Give your ride a bigger brain

Get a computer in your car.

It was a car enthusiast's dream: an original '69 Nova SS, with a 450-horsepower Big Block and the classic M22 Rock-crusher transmission. But for Thom Greenwald, a musician, the ultimate fantasy was to become reality when he heard that Classic Restorations Services, the renowned car shop in upstate New York, announced it would incorporate Apple's Mac Mini into its custom work beginning the week the computer was made public, earlier this year.

As the project's first customer, Greenwald specified that he wanted to plug USB-powered keyboards directly into his dashboard to record ideas into his Mac, so Classic installed a four-port USB hub into the stock ashtray. To control the computer, Greenwald chose both a seven-inch touch screen, and an assignable aluminum USB knob on the centre console for easy volume control and power functions. Audio output was handled by Infinity amps and Alpine speakers, with the Mac itself performing the functions of a conventional stereo. Can you imagine this monster cruising alongside you on the highway?

Classic Restorations started planning back when the US$500 Mac Minis were mere conjecture among Mac fans, and company founder and president Melvin Benzaquen realized that at 2 inches by 6.5 inches the computer could easily fit into a car stereo compartment, creating a powerful “brain” for any vehicle.

The cost varies according to the components of the computer chosen. In Greenwald's case, he selected the basic US$500 model, and the total cost of the installation came to US$2,500.

The Mac Mini auto designs provide for touch screen or conventional LCD display options, and although the Mac Mini mounts in a single-DIN slot in the dash, Classic Restorations will customize installation to fit under the seat, in the glove box or any other location in the car.

According to Benzaquen, the Mac Mini supports voice recognition and voice response, allowing for hands-free operation while driving. It also supports Bluetooth, allowing for the use of a wide array of wireless peripherals, such as keyboards and cellphones. Drivers can use the customized computer to log in to home networks and transfer files wirelessly. And, yes, Mac games can also be played on the Mac Mini.

Since word got out, Classic Restorations has been inundated with calls. Aside from the MacNova, as it's being called, the shop has completed similar projects on an '85 El Camino and a '03 Toyota Land Cruiser, as well as a top-of-the-line job on a '98 Jeep Grand Cherokee at a total cost of US$7,000. At least one other shop in the U.S. has followed Classic Restoration's lead, and, according to Benzaquen, the number of enthusiasts doing the work themselves is also growing.

For Canadians, Classic Restorations is offering a kit, priced at US$1,600 (sans computer), to any high-end stereo equipment shop that specializes in automobile installations. The one concern critics had with the Mac Mini auto was battery usage, but Benzaquen confirms that a buffer battery will be installed that will allow the Mac to go into sleep mode whenever the transmission is off. Let's just hope that Greenwald pulls over before jamming the first eight bars of AC/DC's “Hells Bells.”