Dashes, Gauges, Trunks & Options

March 1, 2009 | By John Gunnell

Sometimes You’ll Need Help With These Parts of Your Projects. This Might Be Just What the Resto Doctor Ordered.

INTERIORS CAN BE restored with a kit or by a professional upholsterer, but restoring dashboards, gauges, trunks and options may mean dealing with numerous specialists. For example, Jerry Kopecky, of Iola, Wisconsin, restores Chrysler 300 Letter Cars. He gets interior upholstery kits from Gary Goers (garygoers.com) in Montana. His bulk soft trim, like fabrics, comes from SMS (smsautofabrics.com) in Canby, Oregon. His padded dashes are done byJust Dashes (justdashes.com) in Southern California.

A unique Chryslerinterior item that Kopecky gets expert help on is the “Buck Rogers” instrument panel for Chrysler 300Fs. It has all of the engine monitoring gauges housed in a “globe” or “bubble” with electroluminescent lighting. One might think that the restoration of one of these instrument panels would be on a par with building your own Space Shuttle, but Kopecky discovered a company named JC Auto Restoration (jcauto.com) in Lynnwood, Washington, that restores them. A Canadian supplier manufactures replacement wiring harnesses for them.

Working With a Special Rotisserie

A
A close-up of the 1960 Chrysler 300F dashboard and gauges mounted in the rotisserie and undergoing disassembly.

The
The 1960 Chrysler 300F gauge cluster is shown at right after its restoration by JC Auto Restoration.

To do dashboard restoration work, Kopecky made his own “dashboard rotisserie.” After sending the display bubble off to JC Restoration, he mounts the rest of the assembly in his dashboard rotisserie so he can flip the unit over to work at different angles.

The dashboard is completely taken apart. While many pieces are then sandblasted and refinished, the dash also has a lot of bright metal trim bits that Kopecky sends to Iverson Automotive, in Minnetonka, Minnesota, to be buffed up or re-plated. The old brittle, faded and spliced wiring is replaced with a new harness. All chrome trim is re-plated and all gauges are sent out to be rebuilt. Kopecky keeps a visual record of all work done with digital photos and videos. “Taking lots of pictures is a good way to keep track of your interior restoration project,” says Kopecky. “I would highly recommend it to any restorer.”

Electroluminescent Experts

Meanwhile, at JC Auto Restoration, owners Jeff and Lisa Carter have specifically researched how to repair instrument panels for ’60s Mopars with electroluminescent backlighting. JC also does other specialty jobs.

“For a 1960 Chrysler 300F, we typically restore the instrument panel, the heater, the air conditioner, if there is one, the push-button automatic transmission switch and other electric motors,” Jeff explained. “We have three 1960 Chrysler 300F electroluminescent instrument panels going in the shop right now.”

Electroluminescent instrument panels are backlit using a system that was introduced on 1960 Imperials and devised by Sylvania Electric Products, Inc. (later GTE). Electroluminescent units were then used on Chrysler cars as late as the 1967 Dodge Charger. Each gauge pointer becomes an individual light source.

Jeff Carter first got involved in repairing electroluminescent backlighting after buying a 1961 Chrysler 300G in 1978.

“The instrument panel lights on the car didn’t work,” Jeff recalls. “There was no information available at that time, no light bulbs, nothing in the whole program and we really just started from there.”

Carter learned his repair techniques through trial-and-error and by contacting Osram Sylvania headquarters in Danvers, Massachusetts. Carter also found out how to rebuild the power pack that powers the electroluminescent lighting system.

Carter estimates that JC Restoration restores about 40 electroluminescent instrument panels per year. “We’re a small shop, but we have two employees who do instruments on a full-time basis,” Jeff said. “Since we do all of the work inhouse, we can control the quality of the work and the schedule for doing it.”

JC Restoration also has a warehouse full of NOS and used gauges for Mopars, Jeff said.

The results of the work done on the 1960 Chrysler instrument panel for Kopecky Klassics can be seen in the accompanying photos. Of equal importance was the fact that it was done with a one-week turnaround time.

“We specialize in electroluminescent panels and we’re really the best at that, but we have also diversified into doing other jobs, and with the current economy, I’m glad of that,” Jeff said. “We just rebuilt a beautiful set of original gauges for a 1942 Willys hot rod pickup, since the owner thought the original instruments looked better than aftermarket replacements.”

A Look at Gauge Faces

Steering
Steering wheel restoration services are offered by numerous companies. This ’47 Chevy Deluxe steering wheel is looking like new once again.

John Berry, another subcontractor in Davenport, Iowa, also offers dashboard restoration services. He started by painting and printing reproduction gauge faces for motorcycles, since the Antique Motorcycle Club of America national meet is held near his home.

Then, in 1997, a Jaguar owner told him that the skills he used to restore motorcycles were in demand by car collectors. Today, John’s Phoenix Restoration restores gauge faces, trim plates and body tags. (See Resources below.)

While there are many stick-on overlays for popular antique auto gauges, Berry works from scratch. “Many overlays are the wrong color,” he said. “Some reproductions are too glossy; others are simply not done well.”

After disassembling a gauge, Berry makes new artwork to match the original. This can be as simple as setting type to match the original, but many letter styles can’t be matched. To duplicate these, Berry uses his sign painting experience to hand-paint masters. Later, he converts these to silkscreen and reprints the same faces.

Berry matches the original paint on the gauge face, then he strips off all of the old paint. Some gauge faces are made of brass and have transparent glazes. New glazes are mixed prior to stripping the old ones off. John straightens the face, if needed, and makes sure it’s free of rust. He warns, however, that some gauge faces can’t be repaired and must be remade of aluminum or brass.

Sometimes, You Improvise

Berry recently restored a ’38 Packard radio delete plate that had been hit with a hammer. The glass was completely gone and the brass inner panels were badly bent. Since Packards were upscale cars, many had radios—and that makes radio delete plates hard to find.

Berry located a man with a still-boxed NOS plate, plus another still in a car. The man would not sell either one, but he did let John photograph the one that was in the vehicle.

Berry hammered new circular brass parts and glazed them to match the originals. He then took his photo of the original piece and used it to match the lettering style on the inner glass face. Berry drew on his 40-plus years as a sign painter and screen printer to hand paint a master to match the lettering. He then made a silkscreen and printed the lettering on the backside of new glass.

Berry replaced the curved glass outer face by cutting a piece from the center of a 12-inch curved-glass clock face. He replicated the plastic disk, and handbuilt and polished an aluminum trim ring. He mounted the refurbished original emblem and affixed everything to the center of the new delete panel. The original chrome bezel was fully intact and needed only a good cleaning.

Other Shops of Note

D & M Restoration is a subcontracting shop for the restoration of instrument clusters, glove box doors and center convenience consoles for antique, classic, vintage and muscle cars. You can send your parts into the Greenville, South Carolina, company to be restored and when they come back they will look quite a bit shinier and newer.

Decades
Decades after they first hit the road, speedometers like the one at right can look like they just came from the showroom.

John
John Berry restored this 1938 Packard radio delete plate using photos of an original and by making a silkscreen of the factory art.

Dennis Bickford of Vintage Woodworks manufactures a lot of little parts that people need to restore classic Chrysler trunks.

Jenkins Restorations of North Wilkesboro, North Carolina, has the correct trunk lining material for 1937-2002 GM cars.

Optional at Extra Cost

Many collectors “load up” their vintage cars and trucks with as many extras as they can find.

After all, options make a vehicle more pleasant to use. They warm it in the winter, cool it in the summer and make it easier to steer, among other things. There is little doubt that a collector car today is more valuable if it has lots of options. The one exception might be the car with too many options.

Through the early ’50s, even very basic equipment like signal lights and rearview mirrors were extra-cost options. Directional lights were not mandated for all cars until 1953. In the mid-’60s, seatbelts, headrests and collapsible steering wheels were changed from options to government-required safety equipment.

Collectors often want to add options to their cars when they restore them and the nicest way to add an option is to find an NOS unit in the factory packaging with the original instructions included. Be aware, however, that most NOS options selling on eBay bring pretty strong prices.

With the rising demand and values, some hobby suppliers are rebuilding options like vintage radios and 8-track tape players. AM radios can also be upgraded to AM/FM. Steering wheel restoration services can redo “deluxe” steering wheels to enhance the inside appearance of cars. Muscle car collectors will pay hundreds for a factory wood grain steering wheel. Several outfits remanufacture tachometers.

Seatbelts are a popular accessory, especially now that most people recognize the value of wearing them and have grown accustomed to using them in newer vehicles. So it comes as no surprise that a number of suppliers repair them using the old hardware with new webbing and that new three-point belts are available to replace the old lap belts that were originally installed in many vintage vehicles.

(For more on installing three-point belts, see page 14 of the February issue. And to help you with your dash, trunk and option projects, we’ve gathered together a number of potential resources and listed them here. If you know of someone we’ve missed, please tell us.)

RESOURCES

Dashes and Consoles

American Classic Restorations

680 Douglas St.

Uxbridge, MA 01569

american-classic.com

Dash and console restoration

Iverson Automotive

14704 Karyl Drive

Minnetonka, MN 55345

inversonautomotive.com

Just Dashes

5941 Lemona Ave.

Van Nuys, CA 91411

justdashes.com

Dash covers

Performance Restorations

164S. Main St.

Keller, TX 76248

newdash.com

Gauges Bob’s Speedometer

10123 Bergin Road

Howell, MI 48843

bobsspeedometer.com

D and M Restoration

46 Grand Ave.

Greenville, SC 29607

dandmrestoration.com

Instrument Services, Inc.

11765 Main St.

Roscoe, IL 61073

clocksandgauges.com

Clock and gauge rebuilding

Instrument Specialists

14 Church St.

Oxford, MA 01540

instrument-specialties.com

JC Auto Restoration

20815 52nd Ave. W

Lynnwood, WA 98036

jcauto.com

Dash restoration

Nisonger’s Instruments

225 Hoyt Ave.

Mamaroneck, NY 10543

nisongerinstruments.com

Smith’s and Jaeger instruments rebuilding

Phoenix Restoration

2418 Wilkes Ave.

Davenport, IA

phoenixresto.com

Gauge face restoration

R S Gauge Works

Phoenix, AZ

rsgaugeworks.com

Gauge rebuilding

Rhode Island Wiring Service, Inc.

Box 434H

West Kingston, RI 02892

riwire.com

Wiring harnesses

Williamson's Instruments

2018 E. Front Ave.

Chester, AR 72934

williams.com

Clock repair and quartz conversion

Y' n Z's Yesterday’s Parts

333 E. Stuart Ave. A

Redlands, CA 92374

ynzyesterdaysparts.com

Wiring harnesses

Options

American Classic Restorations

(see listing above)

Clock repairs and quartz conversions

Andover Restraints

Andover, MD

andoverrestraints.com

Rebuilt seatbelts

Cadillac King

9840 San Fernando Rd.

Pacoima, CA 91311

cadillacking.com

Rebuilt seatbelts and computers

Classic Auto Radios & Clocks

7908 Gillette

Lenexa, KS 66215

fredsclassicradios.com

Classic Auto Radio Service

23502Shelby Ave.

Port Charlotte, FL 33954

classicautoradioservice.com

8-track tape player restorations

Classic Plus, Ltd.

601 Lakeshore Dr.

N. Fond du Lac, WI 54937

classicsplusltd.com

Steering wheel restoration & stainlessbuffing

Clockworks

1745 Meta Lake Rd.

Eagle River, WI 54521

clockwks.com

Clock repairs and quartz conversions

D & D Automobilia

813 Ragers Hill Road

South Fork, PA 15956

Steering wheel re-casting

David Lindquist

12427 Penn

Whittier, CA 90602

autoclock.com

Clock repairs and quartz conversions

Gary's Steering wheel Restoration

2677 Ritner Highway

Carlisle, PA 17015

garyssteeringwheel.com

J.B. Donaldson Co.

2533 W. Cypress St.

Phoenix, AZ 85009

steeringwheelsusa.com

Steering wheel restoration

Jim's Sales & Service

455 Gerdes St.

Breese, IL 62230

1920s-70s radio restoration

Palo Alto Speedometer

718Emerson St.

Palo Alto, CA 94301-2410

paspeedo.com

Clock repairs and quartz conversions

Precision Stereo Repair

8441 Seneca Turnpike

New Hartford, NY 12413

Radio restoration

Quality Restorations, Inc.

Poway, California

qualityrestorations.com

Steering wheel restoration

Tayman Electrical

244 Shopping Ave. #288

Sarasota, FL 34237

taymanelectrical.com

Radio restoration

Vintage Car Radio Restorations

814 Blake Ave.

Waterford, WI 53485

vintageradio.com

Trunks & Trim

Auto Custom Carpets, Inc.

PO Box 1350

Anniston, AL 36201

accmats.com

Bill Hirsch

396 Littleton Ave.

Newark, NJ 07103

hirschauto.com

Upholstery supplies

Jenkins Restoration and Interiors

P.O. Box 1509

North Wilkesboro,

NC 28659-1509;

Metro Moulded Parts

11610 Jay St NW

Minneapolis, MN 55448

metrommp.com; Molded rubber

Moss Motors

PO Box 847

Goleta, CA

mossmotors.com;

British car parts

New CoastFabrics

1955Davis St.

San Leandro, CA 94577-1262

newcoastfabrics.com

Vintage Woodworks

P.O. Box 49

Iola, WI 54945

Auto wood; upholstery

Keys & Locks Key Men

Monroe, NY 10950; key-men.com

Lock, Stock & Barrel

248 Main St.

Loganville, GA 30052;

Vintage Lock

144 S. Main St.

Cambridge, MN 5508

General Kopecky's Klassics

PO Box 473

Iola, WI 54945

kopeckysklassics.com

Vintage
Vintage Woodworks manufactures several parts needed to restore a trunk like this.