I hate people that start off an explanation on how to do something with “It’s easy”– hey, if it is so easy, you are saying I must be an IDOIT!!!!! I mean why should I need a lamebrain like you to show me something if I’m so smart— right! No, I don’t want someone to talk down to me and point out the gaping hole in my head, I want competant instruction on a complex procedure made more understandable by years of hands on experience—– right???
Well then, refinishing the dash adding one of Mac’s custom gauge kits — is not easy, there are many important steps if the end goal is to make the finish look factory. I have messed with enough of them to give you some very good “don’ts” in doing the work. The “Do’s” you decide on will give the job your personal custom touch– be sure that touch does not compromise the overall appearance. Details are meaningful so don’t just do the hard stuff & leave off the details– you’ll hate your work later.
Step 1: I always vacillate until I open the box The box is a pretty big one with piles of wires, switches & loose parts, don’t use a knife on the box– open it carefully then pull out all the insulation packing. COOL— The first look at one of Macs handiworks always brings up a few defining words. He does good work, now its your turn to add more quality work because there is still time to screw up a nice piece of work like this. Check to be sure you have all the sensors, wiring and most important Macs custom made instruction manual. There is a number in your book, your dash is on record with Mac so if you ever need a replacement part or anything, he will know what parts your dash was built with. This is why I say, he does a great job, now please don’t mess it up with sub standard work.
I put the dash aside and start in on the dash. Buds dash isn’t that bad, I mean he has it the color of his new interior and it all works, that makes it a good dash— right? Look a bit closer, the dash cover is a bit funky and the cracks ina missing pieces tend to give it that “damaged goods” look . This is an early 73 coach thus sporting one of the rare first design glove box doors, and whats with the pig skin vinyl glued to its front , thats all gotta go.
Betcha you’ve pealed an apple before trying to leave one long piece of skin— right? And if the apple is ripe and your knife sharp, you can do it. Well, you have to find fun when you can and I like trying to cut out the entire dash cluster and remove it all in one piece. Just like an apple, if the dash is not too weathered and the blade on the air saw is fresh, it can happen. Hey, hey, that crack in the top left corner was there! Many of you guys should be jealous, this dash is in pretty good shape– there are no cracks in the main panel where the defroster holes are and the pad is not pealed off. This will make a nice looking refitted dash.
Man did Bud like velcro There were 34 sections of sticky, gooey velcro holding down the dash cover, it never had a chance to move! Each piece had to be removed then the glue cleaned off as well– took some time but hey, it had to be done.
So how far down do you go? Actually, you see here the start of the build up. The steering column has been prepped and painted, the front area has been back painted black & I’m now ready to stretch the vinyl over the pass. side pad. The vents will all be replaced, those were torn out. Actually, wiring could happen next and it may looking at the weather rolling in today.
Next step is to wire the new dash harness to the original wiring. Rake out any and all add on wiring, if they are things you want you can rewire them later. The main goal here is to get rid of any funky wired circuits, install only quality wiring so you have hopes of not having “ghosts in the machine” aft the new dash is in. Clean, proper wiring that is easy to trace and easy to fix if needed. Use extra wire length (called a service loop) to make it easy to wire now and to trace and repair later. Here you can see that we can actually lay the dash panel on the floor with it plugged in. This allows you to check things out while looking at the back of the panel— no crawling up under the dash later to see something. You will have circuit wires for stuff like tach, trans temp, oil temp, etc. that do not correspond to any of the original wiring, run them through the fire wall to the left where the steering column goes through labeling each one. Let them hang out of the front of the coach, you can wire them in later. Make each connection good, a quality connection is your best insurance for no future problems (RIG NOTHING).
With all the original harness wired and the new circuits plumbed for future hook up, you are ready to refinish the rest of the dash. I mean whats the use in having a cool new gauge cluster if the rest of the dash looks like — well, you know what I mean.
I clean up and black out the forward edge of the dash. If there are cracks up there, the black paint will mask them to a large extent. I use a “SEM” brand called “trim black”, it is a satin finish laquer based self etching paint– works great.
With the front edge refinished, the pass. pad is next. Screw down, repair and clean prep the pad getting it ready for a new vinyl covering. I use a thermo-plastic welder (very hot heat gun using air pressure) My blue welder has been a trusted friend for over 10 years, the last time it was used one of my guys pulled the air away before the element coold down and burned it out. The new orange one is from Harbor Freight– I usually do not use that sort of place to buy tools but for this purpose, their plastic welder is an exact copy of my older high dollar one. The tool is used to heat up the new vinyl making it soft & pliable for the stretch on the pass. pad. With the pad taped off as above spray contact adhesive on the repaired original pad and then lay over the new vinyl heating and stretching it into place. Sounds easy– right? Well, I will tell you it does take some practice. If you intend to do this yourself, expect some learning work before you tackle the final job. Trim & tuck the edges of the vinyl to finish off the recovered pad. Next, bag off the new pad, prep the surface and color dye the side panels to match the new pad. Takes a bit of taping around the panels and of course the new pad, take your time.
Now its time for the new panel, measure out and cut holes for the forward hold down screws, remove the 4 bolts holding the steering column, pull the column down and fit in the new dash panel. Sounds easy but this to will take you some time and a bit of fitting. “It almost fits perfect”, which work in that phrase my give you trouble. Almost does not count– cept in horse shoes and hand grenades so you will need to work through the “glitches”, but the end goal is worth the labor Here is the dash, refinished, colored with the new panel in place. Now we are finally ready to talk about gauges and final wiring. There is a steering column lowering kit you will need to now install (if you did this before, you know why I waited until not to install it), the column will need to be moveable to to sneak the new dash panel behind it.
Now is the time to touch up ant cosmetic issues of the dash, from here we will be wiring and installing delicate panels.
Now it all starts to come together, we see the possibilities of installing the gauge clusters now? You MUST look at anything you plan to do right to go this way. You have to put your head down and start at the beginning and give it hell till you’re done– well anyway, thats how I look at projects like this.
All that time will now hopefully pay off. The prewired harness should reach the hole where it will be connected, the panel is secure so now its time to act like it’s always been there.
First is the lower left panel containing: headlight control, wipers, fuel tanks & battery boost. Mac really does a great job on prewiring and mounting these panels, the wiper control bracket will need some furthers tweeking & as usual, the headlight switch nut was frozer so I had to pull out an extra gorilla (ie. bigger hammer AKA “BLBNFBSD” tool (thats Big, Long, Bent, Nasty, Flat Blade Screw Driver to you professionals), Nathan knows which one I’m talking about. Anyway, it finally gave up so I added it to the new panel.
The main panel needs final prewiring , the left & right air lines to the dual gauge are connected (be sure youu do a good job at tightening these connections, you will create a very hard air system leak to find here). Check all the spade & pin connections, be sure BEFORE it goes in the dash!
A new hole has to be drilled for the wiper control cable before the panel is plugged in and secured. The dash AC / Heat control bolts to its new bazel– sounds like we finally hit something easy— right? No, even though the panel was screwed in place for shipping, with the control bolted to it, the thing just would not fit. At times like these, I look to my trust butcher saw Like Will Smith said in the movie “Independence Day”, “Man, I gotta get one ah these!” For trimming openings and making things fit just right, a air saw with an 18 tooth blade can be your friend.
Its easiest to install the lower panels first, even though you do have service loops, you have greater acces to them before the top panel is installed. Now we’re ready for the main panel. This dash is using a mechanical speedometer which means we still need to plug in the speedo cable as the panel is installed. You will have access through the top right hole because I KNOW you didn’t get ahead of me and install it first! Well its OK, if you did I would pull it out, makes your life much easier.
With the panel propped into the hole, all the connectors, hoses and what not can be checked out before its installed. Mac labeled the light panel on the back for you to give you a reference in following circuits. I trace every circuit double checking Mac’s work, sorry man but I just gotta know myself. I can operate every circuit with the panel laying forward– what a great trouble shooting tool!
So I flopped the main panel up into place & screwed it in. Oh sure I’ll probably need to get back in there once or twice before I’m done but listen– put the screws in, its a sort of crossing a line when you do that and its now up to your previous prewiring and preparing that will help you to not go back. This also helps you to think clear before you change something, you will need to remove the screws & panel if that happens. This also drives you to prepare well and learn your errors when they happen.
OK, it may still sound weird but thats the mind game I play with myself when installing one of these dashes. I’ve had people drop by and be impressed at the piles of wiring behind the dash. If you are doing the job, each cluster has its function and every connection and fitting had to be done its best right now. Its not a pile of wires to me!
The top right panel is next. The back up camera wires come in and 2 pair of wires are wired to the 2 acc. switches on the panel. This is what Bud wanted– 2 pair of wires to the back. In that this is a long stretch, I use 12 ga. wire. If he runs a relay or motor, there may be a resistance/ current issue on smaller gauge wires (Don’t un flemsey speaker wire under the coach– you’ll be sorry!
The comes the lower right panel. This panel holds the original style air control valves and the dash radio. Bud purchased a very nice Pioneer DIN unit so I had to cut a 2×7″ hole to mount the radio. The air lines were too short to allow them to be relocated. I was forced to cut the 5 air lines under the hood next to the brake booster and will extend them. Unfortunately, GM and the UAW did not see the need for service loops on the air ride system air lines! With that stress off the panel, it popped right in and the prewired radio harness mad installing it a snap.
Sure I left out many steps, this is not a “blow by bow” install record, that would do you no good, every dash and install will be a little different– the tips are the things I feel you need. I can’t teach you everything about installing one of these dashes– it took my decades of wiring, burning things up and doing it over to get used to doing it this way. You will need to discover your own strong & weak talents. Wether you are good at it or not, the project deserves what ever time it takes to do it right, remember this when you wire something.