Sure our cars run on gas and their engines make way more horsepower than any little electric motor could, but how about using electricity to monitor their performance? Traditionally, hot rodders have avoided electric gauges, opting instead for the clumsy and sometimes cumbersome mechanical variety. Even though practically every major automaker in the world relies exclusively on electric gauges, hot rodders think they need a mechanical eye. Sure championship racecars may use mechanical gauges, but they have the room and usually don't need to route bulky connectors through stock firewalls. We're here to allay your fears of the electric world and show you how to get your car wired for performance.
The advantages of using electric gauges come from their smaller design and the lack of a need to bore big holes in your car's firewall for mechanical connections. Another advantage to electric gauges is that there's never a chance of a gauge leak ruining your car's interior or injuring someone. Besides, mounting the electric senders and routing the wires back to the gauges is typically a no-brainer, with only one connection usually needed at each point.
We squeezed six electric Auto Meter Phantom gauges into the factory console of our '70 Camaro project. A 160-mph 5-inch electric speedometer and a 5-inch tach are the big gauges, and we even fabbed a bracket to mount the new LED shift light in the cigarette lighter's old hole. The 2 1/16-inch engine monitors we chose are a standard 0-100-psi oil pressure gauge and a 100-250-degree water temp gauge. The other two gauges we installed addressed the fuel system. Since this car will see plenty of street cruising, we used Auto Meter's 0-90-ohm fuel level gauge that works with the stock GM sender. We also added Auto Meter's trick new 0-100-psi fuel pressure gauge with a Telltale box that records high- and low-fuel-pressure readings. If you're not fuel injected, you could substitute Auto Meter's new Air/Fuel ratio monitor instead. We've heard great things about its ability to help dial in the jetting on a carbureted motor.
To make this installation go as smoothly as possible we wired all the new gauges together using a Painless Performance wiring harness made specifically for this type of aftermarket gauge application. Getting the gauges to physically fit in the console was actually the hardest part of the job, but now we've got a clean and clear way to safely monitor our engine's vital signs.
Each of the six factory gauge holes had to be enlarged to fit the Auto Meter Phantom gauges. In this photo you can see the difference between the stock and modified hole size for both the speedo and fuel level gauges.
Three of the electric gauges we could have installed have no mechanical counterparts and need some extra components. The 0-100-psi Telltale fuel pressure gauge comes with a wiring panel (center) that gives you the ability to recall high and low readings. The LED shift light uses a remote rpm switch (left) that connects to the ignition system. If you install the air/fuel ratio meter. You'd have to weld a bung into your exhaust collector and install Auto Meter's included O2 sensor for readings.
We used the 5-inch speedo and tach as their own circle cutting templates. Just make sure to center gauges in the existing hole and use a pencil to draw the line. Check the fit of your gauges often and remember that each hole does not have to be perfectly round when you're finished because the bezel will cover up minor imperfections.
The finished console with all its enlarged holes was then bead-blasted and readied for satin-black paint. We even enlarged the old cigarette lighter's hole (upper right corner) to accept our new Auto Meter LED Shift Light.
A hobby shop supplied the black plastic piece we needed to cover the factory shift indicator window. We mixed up some 5-Minute epoxy and glued the plastic in place. We'll drill a hole and mount a new high beam indicator lamp in here next.
The Auto Meter LED Shift Light came with a bracket to mount it to the dash or steering column. We fabricated this mounting bracket from 0.032-inch think aluminum to mount the light on the back of the panel. There are two factory screw holes in the back of the panel that were just right to secure the bracket.
It was simple to seal the Shift Light to the panel with some black RTV silicone, so it wouldn't rattle and there'd be no visible gap around it.
We replaced the stock turn indicator lights with some bright LEDs from an electronics store. They're held in place with a simple push-on clip, but you must drill the hole to 5/16-inch diameter first.
Auto Meter supplies an aluminum mounting bracket with each gauge that is designed to mount on a shallow panel. The deep plastic of our console meant that we had to cut about 1/4 inch off the ends first.
It may appear daunting, but after you've made a few connections with the Painless wiring harness, it really is painless. It has connections for everything, including the electric speedo, high beam indicator, and turn signals. It will really work well with the whole-car Painless rewiring kit, which we plan to install in the Camaro Performers special issue coming up.
This is something you'll be doing a lot of with the Painless kit. You have to crimp a male spade connector to each gauge wire and there are lots of them! Everything is color-coded and the instructions are pretty clear, although we can't figure out why they changed the standard green tach wire connection to a purple one.
To get the cool blue effect, we covered our gauges with a blue rubber boot that Auto Meter sells separately. This boot can be a pain to install, but if you stretch it to one side as shown, it'll basically slip on.
Auto Meter supplies an electronic speedo drive mechanism that screws right into your tranny. It has an easy three-wire hook-up that connects right into the Painless harness. It even works with cruise control if your car has it, but we left that end covered because our old Camaro doesn't.