Digital Age

Replacing '59 Impala Dials With Numeric Readouts

Saul Vargas Mar 15, 2005 0 Comment(s)

The lavish chrome and Buck Rogers styling of dashboards from the late-'50s and early '60s are funky enough in stock form for many custom fans. Others, however, like to push the styling envelope even further by blending those kitschy, retro, rocket-age elements with truly modern ingredients like digital instrumentation.

The crew at Bow Tie Connection in San Pedro, California, recently had a customer from the latter camp. He wanted digital instruments in his '59 Impala, and Sal at Bow Tie Connection knew just where to turn: Dakota Digital. The company offers many styles of stand-alone digital dials, as well as specific-fit kits for a wide variety of applications, including '59 and '60 Chevys.

Like most modern instruments, those from Dakota Digital are electronic in operation, meaning, they use sensors that send electric pulses to the instruments. In this case, the pulses are sent to a control box--an electronic brain if you will--which interprets them and sends vital information to the appropriate gauge. This means that the instruments themselves actually take up very little space behind the gauge cluster, and the compact control box can be mounted out of the way in any number of locations.

As you'll see in the accompanying photos, installing the Dakota Digital setup is a pretty straightforward affair. Check out how Sal did it and see what you think.

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Obviously, the first step on Sal's agenda was removing the original gauge pods from the dash.

With a towel on the workbench to protect the housings, Sal removed the screws holding the gauges in place, using care not to strip any threads or break off the sometimes-weak screw heads.

The Dakota Digital instruments come pretty much ready-to-install. Note the peel-off plastic covers used to protect the gauge faces during shipping.

A new set of screws was used to hold the new digital dials in place.

The gauge cluster looked something like this after a few minutes of wrenching. Before installing it, however, Sal thought it would be wise to install new sending units and get all the wiring in order. Good move.

Under the hood, the stock temperature and oil pressure sensors had to be swapped out for new electric sending units supplied from Dakota Digital.

New digital dials would be useless without correct information, right?

With the sensors in place, Sal moved back to the dash. First, he sorted and organized the wires and removed the original light bulbs from the harness.

Things can get a little confusing when dealing with so many wires. It sometimes helps to have an original wiring diagram handy, as well as take things one wire at a time.

Dakota Digital sets its kits up with factory-style connectors and color coding wherever possible to minimize splicing and confusion during installation.

It's actually easier than it looks if you follow the instructions.

This is the electronic control box, which is essentially the brains of the operation.

Individual sensor and power wires are routed here, while a thin ribbon wire links the box to the gauges.

Saul used tie-wraps to keep the wires organized. It always pays to be tidy with wiring.

Saul reinstalled the instrument cluster before mounting the control box. That way, he could be sure the ribbon wire was long enough to reach to his chosen mounting location.

With the new gauges in place, Saul searched for a good spot to mount the brain. He eventually mounted inside the old fresh-air vent, which was no longer in service on this car.

He screwed the box in place, tucked the wires away out of sight, reinstalled the kick panel, and called it a day. It's as simple as that!

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