Automotive gauges have a history as long as the automobile itself, with tachometers (adapted from instruments used on steam locomotives and industrial machines) first appearing on dashboards in 1903. Since that time, gauges have come a long way, and one company advancing the state of the art is Auto Meter. They have been making performance racing instruments for automotive, marine, and motorcycle applications since 1957, and they’ve become synonymous with aftermarket gauges thanks to their broad range of products and applications.

We spoke with Kris Carlson of Auto Meter who told us, “Today we offer over 40 different gauge series within our high performance division and build products for OEMs like Ford, GM, and Chrysler.” Auto Meter is a leader in aftermarket high performance racing instruments, and they produce their products right here in the United States in a little town called Sycamore, Illinois. There, they put their products through hours of testing to make sure they function correctly and can stand up to the rigors of high performance applications.

Auto Meter’s Ultra-Lite gauges are one example of their impressive engineering skill, and thanks to their light weight and the fact that the Ultra-Lite series has the widest range of gauge types in Auto Meter’s catalog, they’ve become a racers’ favorite. When we went looking to fill the instrument panel on our ’86 Mustang Fox Body that’s better known as “Project 666,” we knew that the Ultra-Lite series would be perfect.

What We’re Using

The Ultra-Lite series covers a huge range of different gauges, and they’re available in several types, from mechanical (with dry or wet movements) through electric short and full sweep to digital. For our project car, we’re going primarily with full sweep electric gauges, which are microprocessor controlled, feature stepper motors to drive the needles, and offer memory and warning functions. Here’s how we’ll round out our dashboard:

• Ultra-Lite II In-Dash Speedometer- pn #4989
• Ultra-Lite Oil Pressure – pn #4452
• Ultra-Lite Fuel Pressure – pn #4470
• Ultra-Lite Tachometer – pn #4494
• Ultra-Lite Fuel Level – pn #4416
• Ultra-Lite Water Temp – pn #4454

Behind the Dial

The manufacturing process varies, depending on what type of gauge is being built, but every Auto Meter gauge face first comes into existence as a computer design that’s then output as a silk screen for printing. For our electric full sweep gauges, the next part to come together is the motherboard that will hold the processor and supporting resistors, diodes, capacitors, and other electronic components, which are fluxed and furnace-soldered for durability. Before the motherboard and stepper motor meet the gauge case and instrument face, they’re electronically run through their paces on a dedicated test jig to make sure they function as designed. The electric full sweep gauges also automatically perform gauge calibration and sensor diagnostics every time they power up to ensure accuracy.

The Ultra-Lite Series is just one of more than 40 different gauge families offered by Auto Meter, ranging from “vintage” styles to luminescent dials that need no external power for night visibility.

Mechanical gauges, which are available to measure temperature or pressure and need no power source, can also be had with liquid-filled movements. Used to prevent “needle bounce” in high-vibration environments, these gauges are filled with a liquid silicone compound that damps and smooths needle movement.

Our full sweep electric gauges include a peak memory function and a user-programmable warning light.

The fuel pressure, oil pressure, and water temperature gauges we’ve chosen are all full sweep electrical instruments. The fuel pressure gauge has a range of 0-15 psi to match our carbureted combination, the oil pressure gauge range is 0-100 psi, and the water temperature gauge range is 100-260 degrees. All three of these gauges are equipped with a peak recall which gives you the ability to obtain the highest reading measured since the last reset at the push of a button.

{ad:RMA}The microprocessor control embedded in these gauges also allows you to set an automatic warning light. “They are programmed through the buttons on the dial face using the pointer to indicate the desired alarm set point,” Carlson explained. The red LED indicator is a lot easier way to spot impending trouble than having to constantly scan and interpret a dash full of gauges. One more extremely useful feature of these gauges is data logger output connections that avoid the need to run two different sensors to feed both the dashboard gauges and data acquisition system.

The speedometer is the only Ultra-Light ll Series representative in our Auto Meter gauge package. It has a range from 0-160 mph and is equipped with a resettable trip odometer. A bonus is that this speedometer works with most factory sensors which makes it both street and strip friendly. Calibration is as easy as driving a measured 2-mile distance – the speedometer handles all the math from there.

Auto Meter gauges are easy to install with the provided hardware and complete instructions.

The Ultra-Lite II tachometer is also equipped with a memory recall and has a range from 0-10,000 rpm. It can operate with 4, 6, or 8 cylinders that run on points as well as electronic and most 12 V high performance racing ignitions such as the MSD system that we plan to use on this car.

We mounted the oil pressure and water temperature gauges to the right, alongside the tach, and the fuel pressure and fuel level gauges on the other side.

Typical Installation

“The installation is going to vary considerably from one instrument to another and application to application, and we have a dedicated tech support group available to customers toll free to assist with their questions and product installation,” Carlson told us. In our case, we had two pressure senders and one temperature sender included with our gauges, with additional connections to our ignition system for the tach and vehicle speed sensor on the transmission for the speedometer. We also had an Auto Meter Universal Fuel Level Sender (part #3262) for our fuel level gauge, but if you’re using your factory tank, Auto Meter offers fuel level gauges calibrated to work properly with most OEM senders.

One great thing about Auto Meter is that when you’re on their website looking through all the gauges, the individual part descriptions have links to PDF files for the instructions, making it easy to see beforehand what you’ll need (if anything) and what’s involved in the installation.

The water temperature gauge screws directly into a tapped hole in the water passage on the intake manifold. For pressure gauges, Auto Meter recommends that you remote-mount the senders to the firewall in high rpm, high vibration applications using braided stainless lines.

Because our gauges are electronic, we also needed to find and connect to both a source of switched 12-volt power to run the gauges, and the dash illumination circuit to control the gauges’ backlighting. A wire to ground completes the necessary circuitry.

We obtained a custom-made dash insert that lets us mount two 5″ and four 2 5/8″ directly in place of the factory instrument panel in our Mustang.

More Than Just Moving Needles

{ad:RMA}Our fuel pressure, oil pressure, and water temperature gauges all feature peak memory and warning functions, and using them is as simple as pressing the two buttons on the gauge face. To adjust the warning set point, momentarily press and release the warn button. The warning light will begin to flash and the pointer will move to the set point signifying that the warning set mode has been selected. Once in set mode, select the warning point by pressing the warn button to move the pointer down, or pressing the peak button to move the pointer up. Three seconds after the last button press, the warning light will stop blinking and the pointer will return to the current pressure reading.

The integrated warning and peak functions are accessed via the two buttons on the gauge face.

To see the peak recorded, press and hold the peak button to recall the highest pressure reading since the memory was last cleared. Once you’ve viewed the reading you can clear the memory by pressing and holding the peak button, and while still holding the peak button, press the warn button. The pointer will move to 0 psi to indicate that the memory has been cleared. Release the peak and warn buttons to resume normal operation. The peak recall point and memory recall are both retained when power is removed from the gauge.

Our new tachometer also has a peak recall memory feature.

Our Project 666 Install

For Project 666, we are stripping out the questionable 25-year-old wiring harness and starting fresh with a Painless Wiring Kit. In the same spirit of rebirth, the stock instrument cluster went into the recycling bin and we installed the new gauges in a custom dash plate made from steel that fits perfectly in our Fox Body Mustang. The plate allows us to use the big 5” tachometer without externally mounting the gauge elsewhere.

It has another cutout to hold a 5” speedometer and four cutouts that hold four other 2 5/8” gauges. Also available on the left and right side of the plate are rectangular cutouts that cover the air vents and the air/heater control unit, making it a perfect fit for our project. Turn signal indicators and a high beam light indicator are also included on this mounting plate which helps out with the street part of our street/strip build.

The custom plate also includes high beam and turn signal indicator lights built in, making it both trick and street-friendly.

There’s a reason why Auto Meter is the company that comes immediately to mind when racers think “gauges” – five decades of leadership in the aftermarket doesn’t happen by accident. Our new gauges look great and add a new level of utility to our Mustang’s dashboard, and we can’t wait to try them out on the road and at the track.