Planning Becker radio installs

In the two years of owning my 560SEL, one of the things I have appreciated is the original Becker CD player.   I’ve owned many classic Mercedes-Benz models over the years, but until the 560SEL none of them had their original Becker intact.   The Becker radios just look and feel right in the dash of the car.  I had never really understood that before.  That got me thinking about putting some of my other cars back to stock.

The first car in line is my 1977 Mercedes-Benz 450SLC.    When I purchased the car in 2003, it had a 90’s era cassette player installed.   I had just returned from America and had the Pioneer MP3 CD player from my 1986 300E available, so I had it installed in its place.   For a radio that is over 20 years old, the Pioneer has done well.   In the last year or so, it has started to play up a bit.  It also lacks hands free function, an important feature with the strict mobile phone use laws in NSW.     One option would be to replace it with a modern head unit that has this capability, like the one in my 560SEC.     The modern radios especially look out of place in this car, so now was the time to replace it with a proper Becker radio.

My 450SLC would have been sold new with a Becker Mexico Cassette.    I actually found the original amplifier behind the dash, not hooked up.    There are more varieties than you might think of this this Becker radio.   I looked at a lot of cars for sale, and consulted with a MBCNSW member who has a very original 1977 450SE.

Through this, I was able to try and piece together some of the differences.   I’m still looking for more information on this topic to really understand, but the visual differences seemed to be as follows:

  • The very early radios have a small balance wheel under the volume knob.    The AM/FM buttons are labelled M and U.   The model insignia says Becker Mexico Cassette at the top, with Mexico in script, and the Becker and Cassette being lower case.    There is no stereo light on the radio, but the tape flap says stereo.   There are no markings for the secondary functions for the knobs.    The rewind/fast forward buttons have a single arrow pointing inwards.  I’m told there is a slightly later version of this radio with the stereo light, but not the other changes of the mid production model.

Becker Radio

  • The mid production radios do not have the balance wheel.   There seems to be versions that have AM/FM on the buttons and some say M/U.   The model insignia still says Becker Mexico Cassette, but the Becker and Cassette are now in upper case.    Secondary functions are shown for the two knobs, left being bass/treble and the right being tuning sensitivity.   RW and FF buttons are double arrow facing outwards.    I still haven’t worked out if there are distinct varieties here.

Becker Radio

  • The late production radios are similar to the mid production units, except the model insignia says Becker Mexico in all caps, with the cassette door now saying Cassette.    I’ve only seen this model with AM/FM buttons.   From what I have seen this was available from 1978 onward.    For Australia, that means 1978 only, as for 1979 we got the black Becker with the big knobs.

Becker Radio

My 450SLC is a 1977, so it should have the mid production version.    I would have been happy with any of them, as the difference is quite small, but I have been able to find an early and a mid production, both of which need repairing.  Hopefully at least one of them is repairable.    I don’t own any cassettes, so I am just going to get the radio working.

It is possible to have these radios modified so the cassette function is replaced with a Bluetooth module.   I may do that, but I prefer to keep things original so I have come up with a different solution.   I’ve found an FM injector that not only allows mobile phone music playing, but also hands free.   In the past, I was not a fan of playing the music through a phone, as I had a work phone that was managed by my employer.   Therefore, I couldn’t load my music on the phone.   My current employer does not have this arrangement which gives a bit more flexibility.

I also plan to use this FM injector on my 560SEL, as I have not been that happy with the normal FM transmitter I have in that car.   I get a lot of interference, and I still need to drive around with the ashtray hanging open.

While my primary focus has been finding a solution for my 450SLC, I was also interested in doing the same for my 560SEC.   It has an Alpine MP3 CD player I quite like.    But it doesn’t look as good in the car as a Becker does.   On checking the data card, the car came with a Grand Prix Cassette (option code 251).  Unlike in Australia, the CD player was not standard on 560 models in the UK.   My goal was to source the right radio, even if I didn’t install it right away.   These radios are getting more and more desirable, and harder to find.   Better to get one now, and have repairs done while parts are still available.

The original Becker radio would have almost certainly been a model 754.   This was available in 1986 and 1987.    The 754 is not the best radio to re-install because it uses an internal lithium battery to keep the radio unlocked.  If this battery gets too old, the radio locks and it must be unlocked by a Becker service centre.    A much better option is a 1402 or 1480.   The 1402 was standard in Australia for the 126 (outside the 560) from 1988 to at least 1990, and has a code to unlock.    This means no battery to mess with.    The 1480 was used in the USA for 1990 and also simply requires a code to unlock.   It has a very similar face, but with a silver strip running along the front, and the Mercedes-Benz logo on the tape door.

Becker Radios

It’s probably better to avoid the 780 and 1432.    The 780 integrates with the factory alarm, and was fitted to cars sold with the alarm system.    If not removed with the alarm properly disarmed, the radio is locked and again requires a Becker service centre to unlock.    It looks like it can be installed without the alarm system connected, but its one more risk of an issue.   The 1432 was a two piece unit, with the second piece in the boot, same as the CD player.   Most of the time you see them for sale its just the head unit, which is useless without the other piece.

I was able to find a 1402, which was working when removed from the sellers car.   It was missing the plugs, which I got from USA eBay.    I was also later able to get some more from the Las Vegas junkyard.    Since I am going to send the Mexico cassette off for repair, I wanted to test the 1402 as well.

Test harness

In order to make a test kit, I grabbed the original speakers from the 420SEL parts car.   The Becker was long gone, but the speakers were still original, and even better had their original connectors.   Making it even easier, there is a connector very close to the speaker, so I had them out in minutes and they plug directly into the 1402.   I then used an old car battery I have lying around for testing, and some test wires to make a temporary harness.

In short order I was able to get the Becker 1402 to fire right up.   The wire for illumination worked correctly too.    It was even able to pick up a station playing country music without an antenna.   I’m not a fan of country music, but I was very pleased to hear it coming through the speakers.

Becker radio

Next I hooked up the FM injector.   In no time, I had music from my phone playing through the Becker radio.   Despite the original speakers from the 420SEL, it sounded ok, if a little tinny.    Will sound much better with good speakers.     It’s also been good to validate the FM transmitter.   I’ll likely be installing it in my 560SEL too.    It’s called an iSimple Tranzit BLU HF.   Not sure if its a temporary lack of stock, or it’s going out of production, but I grabbed a few while I could.   They were about a third of the retail price, so not a bad deal.

Due to the simplicity, I may even install the FM injector into the SEL before I do the full Becker Radio installs in the other cars.

illuminated

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