In our special, coddled cars, the treatment or appearance of the dashboard and instrument panel becomes one of the prime focal points of the interior scheme. Though digital readouts are here, by and large our community prefers the visceral drama of analog needles sweeping past familiar numbers, stuff ingrained since early childhood.
Until recently, we'd have to mount the tachometer in one spot and the ancillary meters in another. Then some bright bulb figured he could put all the dials in front of you-stable, easy to read numbers-and maybe a shift light to keep you honest. Case in point: John Morrell's carbureted 427ci LS-powered '80 Malibu. Although a dedicated radial tire racer, it's licensed and insured to be driven on Florida public roads, but rarely turns a tire anywhere except Sunshine Dragway. This conversion was completed at John's RMP Auto in New Port Richey.
Right off, you'll notice the Auto Meter rev counter and a spray of gauges depending from the dashboard. Nothing wrong with that, but John wanted the engine vitals right there in front of him, hence the Classic Dashes backdrop.
The Classic panel is precision-hewn from ABS plastic sheets that are vacuum-formed at 320 degrees F. Accuracy is the key feature. A Thermwood five-axis CNC high-speed router consistently trims the dash panels to within 0.005-inch, plus or minus, and the material is impregnated with a UV inhibitor to combat those nasty rays. Choices include pure black, a carbon fiber pattern, and brushed aluminum, with or without instruments, and with or without holes for the receptacles.
Experienced thinkers and fabricators John and fellow racer Justin Brayman spent 12 hours making these changes, but say that the changeover (instructions are voluminous) in a completely stock vehicle would have taken less. They checked their work several times and used the directions as a guide whenever they hit a snag. They also recovered the severely heat-checked dash padding with a new veneer. John bought the new shift light separately.
Things To Consider
1. Read the instructions included with the Auto Meter gauges so that you can identify the type of gauges you will be using as well as the special instructions requiring modification during the installation.
2. Kit requires some modification to original under-dash harness. Although Autowire strives to make the integration of this product as easy as possible, it is not intended as a plug-and-play interface, thus requiring substitution of components requiring modifications on your part. In other words, bring a complete stock of the various wire ends, connectors, and the correct gauge wiring.
3. This harness is designed for Auto Meter Series 1 (used in this installation).
4. Important: Instrument panel grounding is critical to gauge operation, so the single most important thing you must do is to check all grounds to the vehicle and the instruments. Warranty is voided if you connect to a coil when using an auxiliary ignition box (MSD, Crane, Holley, etc.). Before you connect the tach, check the electronic box manufacturer for signal location prior to installation.
5. To prevent scratching the gauge lens while cleaning, use a mild soapy solution and lightly wipe dry with a soft cloth.
Electronic Speedometer Calibration
1. With the engine off, push and hold the trip/reset button. While holding it down, start the engine. Continue to depress the button until the pointer sweeps to full scale. Now release the button.
2. Find a stretch of road with miles pre-marked (toll road, interstate, etc.) and stop. The distance to it is irrelevant. DO NOT SHUT THE ENGINE OFF. Push and release the trip/reset button. The pointer will drop to half scale (the middle of the dial).
3. Drive a distance of 2 miles, as indicated by the road marker. Regardless of your vehicle speed, the pointer will remain at half-scale. Because it is receiving a speed signal, the LCD odometer will be counting rapidly. If you must stop, that's okay. The speedometer will stop counting pulses during your stopping period.
4. Stop exactly at the end of the 2 mile distance. Press and release the trip/reset button. The speedometer pointer will drop to 0 and the calibration is stored. Remember that the accuracy of the 2 mile distance will directly affect the accuracy of the speedometer.
5. Hints: Prior to this exercise, make sure that tire pressure is at the recommend inflation. Tire diameter grows slightly as speed increases. To minimize this, drive at a constant 45 mph during the calibration process. Tire diameter also changes when there is undue load, so do the cal with the vehicle at normal running weight and don't break traction when you begin the calibration.