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How to Renew the 1960 Corvette Gauge Cluster

A Dash of Class: Restoration and Modification of the C1 Gauge Cluster

Gerry Burger Apr 11, 2016 0 Comment(s)
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Few things are more iconic than the gauge cluster on the 1958-’62 Corvette. The speedometer “bubble” is a focal point of the dashboard when viewed from behind the wheel or from outside the car. The tachometer is located front and center, exactly where a tachometer should be placed for performance driving. On either side of the tachometer, vital signs are displayed in four separate gauges that are easy to read. It is a performance dashboard laid out with spirited driving in mind. The contrast of gloss paint and a vinyl dashpad adds a classic feel to the dashboard, and there is just enough art deco feel to the gauge cluster to transport you back to 1960 with the simple twist of the ignition key.

As we continue to make progress on our 1960 Corvette project we are finally getting into some glamour jobs. Since our car is modified, refreshing the gauge cluster brought with it some decisions. The basis of our 1960 Corvette project is simple, “What if Chevrolet had offered a big-block Corvette in 1960.” Actually, Chevrolet did build a test mule or two with the 348 W-motor under the hood but it had less than zero support from Mr. Duntov so it was never seriously considered for production. However, 56 years later we have decided to produce our interpretation of what the car might have been.

The fun part of modifying any car is the personal decisions made along the way. I like to make subtle changes that “real Corvette guys” might notice. In my imaginary world (where I live a good portion of my life), I think of these modifications as something Chevrolet may have offered to designate “big-block only.” One such subtle change was rebuilding the four small gauges using green-face gauges found in the 1961-’62 Corvette. Subtle yes, but I just like the mint green fonts better and so I ordered new 1962 gauges. Another subtle and smart upgrade is to convert from an amp gauge to a voltmeter. Complete gauge clusters are available—simply bolt them in—or the existing gauges can be rebuilt, a fairly straightforward process with original-style replacement parts. We opted to rebuild the four small gauges on our home workbench.

Our ’60 Corvette had last seen duty sometime in the early ’70s as a street/strip car and the tachometer opening had been hogged out to accept an old S&W tachometer. This was a common practice in the ’60s and ’70s, and I remember many Sun tachs mounted in the enlarged stock location. We could have ordered a new upper gauge panel and reverted to the stock, smaller tach but it seemed somehow proper to keep the modified piece in the car. After all, it is part of the car’s history. Plus, we like big tachs! A quick visit to the Classic Instruments website produced several good choices and yes, they also have the smaller original size Corvette tachometers. Not only did Classic Instruments have cool tachometers on the shelf ready to go, they also offer custom gauges. Once again going to the subtle side, we had the team at Classic Instruments build a larger than original (3 3/8-inch) tachometer that has the same graphics as the original 1960 Corvette tachometer. Of course, the red pointer is custom and we opted for a “halo light” that blinks when the turn signals are activated. The result is a tach that makes you do a double take. It looks stock but something is different.

The speedometer is the largest and most visible gauge in the dash and since we had green fonts on our 1962-style small gauges we wanted green on the speedometer. Once again, should someone ask about the special green-font speedometer our response will be “big-block only.” But we didn’t stop there; we also had Classic Instruments convert the speedometer to electronic operation. Since we are running a 700-R4 in the car, this is the best way to get a spot-on accurate speedometer, and it eliminates running a big, bulky cable to the back of the dash.

To complete the gauge cluster we added new switches, giving us a dash of Corvette parts and custom gauges all wrapped up in one very vintage-appearing package. Below the gauges an ididit steering column is mounted, but we’ll address that in a future article. For now, let’s dig into refurbishing the C1 gauge cluster.

2 1960 Corvette Project Gauges 2/25

01. We began the process by stripping the cluster to bare metal and doing typical prep and paintwork, including sanding the casting. Note the tachometer opening has been opened up to accept a larger, aftermarket 3 3/8-inch tachometer.

3 Four Crimps 3/25

02. Four crimps hold the bezel and lens over the front of the gauges. A large screwdriver and patience is required to remove the front bezel. We were able to refurbish all the parts but we did purchase new acrylic lenses.

4 1960 Chrome Bezel 4/25

03. The chrome bezel behind the lens glows red at night through the appropriate gauge lettering (i.e., OIL, TEMP, etc.). The very thin red plastic light filters had shrunk and melted from years of use. Also note the pieces are all indexed by one flat end to ensure proper assembly.

5 X Acto Knife 5/25

04. We purchased new red filters from Corvette Central and used an X-Acto knife to carefully separate the super-thin film from the clear backing. We used a sparing dab of contact cement to hold the plastic filters in place.

6 Gauge Panel 6/25

05. Here we can see the new filters covering the holes. This side of the panel faces the inside of the gauge housing.

7 Gauge Housing 7/25

06. Speaking of the gauge housing, we removed all of the nuts from the gauge mounts and removed the old gauges. Likewise, the light bulb socket was removed from the housing.

8 Factory Green Paint 8/25

07. Our factory green paint was in reasonably good condition, but there was some light flaking of the paint that could have worked its way onto a gauge face or lens. To prevent flaking we applied two coats of clear to the inside of the housing.

9 Gauges Corvette 9/25

08. We cleaned up the outside of the housing and gave it a fresh coat of silver paint. Then we bolted brand-new reproduction gauges into the refinished cups.

10 Reproduction Gauges 10/25

09. While our car is a 1960, we opted to use 1962 gauges with the mint green fonts. The new replacement gauges are good insurance that everything will work properly.

11 Cover Plate Gauges 11/25

10. Next, the cover plate goes over the gauges with the green side facing the gauges. This shows the new red light filters glued in place. Once again, note that the right side is flat, while the left side of the panel is round to ensure proper assembly.

12 Chrome Faceplates Gauges 12/25

11. The chrome faceplates go over the red filter panel, then the outer chrome bezel goes on top with the new acrylic concave lenses in place. Then, carefully hold the assembly together and crimp the panel back together.

13 Chrome Faceplates Red Filter Panel 13/25

12. When it came time to do the speedometer and tachometer we deferred to the experts at Classic Instruments. Our speedometer mechanism was frozen solid; we quickly realized this was a job for the professionals.

14 Modify Speedometer 14/25

13. While we opted to modify our speedometer with a new electronic mechanism, Classic Instruments can also restore and repair an original unit, right down to saving the date code.

15 Corvette Speedometer 15/25

14. When the speedometer came back to us it looked better than a new one, and the conversion to an electronic speedometer ensures reliability and accuracy. Stock turn signal indicators, parking brake warning light and high beam indicator are all completely restored and worked into the new wiring harness.

16 Speedometer Hash Marks 16/25

15. Of course, the real beauty is in viewing them from the front. We had the speedometer hash marks done in mint green to match our small gauges. The tachometer is nothing less than a work of art, using factory 1960 Corvette-style graphics on the larger 3 3/8-inch tachometer.

17 Classic Instruments Mounting Bracket 17/25

16. From the rear we were able to use the Classic Instruments mounting bracket to hold the tach in place. Take your time to ensure it is perfectly straight. Like the speedometer, the tach is prewired into one clean harness.

18 Four Gauges Corvette 18/25

17. Looking from the front, we have our four small refurbished gauges along with the new Classic Instruments tach in place. It all looks very factory, but real Corvette guys will pick up on the subtle changes.

19 Mounting Speedometer 19/25

18. Installing the gauges is pretty straightforward work. We began by mounting the new speedometer housing on the top stud.

20 Convert Pulses Box 20/25

19. This box converts pulses from our 700-R4 transmission to a signal for the electronic speedometer. It is prewired to plug into the speedometer, while the wires from the pulse generator attach to the three studs.

21 Speedometer Signal Box 21/25

20. We mounted the speedometer signal box on the left side of the ididit steering column. This is an accessible location that will allow us to dial in perfect accuracy by simply changing a couple of the DIP switches on the box.

22 Pulse Generator 22/25

21. This pulse generator and wiring harness come with the Classic Instruments speedometer. The wiring diagram is simple, clear and printed for your exact application.

23 Pulse Generator Gear Housing 23/25

22. The pulse generator simply threads onto the speedometer gear housing. This pulse generator sends the signal to the speedometer box. We left an access panel when we mounted our Lokar shifter, but this work can be completed from under the car, too.

24 Lower Gauge Panel 1960 Corvette Dashboard 24/25

23. We bolted the lower gauge panel in place and suddenly it was looking like a brand-new dashboard. The new ignition key, switches and lighter complete the cluster and we simply love the look of that big tach front and center.

25 1960 Corvette Con2r Steering Wheel 25/25

24. With all those nice new gauges in place we couldn’t resist bolting the Con2r steering wheel to the ididit column. We are more than pleased with this great blend of the old and new.

Sources

Ididit
Tecumseh, MI 49286
517-424-0577
www.ididit.com
Classic Instruments
Boyne City, MI 49712
800-575-0461
www.classicinstruments.com
Corvette Central
Sawyer, MI 49125
800-345-4122
www.corvettecentral.com
CON2R
(503) 626-6390
http://con2r.com/
Lokar
Knoxville, TN 37932
877-469-7440
http://www.lokar.com

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