Few things are more vanilla than some of Chevrolet’s instrument clusters from back in the day. Classic Chevy Impalas and Novas, to mention just two examples, sported boring horizontal-sweep speedometers, fuel and temp gauges, and an array of idiot lights, which didn’t do much to inform—let alone inspire.
If you have the budget and inspiration (we don’t always have the former), you can get into a complete AutoMeter instrument cluster for your classic Chevy for under $1,200. Following the AutoMeter instructions carefully—you provide the labor—AutoMeter provides a terrific, American-made product that excites the senses and brings your classic Chevy into the 21st century.
We’re working with Joel Rode of Hot Rod Specialties in Upland, California, who is bringing a 1969 Chevy Nova back to life. Joel has taken care of the sheetmetal and bodywork to get it ready for paint. The car sports a warmed-over small-block and a recently upgraded 700-R4 for some aggressive street driving and a little drag racing. Future upgrades include subframe connectors, fresh paint, and a new powerplant.
For now, Joel is going to fit the Nova with an AutoMeter instrument cluster consisting of:
Direct Fit Nova 1969-’76 Cluster (PN 2134)
5-inch 0-160 mph Carbon Fiber Speedometer (PN 4889)
5-inch 0-10,000 rpm Carbon Fiber Tachometer (PN 4898)
2 1/16-inch 0-100 psi Carbon Fiber Oil Pressure Gauge (PN 4727)
2 1/16-inch 100-200 degree Carbon Fiber Water Temperature Gauge (PN 4737)
2 1/16-inch Carbon Fiber Fuel Level Gauge (PN 4714)
These are all electric gauges that read vehicle parameters via sending units located at the engine, fuel tank, and transmission. The one exception is the tachometer, which is signaled off the negative post of the ignition coil. Instrument lights get power from the existing lighting circuit. You can mount turn and high-beam indicators in the cluster any way you desire.
1. When you order the cluster and the AutoMeter Carbon Fiber series instruments, there’s nothing left to want because AutoMeter includes the senders, which are calibrated to these instruments. They all operate off a 12-volt power source and your Chevy’s existing wiring harness. The only wiring you have to add is the tachometer lead to the ignition coil. We’ll be mounting the gauges to a Classic Dash panel.
2. The first order of business for Joel is mounting the instruments to the Classic Dash panel and building an instrument cluster wiring harness. AutoMeter also offers a universal wiring harness kit if you don’t want to build the harness yourself.
3. The AutoMeter Carbon Fiber instruments are easy to mount and the cluster is a spot-on perfect fit.
4. The instruments mount via these simple plastic slide-on mounts and thumbscrew-style nuts with lock washers.
5. Joel begins assembling the wiring harness with the instrument lights first, with white as the hot lead and black as the ground. All the lights are tied together in a common harness for ease of installation and removal for service.
6. Once the instrument lights are handled, Joel moves on to each instrument with color-coded wiring. Each instrument gets its own color, with a switched power lead and a specific color to ground (sender or trigger).
7. Joel opts for MSD multiplex plugs from Summit Racing Equipment that are weatherproof at the instrument cluster and the vehicle. This approach enables plug-and-play functionality along with easy service.
8. The stock instrument panel removal begins with the perimeter screws, which frees up the cluster.
9. The multiplex plug at the back of the cluster is disconnected along with the speedometer cable. Remember to wrap the steering column with a towel to protect its paint/finish.
10. The headlight and windshield wiper switches are transferred to the AutoMeter cluster.
11. The AutoMeter cluster is complete and ready for installation. Note the close attention to detail here. All the instruments and lights are zip-tied together into this harness.
12. Joel has installed this MSD multiplex plug at the main wiring loom. You can tie the AutoMeter instruments to the factory harness using this multiplex plug, which makes installation and removal for service easy.
13. Here’s a better look at the MSD plug and how it is configured.
14. Joel carefully positions the AutoMeter cluster. Note that he has already installed the Vintage Air climate control switching, which is attached to the panel.
15. The AutoMeter cluster is seated into the dashboard. Check out the perfect fit.
16. The factory panel screws are reused to secure the panel to the dash.
17. The steering column is secured as shown once the AutoMeter-gauge-filled-Classic-Dash-panel is seated and installed.
18. A nice touch is the light bulb covers that enable you to change instrument colors. Joel has chosen green to match the Nova’s exterior color. You may also opt for LED bulbs from Summit Racing Equipment, which run cooler and come in a wide range of colors.
Hot Rod Specialties
Photos: Jim Smart