How I Got Startedby Tony Candela
People often asked me how long I’ve been doing automotive electrical work and how I got started. I mean after all, most enthusiasts avoid it like the plague. Like most people, I had a few influences that got me pointed in the direction of a hobby that would eventually become a career. For me, the person most directly responsible for my career choice was my father.
I can remember listening to music with him at a very young age. His stereo system fascinated me and I was forbidden to touch any of it, which made it that much more fascinating. Throughout my youth, music became more and more important to me and eventually my father showed me how to use his stereo to make my own tapes. As I entered high school, lots of the kids had loud stereos in their cars and could be heard cruising around the campus, but loud was typically also distorted – not good.
In my junior year, I enrolled in the electronics program and I began installing car stereo equipment in friends’ vehicles. I was 15. Shortly after I got my license (in 1985), my father and I located a 1974 Buick Apollo with a 350 that would be my first car. It had around 70,000 miles and was in excellent condition save for the faded paint, a bit of rust in the quarters, and some rips in the driver’s seat.
After the obligatory tune-up, I had about $275 left to my name. So, I drove down to The Stereo Clinic in Joplin, MO and gave the owner $250 in exchange for an equalizer, a pair of 4-way speakers, and a 100 watt power amplifier. My dad had given me the old Pioneer AM/FM/Cassette deck out of his ’68 Camaro and thought I was crazy for buying all this other stuff. His biggest fear was that I would go deaf.
When I debuted the rusty Apollo at school, I had Van Halen playing so loud that nobody noticed the faded paint, rusty quarters, or stock hub caps – just that they could hear me for two blocks before I showed up and it was crystal clear. Within weeks, I became known as the “stereo guy” and my parents driveway was constantly occupied with my or a friend’s vehicle as we built bigger and louder systems. By the time I had graduated high school, my Apollo had been repainted, had the interior redone, had a 4 barrel Holley carb, dual exhaust with glass packs, Centerline Auto Drag wheels, and was “jacked up” courtesy of a pair of air shocks. Most today only remember the stereo. By the time I had graduated, the Apollo had given up its rear seat – in its place, two giant subwoofers.
By 1989, I was employed full time as a car stereo installer for the paltry sum of $200 / week . . . but I’d have done it for free. I spent the next five years living my dream and being paid to design and build car stereo systems for a living. The systems in my personal vehicles began to approach insanity with numerous subwoofers, rows of amplifiers, multiple batteries, and high-output alternators. During those years, I learned a tremendous amount about designing and building high performance charging systems to feed these high powered stereos, which by now were commonly several thousand watts. In addition, I honed my skills at installing auto security systems. We automated nearly everything – power windows, convertible tops, etc.
The shop that I worked for between 1991 and 1994 was owned by BJ Latting (RIP), who prided himself in being able to solve any problem – no problem ever eluded him. Over time, he passed some of his troubleshooting skills down to me. This was about the time that conversion vans were really popular and they all needed some kind of electrical troubleshooting immediately after the dealer took delivery of them. The more I delved into this aspect of the business, the more opportunity that presented itself. I began to redesign certain ways of doing things in these vehicles. For example, I redesigned the rear passenger headphone system from scratch. They all had the same problems – bleed through from multiple sources, engine noise, and not enough volume. My design solved all of these problems and we were billing the dealership, who in turn was billing the conversion companies. It wasn’t long before the conversion companies were calling me directly trying to figure out what I was doing. I wouldn’t tell them.
In other cases, I designed ways of doing things with automotive security products to perform a new kind of function. In 1992, I worked with the Little Rock, AR police department and designed a system for their K-9 unit that would automatically vent the rear windows of the vehicle if the interior temperature rose above a point that could be set by the officer. When this occurred, the rear windows were vented 2 inches so that the dog could get fresh air and the officer was alerted of this via pager so he could return to the vehicle. In addition, the officer could remotely open the rear windows so that the dog could come to his aid if necessary. By the end of my career as an installer, I had installed these systems in about two dozen different K-9 units for the city, county, and state. To the best of my knowledge, a few are still in use today. [A few years later, the idea was knocked off and it is now marketed very successfully as the Hotdog.]
Along the way, my calling card began to take on work that nobody else would, or solve problems that nobody else could. Occasionally, I went to dealerships and worked with their best technicians to solve tough problems. I became fairly respected as one of a handful of people that had an intimate understanding of how to solve problems and the store that I managed became a referral base for the manufacturers of both auto sound and auto security products.
By 1997, my career in car stereo took me away from the installation bay and into sales management, where I spent the next ten years. But, my heart had always been in hands-on. As I traveled, I often rolled up my sleeves and worked with installers all over the US. For me, that was far more valuable a sales tool than to take the owner out for lunch and review sales figures. It paid off in spades.
By 2008, my career in car stereo had come to an end and it was time to move on. I formed my own Sales & Marketing Company in 2009. In 2011, I formed my own automotive electrical supply company at which I’m back to solving problems and designing solutions for automotive enthusiasts.
My daily driver is now a 2003 Ford Mustang GT that I bought new. Thanks to countless modification, it makes 360 hp at the wheels, handles like a slot car, and can stop on a dime. Yeah, it has an epic stereo with 3,000 Watts and a pair of 18 inch subwoofers that sounds as good as it gets loud. My weekend driver is a 1972 Olds’ Cutlass S Holiday Coupe. It’s all 1980s pro street and sports a fuel injected roots blown big block Chevy that makes upwards of 800 hp. It swallows every spare dollar I have and will pass anything but a gas station.
I have penned two books on the topic of automotive electrical for CarTech Books, both written from the perspective of one enthusiast speaking to another. My first has been a best seller and award winner. I hope you’ll decide to pick up a copy and profit from my two and half decades of experience.
This tech tip is from the full book, AUTOMOTIVE WIRING AND ELECTRICAL SYSTEMS. For a comprehensive guide on this entire subject you can visit this link:
LEARN MORE ABOUT THIS BOOK HERE
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