My first car was a 1976 Plymouth Arrow, bought used from a friend’s parents for the then-princely sum of $700. It came with nothing more than an AM radio and center-dash mounted speaker, and as any self-respecting 17 year old male will tell you, that ain’t gonna cut the mustard. My very first investment, before I could even legally drive the car, was a Pioneer Supertuner receiver and cassette deck, and four Jensen co-axial speakers. The Pioneer unit mounted under the dash, in a slick slide-in locking mount, and a mad genius buddy of mine helped me wire it up without starting (much of) an electrical fire. We spent the better part of the afternoon cutting speaker holes in interior panels made from sawdust and ear wax; how they ever supported the heavy 6×9 speakers is beyond me, and I do remember having to snap the rear panels back into place every few days. Drawbacks aside, that audio system sounded better than any others, because it sounded like freedom and independence.
I sold that car when I went to college, and didn’t buy another for a few years. My next car had a tape deck, which was a good thing since my audio collection numbered in the hundreds of tapes. All of my next nine vehicles had cassette tape decks, but somewhere in the mix manufacturers also began including CD players. I had a few CDs back them, but still had a massive quantity of tapes. By the early ‘90s, I’d quit buying tapes and bought only CDs, so road trips usually consisted of music on both CD and tape. By the end of the decade, my cassette tapes were relegated to a dusty corner of the basement, and CDs were the only audio I bother to bring in the car.
Fast forward a decade later, and even my CDs sit gathering dust in racks on the living room floor. My cassette tapes are boxed and stuffed into a back corner of an unused closet, since any worth listening to have long since been ripped to MP3 files. I haven’t had a tape deck in a car in about five years, and although all my cars have a CD player, I can’t tell you the last time I used it. Who wants to select a limited amount of music to take on the road, when your phone (which you carry everywhere) has tens of gigabytes of music already on it?
The last factory installed tape deck option was available in a 2010 Lexus. For the 2011 model year, not a single manufacturer offers a tape deck option, though I’m sure plenty of aftermarket companies still do. I should be nostalgic about this, since cassette tapes were a formidable part of my youth, but I’m not. Their musical fidelity sucked, the tape stretched and distorted the sound, they jammed tape decks and they took up way too much room in the center console. CDs were better in almost every sense, but even they’ve had their moment in the sun. I’ll be that even CD changers are gone from cars within the next ten years, but streaming audio will only continue to improve. Mourn the tape deck if you must, but I’ll tip my hat to the future of audio.