British sports cars were wired really, really weirdly (Say that 5 times.) The earth was negative on every American car I had ever forced an 8-track tape player into, and I was sure that my skills could be applied with no less success on the Austin America I had just acquired. After all, it said “America” right on the fender badge! But I had a problem…this car was wired positive earth.
These were the days of no Internet Googling and no good sense on my part. That did not deter me. I decided to fool mother earth into thinking that my 8-track tape player was correctly wired in the incorrectly wired Austin.
The 1965 Austin America was not your typical college transport in 1977. Just twelve years old, it had already proven itself to be the “clown car” on campus and the butt of many jokes… all of which I endured patiently with the satisfied smugness of knowing that my car was British and required a “stiff upper lip” from its owner.
I tackled the 8-track task with initiative and creativity. First came the box—a thin shell of wood and wood by-products that precisely fit the size and shape of my “Kraco” deluxe with fade control and three-speaker capability. This box would isolate the entire head unit from the dread positive earth Austin America… much like carrying nitro-glycerin in a Styrofoam ice chest strapped to the handle bars of a Norton Commando.
Carefully, with the skill of 007 placing a detonator into a suitcase bomb, I inserted the entire wood-wrapped head unit into the package shelf, just below the Austin’s dash. So far, so good! I ran two wires directly to the battery and squeezed the stripped ends against the lead posts. For good measure, I wrapped everything in yards of black electrical tape.
Now came the first test. I closed my eyes and twisted the volume knob until I heard it “click”. Nothing happened. This was good. I had yet to put an 8-track tape into the head and there were no speakers connected to the unit.
Somewhere in the back of my mind I remembered the advice of my father: “Be sure to disconnect the battery when making electrical connections on your car.” I heard this as a distant eerie voice… part Darth Vader, part Yoda. (I had just seen Star Wars the week before.) I obeyed the voice and disconnected the battery. The Force was with me on this job!
The installation of the speakers was quick and carefree. The front speakers went under the bucket seats, the wires running alongside the seat adjustment tracks and the single rear speaker fit nicely on the package shelf in back. Rather than run ground wires from the head unit, I chose the much simpler method of grounding each speaker to the body.
I was ready for the “krackin Kraco” to krank out some serious tunes! After reconnecting the battery I looked though my 8-track collection and selected an appropriate artist… Grand Funk Railroad! I shoved the tape into the head unit, twisted the volume knob to “on” and waited for the percussion of bass and treble.
And so, I learned an important lesson: “You can’t fool mother earth.” My speakers were grounded to the positive earth of the Austin’s body while the head unit was grounded to the negative earth of the battery. The result was an explosion of “Earth, Wind, and Fire” (to name another 70’s rock band). Like a whirling dervish I clawed at the wiring, casting each smoking speaker from the car and extracting the head unit with one violent jerk.
The Austin and I soldiered on for the remainder of the year, but a foreboding silence was between us. I finally sold her away… and with her went the innocent lesson of the “negative side of positive earth.”
By Ric Glomstad