Gauging Interest

Upgrading the Dash and Gauges in Our Early Chevelle

By Tommy Lee Byrd   –   Photography by the Author

Chevrolet got a lot of things right in the ’60s, but one thing that just doesn’t make sense is the use of “idiot lights” in the dash instead of actual gauges. We all know when one of those lights come on, you’re already in trouble, and as gearheads we truly need to know the vital signs of our engine before it’s an emergency situation. For years, the automotive aftermarket has solved this problem with those three-gauge pods that mount beneath your dash. In certain situations, those pods are suitable, but our ’64 Chevelle deserved something better. For this, we scoured the Dakota Digital website to find a new gauge system that paid tribute to our car’s originality, while also providing us with full instrumentation.

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002 a mostly stock ’64 Chevelle
Our starting point is a mostly stock ’64 Chevelle. Relying solely on the “idiot lights” is a risk, whether your car is stock or modified, so it’s time for an upgrade so we can monitor the vital signs of our old-school small-block.

Dakota Digital offers several styles to fit our early Chevelle, and we went with the RTX system (PN RTX-64C-CVL-X) because of its original appearance. It looks like Chevrolet could’ve made it and it fits into the original bezel perfectly. Since we would have the dash disassembled, we decided to install a new bezel (PN CH20441), key guard (PN CH28695), shift indicator lens (PN CH28885), and horn button (PN CHV4001) from Original Parts Group.

003 real concern is monitoring the engine
We could’ve freshened up the appearance of this dash with some new lenses and a new bezel, but the real concern is monitoring the engine, so we’ll be able to kill two birds with one stone on this install.

Regular hand tools are all that’s necessary to install the gauge system and new dash components. You’ll need to do some wiring, but it’s all straightforward, so you’ll be able to get by with a simple voltage tester and multiuse wiring stripper/crimper tool. Most of the system’s wires are fed into a separate control box that is clearly marked for easy wire installation and assembly. We chose to mount the control box inside the glovebox, along with the supplied setup switch, but those components can be mounted in a location of your choosing.

004 removing the original dash bezel
The first step is removing the original dash bezel, which is attached to the dash with Phillips head screws. Although it isn’t totally necessary, we removed the steering wheel to give us easier access.

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Included in the RTX kit are the necessary sensors and a selection of adapters to fit most engines. We did have to make a parts store run, as the oil pressure sensor needed a small extension to clear the intake manifold. The sensors came complete with proper wiring and connectors, but we had to make our own wires for several connections, such as constant voltage, accessory voltage, tach signal, fuel gauge, and high beam indicator.

005 three switches must be removed
Before the dash bezel can be removed, three switches must be removed: ignition, windshield wiper, and headlights. These early style switch retainers can be stubborn, so we modified some needle nose pliers to fit inside the two small holes.

This install took us a couple of days in the shop, so you can likely make the conversion over the course of a weekend. We’re thrilled with the outcome of our transformation from original, crusty gauges with “idiot lights” to these crisp, clean lines with full instrumentation and new accessories. Setup and calibration was simple and now we’re back on the road with a full set of vital signs on our old-school Chevelle.

006 slide the bezel and gauge assembly out from the dash
Now we can slide the bezel and gauge assembly out from the dash. At this point, we remove the speedometer cable and unplug the wiring for the fuel gauge and cigarette lighter. Finally, we remove the 10 light bulbs from the back side of the gauge panel.
007 Dakota Digital RTX
We chose the Dakota Digital RTX system, thanks to its original look. The RTX system features all the necessary sensors and wiring for a simple install. The new dash bezel came from Original Parts Group, but Dakota Digital also offers this bezel as an add-on to the RTX kit.
008 important upgrade from the original gauges is the fact that we will no longer rely on the idiot lights
The most important upgrade from the original gauges is the fact that we will no longer rely on the idiot lights. The spun aluminum accents and original font style will look right at home in our Chevelle.
009 CNC machined gauge housing is a compact unit with very simple wiring connections
The CNC machined gauge housing is a compact unit with very simple wiring connections, as most of the wiring work is handled at the central control box. The gauge housing mounts to the new dash bezel with the four supplied screws.
010 grounding plate that connects the ignition switch cigarette lighter and radio
Don’t forget about the grounding plate that connects the ignition switch, cigarette lighter, and radio. There is another grounding plate that ties into the windshield wiper and headlight switches.
011 bright finish on the dash bezel and original look of the Dakota Digital gauges will look great inside our Chevelle
The bright finish on the dash bezel and original look of the Dakota Digital gauges will look great inside our Chevelle, but we have some wiring to do before we can slide it into place. We used chrome spray paint on the radio delete plate—cringe all you want, but it’s a pretty close match.
012 Dakota Digital suggests a cool dry location for the control box
Dakota Digital suggests a cool, dry location for the control box. We could’ve put it behind the gauge panel, but it was already crowded back there. We chose to mount the box inside the glovebox.
013 Our car has a plastic glovebox that came with our Vintage Air kit
Our car has a plastic glovebox that came with our Vintage Air kit. We drilled two 3/4-inch holes in the side of the glovebox. One hole is for the setup switch and the other provides a path for the wiring. Dakota Digital provides a small bracket for the switch, but we did not use it.
014 underhood installations including this water temperature sensor
Now we can move to underhood installations, including this water temperature sensor. It’s best to install it near the thermostat housing. The supplied fitting adapters made for quick installation.
015 oil pressure sensor body is too bulky to install directly into the block
The oil pressure sensor body is too bulky to install directly into the block, so we went to the parts store to make an extension to get it past the intake manifold. Then, it’s simply a matter of plugging it in and routing the wires into the cabin.
016 final underhood item is a wire that runs to the negative side of the coil
The final underhood item is a wire that runs to the negative side of the coil. This is used for a tach signal. If you have a later-model HEI distributor, this wire will attach to the tach terminal on the distributor cap.
017 After removing the speedometer cable from our Powerglide transmission we threaded this speed sensor into the tailshaft
After removing the speedometer cable from our Powerglide transmission, we threaded this speed sensor into the tailshaft. The supplied wiring snaps into the sensor and we routed it into the cabin.
018 the existing hole in the toeboard where the speedometer cable once lived
We used the existing hole in the toeboard where the speedometer cable once lived. This bundle of wires includes all our sensor wires and the tach signal wire. Now, we can route them around the parking brake pedal and behind the gauge panel.
019 RTX system requires two connections into the fuse block
The RTX system requires two connections into the fuse block: one that is a constant 12 V and one that is an accessory terminal. We tested these terminals to ensure proper voltage and then made up new wires to connect to the control box.
020 Dakota Digital’s instructions tell us to run a new wire all the way from the fuel sender to the control box
Dakota Digital’s instructions tell us to run a new wire all the way from the fuel sender to the control box, but you can also splice into the original signal wire. It is this brown wire on the original fuel gauge connector.
021 Seven of the 10 original gauge lights can be tucked under the dash
Seven of the 10 original gauge lights can be tucked under the dash, but these three must be wired into the control box. The light blue wire is the left turn signal indicator, the green wire is the high beam indicator, and the darker blue wire is the right turn signal indicator. Cut off the bulb socket and use butt connectors.
022 straight screwdriver is used to tighten the wiring clamps in the control box
A small, straight screwdriver is used to tighten the wiring clamps in the control box. The provided sensor wires are pre-stripped and have easy color-coded locations. We leave a little bit of wiggle room on the new wires we made up for the other connections, and then cut and strip them accordingly.
023 We used zip ties to keep the wiring clean
With the display cable connector snapped into the control box, it makes for a tight fit in our glovebox, but it’s just right for a clean install, as we attach it to the glovebox. We used zip ties to keep the wiring clean.
024 Dakota Digital gives you two options for turn signal indicators and we chose the original style
Dakota Digital gives you two options for turn signal indicators and we chose the original style, which requires the use of these optional wires and connectors. The green wire goes to the original signal wire and the black goes to a ground. Then, the connector snaps into the back of the new gauge housing.
025 plug in the display cable and two turn signal indicator connectors
With the gauge housing and bezel resting face down on the steering column, we can plug in the display cable and two turn signal indicator connectors.
026 install the ignition windshield wiper and headlight switches
Now, the bezel assembly can be turned upright and moved closer to its final home. Before we get too carried away, we need to install the ignition, windshield wiper, and headlight switches.
027 reused the original screws for the dash bezel
We reused the original screws for the dash bezel. Be sure to remember to swap the upper reinforcement plate from the old bezel into your new one. It slides into the tabs on the bezel and is held in place with the four upper screws.
028 Dakota Digital RTX system also has a gear indicator function and many other functions that work with original or modern drivetrain components and corresponding sensors
While we had everything apart, we replaced the shift indicator lens on the steering column. The Dakota Digital RTX system also has a gear indicator function and many other functions that work with original or modern drivetrain components and corresponding sensors.
029 opens the setup menu
Once the battery is connected and power to the unit is confirmed we hold the setup switch button while turning the ignition switch to the “on” position. This opens the setup menu. We toggled through the menus, selecting the appropriate options, like GM 0-30 to match our original fuel sending unit.
030 Many lighting and display options are available
Many lighting and display options are available, so it was fun to toggle through and choose our favorite. We also go through the menus to set the odometer and clock, but calibrating the speedometer requires a short testdrive.
031 downloaded the Dakota Digital app so we can change display settings on the fly
We love the look of the new gauges. The lighting is just right, and it really plays into the original look of our ’64 Chevelle. We downloaded the Dakota Digital app so we can change display settings on the fly.
032 Our original Chevelle has a brand new look
Our original Chevelle has a brand-new look, thanks to a new dash bezel, shift indicator lens, key guard, and horn button from Original Parts Group, and of course, the new gauges from Dakota Digital.

Sources
Dakota Digital
(888) 881-0532
dakotadigital.com

Original Parts Group Inc.
(800) 243-8355
opgi.com

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