean even modern.” He was referring to Louis Armstrongs’ 1 9 2 0 s Hot Five and Hot Seven work. Listen to Jelly Roll Morton’s Red Hot Peppers’ Sidewalk Blues. Sid Bechet, Artie Shaw, the Dorseys, Benny Goodman’s 1936 Moonglow, Helen O’Connell, George Clooney’s Aunt Rosemary, Dave Brubeck.

    Elvin Jones, Pharoah Sanders, John Coltrane would as readily talk auto mechanics as physics. Yes, really. They had that much range.

    Where’s ours? In the ’70s, we lost count of how many car shows we entered where the PA system blared the same three Glenn Miller hits over and over. Since then, the same Beach Boys’ numbers, over and over and over. Just as 80% of the field has a SBC, Turbo HydraMatic, tilt wheel. (Yeah, we know Brian Wilson’s brilliant and likes his Corvette. That’s not, um, uh, the point.)

    Auburn 8s & 12s, late ’30s/early ’40s Buicks/Cads, Chryslers, Cords, Delahayes, Delage D8S, Hudsons, Railtons, Lagonda M45/LG6, prewar Packards, Pierces. Don’t tell us you “can’t afford” one and in the same breath drone on about how much you sunk in a “numbers matching” piece of egregious ’60s mid-sized tin w/ station wagon engine and teenage suspension cartoon decaled one-trick pony.

    And like, you know, hey, it’s not “snobbery.” The word you’re groping for is d i s c e r n i n g.


    I agree, sometime a radio is not required. The note of a 2015 Cayman GTS in Sport Mode is music to my ears.

    Right. Most of us genuine gearheads, hell, autoholics, drive to e s c a p e noise. At one w/ the machine we’ve worked so hard on. Silencio. Music, food, smartphone, et al stay home.


    I agree with most of the song selections although never a big fan of Steppenwolf. However, Little Feat’s “High Roller” usually gets my right foot pressing harder on the loud pedal! Or as a life-long Jersey guy, “Born to Run”- those highways with broken dreams……

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