Some gearheads seek out period-correct hose clamps and original generators to score points with the purists, while others just want to have fun with their cars. With a car like our ’57 Chevy, there’s not much that hasn’t already been done to make it stand out, so we’re building ours to suit our personal fancy. These cars are meant to be driven, and with that in mind, we need to keep an eye on the vitals. One thing that vehicles of this vintage lack is accurate instrumentation. If you’re OK with “C” and “H” as engine temperature information, the factory gauges will suffice. The factory setup also includes a speedometer and a fuel level gauge. Today, we expect to see these plus a tachometer, voltmeter, and oil pressure at minimum.
We chose to replace the factory grimy gauges with a kit from Dakota Digital. You may know them for their original all-digital blue digit readout displays, but they also have quite a variety of options for these classics. We opted for the VHX kit (PN VHX-57C), which replaces the speedometer, the two smaller gauges in the main dash insert behind the wheel, and the clock in the right side of the dash. It features lit needles, blacklit faces, and digital LCD screens for a variety of readings. The analog dials’ inputs come from modern sensors that deliver more stable readings than the sensors of yesterday. Our kit came with a 160-mph speedometer, 8,000-rpm tachometer, water temperature, oil pressure, voltmeter, fuel level, and two digital readout fields. These fields can be programed to read as a clock, hour-meter, 0-60-mph timer, 1/4-mile timer, 1/4-mile speed, high speed recall, and high rpm recall. Dakota Digital supplies all the wiring, sensors, and hardware to get these gauges in and working. Since we’re not using the drivetrain that’s currently in the car, we weren’t able to demonstrate how to install the speedometer and transmission functions. The speedometer, which was originally cable driven, will now be using Dakota Digital’s GPS interface. The automatic transmission sensor for full-word readout is also available to further customize the installation.
With about three hours of installation time into this, we have gotten everything to work properly without a hitch. The icing on the cake was a matching analog clock to sit in the dash, replacing the factory unit. A digital clock is also available for the same location for another level of modern-day coolness.
01. We begin taking out the original dash by removing the Philips head screws along the underside.
02. Once the cluster is free, we disconnected the speedometer cable and cut the wires, leaving more length on the car side. We labeled the cut wires for later use; we will reuse the dash light power and key-on power wires.
03. With the original cluster on the bench, we started disassembly to make way for the new Dakota Digital parts. First, we removed the retainers for the indicator lights.
04. Next, we removed the backing to the speedometer, revealing the odometer assembly and numbered speedometer lens.
05. Here are the new gauges that include the central speedometer, tachometer, voltmeter, and fuel level, as well as the peripheral oil pressure and engine temperature gauges.
06. Before the center gauge drops in we reinstall the trim ring.
07. The gauge drops in behind the trim ring. Make sure to keep the wiring ribbon from dropping into the gauge pocket.
08. The center gauge and two smaller gauges are retained by supplied Phillips head screws.
09. Once the gauges are in place the wiring ribbons are connected.
10. The factory indicator lenses are replaced by Dakota Digital’s blackout lenses. The retainers are reinstalled the same way they came out, with a single flathead screw each.
11. Before the cluster goes back in we hook up the CAT-5 cable that connects the cluster to the control module.
12. All the signal wires and power wires connect to the control module and are retained by flathead screws.
13. The control module needs to be located in a cool, dry place like on the cabin side of the firewall or in the glovebox. We installed ours under the factory fuse box.
14. We installed the water temperature sensor into the intake manifold next to the thermostat housing. The kit includes a number of adapters that allow you to install it in various watery locations.
15. The oil pressure signal comes from the passage at the rear of the block just behind the intake manifold deck sealing surface.
16. Different ignition types will dictate where the tachometer signal will come from. In our case, we used the tachometer signal tab attached to the distributor cap.
17. You only need to have basic wiring skills to perform this installation yourself. All that’s required is to strip the ends, attach the wires to the freshly installed sensors, distributor lead, headlight switch, 12-volt power, ignition-triggered power, and ground. The sensors are a simple plug-in style using the supplied harness, making the install even easier.
18. Now that everything is buttoned up, we can step back and take a look at the finished product. The new gauges look right at home in the vintage pod and function beautifully.