Jerry Edwards, fellow rodding buddy to John Winter, helped out sorting through the American Autowire kit and prepping for installation.

With More Accessories Comes More Time & Effort When Wiring Your Street Rod

By Brian Brennan – Photography by John Winter

Wiring has always been a point of contention with rodders and it probably explains why all of us try and keep our cars as simple as possible for as long as possible. Fortunately for us, the street rod industry over time has given rise to companies such as American Autowire that has designed parts to make our jobs easier. American Autowire offers a complete line of OEM restoration harnesses called Factory Fit and are replacement parts for original General Motors parts. From here, American Autowire also makes the Classic Update Kit that’s intended to fit ’50s, ’60s, and on up years of cars and trucks that allow customization to account for the modern-day mods we install in our projects. Next up, and the subject of this story, is the Universal or Street Rod Kit that’s a complete, full-feature kit that allows for all of the customization you could possibly want in your next build.

The American Autowire system used in this application is a Highway 22 Plus a universal wiring system (PN 510760).
Proper grounding is key to all aspects of the electrical system functioning properly. American Autowire offers a kit (PN 500717) with six-gauge copper cables that represent an all-copper grounding kit. It attaches to your existing negative battery cable, creating a solid continuous ground.

This story is going to deal with a Universal or Street Rod Kit called the Highway 22 Pro, but we would be remiss if we didn’t point out one of our favorite kits, the Highway 15 Nostalgia, which is the retro version of their popular 15-circuit universal kit. It has all the features of the Highway 15 and features the ’50s-inspired braid and lacquer–coated wire. Underneath is the standard high-temperature GXL wiring but with high-gloss finish and textured wires to give the correct look. This kit would be ideal for those of you who want the nostalgia look. But I digress.

Here is the Dakota Digital gauge cluster used in our installation; VHX-1016-S-R optional gauge face color can be selected.
Here is the same Dakota Digital gauge cluster but this time set up for nighttime operation; there are multiple color combinations that can be selected.
Here’s a quick look at our 1936 Ford dash and just some of the electrical hookups that have to be accounted for; gauges, ignition, air conditioning, steering column, headlights, wipers, electric fans (not shown), and the list goes on. Special thanks to Advanced Plating for bringing our dash centerpiece (waterfall) back to life.

We pulled fellow street rodder John Winter’s 1936 Ford sedan out of the garage and installed a Highway 22 Pro, which is the top-of-the-line wiring system for a street rodder who wants to include lots of the bells and whistles. Accessories such as fuel-injected engines, electronic overdrive transmissions, air conditioning, stereo, halogen lights, electric fans, the latest in instrumentation, and on and on. The Highway 22 Pro is ideally suited for this type of project.

For years the Highway 22 was the staple of the custom wiring kits for American Autowire but demand called for additional capacity. The Highway 22 Plus has a full line of improvements that include a built-in LED flasher to support LED turn signals without the need to purchase an additional item. From here a backup light feed and power wires to make the harness easier to install in a more modern vehicle, which is also coupled with enhanced instructions. There’s also a pre-installed 20-amp relay that can now be easily changed to function as either a keyed 12V or ground-triggered accessory. On the subject of upgrading, how about an upgrade to a 20-amp fuse for the A/C and/or heat fuse that is also moved to an accessory circuit to eliminate draw from the blower motor while the vehicle is being started. For ease and convenience there’s also updated panel labeling. Likewise, all kits now feature an American Autowire high-amp alternator and main power connection kit. This allows for the use of high-amp alternators and provides an even better level of fuse protection for the panel and charging system. The Highway 22 Plus comes with six-gauge wire and two 175-amp Mega Fuses that comes with a Mega Fuse body cover and two M8 x 1-1/4-inch nuts and lock washers. Since this kit will work on both single- and dual-headlight (four lights) systems, extra connectors and wiring are added without requiring an additional add-on purchase. Since ’50s and ’60s cars often have center consoles, American Autowire has now added longer neutral safety wires to accommodate the center floor-mounted shifters.

You will need a handful of basic hand tools to complete the job and this self-adjusting (12-26 gauge) wire stripper (PN 36810) from Harbor Freight is one such tool and will crimp solderless connectors.
Another tool is this ratcheting crimping tool (PN 63708) that works well with bare terminals. Featuring an adjustable crimping compression mechanism and an up/down ratchet lock, the crimping tool is designed for 10- to 22-gauge wire.
Our Optima side-post battery was relocated to the trunk and as such the American Autowire (PN (500724) Trunk Side Post kit one-gauge battery cable kit that measures 18 feet of cable and comes with terminal lugs, crimp tool, and shrink tubing.
Harbor Freight heat shrink tubing (PN 67530) is a must with electrical work. It comes in multiple colors ideally suited for color-code, such as red for positive, black for ground negative, and so on. Sizing includes: 5/32-, 3/16-, 9/32-, and 5/16-inch diameter.

For our story we are using the American Autowire Highway 22 Plus (PN 510760) universal wiring system that comes with a fuse panel base that measures 7-1/2×4-1/2×3-1/8 inches. Additionally, GXL/XLPE GM color-coded wire is used and, always a favorite, the individual wires are labeled every 3-4 inches with the appropriate accessory/circuit they represent. Now included are heavy-duty power studs located on the fuse panel and they are associated with the battery and accessory power expansion. Accessories such as the ignition (PN 510805), headlight (PN 500332), and dimmer (PN 500042) switches are included, along with the featured American Autowire gauge cluster disconnect. There is also a GM column ignition switch adapter (PN 500257) included and headlight switch connection kit (PN 510490).

When dealing with heat shrink tubing, another handy tool for your workbench is the HF Bauer 20V Hypermax Lithium-Ion Cordless Heat Gun (PN 56791). Delivers a high temperature of 895 degrees F along with a 6-second automatic cooldown mode.
The battery box came with the option of handling a side post battery. Cables run from tray to another pair of connectors mounted to trunk floor as positive (red) cable runs forward to the starter. Negative (black) seeks a ground.
Our Optima RT34-78 RedDTop battery is nestled into position. Note the battery top cover that comes with your battery that protects the top terminals from being touched as they are “hot.” A good idea to factor this item into your side-mount battery mounting.
Here is an underside view of the battery cables coming from the trunk and now running over to the framerail. The red cable (positive) will run forward to the starter while the black cable (negative/ground) will terminate as a ground.
Take the two Mega Fuse bodies and covers and snap them together and then remove the four nuts and lock washers from the studs. Install the Mega Fuse jumper over two of the studs on the Mega Fuse bodies. It’s very important that the jumper be assembled on the side that’s going to connect to your main power connection (starter solenoid or battery feed).

We will also take a look at an American Autowire system that contains a remote battery location kit (PN 500724, remote-mounted, side-post battery) that features 18 feet of 1-gauge wire that’s color-coded (red and black), terminal lugs, a crimp tool, shrink tubing, and Winter chose an Optima (RT34-78, RedTop) side-post battery. Next up is a Full Vehicle All Copper Ground Kit (PN 500717) that eliminates the framerail as a conductor by using three grounding boxes connected by six-gauge copper cables. The ground “loop” attaches to your existing negative battery cable to make for a solid, continuous connection. Includes 20 coils of pre-labeled wire, terminal lugs, and a six-gauge crimping tool. To finish off the job we have included a handful of handy hand tools and accessories from Harbor Freight that all of us should have in our toolbox to make a myriad of jobs a lot easier to perform.

Here’s another “must have” in your toolbox, this Harbor Freight circuit tester (PN 63597) that will quickly and safely test high and low voltages on vehicle circuits, including computerized engine and body controls. The circuit tester features color-coded battery clips and dual color LED indicators.
The American Autowire fuse panel comes ready to go and is clearly marked and set up to accept high amp draw accessories, such as aftermarket heaters and air conditioning units. Where you locate it is up to you but experience tells us to make it accessible; fuses will need to be replaced, although rarely as long as the wiring is done correctly.
The American Autowire fuse panel accepts the popular automotive mini-blade fuse but it’s always good to have extras like these Harbor Freight (PN 67664) mini-blade–type fuses. They are made with transparent covers (and color coordinated) for quick detection of a blown fuse and their amp rating.
Harbor Freight offers this automotive fuse circuit tester (PN 67724) that has specially designed test leads that plug directly into your fuse box to quickly diagnose electrical problems. The tester can be used on all circuits up to 30 amps.

As an example of modern accessories, we will give a quick tutorial to go about hooking up a modern electronic instrument package such as the Dakota Digital VHX-1016-S-R. Today gauge and wiring manufacturers are making their products interface with each other by utilizing plugs that allow wiring systems to easily hook up with various gauges packages. In this American Autowire kit there is a gauge connection kit (PN 510491) that you will find helpful when making the connection. But there are always a few caveats that must be paid attention to.

There are some basics to wiring your car that you should pay attention to as recommended by American Autowire.

Dakota Digital offers this VHX control box that makes hooking up their instruments to wiring systems, such as American Autowire’s Highway 22 Plus, fairly simple, as long as you read the instructions.
This Cat 5 cable runs from the DD VHX control box to the instrument cluster as the means of linking both.
It’s a little busy under the dash right now but you can see the American Autowire fuse panel and Dakota Digital DHX control box. In the upper center of the photo, you can see the black Cat 5 cable from the control box leading to the gauge cluster. The fuse panel connects to control box easily enough via a wire connecting the two.
An MSD 6A ignition box is used, but note the white wire coming out of the lower left side (called out as tach outlet); that’s the tach wire. It’s important that it runs to the Dakota Digital control box; there is an anchor point for it in the box.

Beginning Basic Steps

After you have disconnected your battery (if it’s connected) you will want to mount your fuse panel (bag numbered 51048) under the dash in one of the forward kick panels or under the front seat. Understandably, you can mount it anywhere that’s safe and easily accessed should you need to change a fuse or check on things. American Autowire has their kit broken down into individual steps that are identified by a letter printed on the instruction sheets visible through each bag. These letters are the order of operation for installing your kit. Start with the bag letter “A,” then “B,” and so on. “A” (510494) represents the ignition switch and starter wiring kit, “B” (510493) represents the alternator connection kit, “C” (510490) represents the headlight switch kit, “D” (510489) represents the steering column/turn signal connection kit, “E” (510491) represents the gauge connection kit (sending unit side), and “F” (510492) represents the accessory connection kit.

This photo shows you the steering column connector with its wires coming from the American Autowire kit. Once connected you will have your turn signals. Also note, the dimmer switch (upper left) is provided by American Autowire along with the ignition and headlight switches.
Not very exciting but these two switches (buttons) are important to the Dakota Digital gauges and need to be wired. Switch #1 (left) is used for setting up your fuel programing, V-8 motor, clock, and so on, while switch #2 (right) is used to program the speedometer.

After the Battery is Connected

When you have completed the installation and are ready to reconnect the battery, make sure that the following electrical system grounds are in place. The battery is grounded to the engine block, the battery is grounded to the frame, the engine block is grounded to the frame, and the body is grounded to the frame.

Next up you will want to check all of your electrical functions. Any non-functioning items should be checked for proper installation. Any problems with your wiring and electrical circuit functions should be addressed with American Autowire by calling and asking to speak with a technician (help desk) as soon as possible to avoid any warranty problems.

You will have a handful of wires that must come from underneath the car and into the passenger compartment and hook up to the fuse panel or the DD control box. These wires can be run under the carpeting or up and behind the dash.
Turn signals, headlights, electric fan, and so on, wiring passes through the firewall. To protect against chaffing and potential electrical shorts, they are wrapped in a protective shield and a grommet is used in the firewall hole for further protection and to help eliminate outside elements from coming into the interior.

A Quick Way to Screw Up a Great Installation

This kit should typically be used in a modified application only and this kit and all accessories that connect to this kit must be rated at 12 V; the kit will not work with 6V accessories. This kit will also support the use of aftermarket 12V heater and A/C systems. Something to keep in mind is that this kit will support the use of a high-current, self-exciting, one-wire alternator or other style internally regulated alternators. An adapter may be necessary in some applications. The use of a stock, low-amperage alternator is seriously discouraged as they cannot handle the higher current requirements of updated ignition systems, electric fans, aftermarket A/C systems, stereo systems, air-ride suspensions, and other power-robbing accessories and will ultimately create performance issues with the system.

Turn signals, headlights, electric fan, and so on, wiring passes through the firewall. To protect against chaffing and potential electrical shorts, they are wrapped in a protective shield and a grommet is used in the firewall hole for further protection and to help eliminate outside elements from coming into the interior.
We can see the brake light switch with its two black wires. To the left we can see the purple wire in and out, which is the neutral safety switch.
Two ground wires coming off of the bellhousing. One is the ground cable from the battery and the smaller one that crosses under the red wire is the ground strap from the bellhousing to the frame.

This kit will not support the use of an ammeter. All American Autowire kits are engineered to supply the optimum charge to the battery. To achieve this performance, American Autowire recommends routing the kit’s six-gauge charge wire directly from the alternator output charge terminal to the 175-amp Mega Fuse. Due to the path of the charge being altered from the stock configuration, the gauge can no longer see a charge versus a discharge, so it will not work properly. When ammeters were originally used, most generator or alternator current outputs were rated at a maximum of about 25-60 amps. Modified cars being built today typically utilize a 100-amp or higher output alternator. With these higher current units, ammeters, generally speaking, become a safety hazard. Ammeters are usually wired in parallel to the charging circuit, are typically unfused, and can short very easily, causing a fire. A voltmeter is recommended as a good alternative.

Coming off the solenoid atop the starter, the larger red wire is the battery cable, the smaller red wire goes up to the Mega Fuse, and the purple wire goes through the neutral safety switch at the transmission and then onto the ignition.

This kit isn’t set up with a resistance wire or ballast resistor for a standard points-type ignition system. It is wired with a full 12V primary ignition feed that’s hot in the run position. Primary ignition voltage in the starting position is handled via a full 12V bypass wire. The American Autowire kit will support HEI, MSD, other electronic ignition systems, as well as most all computerized (electronic) fuel-injection systems. If you wish to run a points-type system, there are extra parts (ballast resistor) that aren’t included in this kit and will be required to complete that operation.

The master wiring comes from an American Autowire Highway 22 Plus kit but once at the light it connects with the headlight kit, which in this case is a Vintique (PN 40-13076-U) halogen with turn signal. Black wire is ground, green wire is high beam, and tan wire is low beam.
The master wiring comes from an American Autowire Highway 22 Plus kit but once at the light it connects with the headlight kit, which in this case is a Vintique (PN 40-13076-U) halogen with turn signal. Black wire is ground, green wire is high beam, and tan wire is low beam.
Here’s our John Winter making some adjustments to the headlight and finishing off the wiring.

Wiring a street rod can be done at home, and with the aid of an American Autowire Highway 22 Plus kit can be done well as long as you follow the instructions. Remember, there is no quick way or shortcuts that should be taken when wiring. Take the time, as it will take time. How much depends on your abilities but figure on 40 hours from start to finish. For those of you who are meticulous, it could take even longer. MR

Sources
American Autowire
(800) 482-9473
americanautowire.com

Dakota Digital
(800) 852-3228
dakotadigital.com

Harbor Freight
harborfreight.com

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