July '16

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88 THE SHOP JULY 2016 recent years," he adds. With backlighting, "there are no shadows or hot spots, and we can control what's lit and what's not—not to mention the supreme clarity it provides in both day and night driving." In Dakota's extensive VHX line, Karpe continues, "black alloy face styling, coupled with white LED backlighting, has been flying off the shelves. This color combi- nation offers a traditional look with its red-lit needles"—close enough to stock that "at first glance, many show-goers may not notice a VHX instrument system in a classic truck. And that's often what the customer wants—a showroom stock look, but with all of the same features and func- tions as a late-model." Not surprisingly, direct-fit replacement systems are currently very hot as cutting a bunch of extra holes in a dash is no longer acceptable, he says. "Our in-house engineering team can be credited for fitting six gauges in a space typically designed for two." Although the VHX series has been around for a few years now, Dakota has "been refining the series over time, adding features, vehicle applications and styling choices. Our BIM-series of expansion modules, including the BIM-01-2 OBD-II interface, has also been growing." GAUGING STYLES We found widespread agreement that most of the market prefers its new tech to remain hidden behind "classic" styling. According to Karpe, this preference sweeps across the entire hot rod and performance hobby. "The muscle car crowd, the classic truck builders and traditional hot rodders are all thriving on keeping the overall look original," he reports, "and hiding the high- tech upgrades within. Subtle departures from stock are welcomed, but it's a fine line as to what can and cannot change—and they know it when they see it." McLeod, on the other hand, sees "a mix of trends, due to the design and theme of the car, with one group leaning toward nostalgia and others toward more modern instruments. We have chosen to stick to what we know best and continue to create the nostalgia look and feel, with the latest and greatest in technology supporting that look." "Every customer is different," Bradley agrees, which is why "Marshall Instru- ments provides a variety of dial designs and bezel options, so that there is some- thing for everybody. We find that the most popular gauges and sets are those that offer the highest-quality construction at a com- petitive price. The fact that we make our gauges in the U.S. is a big deciding factor for many customers." "The popular look today is something that you cannot tell has been modified," Stark adds. "In fact some of the projects done today look like they were CAD engi- neered for one of the Big Three." Still, "there are a lot of different direc- tions for gauges, and of course a muscle car is going to have a different set of gauges than a vintage hot rod. That's part of how you get the look and feel of the car. We have chased vin- tage Stewart-Warner gauges for a long time to find the correct set to match a period car. We have also gone in the complete, opposite direction, having a gauge set custom- designed and built from a crazy idea in my head." Auto Meter in Sycamore, Illinois, offers a line of direct-fit, American made, billet aluminum dash panels. The precision-fit panels "drastically simplify the process of gauge installation while providing a clean, timeless look," the company notes. Also popular is its complete line of tachometers. "From the legendary Mon- ster Tach to the highly advanced Ultimates, their mark on the racing world is undeni- able," and popular in a variety of vehicle applications. TOTAL CUSTOM And at the very high end, in fact, it seems that anything goes, with points awarded for originality. Even among muscle enthusiasts, observes Zach Ingram of Z Rodz and Customs in Knox, Indiana, gauge preference "depends on the level of the build. Our Pro-Touring customers want a classic look with modern technology. We have a '69 Camaro in the shop now, with a classic '69 gauge layout, but everything is modern. And because the owner wants to autocross the car, he wants to integrate a shift light and data-logging." Another customer, this one a road racer, is having g-meters inset into the faces of more common gauges. Meanwhile other customers are opting for a fully custom- ized look, inside and out, including what Ingram calls "personalized" gauges and gauge panels—investing "easily" up to $10,000 in the gauge cluster alone. "We start with a rendering. And the gauges are 100-percent custom, from the bezels to the needles." The gauge design for a '32 three- window follows the original Ford design, to fit the shape and size of the opening, adapted to look like the interior of a luxury car. (Photo credit: jimstach- Precision Designs) Auto Interior Impressions HOT ROD & CUSTOMIZATION

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