Factory Fresh Instrument Panel & Dashpad On Our Project Truck

Part II: The Dakota Digital Gauges and LMC Truck Dash

By Don Lindfors – Photography by the Author

Missed Part 1? Check it out here: How To Install a Vintage Air SureFit In-Dash Kit in an F-100

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In the last installment on our 1976 Ford F-100 project we did a Vintage Air heating and air conditioning installation. Our truck didn’t come with factory air conditioning and that just doesn’t cut it for a hauler in SoCal where the summers can be a bit toasty. The Vintage Air kit was very complete, the installation was quite straightforward, and the air blew nice and cold. Check out the Oct. ’21 issue of CTP for the full story.

Looking at the dash as we were starting to pull it apart for the AC vents and controls, it struck us how this was the perfect time to upgrade that gauge panel. This being a Ford base model work truck, it didn’t have a full gauge setup, just warning lights for oil pressure and the alternator.

01 The F-100 dash was really rough with cracks on the dashpad
The dash was really rough when we started; faded, nonfunctional gauges, aftermarket parts hanging under the dash, and a cracked cover over the cracked dashpad did not make for a pleasant sight.

Apparently the water temp gauge didn’t work and the previous owner didn’t trust the oil warning light as there were mismatched gauges hanging under the dash for temperature and pressure. The chrome trim on the bezel was worn and the lens had turned yellow, not to mention the cracked dashpad had a cheap plastic cover over it that was also cracked. Time for some changes.

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Thinking of options for the gauges I considered everything from a factory gauge–style instrument panel to making an aluminum panel for aftermarket gauges. I then remembered a story I did for Hot Bike magazine 15 years ago on installing a Dakota Digital gauge pod with the vacuum fluorescent display and thought I’d see what they had to offer.

I didn’t really want the vacuum fluorescent–style gauges as it didn’t fit the style of truck I was building so I was pleased to see that they also offer replacement instrument panels in their RTX, HDX, and VHX product lines. All of these resemble a factory-type gauge with a much more modern look and offer many optional features. Check out their website for the wide array of styles that are available for many classic trucks. We chose a Dakota Digital VHX system with a Silver Face with White Needles and white backlighting. They offer many different faces and colors to suit your desire.

02 Here_s a comparison of the factory gauges and the oem style Dakota Digital VHX gauges
After pulling the dash apart, the comparison between the well-worn original gauges and the new Dakota Digital VHX is like night and day.

The gauge panel features a speedometer, tachometer, oil pressure, water temperature, fuel level, and voltage gauges. Additionally, there are two LCD readouts that can be programmed for different information, including odometer, trip meter, high-speed recall (perfect for checking up on your teenager when he borrows your classic), rpm recall, 0-to-60 times, quarter-miles times, hour meter, as well as warnings like high temperature and low voltage. On top of that there are inputs for a check engine light, brake warning (can be either failure switch or e-brake on), 4X4 engaged, “Wait” (for diesel glow plugs), gear indicator for automatics, and even cruise control.

Read More: The F-100 Western Nationals 2021

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The Dakota Digital VHX kit comes complete with the gauges installed in the sealed mounting panel, all the senders with a variety of adaptors to suit most engines, wiring harnesses for the senders, a CAT 5 cable to connect the gauges to the control unit, and a computer control unit that integrates the senders to the gauges and contains the sensors for the acceleration display functions.

03 We start by mounting the Dakota Digital control module on the steering column bracket
The first step toward the upgrade was to mount the control module. We found a great spot on the brace for the steering column and dash.

Installation is straightforward with the control box mounting separately and is simple to wire up to the senders and power. We were able to use the factory wiring for power (both constant and key on, the fuel sender, lighting, and grounds). The only wire we had to add was one from the coil for the tachometer. The CAT 5 cable makes it easy to remove the gauge panel if you need to do any work under the dash. The gauge panel mounts to the original factory holes in the dash, no drilling necessary.

With the new AC vents and controls in the dash and the beautiful gauge package the remainder of the dash really looked sad. LMC Truck is one of the leaders in replacement and aftermarket classic truck parts, so a quick perusal of the catalog showed a staggering amount of replacement parts for the interior for these Dent Side trucks. We could have gone total restoration on the gauge panel while upgrading to the factory all-gauge version and replaced that yellowed lens with a nice new one.

04 Dakota Digital includes new sensors with adaptors for key vitals
Dakota Digital includes new sensors with adaptors for the speedometer, oil pressure, and water temp.

Since we had already decided to go with the Dakota Digital (which LMC Truck carries as well), we ordered up a new black and chrome instrument bezel (they also offer the woodgrain version), headlight and wiper switch knobs, and a new dashpad that is a direct factory replacement. The bezel is exactly like the factory one would have looked when new and we even got new screws to replace the sightly rusty originals. The dashpad came with studs molded in just like the one from Ford and installed through the stock holes.

Read More: Brake System Rehab: 1972 Ford F-100

With the Vintage Air heat and AC, Dakota Digital gauges, and the LMC Truck replacement trim parts, our truck looks better than ever would have been thought of back in 1976, while upgrading the functionality and comfort of the truck. Not bad for a weekend’s worth of work.

Dakota Digital
(800) 852-3228

LMC Truck
(800) 562-8782

Vintage Air
(800) 862-6658

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