Classic Instruments: The Art Of Classic Automotive Gauge Design


For over 30 years, Classic Instruments has offered the latest and greatest technology and innovations when it comes to the instrumentation sector of the automotive aftermarket. But beyond that, Classic has also changed the face of street rod, hot rod and musclecar interiors, reflecting the amazing styles, trends and design cues so heavily associated with the automotive hobby.

Inspired by their work and quality of craftsmanship, we wanted to know more about what goes into creating those iconic Classic Instruments designs, so we went straight to the source. We contacted owner John McLeod and got the scoop on their offerings from the concept all the way to the finished product.

True To Their Roots

Ever since their beginnings, Classic Instruments has focused on two major core attributes to their company – quality craftsmanship and customer satisfaction all the way through.


Both form and function - perfected. Art and beauty in design combined with high-tech engineering in the finished product is what sets Classic Instruments apart.

Whether it’s providing gorgeous looking gauges for popular street rod builds, answering installation questions, helping with styling suggestions or even moving forward on custom gauge designs, Classic Instruments has you covered from start to finish.

Currently, Classic offers about 20 different gauge design series, as well as custom gauge work. Product designs range from the iconic Vintage, Traditional, and Classic series to the more elaborate and popular All American and V8 Speedster series. No matter your vehicle of choice or the design cues you wish to follow, Classic has something for every look and style of build.


Inspiration for Classic Instruments’ gauges can come from just about anywhere in the industry. In the case of these vintage Plymouth gauges, a customer wanted custom gauges created just like their original ones from a 1934 Plymouth but with today’s modern technologies tied in.

Building A New Set Of Gauges

Classic Instruments offers over a dozen different design choices for enthusiasts to choose from when selecting their gauges, but how do these designs go from an idea to a finished product? For that information, we turned to McLeod who let us in with a peek behind the curtain and shared all of the details.

Plymouth 34

Once the basic style is decided on, Classic’s dedicated staff designs the new gauges using specific computer design programs for each use. This is where new designs are checked for initial look and feel, and also the mechanical movements to make sure everything will fit nicely.

“The first thing we do is decide on the font; whether we’re going to buy a font or design our own from scratch,” McLeod told us. “Once we decide on the font, we move on to the hard parts – the colors and line work.”

Completely designed in-house, all gauges are created with input from the entire Classic team, which sometimes includes a designer like Tom Gale. The first design series that Classic worked on with Gale on was the original All American Series. Since then, Classic has worked with Gale on six other gauge designs.

After the font is chosen and other design cues, like pointer styles, bezel styles and lens styles are discussed, the team moves on to choosing the perfect color to compliment the new design.

“Color is the probably the hardest part,” shared McLeod, “Colors do just about everything.”

Once the final design is complete, a process that can take anywhere from a week to six weeks, the Classic Instruments team sits back and analyzes the finished piece thoroughly. The new design is critiqued and put the ringer by the entire team at Classic, and sometimes this new design will move on to the production process and sometimes it will end up back at the drawing board, or scrapped all together.

Plymouth Proof

For standard gauges, the new design must be approved by the entire Classic team. For custom gauges, like these ones, the ultimate approval is left to the customer.

A gauge doesn’t go into production until everyone from the Classic team is satisfied with the overall design. For this reason, McLeod tries not to set deadlines or commit to an ultimate date for a new product release because the Classic team knows that quality is their first goal.

“The finished product is more important than anything else,” McLeod explained. And as we all know, Rome wasn’t built in a day – quality and perfection are always worth the wait.

Customization To A Tee

While Classic Instruments offers a number of different gauge designs to choose from, they also offer retrofit options and custom gauge work based on the needs of each application and build. Customers who can’t quite find the perfect gauge for his or her vehicle or more often than not, high-end hot rod builds that want a completely one-off solution look to the pros at Classic to help them craft an instrument design that compliments their already gloriously built ride.


Once approved, the creation of a gauge design is put into action. Here, a Classic staff member cuts out dial faces for the 1934 Plymouth gauges on the water jet.

Sometimes a specific build-theme can be the inspiration for a custom set of gauges. “We tend to think of our standard gauges as the Rolex of the industry,” McLeod told us. “Anything custom designed or created in one-off form is even further up on that scale.”

Although the process of designing and building a custom gauge is similar to that of designing a standard gauge, the first thing that’s taken into consideration with a custom piece is the customer’s idea scope for their personalized gauges. From there, font, color, size, shape, and accessories are all chosen by the customer with the help of a design team member assigned to that particular project.


A mock-up of the gauge faces is put together before final assembly of custom gauges to once again ensure that everything will work properly together.

Once the custom gauges have been put together, a custom wiring harness is attached. For straight-forward installation, a custom wiring diagram is sent to the customer along with the new gauges.

A special Custom and Retrofit Form filled out by the customer is used to hash out all the preliminary details of the customization process. Another cool thing to keep in mind is that Classic Instruments can design and produce custom gauges for any make or model vehicle, not just the vehicles they currently service with their standard gauges.


The finished product is just as glorious, if not more so, than the original design. With the new gauges, customers receive the benefits of accurate readings, classic good looks and all new technology in a vintage form.

Deciding What To Offer

In addition to deciding what a new gauge is going to look like, Classic Instruments must also decide what vehicles to offer their products for. To do this, the experts at Classic listen to their customer base very closely. If the company is getting a decent number of requests for a certain product they don’t already make, moving forward with producing it is taken into serious consideration.


The classic black V8 Speedster Series gauges are some of the sleekest designs offered by Classic Instruments and a personal favorite of McLeod’s (and ours, but shhhh – we’ll save that for another story).

When it comes to creating standard designs, Classic takes into consideration styles that could suit a variety of different vehicles. As McLeod shared with us, this is one of the biggest determining factors in deciding what new designs to offer.

“We try to design an instrument for different kinds of vehicles,” McLeod said. “We try to bring in different aspects of different eras and offer a wide market of designs.” To serve an ever changing industry, that is certainly the trick. To have a wide appeal, yet still be “cool” and custom enough to set vehicles and products apart from one another.

Biggest Hits And Greatest Sellers

Because of their unique designs and high-quality craftsmanship, Classic Instruments sees countless gauge sales each year, but some designs tend to attract more enthusiasts than others so we delve deeper to see what their most popular designs were.

While sales numbers of the different designs depend on the current trends, McLeod told us, the White Velocity Series tends to get more sales in the street and performance arena. Just the same, the Vintage and Nostalgia VT series are very popular in the street rod community. Topping the charts in all sects, however, is the All American Series, which sees high sales numbers for most classic car eras.


Specialty Components

While the design of all Classic Instrument gauges are very important to the company, the unique features that they offer are also a strong selling point to the custom car community. In addition to the number of unique designs, Classic Instruments offers all their gauges with turn signal piping, to allow owners to add turn signals to their instrument panel without having to drill additional holes in their dash.

Color is probably the hardest part, as colors do just about everything. – John McLeod, Owner Classic Instruments

Another exclusive feature that Classic offers is the ability to have their speedometers GPS driven. This means no calibrating a new speedometer, you just hook it up to the Sky Drive unit and your new gauge will accurately display your vehicle’s speed from the minute you turn the engine over.

Classic also offers components like wiring harnesses, fuel senders, oil pan temperature senders, pulse signal generators, etc. to allow all your gauges to work properly with little effort on your part.


From every angle, Classic prides themselves on quality and fit and finish throughout.

Upping The Industry Standard

As we stated before, Classic Instruments may be fully invested in creating classic gauge designs for the street rod, hot rod, classic, custom and musclecar industries, but their first priority is always customer satisfaction.

“Anyone can make the first sale,” McLeod told us, “But it takes something special to keep people coming back, and sharing their experience with their friends.” With that in mind, Classic offers superior customer service from the time of order to years after a gauge has been installed.


You can’t get much better than a gorgeous set of gauges, except when it comes to the superior customer service Classic Instruments offers.

All of Classic’s gauges come with a 5 year written warranty, but in putting their customers first, McLeod told us that Classic will take care of any of their gauges no matter how old or how many times the vehicle has been sold. If anything goes wrong with the component from a design or manufacturing standpoint, they will jump in and take care of the issue even if it’s a second, third, or fourth owner.

From design, development, and creation – all the way to technical staff and engineers, if a customer has any questions about their gauges whether it’s during installation or years after – Classic employs a wide range of experts from car aficionados to mechanical engineers that can answer any question you might throw their way.

And if that wasn’t enough – in a final effort to keep customers first, McLeod even puts his personal cell phone number on the front of every Classic catalog for any potential or current customer to reach him at. How’s that for standing behind your product?


Classic Instruments offers gauges for all sorts of purposes made right here in America with the utmost care. Tach, voltage, oil, water and more - it's all here.

What Else You Should Know

The quality craftsmanship and beauty of the design work that goes into Classic Instruments’ offerings is undeniable, but beyond their pride in high quality work and customer satisfaction standards, there are a few other things you should be aware of when it comes to your Classic gauges.


The 2012 Classic Instruments Street Rod of the Year exemplifies the quality and attention to detail that Classic is known for.

All of Classic’s gauges are designed and manufactured right here in the United States with everything assembled at Classic’s Boyne City, Michigan facility.

Amazingly enough, Classic does not keep any finished products stacked up on their shelves. Once an order has been placed, standard gauges are manufactured and sent out within 48 hours. Internal improvements are always being made to make sure that this standard is able to be upheld.

The quality designs and features of Classic Instrument gauges, as well as their superior customer service, has been an industry standard for years so it’s no secret. But we wanted to dive a little further and show you the inner workings “behind the curtain” of what goes into these amazing designs.

With what we found, it’s no wonder we see Classic gauges all over the place, from car shows to racing events. Although we can’t predict the future, one thing is very clear: Classic Instruments will continue to bring the utmost in design, technology and satisfaction to the classic, hot rod and custom car markets for years to come. Stay tuned as we dig even deeper and follow up with a complete install of a Classic gauge setup, step-by-step.


About the author

Lindsey Fisher

Lindsey is a freelance writer and lover of anything with a rumble. Hot rods, muscle cars, motorcycles - she's owned and driven it all. When she's not busy writing about them, she's out in her garage wrenching away. Who doesn't love a tech-savy gal that knows her way around a garage?
Read My Articles

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