My 1989 Porsche 944 Turbo was immobilized for over a year after I decided to work on one of the most critical components of a car—the radio. Without a radio, a car is not driveable.
This could have been a good pandemic project, but I actually started back in the summer of 2018 and didn’t finish until the end of summer 2019—over a year later. This was supposed to be an easy winter project, but on an old Porsche, no project is ever easy or straightforward.
It always takes longer than you expect, even when you take into account Hofstadter’s Law.
I didn’t actually start off trying to replace the radio. I was just going to replace the center arm rest cover because the hinge for it broke—one of those typical things that break in this car. When this car was new, that hinged cover opened the door to the world of cassette tapes (kids, go ask your parents) which the original radio in this car played. I thought, while I’m fixing that, I might as well replace the radio since they happen to be in the same car.
This was going to be the fifth different radio for this car. The original radio was a Blaupunkt cassette radio with an equalizer. I replaced it with a Sony cassette player. I replaced that Sony with another Sony, this time with a MiniDisc player (kids, go ask your parent who was into obscure 1990s music tech before Napster (kids, go ask your parents how they listened to pirated music before Spotify came along)). It also controlled a CD changer in the glove box.
I replaced this Sony ten years later in 2008 with the Alpine iDA-X100 so I could use an iPod (kids, go ask your parents what Apple product they owned before the iPhone) in the car. I was pretty happy with this head unit—it’s got a giant volume knob!—until I decided I wanted navigation in this car.
Porsche makes an expensive ($1250) navigation radio, the Porsche Classic Navigation System, for old Porsches like mine. It’s a single DIN unit with a tiny screen.
In the middle of this project, Porsche actually introduced the even more expensive radio, the Porsche Classic Communication Management systems (PCCM), which added CarPlay.
I decided that a tiny 3.5″ screen would be useless to me so I looked for a double DIN solution instead, or at least a radio with a big screen. For example, the Alpine iLX-107 is a single DIN chassis radio with a double DIN screen. The problem with radios like this was either the screen would block some controls or that there was simply no room for the screen.
Looking at my radio setup, I was hoping that going to a double DIN radio would be possible. After all, a German car manufacturer would surely be compliant to a German standard, stimmt? It seemed like the 944 had two single DIN units, which should add up to a double DIN if my math was right.
1 DIN + 1 DIN = 2 DIN
Critically, the DIN standard does not address the depth of a radio. It turned out math wouldn’t be my problem, it would be physics.
My next step was to pick out a radio.
I started using Kenwood head units when I first replaced the radio in my then new 2008 Subaru STI. I bought the Kenwood DNX5120 because it used Garmin maps (kids, ask your grandparents how they found their way around before smart phones), and because it had a volume knob. Later I upgraded to the Android-based Kenwood DNN991HD, a radio I despised so much I considered burning my car down just to get rid of it (hey, this radio is for sale! Send me an offer!).
The reason I got the DNN991HD was to put Garmin European maps in it when I moved to Germany, which worked out really well. I replaced this with the CarPlay-enabled Pioneer AVIC-8200NEX when I returned to the United States.
So instead of using the spare DNN991HD I had lying around, I went on eBay to buy a used Kenwood DNX9990HD, one of the last Kenwoods that could connect to the iPod Classic, had Garmin navigation, and was not Android-based.
With that settled, it was time to break out the Dremel tool.
Into the Breach
Almost all of my projects follow a similar course. I meticulously plan and prepare what I can and hope things work out. At the first sign of trouble, I bail and start improvising haphazardly.
One of the things I couldn’t plan for here was to get accurate dimensions of the radio space in the Porsche. It looked like a double DIN could fit based on all the measurements I could make, but I wouldn’t know for sure until I could get try the radio in that space.
Narrator: It didn’t fit.
After removing the radio and the equalizer, I had to cut off the thin metal brace that supported the radio. This was my point of no return, as putting the car back to original would be difficult after this butchery.
Even this seemingly simple step required multiple trips to the hardware store for hacksaws and Dremel blades. Once this was off, I could finally see how well the radio would fit.
I had bought a double DIN mounting frame where the radio could slide into. It didn’t fit in the opening quite right, especially against the mounting clips in the bottom corners.
Also, a U-bracket on the tunnel that was supporting the dash interfered with the mounting frame as well. I had read about someone who removed it to install a radio, but I wasn’t willing to do that as he had done. This car already has a lot of squeaks and rattles and I didn’t want to add a floppy (kids, asked your parents how they saved files on flopp—you know, never mind) dashboard to the mix.
The original equalizer was not very deep so it didn’t interfere with the bracket. The Kenwood was much deeper, so this was not going to work.
This lead to frantic internet searches.
Chance favors the prepared mind.
Often times it’s better to be lucky than good, and that’s what happened here. At the January 2019 CES, Alpine introduced the iLX-W650, a double DIN unit that had a depth of only 2.4 inches because it didn’t have a CD player. It became available just as I had started looking for a new radio.
This is almost a bare-bones unit in terms of features because it relies on a smartphone for functionality. Besides a standard radio, it comes with CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility.1 Unfortunately, it was not compatibile with the iPod Classic, a key feature I wanted. By this point, just finding a double DIN radio that fit was my only concern.
Also, I had ordered a couple of extra double DIN mounting frames during this project because I had forgotten that I had already ordered one. It was still in the (preCOVID-19) box from China when I ran into my fitment problem. This smaller mounting frame had almost no gap between the enclosure and the radio, whereas the other one had about a 1/4″ gap all around. This made it a perfect fit into the center console. All I had to do was cut the back corners that were interfering with the U-bracket on the tunnel.
Wrapping It Up
After more Dremel work and some metal cutting, I was able to get the double DIN mounting enclosure into the Porsche’s center console. I used cable ties to secure it to the tunnel and side brackets, making it as strong as if I had used screws to mount it. And just like that, I could insert the Alpine into the enclosure with the high probability that I will never, ever get it out again.
My last bit of luck was finding a trim bezel in my Magical Basement of Stuff that fit perfectly. The only gap I had was at the bottom of the radio, which I filled using foam insulation padding because by that point, I didn’t care anymore.
While I had everything apart, I added a USB charging port as well. The USB charger was designed as a drop-in part for Toyota SUVs, but when you have a Dremel tool, everything fits.
As with many modern radios today, the Alpine has to be connected to the parking brake so it can tell if the car is moving or not. I was having issues wiring this so I bought a little bypass switch from Amazon. Again, I got lucky because I had bought an extra Alpine connector and I used one of its pins to help install the bypass into the old Alpine radio harness connector.
I was able to use the old Alpine harness and connector because the old and new Alpine radios had almost the same pinouts except for the parking brake pinout, one of the few things that saved me time.
I also bought another the trim bezel that goes around the radio and the shifter for the 944. I fully expected to break mine, so I was ready. Due to preparation and a lot of luck, nothing happened to the original trim bezel. I even looked into getting the big, leather-trimmed center console piece as well.
Writing about this experience made it seem a lot easier than I remember it. Maybe this is why we humans keep repeating history to our own doom.
I can also see, however, all the times I got lucky with this project, or I may have never finished it otherwise. And now I’ve collected enough bits and pieces of radio gear to open my own radio install shop. I even have a bench setup where I can quickly install double DIN radios using ISO 10487 connectors to try them out.
Now that the 944 has a radio and is drivable again, I can finally move on to (paying someone to work on) more trivial projects like a leaky power steering reservoir and an air conditioner that hasn’t blown cold in over 20 years.
“Hey, Siri, where am I?”
“You’re in the middle of nowhere with no internet connection because you use T-Mobile. No maps for you.”