Look Over A Dash When Driving, But Don’t Overlook A Classic Dash

As drivers, one of the components we spend the most time looking over the top of is our car’s dash. The majority of our time is spent looking through the windshield, and rightly so. But the dash represents the control panel of our vehicle. So you can look over it, but you should never overlook it!

We wanted to get the big picture of all things that are dash from the experts at Classic Dash. From gauge types to how long an installation should take, we cover the full spectrum of dashes to get a good indication of indicators.

Why Change Your Dash?

Modern dash instrument panels give drivers an incredible amount of information. Traditionally, mechanical devices such as a speedometer, tachometer, and fuel gauge are included in a dash’s instrument cluster. Additional dash modification can help monitor a vehicle’s performance, and often help the driver interact with various functions of the car’s systems. This represents a major safety aspect, but can also add some stylish accents to the car’s appearance.

To many car enthusiasts, the way a car’s interior looks is more important than the exterior. Granted, the exterior is what people outside the car notice, however, drivers spend most of their time looking at the inside of the car, with most of that time spent looking toward the dash. The steering wheel and dash are constantly in a driver’s line of sight. Modifying or changing the dash is a quick and easy way to personalize your car and improve your driving experience.

What Factors Should You Consider?

Working with a less-than-anonymous inside source at Classic Dash, we were told the most important considerations start with the type of gauge panel you want. “Do you want analog or digital?” asked Bill Holland, owner and founder of Holland Communications, the media agency for Classic Dash. “Currently, Classic Dash offers a number of RacePak, Holley EFI, and AEM panels with analog gauges from AutoMeter, Classic Instruments, and even some proprietary gauges.”    

While most enthusiasts prefer electric gauges, Holland explains there are others that want mechanical gauges. Classic Dash has several choices for that category. If the choice is an electric dash, wiring becomes the next concern. “Classic Dash offers comprehensive wiring kits for all installations,” he adds. “These kits come with very detailed instructions, and practically anyone with even a very little bit of electrical experience can do the work themselves.” All of the wires in the kits are color-coded and have identification stenciled on them.

Wires in Classic Dash accessory kits are stenciled and color-coded.

How strong are the panels? “They are equal to, or stronger than, the OEM panels. The panels are strong but can be trimmed to fit as needed,” says Holland. “In most OEM vehicles, there are irregularities within the same model as they came from different manufacturing plants and even between years. Trimming the panel may be required to compensate for those irregularities.”

Construction And Choices

When told the panels are stronger than OEM dash panels, yet can be trimmed to fit, the next questions are: What are the panels made of, and how are they made? According to Holland, “The panels are made from a UV-resistant ABS composite. They are available in matte black, brushed aluminum, or carbon fiber finish.”

Classic Dash’s panels are as strong, and in most cases, stronger than OEM dash panels. Here is a 1991 Camaro factory dash panel (top), and a Classic Dash replacement dash panel (bottom). The layout is better and with the right choice of gauges is easier to read quickly.

ABS (Acrylonitrile butadiene styrene) is a thermoplastic polymer. ABS is a non-crystalline solid, which means its internal structure is not formed of interconnected crystals and has no true melting point. The material has more of a chemical bond interconnected by structural blocks with a higher degree of connectivity as a solid. This is what makes ABS so strong.    

The style options available make it easy to swap out a fading or bland OE panel for one that harmonizes with your car’s interior. This can change the entire personality of your car and is a great way to carry a vehicle’s theme into the interior. For example, those enthusiasts looking for an updated appearance with modern materials will want to take advantage of the carbon fiber finish. 

Classic Dash manufactures its dash panels in-house at the Carson City, Nevada facility. One of the many processes at the facility is a modern vacuum-molding process with CNC machined trimming for controlled specifications.

Gauge Choices

Gauges are the central piece of this puzzle. They essentially give a driver all the information needed to travel safely and take care of the vehicle. They can also add a splash of style as well as making the information easier to interpret by the driver. Great care should be used when selecting gauges for the dash panel because they will be with you for a while (unless you have unlimited resources and can afford to change gauges often).

The first consideration in gauges, which we mentioned earlier, is selecting mechanical or electrical gauges. “At present, Classic Dash offers some 25 different gauge types,” says Holland. “A few are mechanical, but they have electrical versions of the same style gauges. There are advocates for each type and good arguments for both. Those enthusiasts that prefer mechanical gauges say the accuracy is faster and better. They also point out mechanical gauges still work if the power supply to that system fails. In fact, you don’t even need a constant power supply for mechanical gauges.

Mechanical gauges require fittings and pressure lines routed through the cabin to connect the gauges.

The drawback to mechanical gauges is the need to have a pressure line routed to the dash panel. The thing that makes it great is also the thing that makes it bothersome. It requires a direct connection behind the dash which means you will have lines, cables, and tubing running behind the dash to the individual gauges.

Electronic Gauges

Enthusiasts that like electronic gauges point out that these types can be smaller and offer greater display features. Some of the gauge markings and needle sweep can be significantly smaller. They take up less space and are easy to add to a dash panel. Many times, they can be added in unique and non-traditional spots on the dash panel due to their smaller size. Plus, the connections behind the dash panel to support the electronic gauges are fewer and have fewer complications.

Electronic gauges can make for a cleaner-looking installation.

Once again, the primary thing that makes electronic gauges great is the thing that some enthusiasts claim is a problem. Because some of these gauges are smaller and have less face area, they may be slightly harder to read at a glance. In the end, what style of gauge you choose will depend on what application your vehicle is destined to be involved in.

Faces, Fonts, And Looks

In today’s marketplace, you can find gauges that come in just about any color or font you want. And if you can’t find it in the market, gauge manufacturers like AutoMeter will custom design it for you. Classic Dash is careful to use colors, fonts, and materials that perform the best, last for a long time, and earn customer loyalty. After all, their name is on the products.

Choosing the right gauge for the application is critical for success.

Holland relates his personal experience with a set of gauges offered by Classic Dash. “On my longtime project car, I used AutoCross series gauges from Classic Instruments that were offered by Classic Dash. These had a yellow background and black letters. I remember reading something years ago by Adobe that yellow and black is the most visible combination. Those gauges were very easy to read.”

Most of the gauge face colors offered by Classic Dash include white, black, grey, and yellow. The font types are typically contemporary and classic. It’s pretty much a personal choice. “Depending on the application, there are approximately 15 Auto Meter gauge styles to choose from,” says Holland.

Tools And Installation

For many enthusiasts, tearing an engine apart and putting it back together is simple, but anything with electronics is scary. So the question always boils down to three concerns:

  1. What tools do I need to change the dash panel and instruments?
  2. How long does it take to do the installation?
  3. Can I do it myself?

The short answers are; common hand tools, one afternoon, and yes! Yes, you can. “For the most part, only common hand tools are required,” affirms Holland. “You could get by with crimpers, screwdrivers, dikes, some small wrenches, and a file. But it’s recommended to solder the wires and use a heat gun with shrink connectors.” It would also help to have a multimeter.

While it may look like a mess of spaghetti when you remove the stock instrument panel, the replacement gauges and wiring harness simplifies and cleans up the mess behind the dash.

As for installation time, “The standard answer is ‘you can do it in an afternoon but three to four hours is common,” Holland states. Classic Dash’s webpage gives a conservative five- to seven-hour installation time. Obviously, some vehicles are more complex or tighter-fitting than others, so these will require more time.

“In most cases, it’s a simple bolt-in situation. However, minor trimming may be required to achieve proper fitment,” says Holland. “Some older vehicles like the early Camaros were built in multiple factories and were not 100-percent identical. Production methods weren’t as accurate and consistent as they are today. Multiple manufacturing plants mean there may be some slight dimensional differences that need to be accounted for.”

The bottom line is an installation of Classic Dash panels can easily be done by competent do-it-yourselfers using commonly available tools. For more information about Classic Dash or their line of dash panels and gauge offerings, visit them online at classicdash.com.

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About the author

Bobby Kimbrough

Bobby grew up in the heart of Illinois, becoming an avid dirt track race fan which has developed into a life long passion. Taking a break from the Midwest dirt tracks to fight evil doers in the world, he completed a full 21 year career in the Marine Corps.
Read My Articles

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