Written by Daniel Livingston
My Comet came without a radio. It does have the scarce Radio Delete Plate in the dash, so that's a good thing. I'm also lucky that the dash had not been hacked apart to accommodate a newer style radio, like so many of the cars from the '60s. But, I need tunes. Music is such a big part of the late 50's and early 60's mystique, that a radio is a must. An original 1962 Comet Radio would look great and since it was an option at the time, I could add one and the car would still stay original to the period. I could also remove it and return the delete plate if needed.
I scoured eBay for several weeks when finally an original '62 Comet radio came up for sale. It was untested, but looked pretty clean. I got a pretty good deal I figured at $25 + shipping. It was missing it's knobs, so that was something I would need to deal with.
Now '62 was the last year Mercury used tubes in car radios (so I'm told), and I was not thrilled about having to deal with tubes. I'm a transistor kind of guy, a Baby Boomer Electrical Engineer, so tubes are not my thing. Well I got the radio and it didn't work. Not sure why, but I cleaned it up and dove into it head first. I know from experience that the old capacitors can dry out, so I placed an order for modern day replacements. Once they arrived, I took out the old ones and soldered in the new ones. Fired it back up and to my surprised it worked. The tubes lit up and the speaker crackled. I had a screw driver stuck in the antenna hole and was able to tune in the strongest local station, while in my basement. I was pleased. Now I needed to find some knobs. They sell reproductions of the center plastic ivory colored knobs, used on Ford Falcons, but I'm told the Comet knobs were all chrome. These center knobs control the On/Off-Volume and the Tuning. But, they don sell reproductions of the chrome outer rings which adjust the bass/treble. The radio cleaned up nicely, now I just needed the knobs and rings. I purchase two of the reproduction ivory colored Falcon knobs and figured I'd watch out the chrome outer rings later.
So, again I kept watch on eBay and finally spotted a 1963 Comet radio complete with all the knobs, in chrome. It looked rough but was all there. I stole this one at $18 + shipping. The best part was that the '63 radio looks identical to the '62 radio except it has transistors inside instead of tubes. I got the radio and it was quite rough looking. The knobs had potential but the rest of the chrome didn't look so promising. Overall it was in worse condition than the 62 radio, but that cleaned up great, so there was hope. Worse off were the push buttons, which were a yellow color. They had not aged well.
The radio worked well, once I applied 12 V dc, from a bench top power supply. It actually tuned in several radio stations in my basement using the same screw driver antenna that only produced a single station with the '62 tube based radio. This was a good sign, so I set out to see how much I could clean it up. I was please that what originally looked like pitting on the knobs turned out to be just dirt and discoloration from 50 years of sitting around. The knobs were important since I would be using them on whatever radio I ended up using.
Next I tackled the chrome bezel on the radio to see if I could resurrect it. Now, the bezel was identical to the other radio so I could actually use whatever one turned out best. Was I in for a surprise. I removed the two screws holding in on and sprayed it down with some mild spray cleaner. After removing the layers of dirt, I could see the chrome was not that bad. I located my small tube of Simichrome Chrome polish I had gotten for Christmas and went to work. The chrome came out as good or even better that the other radio. I was stoked, but now I had to tackle the yellow push buttons.
The buttons on the '62 radio were a bright ivory color. How they stayed so bright, I don't know. I'm guessing it was stored in the dark away from damaging sunlight. I could swap the buttons but I wondered if there was any way of bringing them back to life.
Well, the true geek that I am had me searching the Internet far and wide looking for a solution. I came across a group of retro computer collectors who had been experimenting with a way of restoring vintage computer equipment after years of exposure had yellowed their enclosures. The group had enlisted a few people with chemistry degrees to figure out what was causing the yellowing and how to reverse the process to restore the original color. Seems that a few other hobbyist, namely people with vintage video game consoles had the same issues. Of course, they had all found each other on the Internet, which thrives with these little niche groups.
The restoration process was named Retr0Bright. Yes, that's a Zero in the name, a geeky way of spelling it, I guess. The formula for the solution is simple and the process is even simpler. I didn't even need all the ingredients. Since my parts were small enough to be totally immersed in the solution, I didn't need to make the gel version. The gel is used for larger parts that can't be soaked in a jar.
To the left is a before and after picture of the buttons. I won't give the whole Retr0Bright secret away here, but I used a much weaker 3% Hydrogen Peroxide in my version of the Retr0Bright solution. So I needed to soak the parts for an extra day. But they came out fantastic. While not as bright as the buttons on the '62 radio, they are like night and day when compared to the original color. This Retr0Bright process is another tool I'll keep in mind for future projects. Be sure to check out their site. Retr0Bright
Here's are final before & after picture of the whole radio.
While waiting for the weather to warm up, allowing me to start the installation of the FatMat sound deadening material on floor, I was able to mount my radio in the dash. Boy does it shine! It's not hooked up to the speaker yet, but I know it will sound just fine.
I had just finished up installing the radio as the sun was setting. My house faces due west. As the sun set it was showing through the garage window and into the car illuminating the newly installed radio. I ran to grab my camera while the light was just right.
I took several pictures hoping to capture the great light. The chrome just shined and those selector keys that I whitened using the Retr0Bright method really showed up great. Really glad the yellow staining came out. In the bright light the ashtray look on the orange side. I never noticed this under normally light. I'll have to see what's up. It could be that it faded some over the years.
*- Life is a Rock, But the Radio Rolled Me was a 1970's tune by Reunion. The song was a favorite of mine as a kid. It maybe even be one of the first rap songs (not that I like rap songs).