Replacing Your Car’s Antenna: A Simple Fix

Categories: Product Reviews
An old-fashioned radio antenna mounted on an S195 Mustang
An old-fashioned radio antenna mounted on an S197 Mustang

Where Did the Antennas Go?

If you haven’t noticed lately, something funny is happening to car radio antennas. They’re shrinking, even disappearing all together.

Truth is, radio antennas have always been a bit of a pet peeve for automotive designers. They were just one of those things you needed, like windshield wipers or sideview wing mirrors, but they always look tacked on as an afterthought. It’s why you almost never see them on factory concept cars. They had other problems beyond just aesthetics, too. With the advent of automated touch carwashes, antennas often got caught up in the roller brushes, bending or ripping them out entirely. In the more fuel-efficiency conscious times that started with the 1973 oil crisis, mast antennas also became a source of unnecessary aerodynamic drag.

Evolutionary Dead End

Designers tried several solutions over the years. There was a time, long ago when dinosaurs and K-Cars roamed the Earth that powered retractable antennas reigned supreme.

A broken powered antenna on an 80's Oldsmobile
A broken powered antenna on an 80’s Oldsmobile

The only problem with powered antennas is have you ever in your life seen one actually retract? No, of course you haven’t, because they broke the instant the car drove off the dealer lot. Either one of the telescoping segments would bend or the electric motor itself would burn out, leading to costly and annoying repairs. Like flip or pop-up headlights, power antennas were dropped by nearly all manufacturers by the late 90’s because they added nothing to the car except unnecessary cost, weight, complexity, and unreliability.

So, the old-fashioned mast antenna was given a brief respite, but it wasn’t very long before engineers and designers once again tinkered around with ways to drive it to extinction. Enter stubby antennas like this spiraling example.

Short mast antenna on a gray car above centered above the rear window
Short mast antenna

Or this style which I call a shark fin…

Shark fin antenna mounted on a late model Impala
Shark fin antenna mounted on a late model Impala

These are superior to mast antennas in several ways. They produce less aerodynamic drag, they’re more aesthetically appealing, and they’re not nearly as susceptible to damage. Many new cars are leaving the factory without any visible external antenna at all. Mast antennas, like black rubber side trim or stalk 3rd brake lights, are an anachronism and really leave a car looking a bit dated.

A Simple Fix

“Ok, Torque. Thanks for the oddly specific history lesson,” you’re saying about now. “But what am I supposed to do about it?” Well, are you ever in luck. Because this is a product review post:

The Stubby replacing the old antenna on a S195 Mustang
The Stubby replacing the old antenna on a S197 Mustang

The first picture at the top of the post? That was my car about an hour ago, ugly old factory antenna and everything. I took it through an automated car wash last week and sure enough and not for the first time, the rollers bent it. You can always elect to use a touchless carwash (or wash it yourself at home) but I think the roller brush carwashes do a better, more thorough job of getting road grime and bird droppings off your paint, (if you want a primer on cleaning the parts of your car the wash can’t reach, read this).

Enter The Stubby by Cravenspeed. I picked one up for like $25 shipped through Amazon, but you can order directly, too. There are three styles to pick from and they have applications for tons of cars, trucks, even motorcycles, (if you can call anything with a radio a motorcycle.) For a small upcharge, you can even get personalized messages laser-engraved.

Installation couldn’t possibly be easier, just unscrew the old antenna and tighten in the new one by hand. Takes less than a minute. Use a pliers to loosen the old antenna if it wants to be stubborn about leaving. My only concern was what my radio’s reception would be like with such a reduced antenna length, but after taking a drive, I saw no reduction in reception or fidelity coming from the tunes.

It’s about as dead simple and cheap an update as you’re going to find. Verdict? Firing on 8/8 Cylinders.