All vintage car enthusiasts love the style and character of instrument panels behind the steering wheel in classic cars. Unfortunately, with age, neglect, and careless add-ons, vintage gauge clusters can become degraded and present problems. Eventually, they will have to be restored or replaced which offers an opportunity to upgrade with new technology as well as the ability to customize with unique color, style, and features.
How to Repair and Restore a classic Car Instrument Gauge Cluster
Below are some common problems that may occur with old instruments and how to fix them:
Switching from Amp to Volts
Older classic cars with ammeters that read amps instead of volts were designed for a maximum reading of 40 – 50 amps. If a high-amperage alternator is installed the ammeter and wires surrounding it will get too hot, causing the wires to melt and at worst catch fire. To prevent or fix this problem the gauge needs to be switched from amps to volts.
The speedometer’s accuracy can be checked by using a GPS app on an iPhone. If the reading is too high, adding teeth to the gear that is attached to the opposite side of the cable bolted to the transmission, will slow it down. Subtracting teeth will speed up the reading.
Bouncing Speedometer Needle
If the speedometer needle bounces while traveling at low speed, there is most likely a problem with the cable. Pull the cable out of its casing, clean it with a product like WD-40, and lubricate it with wheel-bearing grease before replacing.
If the needle bounces and there is a noise while traveling at a higher speed, there could be a problem with the speedometer itself which will have to be taken to a reputable vintage car repair shop to be fixed.
Converting Odometer to Digital
Changing the transmission to use a speed sensor instead of the original speedometer cable means that it can be converted to GPS. This will turn the odometer to a digital display set to zero. If you are going to show your vintage car at expos run by organizations like Classic Car Club of America (CCCA) or Antique Automobile Club of America (AACA), then you probably don’t want to switch to a digital speedometer and other gauges. And if your car falls under the “antique class“ you definitely should not switch. But, if you are just restoring a classic to drive around a digital cluster can look pretty cool.
Installing Solid-state Voltage Regulator
Most vintage gauge clusters have a small box that is actually a points-style voltage regulator. When the points in the regulator stick, all the gauges can be pegged at once by the voltage, shorting them out. The solution is to replace the points-style regulator with a solid-state voltage regulator.
Reducing the Gauge Input Voltage
Because vintage controls are often designed for 5 and not 12 volts, a voltage regulator must be used to daisy-chain together the power studs that will lower the gauge input voltage.
Preserving the Pointers
With the correct application of a white basecoat and red-orange fluorescent paint, the pointers can be redone. This job is best done by a professional to preserve the balance of the pointers.
Restoring Numbers and Hash Marks
Numbers and hash marks on the face of the gauge can be restored. Professional companies can customize it to feature any color, font or artwork desired.
Restoring the Glass
The glass on the face of the gauge can be restored by using Meguiar’s glass polish and 000 steel wool. The outer bezel can be painted, powder-coated, or sandblasted to the original factory colors.
Tach Adapter and New Internals
A factory tachometer will not work with an aftermarket tach signal. Professional companies can now convert any factory tach to operate with aftermarket signals by using new internals and a tach adapter.
Gauges Found on Vintage Cars
The best classic car instruments are truly handcrafted or restored works of art individually and painstakingly recreated to exacting standards. Especially if your vehicle is a Brass Era car. Each gauge is assembled with carefully selected components and inspected for visual integrity and tested for accuracy and calibration. Modern engineered instruments are produced with a vintage-style face design and electronic programmable speedometers for classic cars.
Customization to Feature Artwork and Colors
Exclusive customization options for gauges have opened up opportunities for amazing individual creativity. While classic instrumentation remains at the forefront of creative design, retrofit engineering has made modern electronic instruments available for even the most sophisticated dashboards. A wide range of choice is available in standard line gauges for custom-built vehicles.
Instrument clusters provide vehicle manufacturers with an invaluable opportunity for differentiation through style, features, color, and customization. Products include gauges, cables, accessories, sender units, and the new ‘SkyDrive’ technology with satellite speedometer electronic control units.
Instrument clusters have been evolving dramatically, and the change of pace is likely to quicken due to improvements in digital HMI (Human Machine Interface) and an intense focus on vehicle safety.