New dash and gauges 77 Ranchero

Discussion in 'General Ranchero Help' started by Doc76251, Feb 8, 2019.

  1. Doc76251

    Doc76251 In Third Gear

    Messages:
    171
    Location:
    Virginia Beach, VA
    The 77' Dash Project:

    I initially had no intention of doing anything with my dash as I had too many other issues with my new to me 77' Ranchero. Carb, Tranny leak, squishy brakes, etc. Add to that I haven't worked on a carbed car in 35 years so my re-learning curve was pretty vertical. That said most of my dash lights didn't work and then the fuel gauge wasn't reading so I figured I'd better pull the cluster and have a look see. I had a 77 T-Bird 35 years ago and installed a tach and a radio with a tape deck so I was pretty familiar in a distant kind of way with what had to be done. A few screws later and the face was off a couple more and the cluster was ready to come out.

    After getting all the screws out I reached up and grabbed the cluster ........... then it happened........... the cluster crumbled in my hands and the tabs that were there to hold it into the dash broke off and fell away. My sphincter slammed shut around my neck as I watched little bits of plastic fall into the instrument cluster and onto the floor. Oh crap! It didn't get any better when I flipped the cluster over and found that most of the light holes had also crumbled hence no lights because no contact. What to do? Source a new 40 year old gauge cluster that didn't really do what I needed it to do ........ or ......... build one?

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    Initially I was going to fill the 4 big holes in with gauges that fit the existing dash holes. I just hated the way they looked. Then I got thinking, this is custom, you can do it anyway you want. Hours of internet searching later I discovered Speedhut.com which gave me more options than I knew I had available. I played with the font's, colors, tic styles, pointers and general appearance and settled on a seven gauge system that works for me and gives me the info I needed. In September when I first sourced the gauges it was a bit spendy at north of $800 and then the black Friday sale happened and I was able to get the gauges for a bit north of $600.00!! A shout out to Speedhut here, they called me to verify that I did not run with the same font in all of the gauges and a few other finer points. That is real customer service, they looked at my order and said "One of these things is not like the other, did he ooops?"

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    Once I made the decision and pulled the trigger on the gauges I had to figure out a) the wiring from the OEM plug. b)how to mount them and get them into the dash. The wiring was pretty straight forward even though I spent considerable time looking for a reverse adaptor to the 14 pin plug to no avail. To figure out what was what as I couldn't find a wiring diagram I traced the circuit on the back of the cluster to its various termination points. Then I figured out the ground vs. power side then went to the plug and tested it with a volt meter to make sure I hadn't gotten my wires crossed. I'll use in-line taps to attach the gauges to the existing wiring harness and tape of the plug as the exposed terminals will still be "hot".



    Getting the gauges mounted was a bit more involved and I went through several iterations of material and mounting options before settling on an aluminum face plate that would attach to the original dash bezel. This would let me attach the bezel to the original dash and allow me to remove the face plate from that should I ever need to get behind the gauges again. To do this I utilized motorcycle windshield mounting well nuts. Basically rubberized plugs with a threaded nut in the bottom which when drawn tight bulged the rubber on the back side of the bezel to hold the faceplate on.

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    I mocked up the faceplate first on paper and then when I had the layout where I wanted it, transferred it to a sheet of foam board and cut it out, filed the edges so that it just press fit inside the original bezel. The only hole that I had to be precisely located was for the dash vent on the left hand side, everything else indicated off that. Since the bezel is curved getting the arc of the gauges to lay out straight was time consuming. Once the layout was done and I was good with the locations it was time for the jigsaw and bench sander. Cut the basic shape..... Fit, sand, fit, sand, fit, sand, fit, sand..... repeat as needed. I fit/sanded a bit extra off all sides to ensure the wrap would tuck neatly into the bezel. Now for the moment of truth, time to punch the holes.

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    I ordered a 3 7/8" (98mm) and a 2 1/16" (52mm) hole saws off Amazon as they are not common enough to find at HD or Lowes. A little time on the drill and the first hole came out for the vent. Check fit....... yeah, that worked!!!! The rest went along swimmingly until all the holes were in. Spent some time with a Dremel tool knocking off the rough edges and then dry fit the gauges. They fit well with only a little wiggle room which allows for fine adjustments in location/orientation.

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    The next bit was to open up the bezel with the Dremel so that all the gauges would fit and still provide some structure to attach to. When doing this be very careful as the whole structure becomes very unstable and flimsy when you knock out the center sections. Once I had sufficient room for the gauges to fit I located spots for the well nuts, drilled the aluminum panel and then drilled the dash bezel first using the aluminum as the pattern and then all I had to do was open up the hole to fit the rubber end of the well nuts.

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    With all the holes in and bezel hogged out it was time to clean up the aluminum prior to the vinyl wrap, some 320 grit (3M recommends at least 150 grit for metal surfaces but smoother is better for adhesion) and an orbital sander made short work of it.

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    The last bit is the part that gave me the most trepidation, laying the vinyl. I would have almost preferred working in wood. That said it went off without a hitch. I wiped the whole thing down with alcohol and kept my fingers off the cleaned parts. I stuck the sheet of vinyl to a cutting board almost the size of the aluminum and just began to slowly peel the backing off as I pressed it down by hand.

    I tried smoothing it with a credit card but found I was scratching the surface, I went with a dish rag and it laid down just fine. With some guidance from the wife (who is a fair good seamstress in her own right and my aunt who does boat canvas work for a living) I cut 1/2" of border around the outside of the dash as well as inside the holes. From there I cut the vinyl in about 1/8" ish strips always cutting from the center out or the edge in to center depending on which way I was going for the holes. For the "straight" parts I ended up slicing the vinyl every couple of inches and at 90* to the outside corners so that it would lay flat when I folded it over. All in all I think it came out pretty nice.

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    Fitting the gauges was just a matter of deciding which hole to stuff them in and doing the whole clean up the wire birds nest in back before poking it in the dash. The gauges themselves wired up as simply as any wiring project. I used inline wire splices to tap the turn signals and high beams right off the 14 plug connector. I ran a new constant hot and ground into the engine bay, there was already a set of aftermarket 3 gauge pod in the car that was wired to the lights so I got rid of that and tapped right into that line. Water temp, oil pressure and volts were straight forward un plug/screw the old and put in the new. The Autometer tachometer had the feed line running right into the MSD box so that was a strait swap with the addition of a female fitting. A bit of finger cussing while running the wire looms and she was all done.

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    As always you find issues after everything is installed. When the lights are on the left turn signal is slightly illuminated I guess from reflection. While the Bubinga wood vinyl is stunning in appearance the finish is high gloss, doing it again I would choose a satin finish. All in all I am very happy with the look and function of the gauges as well as how the dash panel turned out. It was the first necessary evil that had to be dealt with on what will prove to be an epic journey into turning my 77' into the car that I want. Now on to painting and installing my sport mirrors......

    Cheers,

    Doc
     
  2. andrewok1

    andrewok1 In Maximum Overdrive SILVER MEMBER GOLD MEMBER

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    Location:
    ocala ,florida
    super job
     
  3. LSChero

    LSChero In Maximum Overdrive PLATINUM MEMBER

    Messages:
    2,017
    Location:
    Area 6 NV
    Nice work there Doc!Looks great.
     
  4. handy_andy_cv64

    handy_andy_cv64 In Maximum Overdrive SILVER MEMBER

    Messages:
    8,353
    Location:
    Everett, WA
    Damnation, but that looks great! I wonder, though, if you could have used a pair of double-row Weather-Pak connectors (an eight-terminal and a six-terminal) rather than, I'm assuming, scotch-locks? Just laid out how you wanted the wires to be placed in each connector, then soldered each with a piece of shrink-wrap on each joint. This would give you a way to disconnect the cluster if you needed to do any work or repairs. Also, is the speedo mechanical or electronic?
     
  5. Doc76251

    Doc76251 In Third Gear

    Messages:
    171
    Location:
    Virginia Beach, VA
    Thanks guys!

    HA, not sure I've ever seen Weather-Pak connectors, yes I used the scotch-locks type inline tap. In reality I only had to tap 3 wires, R, L turn and high beams. I deleted all the idiot lights as I have gauges that tell me all that and I'm pretty sure I know when I have my seat belt on. All the other connections are done with water tight butt connectors so the whole thing can be removed if needed. The speedo is electronic and more than that GPS. I figure if the GPS satellites go down the world has bigger problems than how fast I'm going :rolleyes:

    Cheers,

    Doc
     
    Freestyle Don likes this.
  6. Carl Steinbarger

    Carl Steinbarger In Second Gear

    Messages:
    60
    Location:
    Dayton, Ohio
    Wow!! Looks like a factory install...
     
  7. handy_andy_cv64

    handy_andy_cv64 In Maximum Overdrive SILVER MEMBER

    Messages:
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    Location:
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    Weather Pak connectors are the ones GM uses in their cars and trucks. They usually can be obtained through electronics suppliers, as they are a good universal design.
    Okay, so the speedo is electronic, does that mean there's a transducer to go in the tailshaft housing to replace the cable drive?
     
  8. Doc76251

    Doc76251 In Third Gear

    Messages:
    171
    Location:
    Virginia Beach, VA
    Thanks Carl!

    The speedo is GPS. It only gets power, ground and lighting from the car. The cable drive is still in the dash spinning happily away. The GPS antenna wire I ran up the drivers side dash and into the gap between the top front of the dash and the windshield. The antenna itself is a little trapezoid looking thing that is magnetic and I have it stuck to the dash just forward of the speaker holes up against the windshield. I hooked up the constant hot option from a spare connection on my circuit breaker by the starter solenoid so it doesn't "forget" where it is, otherwise it will search for the last satellites it used and if it can't find them it gets confused and takes up to 4 minutes to give accurate speed (so says the directions). That reminds me I need to go back and wire in the in line fuse on that circuit.

    The speedo is actually pretty scooby, it has a speedometer (the dial), turn signal and high beam indicators on the face and a 1 1/8" X 1" LCD screed that has the odometer and trip. Then you can toggle through the cool stuff, compass direction, clock, altitude, digital speed, top speed, 0 - 60 mph time to 1/100th of a second, and 1/4 mile time also to 1/100th. The tach also has programmable warning lights, shift lights, over rev light and peak RPM memory.

    The install was very easy, keyed power, constant power, ground and lamps attached to the headlight switch circuit. The tach plugged right into my MSD box with a standard female butt connector. The rest was just the various sensors and the detachable button to calibrate or set the gauges once installed.

    I think I am going to install one of the toggle buttons and the rheostat for the light onto the dash panel at some point in the near future once I decide where and leave it hooked to the speedo unless I need to change the clock or set the tach. Then I can either pull the panel or just reach up under. There is LOTS of room up there now.

    Cheers,

    Doc
     
  9. handy_andy_cv64

    handy_andy_cv64 In Maximum Overdrive SILVER MEMBER

    Messages:
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    Location:
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    Oh, I must've missed the part of the GPS...that's too cool! Tech is definitely leaving me behind.
     
  10. russosborne

    russosborne In Fourth Gear

    Messages:
    276
    Location:
    Glendale Arizona
    For the connector, you can use something like this
    https://www.amazon.com/Cable-Matter...ocphy=9030100&hvtargid=pla-594027524874&psc=1

    or

    https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01LFBB07...&pd_rd_r=f73ac2dd-2cfa-11e9-a095-811ee4313434

    depending on how many wires you need.

    These extensions connect to themselves, so you just cut the harness part of it and wire it in, and the connectors are there ready to go.
    To me it is easier to splice the wires rather than attach the connecting pins.

    There are different wire numbers available.
    Just a thought.

    Oh, I really like how the OP did this. I did something similar, but I like how he did the details better than what I did. I left the original gauge openings on my GT panel to try to keep the depth, but it made it very hard to work with making a panel for the new gauges since they are mounted at a slight angle. I ended up using the stock white plastic piece (cut up), but I think this makes me realise that I should just make the panel flat so I can just mount an aluminum piece to it as the OP did here.
    Russ
     
    Last edited: Feb 10, 2019
  11. colnago

    colnago In Fourth Gear

    Messages:
    316
    Location:
    Ridgecrest, CA
    Looking good! Hey, do you have any pics of those motorcycle mount rubber nut thingies?

    Joseph
     
  12. HuevosRanchero

    HuevosRanchero In Maximum Overdrive

    Messages:
    5,564
    Location:
    Macon Georgia
    That's awesome!
     
  13. Freestyle Don

    Freestyle Don In Third Gear BRONZE MEMBER

    Messages:
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  14. Doc76251

    Doc76251 In Third Gear

    Messages:
    171
    Location:
    Virginia Beach, VA
    Mine are from "e-'bolts" via Amazon 10 ea. M5 button hex head screws, nylon washers and the well nuts. I was very surprised at how thin they were on top, they weren't even as tall as the rim of the bezel's in the original before I cut them all out. That said when you smash the plate to it thinner can be better. They are not going anywhere and don't rattle.

    These are the ones I got https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00UZBWK8E/ref=ppx_yo_dt_b_asin_title_o05__o00_s01?ie=UTF8&psc=1 You can get them in different colors, styles and lengths make sure of your length otherwise the bulge may not work depending on your application.

    Cheers,

    Doc
     
  15. Purple74

    Purple74 In First Gear

    Messages:
    19
    Great job Doc. looks professional!!! I’m on for the three beers!
     
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