Revisiting The Original Uber Audio Upgrade: The Blaupunkt Berlin
For better or worse, as things go, anywhere a car is displayed or exhibited for critique, the radio is becoming more of a focal point during the scrutineering, or more accurately, nit-picking process. Maybe rightfully so, as everybody knows what a particular car’s seats should be and how they shouldn’t be in terms of wear and tear, and it doesn’t take a whole lot of knowledge to spot poorly maintained bodywork. And usually, well, things like that are still present in most cars—the items of greater permanence like exterior panels and interiors by and large remain in place.
That is not the case with audio equipment; almost any car that draws interest these days that is worth its salt in the collective enthusiast mind has likely been exposed to its “cheap period.” That’s when a high school-aged busboy could afford one in that ephemeral moment between the car’s newness and its recognized status as a so-called “icon,” “classic,” what have you. If the above mentioned busboy did a double shift during a holiday overtime pay period, he didn’t rip out the seats or swap the doors, but he might very well have ripped out the radio in favor of a Craig 8 Track Powerplay. Usually installed with Erector Set-type metal bands. These installs were amazing—they could somehow detect the slightest road surface irregularity and shake violently in the dash a hundred yards before you passed over it.
So, many original radios were tossed during this time period of youthful naivety, and now the present owners want them back. While most Ferraris never got affordable enough for such treatment, many residents of the current desirable sphere of cars couldn’t avoid such “upgrades.” Well, then again, the busboy’s restaurant manager was at one time able to buy a 308 that was way overdue for an engine-out service, and as we all know, taste and dollars are not in a one-to-one relationship.
And, as hard as it may be to believe for the Porschephiles to believe, the 911 did not escape this treatment either. Bringing the air-cooled 911 onto the show lawn and out of the local steakhouse employee parking lot (and importantly, pretending it was never anything but concours-worthy) is a story that is about 15 years old by now, and restorers and owners who aren’t fooled by these kinds of puff-up jobs riding the market wave have gotten refined and specific in their selections, and prices have reflected this. For instance, you may pay $1,000 for the right screwdriver for the toolkit only to find out it is the wrong one. There is always someone getting one-up on someone else in markets like these. Longhood radios have gotten this way, too. A proper Blaupunkt Frankfurt for a US-market car has an MHZ scale that goes to 108. World radios go to 106, but they’re otherwise identical. These are the things that you need nowadays to stake your claim to knowledge in the increasingly saturated Porsche market.
Shorthood, or, “G” series 911s and their ancillaries’ values are lagging behind their older brothers, but less and less so as time goes on. The correct radios for these cars would be “two-button” Blaupunkt Frankfurts, or the Japanese-made Blaupunkt “CR” cassette radios. However, when it comes to this era of Porsche (and of course other marques, but let’s stick to the example for now), it doesn’t matter.
Why is this? For owners of one of these “G” 911s, this is where it gets good. In addition to owning a damn good air-cooled 911 and having money left over from escaping the 901 craze, you get to hunt down the coolest automotive item, of any type, radio or otherwise, of the era. This is the kind of truly cool upgrade that you could install in the dash in the 70s-early 80s while remaining period-correct. And not just for Porsche, but any car built in the era. The end-all be-all was the Blaupunkt Berlin. This radio was so different, so ahead of it’s time, so avant garde that actually being “ahead of its time” might not even apply here, simply because all these years later, there’s still nothing like it.
The most unique feature of this exorbitantly expensive radio was the fact that the tuner and volume controls were mounted on a flexible stalk that originated somewhere under the dash and could be oriented toward driver or passenger. Sort of like the contraption that holds your cellphone these days, but three feet long and made in the 1970s. Tuning and volume were one touch, just like the sensational Bang and Olefsen home equipment of the time. The frequency scale indicator was a bank of LED lights that moved across the bottom of the scale as you touched the tuner bar. Perfectly of the period.
The radio was also able to receive long and short wave broadcasts from the all over the world. The cassette deck was mounted in the dash as standard units but the kit also had a microphone that enabled you to record your thoughts while traveling at high speed on the routes, stradas and Autobahns of the day. The Berlin was expensive, sure, but that was the price for this much exclusivity. If you were going to park your Boxer, Turbo, or Corniche on Rodeo Drive or in front of the Casino in Monte Carlo back in the day, the Berlin was just the ticket for an even higher level of dazzle. The last word in the world of automotive panache.
So, if your car was built during the Studio 54 days and you want another detail to pull your hair out over, track down a Berlin and relive a rarified automotive experience. In terms of period-correctness, uniqueness, and absolute retro cool, you really can’t do better.
Images courtesy of Blaupunkt, Bonham’s, antique-autoradio-madness.org, radiomuseum.org and autoradio-oldtimer.de