In my past ten years of collecting radios I have both heard and used the term “Holy Grail” or “Grail” when referring to either rare or personal dream blasters. This term is open to interpretation but when it comes to the Sanyo MX-820, the term “Holy Grail” is definitive.
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This box was found in the wild. It took me three months to acquire it. Here is that story.
Since being here in Italy, going on three years now, I have learned that the Italian people do not simply throw things away and buy the latest and greatest. Possessions may change hands many times, but they don’t get simply thrown away. This life style increases the likelihood of finding radio’s, but it also increases the likelihood of them having amateur repair work done to them. Thankfully, this radio did not suffer that fate.
There is a US military base my wife and I visit to do some of our shipping. The shopping area has a small mall section and in the main corridor are little pop up shops that have a rotation of local Italian artisans who come to sell their wares. Almost 4 months ago, while perusing the shops, I saw a large cardboard sign, which had pictures of the artist, in his home studio, working in his medium. This artist paints on pottery. In two of the pictures, in the background, out of focus, is this Sanyo MX-820. My trained eye spotted it immediately and I approached him to inquire about the radio. But I could tell he had no interest in discussing it, so I asked about his artwork, which is clearly his life’s passions. He is a man in his late 50’s early 60’s. I took a picture of his sign, which also included his email and phone number. I tried to think of a way to approach the subject, but otherwise, left it alone.
After a month, he returned to the mall and I, once again inquired about the radio. Again, he had no interest in talking about it. I kept our conversation short as to not annoy him.
Another month went by, again, his pop-up shop returned and again, I stopped by to say hello. This time, I spoke to him more about his artwork. He explained that he is a native of Naples and that his family has been here as far as there is a record or memory. We spoke about his passion for painting on pottery. While looking around his stand and thinking. I decided to make a purchase. I thought, since Christmas is coming, maybe an item for my wife. I chose something, asked him if he could paint a personal message on the back and made the purchase. Following that transaction, I inquired about the radio one more time. I simply asked if there was any way he would consider parting with it. He told me he had no attachment to it, that it was merely his shop radio. He told me he had owned if for at least 30 years and he got it from the original owner when it was almost new.
A few days later, my wife and I returned for some more shopping and I again inquired about the radio. While I was speaking with him, my wife was browsing through his display and found an item she said would be great for our daughter for Christmas. Yet another purchase was made, further greasing the wheels.
Following her transaction with him, I asked if he would consider a trade for his radio? He told me what he would really like would be a radio that played CD’s. I told him I would see what I could find.
I then drove to the local Italian shopping mall, looked around there, drove to the local Euroronics electronics store, took some pictures of some stereo’s they had with CD players and then returned the next day to his booth. He didn’t care for any of the systems I showed him and said he would like to pick something out himself. I asked him if he would simply like the money to make the purchase, but for some reason he said he would rather the two of us go shop together. Which was fine with me.
A few weeks later, he sent me a text message that he had found something at a shop and asked me to meet him there, which I did. He picked out a little Sony egg, with a built in CD player. I paid for it, we went outside and completed our transaction with him pulling the Sanyo from his trunk.
Condition of the 820:
This radio was not a shelf queen. It was a working man’s radio. Every bit as much of a tool in the workshop as the paint brushes and kiln. But it was complete. Every knob and switch tip. Everything but the antennas.
He told me that the radio worked, but that the cassette deck did not. But there were a few details that he left out.
He didn’t mention that the power was ALWAYS ON because the deck was constantly powered, so he must have been plugging and unplugging it to turn it on and off. He also didn’t mention that the only tuner band working was AM (MW in Europe). The night before I met with him to complete the transaction, I sent him a message to tell him not to try to clean the box, that I have my own procedure for cleaning. I didn’t want to risk him doing more damage trying to clean it.
Since the radio had been in a pottery workshop for thirty years, I fully expected it to be filthy and it was. When he pulled it from his trunk it looked like it had been wiped down with a wet cloth and the powdered dust left a residue across the tuning glass and aluminum front trim. Upon further inspection, I found this “residue” did not wipe off and that in fact, at some point, a chemical agent, possibly acetone was used to wipe the radio down. Basically, the whole face of the radio was etched.
I was happy to find that the radio had never been opened and no one had ever attempted any repairs. But the main flat belt was a gooey mess and all the grease throughout the deck had turned to goo as well.
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Clean Up and Repair:
If you know my history on this forum, then you know that I have acquired a host of skills for overcoming most of the issues found with these vintage machines. However, the etched tuner glass and aluminum trim was especially upsetting. This radio’s whole “Trick” is the floating digital tuner, which was basically obscured by the foggy tuner glass. I tried all sorts of cleaners to no avail. Then, with literally nothing to lose, I decided I would use scratch remover rubbing compound that is used to take scratches out of car clear coat. I tested it on a junk radio and was surprised it didn’t do any damage, so I moved on to the MX-820 tuning glass. One of the issues is, the tuning glass of the 820 is melted/bonded in place. Removal is not impossible, but finding another one is, so I needed to tread lightly. I immediately started to see encouraging results with zero damage. It took 4 hours of polishing to clear the etching from the tuner and although it’s not 100% perfect, it’s 98% free of damage. I then moved onto the aluminum trim panel and again, got super lucky. As it turns out, Sanyo, in their manufacturing process must have clear coated over the silk screening of the panel information, because the scratch remover removed the etching, but not the panel information. I was able to remove 100% of the etching from that.
I repeated this process on the cassette door plexi and VU meter plexi.
All the potentiometers and switches got a cleaned and deoxit with lube and all of them returned to service without and issues. This returned the FM and SW bands to working order.
The deck however was another story. This deck is similar to other Sanyo decks, but unique to this box. It closely resembles the MX-920, but the 920 deck uses a large single solenoid to achieve it’s operation, this deck is solenoid-free and utilizes micro electric switches in each button and precise alignment of mechanical sliders, cogs and levers. And of course, all of this stuff was covered in belt goo and old grease, now impregnated with pottery dust!
I am no deck expert, and certainly not a logic deck expert. I will also say that Sanyo did not make it easy to take this box apart since much of the internals are layered PC boards, with soldered wire connections tying it all together (think Lasonic TRC-931/920). Add in hidden screws throughout and the whole thing is a “worst case scenario” rebuild. THANKFULLY there is a service manual for this box available at http://www.analogalley.com/ and it became invaluable for this rebuild, just in terms of finding the screws to remove the chassis. Unlike JVC who utilizes a chassis, but color codes the screws (blue, purple and gold), Sanyo uses gold screws everywhere and the chassis screws are not just on the perimeter, they are sprinkled throughout the PC boards, mixed in with the screws that hold the PC boards in place.
Add in the fact that the deck mech is hard wired in and is on a short leash made doing a full tear down of the deck a real PITA.
And full tear down it was. I don’t typically go this deep into any deck, but with this radio’s value, I knew this deck has to work. Again, using the service manual, I was able to get through 98% of the rebuild only hitting one snag on reassembling that required contacting member Max in Germany who has this box. He turned me onto a video on YouTube that has still pictures of the deck that showed me I had one lever out of place. Once that was corrected, the deck fired right up. But this was still after 20 hours of cleaning and fiddling.
The last issue to deal with was a lazy left VU meter. I was able to track this down to a variable resistor on the amp board that is used to adjust the meters to be the same level left and right. It was faulty and one has been ordered. Again, thanks to the service manual. The last thing I did was track down and adjust the battery level meter and this box is complete.
In the end, I did not do a concourse restoration. I’m certain, with more time, I could restore all of its history right out of this box, making it an eBay “High Earner”. But I have chosen not to do that. This is a working mans box. It put in long hours along side it’s owner for 30+ years. I didn’t want to just wash that all down the drain. I may clean and touch up the woofer grills at a later date, but to me, it’s tied to the story. Few boxes in my collection have this much of a back story and it is now part of my time living here in Italy. Something I will never forget. It will also go into the part of my collection next to the JVC RC-M90, Clairtone 7979 and Hitachi Perdisco TRK-8600RM. This is a classification of radio’s that represents the style of many of the European boombox collectors I have met on my journey here. The high end, feature packed “Premium” boxes and I’m proud to have it.