My first mobile station..

Some time ago I assembled a compact mobile setup that comprised of an FT817 (plus CW filter), LDG qrp auto ATU and a Watson Multi-Ranger antenna. Everything was powered from a small lead acid battery which is charged using a solar panel. This, and the ATU etc lived in a plastic stacker box for easy removal from the car.

This small QRP setup worked OK, as the photo below is W3LPL on 15m, just after I worked him with 5w during the ARRL DX CW contest from my driveway.

W3LPL on 15m

Time for something better..

Having recently moved QTH, to a location where I am unable to setup a decent HF antenna, I thought that I would setup a proper mobile HF and VHF/UHF system. This page describes my setup and provides some tips for anyone thinking of setting up a mobile station.

Stage 1 – VHF receive…

My first goal was to get setup for receiving VHF/UHF, and particularly airband, as I have a keen interest in aviation and work at an airfield. I wanted something simple, and having no way of attaching a decent dual band antenna to the car, other than with roof bars, I decided to plump for a Watson on glass antenna. Whilst this is probably a compromise, it is very inconspicuous and works OK on receive.

Watson on-glass antenna components

Watson on-glass antenna components

The trimmer for tuning

Antenna base

Antenna base

Antenna box and counterpoise

Antenna box and counterpoise

If you do buy this antenna then I have a couple of tips:

  1. Make sure the glass is very clean. Use the wipe to clean the glass at least a couple of times.
  2. Make sure you have the antenna vertical when you place it on the glass. Mine wasn’t 100% vertical and once it is on you won’t get a second chance!
  3. Adjusting the SWR was fun. I found that a combination of using the trimmer, moving the position of the counterpoise, and adding a choke (a few turns of coax) to the coax helped.
  4. Make sure the antenna position screw is tight. On one occasion I was driving along and heard a loud clonk. The screw had come loose and the antenna shifted 180 degrees!

The antenna is fairly sturdy and has survived a harsh winter. It does however cause some wind noise when driving over about 60mph.

Ice on antenna

Some time ago I’d seen another ham who was using a flexible mount to mount the face of his TS480 radio. This looked like a great solution for mounting my radio as I didn’t want to be drilling holes in the dashboard of my car. After some enquiries, it turned out to be a mount from MountGuys in the USA, which was a bargain at about £20 including postage from the States. A little later I discovered that you can buy the MountGuys mounts via their Amazon shop, which works out at a similar price.

Mountguys mount

Mountguys mount

The mount is very rugged and well built. The mount I chose can either be attached to the seat rail of the passenger seat, or has a mount that can be screwed onto the dash or plastic near the gearstick etc. If like me, you opt for using the seat rail, then you will probably need a set of torx screwdrivers.

Mountguys mount on seat rail

Mountguys mount on seat rail

The mount has a detachable plastic plate onto which you can mount a radio faceplate, allowing quick and easy removal of the radio when you leave the can. I initially used it to mount my small VX2 handy, with the radio position being changeable using the mount.

VX2 on the mount

VX2 on the mount

Stage 2…HF

The above setup worked quite well, allowing me to listed to the local repeaters and air band whilst driving to and from work. Stage 2 was to get myself setup for HF mobile as HF is my main area of interest in radio…

Step one was to feed some power to the boot of my car (a Ford Fiesta) where I wanted to mount an FT857D (giving me both VHF/UHF and HF), and an auto ATU. After asking around some local hams and reading the numerous Ford Fiesta forums, I bought some 25 amp cable, fuse holders and some fuses.

Wire and fuses

That was the easy part…I now had to get the cable from the battery to the back of the car without damaging anything. Again, I spent some time browsing the Fiesta forums because there were a number of postings relating to the installation of in car entertainment systems. Evidently the best place to feed the power was through the bung where the wiring loom passes through to the engine compartment. Easy :-S Here’s how I did it..

Firstly, unclip the buttons holding the carpet under the glove box

The fusebox and wiring loom

Remove the glovebox. This will expose the fusebox and the wiring loom. You will now need a torch and some flexibility! Spot the flap in the left of the picture, this is where you can feed the power cable through the bulkhead. If you lift the flap you will see the rubber seal/bung (see below). This is where I had some problems. The Fiesta forums suggested poking the cable through the main bung. Simple. No, this proved difficult and I didn’t want to damage the wiring loom. Back to the web, and more surfing.. Ah, it is best to push through a small part of the bung and feed it through at the side. Easy, 30 seconds effort and the cable was through. I also added some self-amalgamating tape to the cable to prevent any cable wear.

Feeding the cable through the bulkhead

This got the cable through to the battery. I then attached the cable to the fuses via a 30A chocolate box connector and added some spade connectors to enable easy connection to the battery (photos to add). At some point I will fed the power cable through a cable shroud, but I am yet to find anything suitable.

Cable through to the battery

Great, the cable was ready to connect to the battery. The next step was to feed the cable to the boot of the car. I wanted this to look neat and tidy, so I fed the cable under the coving along the bottom of the car. Once you get the first bit of the cable under the coving it is a very easy process to finish.

Cable fed under the coving

I then mounted the radio and ATU in a small plastic storage box in the boot of the car,. Unfortunately, the FT857 has a really horrible mounting system for its faceplate, when compared to other radios, such as the TS480. Unfortunately this wouldn’t directly fit onto the MountGuys mount without the optional separation kit. Great, it turns out that I needed the head section, so had no option than to buy the full kit (no cheap e-bay alternative :-S).

Remote mount kit

Remote head kit

All for this - probably about 50p worth of plastic :-S

I also own a TS40SAT, and that radio really is well designed for mobile setups (I didn’t want to use it as I wanted one box for HF/VHF/UHF etc) and really illustrates a number of limitations with the FT857 extension kit. In particular, the Yaesu setup requires multiple cables for the face unit, mic, speaker and key, whereas the Kenwood doesn’t need the speaker cable or external speaker. I was also a bit perplexed at the flat cable used for the head control cable too. Hopefully I won’t have any RF issues with all the cables, but time will tell.

Once I’d recovered from fitting the expensive mounting kit, everything was up and running. The FT857 is an OK radio and now allows me to work HF/VHF/UHF mobile and also listen on airband. Reports seem to be OK, and I am now able to do some HF operating.

All working

All working

Update!

I’ve now upgraded my HF antenna and am now using the excellent ATAS 120 from Yaesu – bandswitching is now a simple button press and the antenna appears to work extremely well.