Walbar 1255A Five Valve Car Radio

This two unit car radio was made in the late 1950's by A.W. Barrs. Wally Barrs was the proprieter of the company, hence the name "Walbar". The address of the company is shown on another radio in my collection to be 70 Princes Hwy, Arncliffe - a southern suburb of Sydney near the airport.
Walbar was a well known Australian manufacturer of car radios and accessories, such as aerials, but did not venture into domestic receivers.

The two unit concept came about because of the difficulty in fitting single unit sets into small cars, usually of European or British origin. Generally, one section contained the power supply and the other was the actual receiver. The receiver was compact enough to mount under or in the dashboard, while the bulky power supply could be mounted on the firewall. In some cases, the receiver would mount inside the glove box if there was no other space. In some instances, the speaker was mounted inside the power supply enclosure, or it would be in a third unit, again mounted wherever space could be found.
Variations of the scheme included having the receiver containing only the RF amplifier and frequency converter, and then conveying the IF to the second unit which contained the IF amplifier, detector, audio, and power supply stages.
Some two unit sets included the audio stages, or just the audio output, in the power supply unit.
The two unit design is quite different to the older Bowden cable sets. In these, the receiver  is one unit; with or without the speaker built in, but the occupants of the car operate the set by a mechanical remote control. Because the remote control has only the knobs and dial, it takes up little space and is easy to mount on or in the dash, or on the steering column.
The Bowden cables are constructed in the same way as a speedometer cable and connect the remote control to the receiver in the same way. However, as it is not possible to have sharp bends in the cables, there are still limitations with how these sets are installed. As sets became more compact with the introduction of miniature valves, IF transformers, etc, the Bowden cable type of set was obsolete by the end of the 1940's. Single unit in dash models started to become prevalent in the early 1950's and remained the standard for most Australian and American cars.

The Walbar 1255Adescribed in this article consists of the receiver, including the audio output stage, in the dash unit, and the power supply and speaker are inside the second unit. This second unit is designed to attach to the firewall with a 1/4" Whitworth bolt. Connection between the two is by a shielded cable fitted with a four pin plug.

The set was in quite good cosmetic condition, and by appearances was of late 1950's manufacture. In fact, one number stamped onto the speaker frame suggests 1959. With the PVC wiring, and components used, this would appear to be correct. The knobs were missing, and with no idea what the originals looked like, I simply replaced them with some generic Aegis types.

Simple dial. Very little of the light from the dial lamp actually reaches the dial.

It is a no frills design with a very plain dial. Like a lot of car radios, the dial only showed one or two states. This was simply because for a readable dial, there isn't enough room for all the Australian stations. If one was to relocate interstate, a new dial could be obtained. Car radio dials that did include all states showed only the main stations.
This particular set has only Queensland and NSW stations. An interesting feature is the high end of the dial is calibrated to 1620 Kc/s, yet there were no stations above 1600Kc/s at the time.

Walbar was manufacturing car radio aerials and accessories prior to the actual car radios.

The Circuit.


Some of the condensers did not have their markings visible so the values are not shown.

In keeping with the no frills design, there is no RF amplifier in the 1255A. However, looking at the chassis shows that there was an RF amplifier in another model. One can see the two holes for 7 pin valves, no doubt a 12BA6 or 6BA6 RF amplifier and 12BE6 or 6BE6 converter. In the location occupied by the 6AE8 frequency converter in the 1255A, it can be seen this is where the RF coil would be. Furthermore, the bracket mounting the two gang tuning condenser is long enough to mount a three gang unit. The tuning condenser is a Philips type.

Original condensers still in place. Two vacant holes can be seen either side of the 6AE8 which would contain the extra valves in the RF amplifier equipped version.

While permeability tuning had become standard for car radios by the end of the 1950's, the Walbar has kept with the older variable capacitor design. Incoming signal feeds into the aerial coil via an ignition filter choke. This functions as a high impedance to high frequency ignition interference. Aerial coils for car radios have a much tighter coupling between primary and secondary windings than do domestic receivers. This is simply because of the short aerial and limited signal pick up. As a result of the tight coupling, the capacitance of the aerial has considerable effect on the tuning of this coil. In common with many other car radios of the time, the aerial input is via a bayonet socket of a type which originated in the U.S.

Frequency Converter.
The frequency converter is a 6AE8 triode hexode, otherwise known as the X79 in the UK. This valve, created by Marconi-Osram, was the probably the last frequency converter valve developed for radio use. The circuit is conventional, with the triode performing as the local oscillator, and the incoming signal fed into the hexode. Because the local oscillator signal modulates the electron stream of the hexode by the third grid, the two signals are mixed, producing the usual sum and difference signals which appear at the plate.
It was not possible to identify a few condensers because of how they were positioned, but it would be safe to say the padder condenser is probably 425pF. The oscillator grid condenser is probably 50 or 100pF. The hexode grid condenser was measured at around 80pF. These latter two components are not particularly critical, but the padder most certainly is, so as to provide correct tracking between the local oscillator and RF input circuits.
It is a curiosity why the hexode grid circuit is fed via a condenser and 2.2M grid resistor, when simply connecting the aerial transformer secondary to the grid would eliminate these two components. In fact, the earthy end of the secondary is already connected to the AVC line.

Cost Cutting.
The IF amplifier is a 6BA6 used in the conventional way. It feeds one of the detector diodes in the following valve, a 12AV6, to produce the audio and AVC. The minimalist design is evident in that the converter and IF valves have no cathode bias components. The only way these valves obtain any negative bias is from the AVC line, which of course is dependent on signal strength.  If the set is not tuned to a station, there is the possibility of excess cathode current. Hopefully, the common 22K screen resistor will reduce this.
Secondly, there is just one 330pF condenser for IF filtering at the volume control. Normally, an RC filter consisting of a 47K resistor and two 100pF condensers would be used here.

The 12AV6 triode operates normally, using a high value of grid resistor to obtain the necessary bias. This works because of the proximity of the grid to the cathode in high mu triodes. The grid picks up a negative charge due to the electron stream emitted from the cathode. For this scheme to work, the resistor has to be fairly high; 4.7M to 22M are values usually used here. If the resistor is too low, the electrons are discharged too rapidly resulting in too low of a voltage.
It is strange that the unused detector diode was just left floating. Normally, when only one diode is required, both diodes are connected in parallel. If anything, the diode voltage drop would have to be reduced allowing for increased detector efficiency.

Valves from left to right are 6AE8, 6BA6, 12AV6, 12AQ5.

The IF transformers are mounted by soldering their mounting tags to the chassis. Not surprisingly, a couple of these joints were cracked, leaving the transformers to move around.

Output Stage.
Here, a 12AQ5 is used in the conventional way, with a 270R bias resistor and 25uF bypass condenser. There is the usual plate bypass condenser, but here it's rather higher than normal. Typically, it would be .01uF, but here it is .04uF. Perhaps this was required because of insufficient IF filtering before the volume control.

Power Supply & Speaker.
Unlike the U.S., 12V car electrical systems were quite common in Australia, and had been for some time prior to the mid 1950's. This was because of the prevalence of English cars here. And so, vintage car radios here are often found to be 12V. American sets, however, will usually be 6V unless made after the mid 1950's.
The Walbar 1255A is 12V. Undoubtedly, there would have been a 6V version made as well. Many, if not most, models of car radio were available in 6 or 12V. The changes are simple; essentially a rewire of the heater circuit from parallel, to series parallel, or replacing the valves with 12.6V heater types. The vibrator and transformer are also changed, and a 12V dial lamp completes the modifications.
In the 1255A, 12.6V heater valves are used, except for the converter and IF. This would be because the 6AE8 is not available with a 12.6V heater. The simple way out of this problem is to connect its heater in series with another 6.3V valve with the same heater current (300mA) - in this case the 6BA6.

The incoming 12V supply is fed via an LC filter to the power switch. This is the usual type of combined volume control with double pole switch. From there, the 12V feeds the dial lamp and valve heaters in the under dash unit. An additional feed supplies the 12X4 rectifier heater and vibrator mounted in the other enclosure.

The power supply is simple and conventional, using an Oak V5123 non-synchronous vibrator, transformer, and 12X4 rectifier. A .01uF timing capacitor (buffer) prevents contact wear by reversing the transformer primary voltage, when the contacts open, so there is minimal voltage across them at this time.. On the primary side is a .047uF for RFI suppression. In series with this is an 18R damping resistor. One thing is rather strange, and that is the B+ filtering. There is only 100R of resistance between the first (8uF) and second (16uF) filter condensers. Such a low resistance won't do much.at the low current involved. However, because of the waveform of the rectified vibrator output, not as much filtering is required as when the rectifier input is a sine wave from a mains supply. The filtered B+ feeds the speaker transformer also mounted in this box. There is a further RC filter in the under dash unit, for the front end valves and 12AQ5 screen.

Inside the power supply /speaker box. The 12X4 is behind the vibrator.

The speaker is an oval type, made by EMI (HMV) of about 6" x 4". The speaker transformer had been replaced, with the new one mounted to the back of the box, rather than the chassis where it originally was. It would appear that this had been the only ever fault in the radio. No other components had been replaced. The particular type of resistor used in this set is one that I've found to be reliable, and the AEE Microcaps are generally a lot better than the usual wax dipped types - although their plastic outer covering tends to crack and fall off. So, for its time, it would have been a very reliable set.

Given the simplicity of this set, it didn't take long to get it going. It was really pleasing to see that the component leads hadn't been twisted around the tags. This made condenser replacement very easy. All the paper condensers, except those for 12V filtering, and the RFI suppression condenser connected to the vibrator transformer primary, were replaced.
The paper condensers left in situ will not cause harm if they are leaky. None of the resistors needed replacement. The set was sufficiently modern not to worry about the electrolytic condensers either. Although mica condensers are starting to show their unreliability, I decided I'd take a chance and see if they needed replacing once the set was working. The fault that mica types develop is intermittent by nature, so it's pointless testing them, and then deciding whether or not to replace them - they will probably test OK.

Two of the AEE Microcaps did not have readable values, so they were measured prior to replacement. Even if leaky, the capacitance value will not be markedly different. An unusual aspect of these condensers is the prolific use of .04uF types. Not .047 or .039, but .04. The other non standard value was the 750K AVC isolating resistor.

Inside the power supply, the only part needing replacement was the buffer condenser. I used a 3kV ceramic type for replacement. Surprisingly, the original paper type actually measured very low leakage when tested with a 500V Megger.

New ceramic buffer capacitor fitted.

Powering Up.
Because the vibrator hadn't been used for many years, it did not prouce any output because of oxide on the power contacts. After a few minutes running, one contact cleaned itself sufficiently, but the other was a bit more stubborn, so I quickened it up by connecting this contact directly to a current limited power supply at about 20V.
B+ at the output of the 2nd filter condenser was about 190V which was fairly typical, although a little low. Observation of the vibrator waveform showed the duty cycle was less than normal, and this also showed up in that the buffer capacitance seemed a bit on the low side. As the value of buffer capacitance depends on duty cycle, among other things, if the duty cycle is lower than that of the vibrator used to design the circuit, the buffer capacitance is then insuffucient.

Rear of under dash unit after condenser replacement. The ignition interference coil can be seen in the bottom right corner. Note the tiny slot in front of the dial lamp - no wonder the iluumination is so poor.

As for the performance, the sensitivity appeared poor for a car radio. In fact, considering this is a superhet, my home made five valve regenerative car radio actually pulled in more stations, more clearly.
Fotunately, the excessive top cut capacitance in the 12AQ5 plate circuit didn't seem to make the sound as mellow as I thought it might.

Vibrator Adjustment.
The Oak V5123 vibrator used in this set runs at 100 c/s with an 80% duty cycle. From this, we can deduce that each contact on its own will have a 40% duty cycle. Conveniently, the 100 cycle operation enables us to see everything in nice round numbers - the period being 10ms. It follows, therefore, that each contact should make for 4ms, and break for 1ms, when looking at the full wave waveform.
The vibrator from the Walbar was connected up to the vibrator test panel and the waveform observed.

Vibrator undergoing analysis.

As suspected, the duty cycle was low. Instead of 4ms, the contacts were making for 3.36ms. As the B+ voltage was not excessively low, I could have simply increased the buffer capacitance to compensate, and thought no more of it. However, not being one who encourages changing component values in commercially made circuits, and because the Oak vibrator is easy to work on, I thought I should do the correct thing and restore it to specifications. I had noticed also that the vibrator did not always start, which indicated something wrong with the driving coil contact adjustment. This adjustment is easily done by means of a set screw and locking nut. Indeed, it seemed odd that there was so much pressure on the normally closed driver contact. Often the vibrator would need a thump to get it started. Application of 12V was not sufficient to get the contact to open when the reed swung over. Once this was readjusted, the vibrator reliably started every time with less than 5V. I can only put this excessive contact pressure down to human error when the vibrator was initially set up at manufacture.

Right on spec, correct duty cycle restored.

To obtain the correct duty cycle entails carefully bending the arms of the fixed contacts, with a narrower spacing obviously increasing the duty cycle. From information from AWA, (the makers of MSP/Oak products in Australia), the vibrator contact adjustments have a 5% tolerance at 40% duty cycle. This means 3.8 to 4.2ms is acceptable.
After both contacts were adjusted, the full wave operation was checked:

Full wave operation into a resistive load is the most accurate way to test a vibrator. A slight unbalance can be seen, with the other contact making for 3.88ms, but it was not felt worth trying to improve upon this.

The contact condition was good with no pitting.  With the vibrator now readjusted, it was re-installed and the buffer waveform checked. No contact sparking was visible.
It is worth noting that the reduction in duty cycle which occurred here (from 80% down to 67%)  would have resulted in poor starting had the vibrator been a shunt drive type. If that had been the situation, the vibrator would definitely have to be readjusted for it to continue working.
So, why the reduced duty cycle? From the black deposits spread around the inside of the vibrator can, it would indicate contact erosion from contact sparking. This is certainly not normal. Unless a vibrator has been sparking, the inside should be spotlessly clean. When I tested the power supply after recapping the radio and readjusting the vibrator contacts there was no sparking at all, the current draw was normal, and the vibrator waveform was correct.
Possibilities are:

When a well designed vibrator (such as the Oak) is used within ratings and in a correctly designed circuit, it should be in excellent condition after many years of use. Out of many Oak vibrators that I have examined, there have been only three with black deposits. The other two were known to have been overloaded.

Waveform across full primary of the transformer.

Apart from slight unbalance, the waveform was what it should be. Vibrator life should now be normal, and so long as not to be worth worrying about.
The B+ had increased to about 213V.

Some increase in gain was obtained by realigning the IF transformers, and adjusting the aerial trimmer. It was noted that the aerial trimmer ran out of adjustment before a peak could be achieved. This suggests too much aerial capacitance. Further evidence of a mismatch was that simply placing my finger near the ignition coil filter coil provided much better reception than with the aerial plugged in.
Current drain at 12V is about 2.2A. On that basis, the missing fuse was replaced with a 5A type. The fuse holder is of the metal bayonet type - the fittings being of the same dimensions as the aerial connectors. It must be mentioned that the fuse when used with this type of holder must be encased in an insulating sleeve. If this is not done, the metal casing will touch the fuse ends, thus bypassing the fuse, as well as making the casing live at 12V. This would be a short circuit hazard should the fuse holder touch something earthed.
This insulating sleeve was missing so one was made one from cardboard.