2008 Subaru Impreza WRX Car PC Install w/ custom faceplate & controls
First, the beauty:
I love this car. I'd all but given up on finding a practical, reliable sports car when I finally came across the 2008 WRX hatchback (no longer a wagon as of this year). Safe, reliable, roomy (I'm 6'3"), tons of cargo space, all wheel drive, and friggin' fast! Not that I'm a terror on the road, but the car is really fun to drive.
Since this is a new car and because I don't want to get burglarized, my goals were to modify as few expensive parts as possible, and to make everything as invisible as possible. No carbon fiber hood and chrome wheels for me... I want it to look totally stock. That was my mantra for the whole project.
As far as I can tell from the dimensions, the "2008 Double Din Bolt in kit Without Touchscreen" sold in the MP3Car store does NOT fit the 2008 Impreza and only fits older model years. If someone proves me wrong I'll change this post, but that was the conclusion I reached when I looked into it.
The oversized double-DIN slot is plenty spacious for a 7" touchscreen, such as the EBY-701 I purchased. My first thought was to Bondo one in place like everyone seems to do, but when I found out that a replacement bezel is $180 (and being a new model, there aren't any in junkyards) I tried to think of another option. In the end I was very happy with how this turned out. I gutted the monitor and made my own completely custom case and faceplate from parts I designed in SolidWorks and machined myself. I'm actually really proud of how it came out:
Here was my original CAD design in SolidWorks:
I created a sort of custom head unit with the touchscreen, my stereo (with the faceplate relocated to the glovebox), a custom PIC microcontroller circuit I made to handle all the inputs and outputs, some components of the Parrot CK3100 Bluetooth Phone kit I installed, and various front panel buttons, LED's, and rotary encoders.
In the end it looked like this (sorry for the crummy cell phone pic's when my camera was broken):
That's the stereo on top. Here's the underside of the assembly, minus the PIC microcontroller circuit that mounts on the back:
Some of you might recognize the circuit boards from a Lilliput EBY701 monitor. I mounted just the LCD screen on the front, and for space reasons, mounted the main circuit board horizontally. I had to solder little extension wires for the 4-wire touch screen, but all the other cables reached just fine.
I mounted the little I/O panel circuit board internally so you can't access the switches from the front, but I did two things: I de-soldered the remote IR receiver and mounted it on the upper right corner of the front panel, so the remote control still works, and I hooked my PIC circuit into the power and input buttons, so my microcontroller can turn the monitor on and off and can switch inputs. (The plan is to automatically switch to a camera input when in reverse, but I haven't installed one yet.)
The PIC microcontroller circuit warrants a full writeup on its own. It senses all of the front panel switches and the steering wheel audio controls, plus it monitors if the headlights are on and if the car is in reverse. It outputs to the Lilliput controls, to my stereo's wired remote input, to my Parrot Bluetooth kit, and I plan to hook it directly to the computer either through a serial port or by hardwiring it to trigger a keyboard, so it can control the PC itself. Then I can assign any buttons to do anything, and I can reprogram them later if I like. I could even program multiple modes, so normally the volume controls adjust my stereo but if I'm in a phone call they adjust my Bluetooth car kit. If you have any computer programming and electronics background, I HIGHLY recommend learning how to use PIC's. If I ever write up more about it, I'll post a link here.
You can't see it very well in the picture, but my Infinity Basslink subwoofer comes with a wired remote gain knob which is handy to use. I installed the tiny little circuit board inside this head unit as well and made a small knob for it on the lower left. So that is actually connected directly to the subwoofer and not to the PIC.
Also, the LED and two buttons on the upper left are directly connected to the PC as the power light, and power and reset buttons. These have come in handy a bunch already. I just hard-wired them to the power supply in the back, so if all goes badly I can always reboot or shut down.
Currently I have the left knob control stereo volume and the right knob and two lower buttons control the Parrot bluetooth system, but as I mentioned they can be remapped in software to do whatever makes sense in the future, which is kinda cool.
This is the main face plate being born:
And here are all of the machined parts laid out:
One thing you can't see is that I mounted two rare earth magnets toward the top of each side, inserted from the back. The plan is to glue all the buttons onto the stock stereo faceplate and stick it over the monitor as a facade whenever I park in a bad area at night. I'll put pictures here when that's finished.
I bought the base WRX model without any option packages because I knew I'd install my own stereo and other gadgets anyway. The base model comes without tweeters or steering wheel audio controls, but I did install them myself using OEM parts. The full writeup is here
but here are pictures of what I'm referring to.
The tweeter trim was about $25 for both sides and the steering wheel buttons were about $120. All the wiring for both is already installed even in the base model. More details in the writeup mentioned above.
I stuck with my old Pioneer Premier DEH-P860MP stereo rather than an amp because I like the audio processing it does (auto-EQ and time alignment, BBE, multi-band EQ, separate front and rear high pass filters, etc.) and because I already had it so it was free! Sometimes I'll need to change a setting, but basically all I need easy access to is volume, so the steering wheel controls and front knob are set up to control the stereo via its wired remote input. So I just tossed the faceplate in the glovebox. Here's a picture of it after being gutted and having an extension soldered on:
And here it is in the car. I used the original detachable faceplate case as a sort of permanent housing for it:
It'd be cool to mount it somewhere on the dash (especially since I went through all the trouble of converting it from blue LED's to red!!! grrrrr...), but there really isn't anywhere to hide it, and as I said I want everything to look as stock and inconspicuous as possible.
One other interesting thing about the stereo. As I described here
the stereo still works without the CD drive installed. I don't need it anymore, so it just uses extra space, burns extra power, and creates extra heat. Instead, I mounted the Y-cable for my Parrot CK3100 Bluetooth handsfree kit inside the stereo case. Here it is zip-tied to the "lid" of the stereo enclosure:
And here's a really bad picture of it put together:
Nice way to save a little space in the install.
So, I've mentioned the Parrot CK3100 Bluetooth kit. Let me just say, this thing is AWESOME! I had it in my last non-carPC car, and my wife (who originally thought I was a nerd for installing it) fell in love with it and begged me to install one in her car too. It looks like most PC options for handsfree phone use are still sketchy at best, and I initially liked the idea of phone calls being handled separately from the computer. In retrospect, I think I just created a ton of work for myself, but now that it's in it's awesome. I gutted it as well. Normally it has a self-contained screen and control panel with a rotary selector knob and "answer" and "hang up" buttons.
I mounted the little screen up next to the clock where it's pretty discreet:
I hacked up the little trim piece and scooted the clock to the left. The black bezel around the Parrot screen is another custom-machined part I made that it mounts in. Then, as I mentioned, I connected my PIC microcontroller to its inputs so that I can control it using the knob and buttons on the front of my monitor panel, or with the steering wheel audio controls. It would have been easier just to relocate and hard-wire the buttons to the front panel I made, but this way offers me more flexibility. (In retrospect, probably just a lot of extra work without too much payout.)
For now the computer is so ghetto-rigged I'm almost proud of it. :) I don't have a case yet, and eventually I am going to TRY to make a custom case that will fit inside the spare tire. We'll see if that happens. (Otherwise, it'll just mount to the back of the back seats.) But for now everything is zip-tied to a piece of pegboard, sitting on a towel in the trunk area. Fortunately there's a cargo cover to hide it all!
Some details on the computer system: I definitely went overkill on processing power because I plan to have this car for awhile and wanted to future-proof it as much as possible. It's a sweet 40 Watt AMD system: The processor is a $50 AMD LE1640 2.6GHz single-core, and the motherboard is a $75 Biostar TF7050-M2 with onboard nVIDIA DX9 support. (First time I've ever spent more on a motherboard than the CPU!) I also got 1Gig of RAM (dual channel 2x512MB). The power supply is an M2-ATX from MP3Car.com.
The hard disk and CD-ROM are taken from our old broken Compaq laptop, using IDE adapters also from MP3Car.com. The CD-ROM is set up as a master, and I couldn't figure out how to change it, so I'm a little non-standard with the CD-ROM as master and the hard drive as the slave, but it all works perfectly otherwise.
So, the whole system is working, but the trunk is a mess so it's not really "done" yet. I also want to add OBD-II, a backup camera, and GPS. So far I'm running Road Runner, but I'm still figuring it out.
The 2008 WRX is still a fairly new model, so I think I might be the first one with a CarPC. (??) It took some guts to rip apart a beautiful brand new car (my friends thought I was nuts) but I've done this enough before that I didn't break TOO many little plastic trim tabs... Just two so far. :) I'm a little uneasy about warranties I might regret voiding, but I think I'm in the clear other than the stereo and clock, which isn't a big deal.
I'm curious what people think of the custom-machined front panel. It was a really cool way to go, but I don't think I've seen many people do it.
Leave some feedback or subscribe, and I'll add more as I get more done.