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We all know that installing a custom dash can make a huge improvement to many cars, but all too often, an enthusiast has a few concerns that keep them from taking on this popular upgrade.

Classic Dash would like everyone to know that, in reality, completing the installation of a custom instrument panel can be one of the more rewarding modifications you can make to a vehicle. Let’s face it, not only will the new gauges properly monitor engine functions, but it’s something you’ll be looking at every time you drive your car – you do keep an eye on the gauges, don’t you?

Classic Dash

Upgrading definitely helped the interior of this Nova.

Unfortunately, upgrading the dash in a classic car is something that raises a lot of questions by many enthusiasts, and actually keeps them from enjoying the upgrade. If you want to see how easy an install can be, check out this install of a Classic Dash cluster we did in a ’64 Nova.

To help alleviate the fears of any timid DIYers, we got some input from Greg Wambold, the president of Classic Dash. According to Greg, “Anyone who is comfortable installing an aftermarket stereo should have no trouble with upgrading their ride’s dashboard.” He does, however, caution that there are a number of factors that can influence the installation of a Classic Dash panel.

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All that is typically needed are a few simple hand tools.

Some of these installation influences include the fact that some vehicles, like early Camaros, were built in multiple plants and not all cars are identical from a fitment standpoint. Another factor is a realization of the kind of history the car has. Greg affirmed, “If a car’s been in a serious accident, the dashboard alignment could be affected, and vehicles with vinyl dash pads are often “adjusted” for pad fitment.”

Another concern involves aftermarket pads, as they might differ slightly from an original. Greg also added, “Another concern that many don’t realize is that some vehicles assembled in Canada have different light switch and vent locations than their U.S. built counterparts.”

Regardless of the car model, it’s place of origin, or its history, this is an upgrade that is fairly easy to accomplish and well worth the time to complete. That said, here are the five most common issues encountered by Classic Dash’s tech staff, and how they would remedy the situation.

With instructions that are this easy to follow, what are you waiting for?

With instructions that are this easy to follow, what are you waiting for?

Fitting the panel

In most instances, the install is a straight bolt-in replacement operation, but due to variations often seen in older cars, there may be some tweaking required of the panel. Usually, this doesn’t require more than taking a small hand file or box cutter and creating a small notch in a corner or mounting tab. Generally, the tweaks are not visible when the upgrade is completed.

Wiring

After determining the best place to connect power (the “on” side of the ignition switch), it’s a fairly straightforward process of following the color diagrams in the furnished instruction book.

Proper wiring connections are not just easy, they are necessary. By soldering and sealing the connection, you'll have years of trouble free current flow.

The wires are all color coded, and moreover, you’ll find their function printed on them. Crimp terminals can be employed, but soldering is recommended for optimum reliability. Also, don’t forget to disconnect the battery before starting the wiring process.

When an electronic speedometer is used, a pulse generator is suppoed, and makes the connection simple.

When an electronic speedometer is used, a pulse generator is required, and makes the connection simple.

Adapters

It’s important to make sure the vehicle is properly “communicating” with the gauges. For example, the factory water temperature and oil pressure sending units are not compatible with aftermarket gauges. The correct adapters are furnished with the gauges. Likewise, an OE speedometer cable won’t hook up to an aftermarket gauge, so an optionally-available drive adapter must be used.

Gauge Lighting

Some gauges come with internal LED lights while others require the use of auxiliary bulbs. Nothing special is required of lighted gauges, and Classic Dash makes a handy kit with adapters for each gauge to facilitate hooking up the auxiliary lights.

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Turn Indicators, Etc.

Each Classic Dash wiring kit comes with small LED lights for turn indicators and warning lights. They can be positioned anywhere on the panel. These lights require only a 5/32-inch hole be drilled. The LED light will pop in from the front, and the wire easily hooked to the appropriate OEM counterpart.

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The advent of LED lighting has made color variations possible.

There you have it. Installing a new instrument panel makes for a nice Saturday or Sunday afternoon project, and requires only an assortment of common hand tools and a bit of patience. As with any upgrade, completion comes with a tremendous sense of accomplishment.

If you want to learn more about an install before you upgrade, general instructions can be downloaded here, or you can speak to one of many Classic Dash technicians by calling (866) 882-3525.