These six pioneering vehicles help set standards in
sound quality and installation creativity by which competition cars are still
being judged today.
In the relatively short history of car audio competition, there have been a
handful of vehicles that are regarded with awe. They were the first great
champions, the innovators, and now the legends. If there was a Car Audio Hall of
Fame, they would be in it.
Whatever happened to the great vehicles that rocked the car audio world?
It's a question often asked by audio enthusiasts. Are those cars still
competing, or are they in a museum somewhere? Were they retired to stud like
champion racehorses, or turned into salad bars in theme restaurants?
One of the first and most famous of all the great mobile sound machines is
now stored in an Arizona airplane hangar.
Wayne Harris' Terminator
Hearse rumbled onto the car audio scene back in 1985. The 8,000-pound 1960
Cadillac hearse packed 4,280 watts (RMS) of power and spawned dozens of
imitators. It also launched the successful career of its owner.
"I would never have been noticed if not for that car," said
Harris, who is now director of research and development for
Rockford Fosgate. "The
Terminator Hearse is part of my life. I'd never consider selling it. That would
be like selling my own kid, if I had a kid."
Harris said the Terminator was a real trendsetter, introducing several new
technological concepts to car audio. "It was the first car to have
stiffening capacitors, bus bars, dual alternators, on-board video lots of
stuff," he said. "It was way ahead of its time."
Besides its thunderous sound system (23 speakers and seven amplifiers), the
Terminator also had an array of gizmos that are considered
even by today's standards. There's a rear-view camera, an Apple computer system
to monitor the car's electronic functions, an ETAK navigation system, and a TV
mounted in the center console. An electronic message board inside the windshield
scrolls messages about the car. It has a security system, radar detector, VCR,
and even a CD player, which was considered rare in 1985.
Harris designed the interior of the Terminator to resemble a jet aircraft.
It has various LED displays, a steering wheel from a Beechcraft airplane, and
The Terminator Hearse cut a wide path on the sound-off scene, which was in
its infancy in 1985. Harris said he won $500 to $750 just about every weekend in
1985 and '86. He even won a
S10 pickup as first prize at a Texas event.
He retired the Terminator from competition in December of '86 when he was
hired by Orion, but he continued to show the vehicle at car shows until 1993.
The last public appearance by the Terminator was at the Phoenix World of Wheels
show in January 1993.
"I won a lot of money with that car, but not enough to pay for the
system," Harris explained. "But I never did it for the money anyway.
My goal was to have the
ride on the street. It was a system designed for cruising.
"I could play it at 140 decibels for eight hours with the motor
running," he recalled. "Today, systems are built so they can hit a
high SPL for a brief instant at a very narrow frequency. I wanted my car to
sound like a rock concert and it did."
The SpeakerWorks Buick
In 1988, another superstar car was introduced to the car audio world. The
1986 Buick Grand National (Installations April '89 and August '92) built by
SpeakerWorks in Orange, California (and later sold to Richard Clark), is
believed to be the only vehicle ever to retire undefeated from the pro division
of the national sound-off circuit.
The bad black Buick won the Alpine Car Audio Nationals II Pro Unlimited (751
watts and up) division in '88, and IASCA's Pro unlimited title in '89, '90, and
'91 before being retired by Clark.
"It's the winningest car of all time in the Pro category," said
Clark, who keeps the car in storage in North Carolina. "It was totally
undefeated, and its design had a big impact on the way things are done today."
The SpeakerWorks Buick was "the winningest car" in IASCA's
Pro division, according to Richard Clark. The system featured two 15-inch
subwoofers behind the rear seat, and a 12-inch sub in each rear side panel.
According to Eric Holdaway, whose family owns SpeakerWorks and designed the
original system, the speaker locations in the Buick were a pioneering concept.
"People thought we were nuts to put speakers in the kick panels,"
said Holdaway. "Our goal was to maximize the pathlengths for better imaging
and staging. It was a groundbreaking approach that most top installers are
The all-stealth Buick, equipped with only six speakers and nearly 5,000
watts of power, won four national titles and consistently hit 140+ dB. "I
won $60,000 in prize money in one year with that car," said Clark.
Harry Kimura's Acura
Like a Kentucky thoroughbred, the famous Buick Grand National sired an
offspring that later achieved its own measure of fame. Harry Kimura's 1988 Acura
Legend (Installations, November '88) became legendary when it won four IASCA
Amateur-class national titles in five years and the Georgia Masters best-of-show
award in '93.
Kimura bought the Acura new in '88, just as the SpeakerWorks Buick was
achieving national fame. Impressed by the Buick, Kimura asked SpeakerWorks to
install a competition system in his car. Using techniques pioneered in the Buick
Grand National, the Holdaways transformed Kimura's Acura into one of the top
consumer cars in America.
Harry Kimura's '88 Acura Legend was one of the first cars to use
pro-audio signal processors and kick-panel speakers.
After seven years of car audio competition, Kimura sold the car in 1995 to
USD Audio, makers of the horns used in the award-winning Acura. USD, which is
also owned by the Holdaways, uses it as a demo vehicle for trade shows.
"Yeah, it was kinda hard to sell it. I really liked that car. But it
was time to move on to something else," said Kimura. He is now awaiting the
completion of a new competition sound system in a 1987 Buick Grand National. The
installer? SpeakerWorks, of course.
"Lil Yellow" CRX
The Alpine Car Audio Nationals II in 1988 will be remembered as a
benchmark event in the history of car audio competition. It was one of the
first heavily publicized national soundoffs and featured three of the most
famous vehicles ever to compete: the famous SpeakerWorks Buick, Kimura's Acura,
and the car known as "Lil Yellow," Richie Inferrera's 1988 Honda CRX
Si (Installations, April '89).
"It's a special car, one that made history," said Inferrera of his
Honda. "The imaging in that car is outstanding. And it was one of the
first totally stealth installations. I've helped people all over the world
design systems for CRXs based on that car."
Richie Inferrera's "Lil' Yellow" Honda CRX featured
(clockwise from left) component speakers in each door, signal processors and a
mobile phone in a stock storage compartment behind the seat, and four 10-inch
subwoofers in the spare-tire compartment.
The limited confines of the Honda CRX didn't limit the performance
Inferrera was able to achieve. The system includes nine speakers (four 10-inch
subwoofers and five two-way speakers), a pair of four-channel amps, a
crossover, a parametric equalizer, and an Alpine CD player, which can be hidden
by a motorized panel. There's also a telephone and a security system. The
cigarette lighter is actually the control for the center-channel gain.
Inferrera's CRX is now the property of a/d/s, the company that
manufactured the amps and speakers for Lil Yellow's stellar system. "I
was sad to see it go," said Inferrera, "but a/d/s really
wanted it for a test car. It still has the original woofers and amps in it."
"Rocket Science" Van
Over the past 10 years, vans have often been the vehicle of choice for
creating mammoth audio systems. Vans naturally have more room than cars for
audio equipment, and they provide more space for creative woofer enclosures and
elaborate motorized parts. Many awesome vans have competed for honors in the
past decade, but few if any could match the prototype
competition van: Rocket Science.
Tommy Clark's Ford Econoline van was dubbed "Rocket Science" when
it appeared in Car Audio in December 1989 (Installations). It got the name
because of its complex amp rack and subwoofer chamber, which together resemble
a spacecraft docked with a mother ship. With the flip of a switch, a hexagonal
pedestal with six Precision Power 2050 amps tilts back ward out of the van's
rear doors. A second switch unfolds the amp rack like the petals of a flower,
revealing the detailed wiring within.
Tommy Clark's "Rocket Science" van got its name because of
the space-age look of the amp rack and subwoofer chamber. The rack tilts out of
the back of the van and six PPI amps unfold from it like the petals of a flower.
The innovative system, which cost $45,000 to build, captured the IASCA
501-1,000-watts Amateur class three consecutive years, 1989-1991. According to
Alan Wenzel of JL Audio, Rocket Science was far more than a mere mechanical
"It was a massive system, but it had great sound quality. Visually it
was very different, and it made great use of motorization, but it was not just
a lot of bells and whistles. It set some of the highest sound-quality scores
in IASCA history," noted Wenzel.
Clark, who lives in Florida, still drives the vehicle every day and has
racked up more than 300,000 miles in the superstar van. Other than a few minor
changes, the van and system are exactly as they were in the early '90s.
"All the motorized parts still work perfectly, and I still enjoy
driving it," said Clark. "After we won the third IASCA championship in
1991, I decided to quit competing. Like the Chicago Bulls, we had a threepeat. I
wanted to go out a winner, and we did."
While Clark's van is notable for its mechanization, David "Fishman"
Rivera is remembered for creating one of the most whimsical vehicles in car
audio history. Rivera's 1989 Toyota Corolla (Installations, February '92), which
took first place in the 1991 IASCA Finals in the Pro 101-205- watts class, had
an aquarium in the back seat. Thus, it became known as the "Fishtank
"That car was my teacher," said Rivera, who recently started his
own company, Fishman Audio. "I knew nothing [about car audio installation]
when I started working on that car. A year and a half later, I took first place
at IASCA. I owe my career to that car."
David Rivera became known as "the Fishman" after he showed up
at the 1991 IASCA Finals (and won his class) with an '89 Toyota Corolla that had
an aquarium in the back seat. The car also featured equalizers in the rear-seat
backs and four subwoofers in the trunk floor.
In addition to marine life, Rivera's car also had a killer audio system and
utilized several innovative installation techniques. The back seat folded down
by remote control to reveal not only the fishtank, but AudioControl equalizers
embedded in the seat backs. The Clarion head unit and digital signal processor
were retractable into the dash, with a Plexiglas cover to protect them. And the
trunk despite housing four sub-woofers, two amps, and fuse blocks
remained a usable storage space.
Rivera stopped competing with the Corolla in 1994. Less than two years
later, it was hit by thieves and was stripped of most of its stereo system. He
later sold the gutted car for $1,000. At the peak of its success, he estimates
the Fishtank Toyota was worth $35,000.
"It broke my heart to sell it," the Fishman admitted. "I
literally had tears in my eyes. I still would see it on the streets from time to
time and I'd always say, "There goes the legend."
A Few True Legends
In the world of car audio there are only a few true legends. Some of them
are still out there, crankin' and kickin'. Others have been dismantled, their
carcasses rusting in junkyards. A few, like the Terminator Hearse, are lurking
in the shadows, waiting to re-emerge and kick butt.
"I still see it every week," said Harris of his killer hearse. "It's
on a trickle charger to keep the batteries up, and I start it up occasionally.
"It's street legal," he added. "Who knows? Maybe I'll bring
it out for a competition sometime soon."