Swapping old, black gauges for a brighter look
Story and photos by Scott Lachenauer
Well, I’m getting pretty far along on the hard, dusty trail of a full-blown restoration on my little ‘A’ Body Barracuda. There’s no turning back now, as I’ve stuffed all of my malnourished bank account into the body parts of my little fish car, turning once beaten panels into straightened steel, and beefing up a once sullen uni-body into a masculine, big-boned Mopar Whip. And as the gray primer metal turns to metallic turquoise blue in front of my eyes, I see a very small Bic light at the end of this very expansive tunnel I’ve been traveling through for the last year or so…. D-Day (driving day) will be coming soon.
Now, since a lot of the big work is done, it’s that time where the bits and morsels of the arduous task at hand become more relevant; those smaller effects that make a restoration stand out from the other restifications in the car show parking lot.
When I first got the Barracuda into my driveway, the first thing I did was take out the dash frame for a complete restoration. It was something I could do during the winter months in my little work space. I removed all the plastic bezels for a complete makeover, blasted the frame and polished up all the metal trinkets and knobs that make up a mid-’60s instrument panel.
After restoring the all the pieces, and coating the frame in a nice blanket of blue, I re-assembled the gleaming parts back into their respective places, stood back, and admired my handywork. But something stood out as just not belonging in my newly freshened dash set-up. While everything looked new and relevant to a high end project, the yellowed-out numbers on my black-faced gauge clusters stood out like a punk rocker at a James Taylor show. It just didn’t belong….
The heat and U-V rays did a number on the original off-white numbers on the speedo, and it also dulled out the print on the smaller gauges. And since I was doing more of a resto-mod than a numbers-matching gold medal restoration, I felt I could take plenty of liberties with the overall styling of the project.
BAD Dust® Containment Systems
Reusable, modular containment bags designed to shield airborn dust and friable materials created by treating surfaces with media-blasting equipment or other mechanically operated hand held tools. www.baddust.com
Since 1980. Offering a line of pickup restoration parts, custom floors to complete boxes, steel and fiberglass fenders and running boards. Personal service and customer satisfaction is our goal. www.horkeyswoodandparts.com
C&G Early Ford Parts
C&G Early Ford Parts for 1932-1979 Ford car and Ford truck parts! Service, selection, knowledge, and quality. Come experience what folks who have old cars can do for you. www.cgfordparts.com
Continental Western Group
It’s all about value! No matter if you’re talking about Agreed Value coverage for your vehicles, or superior insurance value, we provide both! We hold an “A+, Superior” financial strength rating, which few can match! www.cwgcollectorcar.com
Luckily, through the “Mopar Vine” of communications of our beloved hobby, I heard there was an easy fix at hand that was also easy on the pockets. Since I was ready to get the cluster and dash back into the car, the fix worked well since it was a quick solution.
I called the guys at Whitegauges.net and talked to them about re-doing my cluster. Luckily, they were just putting the finishing touches on a new set of replacement faces for my ’64 dash set-up.
The difference in the look of the newly restored dash is mind blowing. Here’s how it all went down:
Here we are at the start. Even after cleaning the bezels, polishing the pieces and freshening the chrome with Eastwood’s Liquid Chrome, the old yellowed dash gauges made this dash look dated. Fresh white gauges would make this cluster a pure knockout on my little Barracuda.
I went to www.whitegauges.net and ordered a set of freshly cut white gauge faces for the “fish.” The kit arrived within a few days and contained everything I’d need to refresh my cluster. In all, it set me back less than the price of two pizzas.
Complete Hydraulic Service & Sales
A complete lineup of commercial grade automotive equipment for use in commercial and residential garages. Our Lifts are perfect for all types of mechanical work and make the most demanding jobs simple! Check out our low prices! www.CompleteHydraulic.com
Don’t forget to check the quality of your original rubber seals. Over time, weatherstripping and rubber parts can degrade. Steele offers a complete line of quality rubber parts for American-made vehicles from the 1920′s-1990′s. Visit us online
Restoration Supply Company
We are your #1 source for Authentic, hard to find restoration supplies and accessories for the pre-war antique automobile and marine enthusiast. The Right Stuff is all right here—click now!!
S&M Electro-Tech, Inc
Classic car radio restoration services and parts since 1988. Radio repair, restoration and radio conversions to modern AM/FM Stereo, 4 channel, 180 watt for classic car radios made from 1932 to 1975. www.turnswitch.com
The ’64 bezel is held to the dash frame by four large screws around the perimeter. My dash is already out, but you can find the four screws holding the unit in the dash around the perimeter of the bezel.
Next, remove the four screws on the backside of the cluster. This will release the bezel from the gauge cluster housing.
Before you can remove the bezel, twist off the metal ignition bezel. This would also be a good time to get out the chrome polish and give it a good buffing.
Tilt-A-Hitch: World’s First Tilting Trailer Hitch
The Tilt-A-Hitch allows you to use your jack to safely and easily tilt your trailer to any desired angle, while safely secured. Works on any ball-mount trailer. www.tiltahitch.com
Tee-Bird Products, Inc.
Stocks a large selection of quality parts for 1955-1956-1957 Thunderbirds and 1955-1956 Ford. Prompt shipping and knowledgeable service since 1973. Call 610-363-1725 or visit our website.
Once removed, the bezel comes off without a hitch. Be careful not to bend or break the needles. Now we are ready for the faces.
I took a damp paper towel and lightly cleaned the surfaces of any dirt or contaminates that might have collected on the gauge faces, to better promote adhesion with the new white face decal.
The kit comes with easy-to-read, well diagrammed instructions to make this operation a snap. What I liked is that they are all tailor-made for each vehicle model and dash type.
On to the operation. First off, remove the decal from its backing. Be careful not to fold it over on itself as it’s already covered in a strong adhesive.
Fill the bottle included with some tap water and a drop of dish detergent. This will give the lubrication needed to move the decal into position once it’s set on the gauge face.
To get the face on, thread the needle through the center hole. DO NOT REMOVE THE SPEEDO NEEDLE! After it is through, line the decal up correctly on the face. There are placement holes cut into the white face which line up with placement nodules on the original gauge unit. Whitegauges.net made it hard to do this step wrong.
A small squeegee is included to push out any air or water bubbles that might form while placing the decal on the face. Gently work from the center out, pushing bubbles towards the perimeter.
Repeat the process on the other decals. Like before, they all contain match-up cutouts that line each one up flawlessly with its corresponding gauge face.
Use the squeegee to push out any air bubbles. A pin can be used to lightly pop any bubble you can’t work out. I try to keep this technique to a minimum.
All four decals are on. Now, let’s do something about those faded needles.
I picked up a few artist’s brushes from the dollar store and then combed my paint shelf for a color that would really stand out. Red, pink, no…HEMI ORANGE! I placed a piece of paper towel under the needle just in case I couldn’t stay in the lines and lightly coated the needles in the bright hue.
Before I put the whole thing back together, I buffed out the lenses with a soft cotton cloth and some Autosol from my Eastwood Headlight Refinishing Kit. The plastic lenses were nice and clear when I finished, with no swirl marks.
Voilà! This is going to make the dash really pop when it’s back in the car.
The Eastwood Company
If you liked this, you might be interested in:
- Old Cars Guide to Auto Restoration CD Volume 2
- Eddie Paul’s Paint & Bodywork Handbook
- The Collector Car Restoration Home Video Library DVD Set
More Resources For
- Classic car price guides, research, books, back issues of Old Cars Weekly & more
- Get expert restoration advice for your classic car
- Get car pricing, data and history all in one place
- Sign up for Old Cars Weekly’s FREE email newsletter
- Need to buy or sell your classic car? Looking for parts or memorabilia? Search our huge online classified marketplace