Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Restore A 1933 1934 Dodge Dashboard Gauge Set

You have the Fenton heads, and the chopped down Cadillac steering wheel. You’re running on Bias-Plys with finned Buick drums. But to go all the way, you need to take that dashboard away from the same-old off-the shelf cookie-cutter to the custom look, and there are 100 years worth of gauges to do it with.       
   Everyone lusts after the King of hot rod panels, the 1932 Auburn set-up. With it’s convex-lensed row of Stewart Warner gauges and array of pull-switches displayed in an engine-turned canvas of steel, it has been the gold-standard for fifty years. But they are few and far between, so unless you snag one from beneath a pile of hubcaps at a local swap-meet, be prepared to spend a lot or do without.

1932 Auburn Dash Set

   A great alternative are the Mopar instrument panels of the early 1930's. The 1932 Chrysler is rare but not in Auburn territory yet. The 1933 to 1934 Dodge and Plymouth panels can still be captured in the $100 -$200 range, and they are some of the most beautiful of the pre-war gauge sets. What makes them so great to work with is that they were self-contained units, easy for a junk-yarder or hobbyist to pull from the dash, and so they are just as straight-forward to install. What we’re going to take a look at is the cosmetic restoration of a 1934 Dodge set; disassembly, cleaning and tips on further resto.
   This panel was purchased off ebay for $100. It’s solid, but dirty, so it’s a good candidate for a light exploratory cleaning.

No, that's not bad photography, it really does look this crappy

   I often find gauges with previous amateur tell-tale plier crimps marring the edges. A common error in taking the backs off of gauges and re-sealing them is using the right technique. If you don’t have a gauge bezel roller (not easy to find, even if you have the dough) the best way to remove the backs of most gauges from the 30's is with a medium-sized screw-driver and a work-shop table edge. Using the edge of the table as a brace on the front, take the screwdriver to the back edging where it is folded over the bezel. By working the blade under the bezel rim and lifting it a bit at a time (too much and you can crack the bezel, especially this style of panel) work your way around the top 3/4 of the gauge panel. This is enough to work the overlay free, and give you a set-in start-point when you are ready to remount the overlay.

 This set consists of the gauge mounting, the glass, the inlaid engine-turned insignia panel, and the over-lay bezel. The outside of this is straight, but tarnished. Using a fine steel wool, double or triple aught, will help in polishing this up, or it will hold a chroming nicely. You will notice in the back of this piece that the glass sits on cork spacers. This can be replaced with rollable 3-M window sealer. Once the set is apart, you can really see what the condition is. This set is solid, and would be a good candidate for a deep restoration, but for now we’ll give it a top-end so it presents nice.

After blowing out the wasps nests, clean the glass. If this is broken, no problem. It’s flat glass, easily cut by any glass shop. If it looks good, clean as you would any glass, with soap and cool water, and use the fine steel wool to take off any built-up crust.
   Next is the engine-turned inset. This is delicate, and you cannot use an abrasive. A very weak acidic solution, or soap and water with a soft sponge will give you the best results without damaging it. Remember, this is one of the reasons to get this set, so be gentle with the inlay.
   Use the same procedure with the gauges. GENTLY dab at the finish, especially the odometer numbers (they are very susceptible to chipping) and always wipe WITH the direction of the needle sweep. The needles will bend very easily, and they are time-consuming to correct, so go slow and easy. 

   A more complex resto would involve removing the gauges and media-blasting and re-painting the case, again, very-straight-forward and simple to do with these sets.
   To re-assemble, just reverse the process. DO NOT use pliers to crimp the edges back down. Use the edge of the screwdriver with the gauge set backed by the table edge. What you will be left with is a beautiful set with a light “old-time” patina, and odds are that some or all of the gauges will be in working order. On this set, the gas and amps still register, and lines can be run from the oil and water gauges. The speedo can be sent to a number of restoration services, or if it looks pretty good, lubed and hooked up with one of the many speedometer cables advertised on-line and on Ebay.
   So if you have the desire for “something different”, a dash set that will get second-looks from the other hot-rodders, check out the early 30's Mopars, and design a dash as unique as you are!

1934 Dodge Dash Gauge Set

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