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How to Install the Dakota Digital Dash System - 1967 Chevelle

8/17/2020
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The calm before the storm

As a Product Manager in this industry, I often find myself stepping outside of the existing selection of products and parts that we offer. Sometimes this works out well, sometimes it doesn’t. Something that happens every time though, is education and broadening of my horizons. Some of the great things that have come from my Chevelle project:

  • The development of our tubular rear trailing arm kit
  • Tubular front control arms
  • Bolt-in 9” housing and axles
  • Many other, more universal parts

I’ve long said, “If I wouldn’t use it on my own cars, I won’t push it on our customers.” This stands true today as I evaluate my purchase of a Dakota Digital dash system. The thing that attracted me to this system, in particular, was the factory styling. I’ve long said that the first aftermarket gauge company to master the “wide sweep” speedometer would be a winner. Up to this point, the only option for aftermarket gauge packages in 66-67 Chevelle was a set of round gauges adapted to the factory opening. Something I’m capable of doing myself if I desired that appearance.

More than it appears to be on the surface. Left: Factory SS Instrument Cluster | Right: Dakota RTX

The hook was set, the money had been spent. I ordered the cluster and additional accessories to outfit the dash to be totally independent from the drivetrain. I had painted myself into something of a corner with my placement of the shifter arm in regards to space to use a speedo sender in the transmission. (More on this in the shifter article) So, I opted to use a GPS speedo sender and in order to utilize the digital PRNDL readout in the new dash I also opted for the gear selector sender.

The really nifty thing about all of this is that it plugs into the back of the instrument panel with one cable. This includes turn signal and high-beam indicators, all senders, lighting, and speedometer pulse. All of it plugs in with a single BIM cable

The tradeoff to all of this dash installation simplicity means wiring in some central “brain boxes” that handle the connections to the vehicle systems and then process that information and transmit it to the cluster. In my case, there were three of these modules to mount and wire in. One main one for the gauge system and two auxiliaries. One for the gear shift indicator and one for the GPS speedo sender.

These needed to be mounted somewhere accessible enough to wire and service but out of sight.

Since I’d already welded up the extra holes in the firewall, insulated and painted it, I wanted to mount these modules somewhere that wouldn’t require any holes or mounting to that surface. I decided that I could squeeze a newly made panel across the middle of the underdash area. By spanning between the support strut and the steering column/brake pedal support, I could make a shelf that held the modules. This also allowed the entire panel to be loosened and tilted down to service or troubleshoot later when the dash panel was installed again.

This was accomplished by bolting through the top of the brake pedal support and welding to the bottom of the right side dash panel support strut. The support bar is ¾” angle steel with a 16 gauge sheet metal panel bolted to the bottom with #10 machine screws. I did end up revising the panel’s overall shape after test fitting with the evaporator unit in place. Additional clearance was needed to accommodate the output plenum for the center and defroster vents. I also removed a section on the left side of the panel to accommodate clearance for wiring.

Take one, later trimmed to provide clearance for other add-ons.

My installation also included a relay for the neutral safety feature offered on the gear indicator module. In the final configuration, this relay was mounted on the top of the panel. It looks a little more cluttered than I’d hoped but it’s all very functional and can be serviced if needed down the road.

Something that was a tremendous help when snaking and terminating wires was to take the supplied wiring diagram from Dakota and simplify it to the just options and functions I was using. In addition to deleting circuits that I wasn’t using, I color-coded the diagram to match what I was working with. You can do this in MS paint in a pinch and it saves a ton of confusion over the supplied diagram.

Left: My simplified diagram Right: From the instruction manual

My diagram was present, held to the firewall with a magnet. But really, after you’ve spent the time to modify a wiring diagram, you know it by heart anyway. Sort of like making a cheat sheet for a test, then not needing it. Or so I’m told.

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