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1998 Pontiac Trans Am Carputer Install - Many Pictures

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  • 1998 Pontiac Trans Am Carputer Install - Many Pictures

    Greetings all,

    My name is Felix. I have been visiting this forum for a while trying to learn from the wealth of information available here. I started seriously working on this carputer project back in late 2007. Two and a half years and about $2,500 later I feel it has reached a completed stage, at least for the time being.

    I would like to take this opportunity to thank all the members here for the ideas and inspiration you provide through the different forum threads. In particular, I appreciate the various F-Body specific threads; the authors and contributors will likely recognize the ideas their projects have contributed to my own and I thank them for sharing. Special thanks also to my dad who helped out with the wiring, particularly for the power distribution.

    Just a word of caution, there will be quite a few pictures in this thread. Instead of making one giant post, I will try to subdivide this into a few posts devoted to specific sections. Hopefully that makes it more manageable and in agreement with the rules.

    To start off here is a gratuitous picture of my car, a 1998 Pontiac Trans Am:

    The end result looks like this:

    The main parts I used for the project are the following:
    Main Computer
    - Jetway J9F2-KHDE-PB ITX Motherboard
    - Kingston ValueRAM 512MB DDR2 667 Memory
    - Intel Core Duo T2300
    - Toshiba MK1637GSX 160GB 5400RPM SATA HDD
    - MSI StarKey 2.0 Bluetooth USB Transceiver
    - EnGenius EMP-8602 802.11a/g Mini PCI Wireless Adapter
    - Pioneer DVD-K06RS Slim 8x DVD+RW Slot Load Drive
    - Travla C138 Mini ITX Case
    - CarTFT CFT700-SH Sunlight Readable Touchscreen
    - BU-353 USB GPS Receiver
    - iGuidance v4.0 Navigation Software
    - Visteon HDZ300 HD Radio Tuner Kit
    - Navone 20W Power Amplifier N-AMP-100 (2)
    Rearview Camera
    - Sharp CCD Infrared Keyhole Wide Angle Rearview Camera CW134085CI
    Power Supply
    - Opus DCX6.360 360W DC-DC Power Supply
    - Hammond 1591XXFFLBK Enclosure
    - AMC 15ft Black VGA Monitor Extension
    - Cables Unlimited 15ft USB 2.0 Extensions (4)
    - RP-SMA 10ft Extension Cable
    - 4 Port Digital Battery Positive Terminal
    - 4 Port ATO/ATC Fuse Block
    - Water Resistant ANL Fuse Holder
    - 100 Amp ANL Fuse
    - 25ft 4AWG Battery Cable
    - Metra 40-GM10 Antenna Adapter
    - Metra 70-1858 Radio Wiring Harness
    - 93-02 Pontiac Firebird Radio Trim Bezel
    - 3M DiNoc Carbon Fiber and Wrapping Service from Yoast Fabrication
    Auxiliary Input
    - Logitech diNovo Mini Bluetooth Keyboard

  • #2
    Building the Computer

    I started out by taking some measurements of the area around the stock head unit.

    Two of my requirements for this project were that the screen should look as close to factory as possible and that it would not require relocation of the climate controls. From a few of the Firebird install threads I knew that a 7inch screen would fit just barely. My initial thought was to try to fit the computer itself behind the screen in the area occupied by the head unit. This thought led me to ITX motherboards and small cases. The Travla C138 case seemed to be of a reasonable size, but ended up not actually fitting in height or depth.

    For the motherboard and processor, I chose the JetWay J9F2-KHDE and the Intel Core Duo T2300. I wanted a dual-core, relatively modern processor with reasonable power usage. At the time the J9F2 fit the bill nicely and so far has not let me down. Here is a picture of the motherboard with memory, CPU, and wireless card installed:

    And here is one inside the case:

    The C138 case has a tray where the drives are mounted as you can see here:

    For the power supply, I used the 360W Opus DCX6. It is probably overkill for my application. The 90W power supply that came with C138 was able to power the computer itself without peripherals, but my power calculations with everything came to about 150W. I also wanted something with room to grow.

    The Opus is a little big so it doesn't quite fit inside the C138. Instead, I bought a plastic enclosure for it. I drilled some small ventilation holes, added a 40mm case fan, and an LED to indicate status. I wanted all components to be easily removable so I bought some wire, Molex connectors, DB-15 and DB-25 jacks and created some wiring harnesses like this one:

    The resulting computer and power supply look like this:


    • #3
      Installing the Display

      With the main computer built, the next item was the display. I wanted a sunlight readable display from the start so I went with the CarTFT CFT700-SH transflective touchscreen. I ordered it direct from CarTFT in Germany and had it at my doorstep two days later. The display works very nicely and the image has been clear and visible for me in all lighting conditions and with polarized sunglasses, although it might be a little too bright at night.

      In stock form, the display will not fit in the radio opening:

      I had to take disassemble the display and build my own "case". I did not want to build the display into the radio trim for fear of breaking it if I had to take the bezel out of the car. Instead I used some Lexan to build something I could mount the boards on and be able to install independently of the radio trim.

      I decided to install the buttons in the back of the display and rely on the remote to operate the display. This was in part because I was not feeling adventurous enough to relocate the buttons.

      I did have to relocate the IR sensor as, very conveniently, it is soldered on the button board. I had my first scare here as in my haste I overheated the plastic housing of the sensor and tore the leads off. Fortunately I was able to get a new IR sensor at Radio Shack (model 276-640). This sensor appears to be compatible; at least the remote works, although from time to time if you press a button on the remote it will react as if you are holding the button down. This generally stops if you press another button. I guess the point is, be extremely careful when relocating those components.

      To actually fit the display in the radio opening there is some cutting involved. I had to shave off the ribs at the top of the opening and cut some of the tray at the bottom. This was very easy to do with a Dremel.

      The display installed in the car without the bezel looks like this:

      By the way if anybody needs more pictures of the different display boards, let me know as I took some pictures and measurements of them.


      • #4
        Mounting the Computer

        Next was mounting the computer. As I mentioned earlier, the computer did not fit behind the display. I also did not want it under the seats, in the glovebox, or in the center arm rest. Fortunately the car has a perfect spot for equipment in the trunk:

        Securing the computer and other components was the issue. The C138 has a fair amount of ventilation holes on the sides, which just happen to be big enough to allow a standard stand-off screw to fit. To secure the computer, I decided to do something like this:

        The bottom plates with screws sticking up are epoxied to the hump on the trunk floor (after sanding the paint off):

        I then cut holes in the carpet so the mounting points could poke through:

        The power supply, HD radio module, and pre-amplifiers were small and light enough to be stacked on top of the computer and secured with industrial strength velcro, like this:

        I drove the car around with that stack for 3 months last year before storing it for the winter and all the components remained securely attached. I did use a small amount of thread locker on the screws to prevent them from falling off due to vibration.

        The GPS antenna, by the way, is installed under the dash pad in the front. The signal is consistently good, although I don't recall off the top of my head how many satellites I usually have a lock on.


        • #5
          Power and Audio

          Power distribution and wiring come next. Below is a high level wiring diagram for the system. Power cables are routed on the driver's side of the car and signal cables travel along the passenger side. From the computer, the signal cables travel across to the passenger side on top of the shelf behind the rear seat. 15ft of cable is just enough to reach the connections for the display. The connectors end up right behind the glovebox.

          I bought a 4 port positive battery terminal and used 4awg cable to send +12V to a fused power distribution block in the back. From that distribution block, unregulated power is sent to the Opus, the HD radio module, and the amplifiers. The regulated power from the Opus is routed to a second fused distribution block and sent to the display and the rearview camera.

          This is what it looks like under the hood:

          And here are the power distribution blocks:

          Credit goes to my dad for a clean installation with no additional holes drilled in the body.

          I am not an audiophile, so for the audio system I decided to keep the stock Monsoon components minus the head unit. To connect to the Monsoon amplifier I needed speaker-level signals (please correct me if the terminology is wrong), so I used a pair of Navone AMP-100 mini amplifiers to accomplish the task. To avoid cutting into the stock wiring I routed the output of the AMP-100s to the front of the car and used a Metra 70-1858 to connect to the stock head unit harness. The wiring diagram looks like this:

          When I first powered up the system and listened through the car speakers, there was noticeable buzzing. I bought a Radio Shack ground loop isolator to see if that helped and it did, the buzzing went away. From time to time I get a barely perceptible buzz when I first start the car, but it goes away within a couple of minutes.

          The sound through the speakers is generally good for me and a sound card volume of 7% is sufficient to hear the music over the headers and dual exhaust. I do get a noticeable pop when the computer powers up and I theorize that is due to powering the AMP-100s immediately rather than waiting for the computer to boot up first.


          • #6
            Rearview Camera

            I wanted my system to include a rearview camera system, preferably one that did not require the computer to be on. I found a CCD keyhole rearview camera on eBay that has proven pretty good so far (3 weeks since I put it in the car). I installed it in the tail light filler panel. To do that I had to remove the trunk key cylinder. I had read that it would be necessary to expand the hole in the sheet metal for the camera to fit, but it was not necessary in my case. Here are some pictures showing a size comparison of the camera versus the key cylinder:

            I did have to expand the hole in the filler panel:

            The camera fits tightly against the sheet metal. I hope it is not putting too much stress on the plastic filler panel:

            This is what it looks like in the car:

            And here is a picture of the view on a cloudy, dull day:

            The camera does have IR illuminators but I have not had the chance to see what the image looks like at night. In the day it is very nice, though. I wired it up so that the camera is powered whenever the Opus is on, and I put in a Y-cable so that the signal goes to the rearview input of the display and to one of its other inputs. That way it will switch to camera view automatically when putting the car in reverse, but I am also able to switch to that view any time.

            That same filler panel also contains a small antenna for WiFi with the cable routed inside through an existing grommet behind the driver's side tail light. I had originally mounted the antenna on the computer, inside the car, which proved to be a mistake as I never had a signal even in the garage relatively close to the wireless access point. Since the panel is plastic, the signal is able to penetrate it. Now I can be in the driveway and have a reasonable signal.


            • #7
              Building the Screen Bezel

              Last but not least, on the hardware side, is the finishing touch, the bezel. For the creation of this bezel I had some inspiration in particular from InfiniteReality's Firehawk install thread. I did not mold the monitor or its bezel into the radio trim. Instead I used bits of Lexan and some epoxy to modify the radio trim. For his build InfiniteReality cut off the middle part of the trim completely and then reinstalled it lower. In my case, I found that I only needed to trim off the top part of that middle piece. This was nice because having to rebuild that middle piece would have been more difficult for me.

              After the middle piece was trimmed appropriately, I made a cardboard template of my custom display housing with the exact screen dimensions. I used needles and dots of hot glue to temporarily secure the Lexan pieces, the cardboard template, and the radio trim:

              I then poured a generous amount of JB Weld over the gaps and let it dry overnight. It is useful to wait for the JB Weld mixture to harden a little before applying it so that it is not too "runny" and leaks through any holes in the structure.

              After that comes the fun: sanding, filing, sanding some more. Eventually I had this:

              My initial thought was to wrap it myself using leather-like vinyl, in the same way InfiniteReality had done so I did not sand it smooth or prep it for painting. I left the bezel like that for a few months while I tried to figure out how to go about covering it. I bought some vinyl at Hancock Fabrics but the task looked a bit daunting for me and I didn't really want to have to create a new bezel if I messed up.

              About a month or so ago I stumbled across a thread in another forum about a carbon fiber look-alike vinyl material from 3M called Di-Noc and a company called Yoast Fabrication which offered a wrapping service. The samples I saw looked good and the price was reasonable so I went with that. The result looks like this:

              It looks good in the pictures, but it looks better in person, in my opinion. The material has a texture to it and is subtle enough for my taste. In person it is a fairly close match to the color tones of the stock dash, which is good because I wanted something that would not clash with the stock interior.


              • #8

                All of this effort would be kind of pointless without a good front end to control the system and that is where the excellent RideRunner front end and DigitalFX 4 skin come into play. Since I reinstalled the computer and took the car out of hibernation, I have been running the March 2010 release of RideRunner.

                Both RideRunner and DigitalFX 4 have been running beautifully for me. I have tweaked the skin a little bit so it looks better in the 800x480 resolution I run. This was mainly just shifting labels up a little bit so they are centered in the buttons. Over the winter I organized my music library so that the cover art browser would work and did a couple of modifications to the operating system so that I could get less Windows logos and more Pontiac logos for a more OEM look.

                Here are a couple of pictures:

                For those wondering about the sunlight readability of the CFT700-SH here is a picture showing the sun hitting the display directly:

                And that brings me to the end. I think I covered the major aspects of the install. Once again thanks to everyone who contributed ideas directly or indirectly. If anyone has any questions feel free to ask and I will try to answer.


                • #9
                  Install looks great, and car looks great! Lots of good pictures and information for us TA owners! Great job. Also, thanks for the sunlight shot on the CFT monitor. I've been looking into those for a while and have been wanting a good sunlight shot from the community.


                  • #10
                    Great Job! I found the dash was the hardest part for me. For the turn-on pop you are experiencing, Navone engineering also sells a delay circuit that you can set to a predetermined time, so the amps don't come on until the PC has loaded the drivers:

                    Asus P5N73-AN Mobo/Celeron E1400 2Ghz Dual Core CPU/2Gb GEIL PC3200/120GB HDD/DSATX PS/8" Phylon TS


                    • #11
                      Thanks for the kind words. I am glad the information is proving useful.

                      Snootch - I'll look into that delay circuit, thanks for pointing it out. It may also help with a side effect of my current rear camera set up. Since the camera powers immediately, the monitor switches to the secondary video input when powered on as it takes the computer a second or two to activate its own video signal. A short delay to power the camera would allow the monitor to detect the computer video signal first and stay on that input.


                      • #12
                        I <3 carbon fiber

                        very nice indeed, sir

                        do you plan on axing the hvac controls for automated climate control one day?


                        • #13
                          nice work man. Not really a fan of the giant hole for your backup camera. But otherwise it's impressive.

                          2 thumbs up to a fellow pontiac!
                          09 Pontiac G8GT [decently modded]
                          former carputer owner, given up for iphone


                          • #14
                            Originally posted by Belo View Post
                            nice work man. Not really a fan of the giant hole for your backup camera. But otherwise it's impressive.

                            2 thumbs up to a fellow pontiac!
                            Thanks Belo. It's not that bad with the camera. The hole is about 1/4" larger than it used to be stock and the camera fits flush against the outside of the panel. To me it's hard to see unless you are looking for it, but maybe I'm just used to it already . A camera without the IR illuminators would likely fit through the stock hole...

                            Originally posted by Sleepyz0mby View Post
                            I <3 carbon fiber

                            very nice indeed, sir

                            do you plan on axing the hvac controls for automated climate control one day?
                            The thought has crossed my mind, and it would be nice to have all that controlled through the touchscreen, but it's not in my plan at the moment. From what I have read it would be a bit difficult in these cars. If I am not mistaken one of the controls uses a mechanical cable, which may be more work to interface with than regular electrical cables.


                            • #15
                              Originally posted by Felix1701D View Post
                              Thanks for the kind words. I am glad the information is proving useful.

                              Snootch - I'll look into that delay circuit, thanks for pointing it out. It may also help with a side effect of my current rear camera set up. Since the camera powers immediately, the monitor switches to the secondary video input when powered on as it takes the computer a second or two to activate its own video signal. A short delay to power the camera would allow the monitor to detect the computer video signal first and stay on that input.
                              FYI... Only thing that I have heard of people doing, is connecting the power for the camera to the reverse lights. That way, the camera only comes on when the car is shifter into reverse. As far as the A/C controls... If you have seen my system, I relocated the controls to the glovebox and researched doing them using the T/S, but it would be a total pain in the ***, because the temp knob uses a cable. You could do it using servos I guess, but It still seems like a massive waste of resources and time trying out to engineer something that would do it.

                              Asus P5N73-AN Mobo/Celeron E1400 2Ghz Dual Core CPU/2Gb GEIL PC3200/120GB HDD/DSATX PS/8" Phylon TS