Install notes

As I've never found much information on the installation of a high-end stereo system in a Lotus Esprit, I decided to write down some notes, and take some photos while doing an install on my 1994 Esprit S4.

First off, my car came with the stock JVC deck, and the 6 disk changer which skipped almost non stop. I could have put in another cassette and changer set up, but opted for a CD deck and an amp. The best set up allowed room for a changer OR an amp, but not both. I could have fit in both, but as a matter of personal preference, prefer to just have my CD's in the dash anyway.

The removal of the JVC deck was very easy. Too easy in fact. It would have made stealing it a cinch. As long as you have the two removal prongs that came with the stereo, its very simple. Stick them in the sides, feel them click, and pull. Stereo slides out. There will be a small metal collar which then needs to be removed. Chances are you'll have to bend it a little to get it out. Try not to bend it too much if you plan to sell the stereo, or plan to re-install the JVC if/when you sell the car. [If you don't have the metal puller prongs, let me know, I'll mail you mine, and you can mail them back when finished]

Mounting the new head unit was just as easy. Wedge in the new metal collar, and put the deck in. You might want to do what I did, and secure it in the back for security measures. It was rather tricky, but possible. I don't like to publish anything that tells how I secure my equipment. Call me paranoid, but after having stereo equipment stolen, I find it just works best to keep quiet about some things.

As for the wiring of the deck, its rather simple as well. Attached to the Esprit theres: one large plug with 13 wires, one antenna plug, and the CD changer jack. Unplug all 3 plugs, and go inside to do the wiring. The stereo is hard wired from the tape deck to the large plug, meaning that you'll have to cut the wires. When you cut the plug from the stereo, try to do it in the center of the wire, leaving the same amount of wire on the deck, as you do on the plug, making both pieces re-usable. The wires are all color-coded, so there shouldn't be a need to label them. Hopefully, you'll still have the original book that came with the JVC deck, or there will be a sticker on the deck that has the wire codes. For the most part, theres some constants:

On the plug, 8 of the wires are for speakers. (Grey/Green/White/Purple & (each w/stripe))

The new deck you buy should be able to match up perfectly to this. I attached only the powers, ground, and antenna, as I was using an amp. I didn't connect the 'amp turn on' lead to the plug as I would not be using a factory amp, or factory wires for the amp. Instead, I wired it to a "bullet connector" which allows me to plug a wire in to it. If you wont be using an amp, just attach the 8 speaker wires back in to the large plug.

If you do not plan to use an aftermarket amp, then at this point you're pretty much done. Just plug the 2 plugs back together, and slide the deck in to the chassis.

[As far as deck selection goes, you will probably want something with amber (orangish) illumination to match your dash. If you buy your deck from a high end store (as opposed to a department store, etc) that has installers on-site, ask them if they can do illumination changes. I found a place that could change the illumination in Alpine decks for $35. Alpine makes some of the best decks ever made for cars, so I was happy to hear that. This can only be done on the lower end Alpine decks, as the higher ones have complicated displays. Unless you're a feature buff, this shouldn't be too much of a concern. All Alpine decks sound incredible]

Now comes the bone chilling part. Drilling holes. Deciding where to run your wires is a tough thing. I tried to trace back the CD changer wire, but the path went through some spaces that I didn't like. First, the changer wire seemed to go far up behind the driver seat, behind the window trim panel that didn't look like I could easily remove it with out damaging it (I'm sure it could be done, but after looking around, I found easier options). Another thing that made me not want to run the wire down the CD changer wire path was the power steering reservoir in the drivers side by the engine. It made it hard to remove that trim piece around the back side. Again, sure it could be done, but why if theres an easier way. The clincher was the hatch release. That was just one more thing to get in the way on the driver side. One look at the passenger side, and that was the way to go. I could easily remove the trim panel in the engine area, the carpet came back easy due to there being no hatch release, and lastly, when I removed the rear trim panel (in the engine area), I discovered a circle in the body, to which the wires could run through. The circle is about 3 inches in diameter. Its covered up by the 1/2" of wood that is behind the seats. You can look through the rear window, and visualize exactly where that hole is on the other side. Then, after pulling back the carpet, drill a hole, so that your hole comes out through the 3 inch circle on the other side. Seeing as you're aiming for a 3" hole with a 1/8" drill bit, you should be able to hit it. You should then be able to look through the rear side window and visually see where the drill hole came out. Using the area of the circle that you came out in as a guideline, drill more holes, so that you've created a bit of a triangle of drill holes, with one point of the triangle facing down. Then, using a jigsaw (gently) saw out the triangle piece. Its important when drilling and sawing that you have the carpet pulled far away. Getting carpet snagged on a drill bit or in a saw blade is never pretty. Once you've got that done, pull the carpet back about 3 inches from the edge from top to bottom. This has you all set up to run the wires.

Next, remove the rear speakers. This is done by putting a flathead screwdriver under the grills, and popping them off, then removing the four phillips screws holding the speaker in. Then snap off the 2 leads going to the speaker.

As you reach inside the speaker enclosure, you can feel where the wire comes in to the enclosure. Cut that wire as close to the base as possible. If you plan to reinstall the old stereo without an amp at some point, leave a few inches. Depending on the amount of power you're going to have and the type of speakers, you might want to caulk the hole (even while the wire is still sticking through), this will cut down on the chance of a 'whistle' noise. Next, drill a hole on the exact opposite side of the inclosure (for both speakers, the wire comes in to the enclosure from the center of the car. For both sides, I found it easier to come in from the outside, thus drilling a hole on the opposite side), about the same distance out as the other one. We do this because we're going to run the wire from the outside (less carpet to pull).

Depending on what type of speakers you're going to want to in the rear (I went with MB Quart 160's), you'll probably have to trim the carpet around the speaker hole. Lotus just cuts a star pattern when installing the speakers, and tucks the carpet in. With the small JVC speakers, thats not a problem. It wasn't a problem with the Boston Acoustic speakers I originally tried either, but the Quarts have a large basket, and I had to trim it all off. Just get a razor, and follow the wood all the way around.

[As for rear speaker selection, your area to work with is really small. Don't go with anything more than 2.25 to 2.5 inches deep, depending on the magnet diameter (as the front is slanted, a smaller diameter magnet can go deeper) if you plan to have the seat all the way back. The Quarts are about a perfect fit, but just barley. Plan on drilling new mounting holes on almost anything you get. The mounting holes are different on the Esprit than every speaker I looked at. So plan on drilling the speaker or the car. I originally was going to drill the speakers, but found it easier to make new mounting holes in the wood.]

So running your wires, from the rear hatch area, run them through the triangular hole that you have cut behind the seat. Your RCA inter-connects are going to have the plugs on the end, and maybe tight going through the triangular cutout (depending on the size) so its a good idea to run them through before the speaker wire. In fact, I find that I like to run all the wire through now, rather than doing some now and some later. At this point, that includes running through (in this order) 2 pair of interconnects, 4 pair of speaker wire, and 1 remote-amp-turn-on lead. Some RCA's have the remote turn on lead built in, mine did.

[As for wire selection, I went with the smallest diameter interconnects I could find. They were MTX installer series. MTX (and others) make better, more shielded cables, but they're very large. I had a problem trying to hide all the wires as it was, having bigger interconnects would have made it impossible. Good interconnects are essential, but theres no need to have the absolute best. What ever you do, don't buy them at RadioShack. You'll need 2 - 12foot pairs. Radio shacks will be about $15 each, the MTX about $25 each. Spend the extra $20. Its well worth it. The top of the line ones will be about $60 to $80 each, and don't do much difference to the average listener. As for speaker wire, I forget what gauge I bought, but its about the size of lamp cord. 16GA?]

Once you run the wires through, make sure you have a way of remembering which wire goes to which speaker. Otherwise you have 4 sets of speaker wire coming in to your trunk, with no idea which is which without testing. The first wires that I ran inside the cockpit were the rear speakers. The passenger side was easy. Run the wire downwards about 1.5 feet, and through the small hole you have drilled. Pull about 8" through the hole. The rear driver side speaker is just about as easy. Through the triangular hole, run the wires upwards, and tuck it under the window trim. I didn't even have to remove the screws, just back them out a little. Then, run the wire out the other side, and pull it down beneath the carpet on the outside edge of the hatch release. Run it through the new hole, again pulling through about 8".

Next, run the front speaker wires and the RCAs to the front of the car. As far as installs go, what I did was a bit of a no-no, especially if you plan to compete. I left some wires uncovered. The wires came out of the carpet by the doorsill. From there, they stretch over to where they are tucked under the center console. When my seat is in its normal position, theres no way that you can see it. All the same, for IASCA car audio competitions, you would lose a lot of points for this. If/when I plan to compete, I'll re-wire it and hide them. Part of the reason I did this, is because the carpet that I needed to pull up to conceal the wires was glued in so well that some of the fiber in the carpet came out the back as I was pulling it up, leaving a bald spot. So be careful, and use a razor if needed. I just decided I'd leave the wires and repair the carpet at a later time.

Once you do get the wires tucked under the center console, its easy to run them up the inside, by tucking them along underside the edge of the console. I saw no reason to remove the console. The RCAs plugged easily in to the back of the deck, and the speaker leads ran easily to the dash locations. Use zip ties to keep the wires neat and out of the way.

Once you have the wires run, then install the speakers. The rear speakers are pretty easy. Use crimp connectors. The tool to crimp them on is about $8, and the crimps are a few bucks for a pack of 100. In fact, always try to use shielded crimp connectors over twisting wires and sealing with electrical tape. It cuts down on troubleshooting later, and makes a much better connection. Anyway, crimp a couple connectors to the end of your speaker lead, and then hook to the speaker and mount in the hole. Again, you might have to drill. Otherwise, just use a pointy wood screw and get ready to sweat. Putting in a screw where there is no hole is tough, but it makes a good anchor. The back speakers should be easy.

Removing the dash speakers is a little tricky. You'll need to buy a tool called a 90 degree drill adapter. It will fit a drill-type screwdriver bit in to the head of it, and can be turned by a drill or a nut driver. Personally, I like to use a hand turned nut driver, as it has less of a chance of damaging the leather. What I finally ended up using to turn the thing was a swivel-head 1/4" socket driver with a socket on that fit this device. I should take a picture of this thing, as its too hard to explain. Anyway, once you get the right tool(s), removing the 4 screws isn't too hard. Some tricky angles, but with a little patience, its possible. The passenger side is definitely easier than the driver side, due to the instrument pod getting in the way. Removal of the pod would be trickier than dealing with the tight space of removing the speaker while leaving it in.

For front speakers, I went with MB Quart 4" co-axial up front. Separates would have sounded better and given better staging, but it would mean cutting the leather on the pillars, something I didn't want to do. Using the right crossover frequency, the fronts reflect off the windshield to give a very decent sound stage. The Quarts use a crossover which I mounted under the dash on each side. Each one was mounted to a secure location using 3 zip-ties. Installation was rather easy, although they didn't come with grilles, and the factory ones were too small to work with the new speakers. This is also a benefit of going to a nice install shop over a chain type store. I called them up and asked if they had any grilles. They said to come over and they'd find something that worked. Install shops generally have leftover parts lying around like that, and are happy to give them away to keep you a happy customer. Luckily for me, that reminded me that I had several sets of 4" grilles lying around from other installs I had done (I usually use stock grilles). A pair of JBL ones worked with a bit of modification.

Next, I mounted the amp. This was fairly easy. There is a cover that goes over the electrical panel in the back (the stock changer is mounted here). I removed that, and was able to take it inside and line up new drill holes for the new amp. I bolted the amp in and re-mounted it in the car. The power wires were easy as the battery is in the back. I got 8GA power and ground wire and ran them right off of the battery, with a 30A fuse in the power line. The power wires tuck somewhat neatly under the carpet, but this may differ on the type of amp you use. Then plugging in the RCAs and speaker wires in to the amp should be the last step, and you should be ready to go.

[As for amp selection, buy a good one. Precision Power (PPI) and Phoenix Gold are a couple of the best amps you can buy. Other good ones are Rockford Fosgate, MTX, Alpine V12 (not other Alpine amps). Pick up a couple Car Audio magazines and see what people have in their show cars. Thats the good stuff. And why should you buy the good stuff? Because its louder? Well, yes, but theres more. Lotuses typically have noise problems (alternator whine). Very good amps have power supply circuitry that is designed in such a way that the amp runs efficiently at any power, but what this also does is eliminate most all noise. Furthermore, the one thing that will destroy a great pair of speakers the fastest, is distortion. Even distortion that you cant hear will damage them. 20 watts of distorted power will be harder on a speaker than 100 watts of clean power. I went with a Precision Power 4x50 watt. You can get a no-name (or poor name) amp with a manufacturers claim of the same amount of wattage, for about 1/10th what a Precision Power costs. Its not the same. If it was, people in competitions would have the lesser amps. Trust me, this is the one place you don't want to skimp. If you have a crutchfield catalog, look at the THD (total harmonic distortion) and the S to N (signal to noise ratio) categories where they rate amps. If you have a catalog that has MTX and Rockford in there, you'll see that they're the best in these areas. The PPI and Phoenix Gold amps will be even better in these areas. Another reason that you want to go with a high-quality amp, is power draw. A good amp with have better circuitry, and will be more power efficient. In a car like a Lotus, the last thing you want to have to do is replace a blown alternator, or have to try to find a way to upgrade your existing one to handle more of a load. An amp like the PPI450 will give you tremendous amounts of sound, without putting a strain on the alternator. If cost is a major factor, you'd be better off with a 2x25 PPI amp over a 4x50 amp of a lesser brand. The lower wattage amps made by the better manufacturers will have better sound and will actually be able to go louder than other amps that are rated higher.]

Still to come: