Since the acquiring of my Flex 3000, (which i’m still learning how to master BTW), a radio which is just about capable of the same things my 590SG is capable of, albeit some different filters and such, I started to get the itch for mobile HF! After many hours of paralysis analysis, going through other Tacoma owners past experiences, reading over K0BG’s website, and thumbing through hundreds of pictures of other hams mobile installs, I finally had a plan in mind.
My goal was to add HF capability to my 2013 Toyota Tacoma, & enhance the existing VHF/UHF radio setup in the truck. Surprisingly the 590SG is compact enough IMHO for a nice mobile install, however someone with a smaller vehicle might not have the luxury of so much space. I rarely use the access cab except to throw junk in, so why not utilize it better?
While I was acquiring everything, I decided to do a quick precheck on the truck to see how difficult this project was going to be, surprisingly, the Tacoma is very accommodating to ham radio operators! Everywhere I looked there was a spot to route a cable and a clamp to hold it there, there was even a port with a rubber boot already right where I needed the coax to come up and connect with the radio! Not all installs will go that easy for sure… but if you happen to have a Tacoma, rest assured that you’ll have plenty of room to route your cables and get a nice clean install in the process!
During the pre-check I noticed my battery was starting to show signs of needing replacing. It was always spewing/corroding/needing filled, and a bit harder to crank so I decided to replace it. The heat is pretty brutal on batteries here in Texas, I chose to go with an Optima yellow top, specifically because i’ll like to operate several hours at a time with the engine off, putting this ‘deep cycle’ battery through plenty of use. Some say the red-top may have been a better option because it provides more juice in shorter spurts basically, but I decided to go with a yellow top for my application. This will be a specific requirement to each hams own station, so your requirements may be different! By no means do you need to go out and buy a new battery, if yours is good, go with it! I really wanted to switch to an ‘AGM sealed-type’ battery.
I installed the power wire harness (12 AWG) – red & black separate wires with a black pvc sheath encasing both wires. Inline fuse was included on the positive only cable at the battery (25 amps). This power cable was attached neatly to the battery using terminals with a strong mechanical crimp, protected by 3M electrical tape. Zip ties are your friend in a project like this, the power harness was secured all along the length of my factory wiring harness.
The previous terminals were super corroded, so I grabbed a battery terminal cleaner kit, and polished these babies right back up. Keep all that grime & corrosion that drips off the terminals off the battery & off your vehicle by placing an old towel or paper towels under the terminals as you clean them. Toyota already gave me ample space to route the power cord through near where the main wiring harness enters the firewall through a rubber grommet.
Once through, on the Anderson Powerpoles went! This would eventually be connected to a RigRunner 4005H that I was using in my shack. I will just hard tie my stuff in my shack directly to my power supply for the time being with terminals! I’m glad that I had this rig runner, I can’t imagine having ran power cables for every device. Not only do they provide for a super clean install, but allow easy connection of any other 12v peripherals you might have powerpoles on, just be sure not to exceed the power rating of your fuse. My 590SG uses at peak power around 20.5 amps (about 1.5 on receive only). The FTM400DR around 13 amps (about .5 on receive). My main power harness as you’ll remember earlier has a 25 amp fuse in it.
After reviewing some other hams’ experiences with a low cost mobile HF antenna that would get the job done and not break the bank, I stumbled across an antenna called a Wolf River Coils Silver Bullet. The antenna looks homebrew, but rest assured, it’s well made. A machine lathe grinds a 1/64″ groove into the side of the PVC – deep enough to set the coil, but shallow enough to maintain the structural integrity of the PVC. The coil is also wound amazingly tight on there, it has to be as there’s a stainless steel clip that slides up and down as you need to adjust the antenna. At $60, I think the price is a steal, and for someone just getting into mobile HF, it was a no-brainer. I have no doubt that eventually i’ll want to upgrade one day, but what appealed to me about this antenna was that it would work out as an excellent portable ops antenna – especially paired with an MFJ-1979 16.5′ telescoping whip! Would make for a pretty efficient 1/4 wave portable vertical antenna on 80-10 meters, (i’ve heard of guys using it on all bands actually – but 80-10 is what the manufacturer advertises). It’s rated for a maximum of 400 watts, but only for short bursts, a 100 watt setup should be no problem for this guy. If you want more info, just check them out here: Wolf River Coils Silver Bullet 1000.
I acquired my antenna mount from REP Design. Specifically their Toyota-Trac mount that fits perfectly into the existing track system installed into my rear bed. This thing is a beast. So well built. I can see this mount lasting a long time, but I needed to be sure to ground this thing to the existing trac which was metal, and the body panel behind. I chose to replace the bolts that Toyota used in the trac where I connected to it with stainless hardware with some anti-seeze because the Toyota bolts had a black powder coat over them.
I found these braided grounding straps @ O’Reilly Auto Parts. I have some braid, but none with terminals, nor the tool to install them, so thought this was the next best option. You can even tin the end of some braided strap & drill a hole through it, but I thought this would look cleaner. I will eventually replace these long braided straps with shorter & wider straps from Georgia Copper
I decided to go with a custom shelf for my access cab. I never have passengers sit in the rear, but I did have to get rid of my sub/amp combo back there, I don’t need to expose my radios to the constant vibration coming from a subwoofer speaker, lol! My shelf was specifically measured for my radios, but if you want the measurements, just let me know, i’ll scrounge them up! I found some recycled black speaker box carpet @ Pep Boys, it was a 3’x6′ sheet for $14.99, I have plenty leftover for a future project? 🙂 I’m not the best at carpeting, but I basically just cut out a pattern, and started folding back. The outer corners were easy, the inner corners were tricky, so I just tacked in a little piece in there! Flipped over, you’d never know it was such a crappy job!
I basically removed the rear seatbelts, cut two holes in the board, and I tried to find two M12x1.5 bolts, but none of the stores around here carried them, and the existing bolts from the seatbelt harnesses couldn’t be removed, so I used two skinnier bolts with a washer/nut combo to bolt the rear of the shelf down to where the seatbelts were and tightened everything down (not super tight).
I was just going to strap the radio down using some rubber straps initially, but figured it’d be a good investment to purchase the mobile bracket for the 590SG. Which is the Kenwood MB-430M2. More info on this bracket can also be found in your 590’s instruction manual. This bracket is bolted to the shelf with short 1/2″ screws. This mounting bracket can be mounted either way on the 590 (top or bottom for your convenience!), & to top it all off, the radio will then be held down to two tie downs w/ a rubber strap. I figured all of this protection would be enough for my truck. You don’t want this thing becoming a projectile in an accident. The FTM-400DR’s base is mounted directly next to the 590, with easy access to the SD card if need be. (Note the DIY mic extension kit – RJ12 cable w/ RJ45 coupler w/ ferrite). There was barely enough room to install the RigRunner on the end, but I decided to squeeze it on there anyways. I thought about putting all the electrical inside one of the enclosed compartments in the rear, but again, wanted to minimize any drilling, and I think this worked out pretty good.
I bonded the hood to the right front quarter panel:
Then the exhaust to the frame:
As you can see, the Tacoma had an open spot with a nut welded to the frame here, so I removed the powder coating from the head of the nut, and bonded the terminal here for the exhaust and ran the other end of the strap to the exhaust flange bolts and just put a flange nut over it.
After initial testing (as seen in the above measurement on 40 meters), I was interested in getting my Z, R & X values as close as possible to where they were supposed to be. These initial numbers were promising to me! I decided to add an extra wide (4ga) ground strap between the antenna mount and a piece of metal inside the bed that was connected directly with the frame & bumper below.
I did wear off the protective coating where these contact points are so i’ll need to weather protect them really good, else they’ll just oxidize & present problems. I put the analyzer back on…
Darn time change… gets dark so quick now! New scans were showing even more promising numbers:
I couldn’t get higher than 17meters with a 102″ whip. Not to worry, i have the MFJ-1979 telescopic whip that’ll give me those other bands, and allow for more efficient operation on lower bands by allowing me to use less of the coil. Basically the more coil you use, the narrower your bandwidth gets, so get as much vertical as you can!
Finished up mounting the HF radio in the truck once the antenna was good:
It was time for my first contact! It was a nice clear night so I just pulled down to the end of the street where a little cul-de-sac is…
N5CFB, Jon, a friend of mine in Buda, TX, was kind enough to help me do my first test on 40 meters tonight (even though the band was experiencing lots of static crashes due to local thunderstorms that had just moved out of the area). I told him to meet me at 7.260 which is where the Silver Bullet was tuned for with the analyzer. I heard Jon call out & sure enough, he heard me! Well i’ll let you watch the video, but it was so pleasing to know that it was working! It was no DX contact, but it was working 🙂 Thank you Jon!
If there was one thing I walked away with during this project, that’s to take your time. Don’t get in a rush & take shortcuts. Remember your attempting to use your vehicle as a ground plane for bands up to 80 meters with an antenna like this! The idea with such a small HF antenna is to make it as efficient as possible. To me it’s amazing that it even works. One part antenna theory, one part black magic… 😛 Now I can take HF with me everywhere!
Wishing you the very best in DX.