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'59 DIY Instrument Panel

Example of a '59 instrument panel
One big challenge I was sort of dreading even thinking about with the 59' body to '84 frame/drivetrain, was how I was going to get the electronics to work.  Obviously, the '84 wiring harness wasn't going to just plug into the '59 gauges.  And even if it did, then I'd still have the minimal information that the '59 had: gauges for speed, fuel level, engine temperature, and two dummy lights for the generator and oil pressure.  That limited knowledge would leave me guessing what's going on underneath the hood more than I would like.

Forum photo with four new analog gauges accompanying the OEM speedometer
I found a forum online where a guy shows how he kept his original speedometer by buying an adapter to the sender, and then replaced the other four gauges with new gauges from Summit Racing.  His OEM dummy lights were replaced by proper analog gauges and looked great.  I loved the finished look and quickly rushed over to Summit Racing to look for some gauges.  I found them.  And, they added up quick.  I am not prepared to spend $350 on replacement gauges.  My original plan of keeping everything one can see looking like a '59 has been tossed out in favor of getting everything working properly and functional on a nickel & dime budget.  I just couldn't bring myself to spend that kind of money when I already two perfectly operational instrument panels.  Surely, there was a low budget alternative.

My solution was to make a new instrument panel plate to match my '59 dash from scratch and insert the gauge cluster from the '84 in it.  This way, I can simply plug in the '84 wiring harness to it and BOOM, working gauges!  I took a piece of thick aluminum plate that was left in our shop by the previous owner of the property.  I traced out the shape of the '59 instrument panel plate on it and cut it to size with metal shears.  I cleaned up the edges afterwards with an angle grinder, cut out the holes by drilling 3/8" holes in all the corners to the "windows" then connecting those holes with a metal blade in my jigsaw.  Then, I used a steel brush in my drill to give it a brushed aluminum look.  It's a little rough and I'll spend some more time on it cleaning up the cutouts.  By no means is this the finished product.  I also, haven't decided if I will leave it like this or if I will paint it.  It's pretty reflective right now which may hinder visibility of the gauges while driving.  But, due to the angle of it while installed, I don't expect direct reflection of sunlight to the driver's eyes.  So, I'll probably leave it unpainted and try it out.  I can always pull it off real quick and paint it later.

I also have 5 indicator lights that were part of the '84 dash.  These were in the rectangular holes above the gauges shown in the photo here.  My issue is that the little plastic pieces with the words on them were long gone when I bought the truck.  I'm fairly certain that the outside ones were for the left and right turn signal indicator lights.  I know for a fact (because of a photo I saw online) that one of them is the seat belt indicator lamp.  I will refrain from installing that one.  I don't know what the other two lights are for.  Perhaps, engine light and high beam indicator?  That sounds logical.  I'll figure it out somehow.  Either way, that means I have four more little holes to cut in my DIY instrument panel plate.  I'll put the turn signal indicators near the top corners and then put one of each of the remaining indicators (whatever they are) centered on each side.

I like that I chose to use the OEM '84 gauge cluster because I'll like having a tachometer and analog gauges in place of no tachometer and the '59 dummy lights.  I think that the gauges will look a lot better in the '59 than they did in the '84, too.  Ah, the 80's and its love affair with wood grain paneling as far as the eye could see.


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