Updating the stereo in anything from a BMW E9 coupe to E36 M3 can be a challenge. There’s a strong desire to remain period correct and to preserve originality, while upgrading capability and performance. It’s not too difficult to retrofit modern, halfway decent speakers beneath factory covers, so long as the mounting recesses aren’t of some odd dimension, but when it comes to the head unit itself, the car world has yet to settle on a single, straight-forward solution.
It’s not impossible to retrofit Bluetooth audio streaming capability into something like the CD43 head unit of an E36, and there are solutions for transplanting modern guts into an old-school looking Becker radio form factor, but there really isn’t much in the way of plug-and-play solutions, like those that exist in the aftermarket car audio world.
The issue is that simply choosing the latest Pioneer or Alpine head unit means you’ll be looking at a dashboard that no longer jives the way BMW intended, and come the evening, when it’s time to bask in the orange glow of BMW’s timeless ambient interior lights and switchgear illumination, that new deck makes its presence known by sticking out like a sore thumb.
Porsche has come up with a solution for the brand’s older models. Whether you own an early air-cooled long hood 911 from the 1960s, or something as modern as a 996 Turbo from the early 2000s, Porsche now offers what’s referred to as PCCM (Porsche Classic Communications Management) as an in-house infotainment upgrade solution. Available in a single-din size and a double-din Plus variant, both PCCM and PCCM Plus head units come with apple CarPlay capability, and touchscreen interfaces (3.5-inch on the single-din, and a seven-inch display on the double-din). Android Auto is also available on the larger PCCM Plus unit.
They come with all of the latest interfaces including the aforementioned smartphone integrations along with Bluetooth audio streaming, auxiliary input, USB, and an SD card slot. They’re also designed to integrate with existing interfaces, features, and devices in Porsche models, like antennas, loudspeakers, and other peripheral components. For example, in newer Porsche models that have a gauge pod dedicated as a digital display for information and navigation in the instrument cluster, PCCM plus maintains support and will work with the existing display, and the same goes for steering wheel controls.
Lastly, and this may be the most important part, both units are designed to match the instrument panels of the car’s they’ll be mounted in, whether it’s something like a Carrera 4S from 2004, or a 1967 Porsche 911S. Not only, but Porsche says the PCCM Plus unit, with it’s seven-inch display, uses a haptic touch system that is designed to mimic the feel of surrounding controls like those for climate control and other switches and dials.
We’re sure they won’t be cheap, but maintaining the proper ambience in a car from another era isn’t easy, and encapsulating it in an original solution with Porsche’s name on it will be as good as it can get for many.
So what should BMW, more specifically BMW Classic, do? We’re not asking for an iDrive retrofit, but something that maintains the look and feel of the interior of an E36 or E30 would be a good start, even if it’s just at night, when illumination color is most important.
Again, there are a few options out there, but whether it’s price, lighting, or feel, they always seem to miss the mark by some degree. BMW Classic doesn’t need to compete on price—quality and design speak for themselves, and we’re used to overpaying for original and reproduction parts for specific cars, but it seems like the effort would be worthy of consideration. After all, Porsche’s latest CarPlay-capable units aren’t their first effort, they’re merely the latest update.—Alex Tock
Editor’s Note: When I upgraded the obsolete aftermarket head-unit in my 1985 E30 325e, I bought two new Bluetooth-capable head units from Amazon to try out; a Nakamichi and a Blaupunkt. Both of these can be considered ghost brands now with quality that is a shadow of what it once was, and products made in China, but I liked the thought of at least using a period-correct brand. I settled on the $50 Nakamichi and returned the $20 Blaupunkt. The Bluetooth streaming, and even calling are both great, but I haven’t been able to figure out an AM band reception issue. Yes, I’ve rebuilt the Hirschmann power antenna.—Alex Tock
[Photos courtesy, Continental AG, Dr. Ing. h.c. F. Porsche AG.]