Project Gift Horse Gets Electrical Upgrade From Ron Francis Wiring

In our last story on Project Gift Horse, we covered the TMI interior install of Aubrey King’s LS-swapped 1956 Chevy 210. He and his friend, Mike Hoover of FabAuto, were thrashing to get it done in time for the Danchuk Tri-Five Nationals in Bowling Green, Kentucky. The next item on the ever-shortening list was the wiring, something that has changed a lot since our shoebox Chevy first left the factory, especially when you throw a modern drivetrain and extra accessories into the mix!

I would rather troubleshoot smaller sections than to address the entire car at once. – Mike Hoover, FabAuto

Aubrey wanted Gift Horse to be a driver, so the plan for the ‘56 was simplicity in design. Should something need to be repaired or changed later down the road, he didn’t have to rewire the car. Mike has performed his fair share of LS-swaps through the years and likes to use Speartech for the engine management harness. He’s tried several different companies in the past for the rest of the car, with mixed results. After finding Ron Francis Wiring for this build, it looks like he found the solution he’d been searching for all these years.

The quick turnaround after ordering was a big bonus for the team building Project Gift Horse. Every minute mattered to get the '56 ready for the Danchuk Tri-Five Nationals. Everything came neatly shipped in two really cool looking boxes!

Mike’s Thought Process

Mike is a very systematic thinker. He always has a plan before he starts a build. He wanted a fully labeled system which would allow him to pull the drivetrain or even remove the body, without having to clip, splice, or remove the harness. Mike’s design idea for the ‘56 was to utilize bulkhead (pass-through), and GM-style weather-pack connectors to split the car into four zones: engine, front clip, body, and rear clip. “Some people don’t like to wire a car this way because there are multiple connections that could go wrong,” Mike says. “But, I would rather troubleshoot smaller sections than to address the entire car at once.”

This is the bulk of the Ron Francis Express kit. Being a custom-fit kit, the end-user needs to trim the wire to length and install the terminals.

Most aftermarket harnesses are readymade kits, either made to fit a particular car model (with little deviation in the location of components or length of wire) or are a universal, one-size-fits-all design where you have to splice-in or cutoff extra wires. Mike wanted a clean solution, having exactly what he wanted and nothing he didn’t. In researching the different solutions on the market, Mike spoke with Scott Bowers of Ron Francis Wiring and found its XP-66 GM-Powered Express Wiring System allowed him to achieve a customized setup to accomplish his goal.

The importance of grounding is often overlooked – Scott Bowers, Ron Francis Wiring

If you decide to go the semi-custom route as Mike has done, another significant aspect of the Express kit is each one contains a unique serial number. This enables Ron Francis to technically support the installation in the future, whether the car is still owned by the original builder or any subsequent owners. Based on the serial number, Ron Francis will know precisely what was installed. This is a tremendous plus, should Aubrey decide to sell the car in the future and the new owner has a problem or decides to change something.

A Kit Of Versatility

Though Ron Francis has some off-the-shelf-type kits which address the majority of needs, the beauty of its Express system lies in the customizability of the layout for each individual installation’s requirements. The design has a broad scope of flexibility already engineered into the system at various levels.

The Ron Francis Express Wiring System, at its core, uses 16 fuses to control 18 to 20 circuits. But there is so much more built into the control panel. Besides the usual flashers and horn relay, Ron Francis has added a fan control relay as well, since electric fans cool so many cars today. The Express Wiring System also includes a Multi-Connection Battery Junction Block that supplies power to the necessary circuits without needing an additional wire to the starter post.

The Express kit comes with enough circuits to handle the necessary operation of the vehicle and supplies everything needed to pass most inspections. Each wire and connector for every circuit is individually bagged and tagged for easy identification.

Another innovative solution of the Ron Francis Express System is its Select-A-Circuit option. The Select-A-Circuit came out in 2003 and is available on the Express, Bare Bonz, Express Race, and Bare Bonz Race fuse panels. This handy feature allows you to choose how each of four accessory circuits receives its power. By moving the fuse back and forth within the supplied slot, you can choose whether each accessory circuit receives direct battery power or through the car’s key switch. Switching back and forth is as simple as removing and re-installing the fuse. Indeed, an innovative solution!

The heart of the kit is the Express module. It contains the necessary fuses, relays, and flashers. It also uses an innovative "Select-A-Circuit" on four accessory circuits, which allows you to choose whether they receive key-on or constant power, depending on where you insert the fuse.

Automotive electronics can be a little daunting to someone not familiar with the ins-and-outs of wiring. Fear not though, most of the heavy-lifting has been done by Ron Francis’ engineers. By following the diagrams and using the provided instructions, installing a highly-capable and modern wiring system in your vintage car is the easiest it has ever been. Even before the sale, Ron Francis has more than 35 years of experience on-staff to help sort through your questions and make sure you get the parts you need.

To further help you in your decision making, we’ve published this article to show just how clean, and easy the Ron Francis wiring harness makes the installation. Follow along as Mike turns this color-coded spaghetti into a work of art.

The Parts Arrive

After Mike placed the order, the Ron Francis wiring kit was at his shop door within a week, which is a heck of a turnaround for a custom order. Mike ordered some custom items to wire the car the way he envisioned, so there were a lot of little blister packs with connectors all neatly labeled. Once we verified the inventory, we took a closer look at how the Express wiring system is set up.

Being a custom kit, each wire comes as a roll and will need to be cut to length and terminated. All of the wires feature labeling for quick identification once installed. Mike grouped the wires together and then taped them as the circuits came together.

The kit comes with all the necessary wire and connectors you will need for most applications. Any custom additions or lengths can easily be added to the order by speaking with the folks at Ron Francis. There is a list of all the printed feed wires that Ron Francis offers on their website.

Each wiring bundle is individually labeled for easy identification and allows you to work through the project without tripping over wires you’re not ready to address. The wires are all color-coded and labeled so that you can follow the excellent diagram that comes with the system, and also quickly get your bearings as you’re on your back working up under the dash, or in the trunk area of the project.

The terminals are designed as male and female. Install the rubber grommet first, so you don't forget, and then strip the wire and crimp on the terminal end. Make sure you get the right terminal for the connector you are using. Then, the terminal simply clicks into the connector. This is the same for the weather-pack connectors and the firewall pass-through connector.

Some of the connections are already pre-terminated to simplify installation. Still, since this is considered a custom application, your wire strippers and crimper will get a bit of a workout. In the end, the finished project will be much cleaner, with no coils of unused wire tucked away and no unnecessary connectors for potential problems down the road. The system uses GM-style weather-pack connectors that feature grommets to prevent water intrusion and ensure a positive connection. The firewall features a pass-through connection that also seals the wires in the same manner.

The firewall connector has plenty of openings for the number of circuits used. Careful routing of circuits limited the number of wires that needed to pass through the firewall. Once all the wires were installed, the white retainer is slid into place to keep the wires from pulling out. The connector is held in place by the centrally-located bolt. Removing the bolt allows the harness to be disconnected from the firewall connector.

Mike’s modular mindset carried over to various other aspects of the build, such as the engine’s ECU and the Dakota Digital dash cluster we will be installing into Gift Horse. This is the time to address those other systems, even if they are not part of the car’s main harness. Mike built a control panel that contains the Dakota Digital dash, Watson’s StreetWorks’ All-In-One Hot Dot start/stop system, and various other modules used in the car. This allowed him to mount everything onto the panel and work with it on the workbench as a unit.

Mike fabricated a bracket to the steering column brace that holds several of the modules controlling the Dakota Digital Dash and the StreetWorks push-button start/stop. One nut allows you to remove the entire assembly. You can also see the backside of the pass-through connector on the firewall where the main harness will go.

The Speartech engine harness already contains a fuse block for the necessary needs of the engine, so Mike could utilize any of these circuits on the Express system for other items. All he needed to do was tap into the “Key-on” power supply to feed the Speartech harness. Project Gift Horse will also have a modern pushbutton-start system, which Mike wired into the Express’ fuel pump circuit since that is already controlled through the Speartech harness.

The engine uses a stand-alone Speartech ECU harness. Mike simply needed to supply key-on power to the harness from the Ron Francis Express panel.

The flexibility of the Express system allows for useful re-application of some circuits. We called Ron Francis with a few questions about the process. They were extremely responsive and helpful. “Dave Back at Ron Francis helped us and gave us some info on routing wiring properly to get the most protection of the circuitry,” Mike said. “There were even a few things that we didn’t think about!” High praise, coming from such a seasoned wiring veteran.

Ron Francis wiring kits come with a color-coded diagram showing the schematic for each circuit. This, along with the wires being individually labeled, means that anyone can wire their project vehicle.

A methodical checking-off of each circuit soon yielded a completed harness and several empty boxes. One of the most important of all the circuits is the ground circuit. Think about it. Everything relies on a good ground to complete the flow of electricity, and many issues with a vehicle’s electrical system can be traced back to inadequate grounding. Proper grounding means more than merely a self-tapping screw with over a half-dozen ring terminals stacked up under a lock washer.

The Ron Francis kit comes with a grounding plate and two copper bolts to mount it solidly to the metal surface. Make sure there isn’t any paint or powdercoating preventing it from getting a good ground. Mike went one step further and included a heavy ground cable to ensure a good connection.

Scott Bowers at Ron Francis Wiring emphasizes the importance of having good grounds. “The importance of grounding is often overlooked,” Scott said. “In any circuit, the ground equals half of the circuit and can cause havoc when it is insufficient or compromised. Make sure that paint, powder-coating, and rust are cleared at any grounding location.”

As Mike and Aubrey continue to work on Project Gift Horse, we’ll soon be able to see the fruit of their labors. But, for now, there are a few more check-boxes before Gift Horse hits the open road. We’ll be sure to bring you all the regular updates as they are available, but for now, check out Mike’s artwork using the Ron Francis Express wiring system. We think you’ll see why Mike chose Ron Francis, and why you should too!

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About the author

Andy Bolig

Andy has been intrigued by mechanical things all of his life and enjoys tinkering with cars of all makes and ages. Finding value in style points, he can appreciate cars of all power and performance levels. Andy is an avid railfan and gets his “high” by flying radio-controlled model airplanes when time permits. He keeps his feet firmly grounded by working on his two street rods and his supercharged C4 Corvette. Whether planes, trains, motorcycles, or automobiles, Andy has immersed himself in a world driven by internal combustion.
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