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Dashboard and Instruments

Whilst buying my car, I decided I wanted a tachometer, speedometer, oil pressure gauge, water temperature gauge and fuel level gauge. I looked around at various different instruments, but came to the conclusion that Tigers were the most cost effective. Another advantage of the Tiger dials is that they came colour coded, so would match the car.

Part way through the build, I decided to fit different sized tyres to those specified by Tiger and looked into recalibration of the cable driven speedometer. The solution was to fit an intermediate gearbox, or upgrade to an electronic speedometer. I chose to upgrade my unused mechanical speedometer to the Tiger colour coded electronic version for £100.00.

I originally made my dashboard in the 'standard' Tiger way using plywood, foam padding and leather cloth. The first time, I made a mistake and cut the cloth between the switches too close, making it look unsightly. After making it for the second time, I noticed that I had a small cut in the leather cloth on the lower edge. I decided that this would stay until I could do something better.

Neil and Dad built their car with a solid home made GRP dashboard covered in carbon fibre film. They decided against the Tiger dials and bought a set instruments from Greengauges. These really did look a lot better than the Tiger dials.

As my plans had included remaking the dashboard due to the cut in the leather cloth, Dad had kept the moulds from their dashboard so I could make my own.

The 'New' Instruments

One of the main things I wanted to change on the dashboard were the instruments. Personally, I don't like the look of the Tiger logos and thought the background looked garish.

I contacted ETB Instruments who manufacture Tigers instruments and enquired about having them re-faced. For all five, this was going to cost £63.75 including VAT and postage. I decided upon a more classic look with a black background, white lettering and red needles. My old instruments were duly despatched to ETB, along with a cheque and a week later the re-faced instruments arrived back.

Instruments - Before Refacing
Before

Instruments - After Refacing
After

The Dashboard

Making a solid dashboard from GRP sounds like an easy job. However, the process is quite involved with lots of work to convert fibreglass matting into a complete dashboard.

Firstly, Dad modified the moulds from his to match the gap between the lower edges of my scuttle. We then applied silicone grease as a release agent and laid up several layers of fibreglass matting. To strengthen the dashboard we attached a piece of angled aluminium section to the rear of the lower lip. We also laid up a binnacle to cover the column controls. The fibreglass was then left to cure, though we did artificially speed up the process using a heat gun.

When we came to remove the dashboard blank from the mould, we found that we hadn't used enough release agent causing the dashboard to stick to the mould. Releasing this caused some internal delamination. This wouldn't be a problem as the dashboard was going to be covered anyway and was still very solid.

Dashboard after removing from the mould
Dashboard after removing from the mould

I cleaned off the release agent using cellulose thinners. Where the surface had delaminated I applied more fibreglass resin to soak the matting and ensure it was laid up as well as possible. I then smoothed the surface with a rotary sanding disc on my electric drill. This made the surface virtually flat with a few small holes.

The dash was then carefully trimmed to shape. To ensure no mistakes were made, I made some templates from cardboard and transferred these to the GRP. Then through progressive filing with the powerfile and then sanding as it got nearer to the finished dimensions, I reduced its size to be a perfect fit with the scuttle. Mounting holes were then drilled and countersunk.

Dashboard trimmed to shape
Dashboard trimmed to shape

With the dashboard trimmed to shape, I had to make the first cuts to go round the steering column. Before doing this, I had to make up the brackets for the Peugeot column controls. With these in place, I again used cardboard to make templates. The hole in the dashboard was then cut to shape.

To affix the cowling, I made some brackets from angled aluminium which screw into the dashboard. The cowling was then trimmed to fit round the steering column and column controls. Finally, the countersunk mounting holes were given a brush with fibreglass resin to reinforce them.

Dashboard with hole for column controls
Dashboard with hole for column controls

Cowling for covering column controls
Cowling for covering column controls

The test potential dashboard layouts, I cut out templates for each of the instruments, switches and warning lights and used blu-tack to temporarily affix these to the blank dashboard. Previously I had the oil pressure, water temperature and fuel level gauges above the steering column. I quite liked this and wanted to stick with it as a design.

The main sticking point I had was that I wanted my D2 Dash display to be within my line of sight. I noticed that the LCD display may fit into the centre of the steering wheel, so tested it and the fit was perfect. The Sierra steering column has a hole out of the end for the wires to pass through and some old coiled telephone handset cable will provide sufficient wires for the required circuit.

Steering wheel centre with LCD display
Steering wheel centre with LCD display

With the LCD display sorted out, everything else virtually fell into place, allowing me to have the dashboard layout similar to how it was originally, but with the switches to the right hand side of the steering wheel.

Dashboard with instrument templates affixed
Dashboard with instrument templates affixed

Dashboard with instruments in place
Dashboard with instruments in place

With the instruments in place, I marked out the location for the warning LED's, ignition key switch, start button and toggle switches. These holes were then drilled and filed out appropriately.

Before applying the carbon film, any imperfections on the face of the dashboard need to be removed. This was done by covering the dashboard in a thin layer of P38 filler and sanding back to a smooth surface. The bottom nearside corner of the dashboard was a different shape to the bottom offside corner, so I built up the shape to match using P40 fibreglass filler.

When that had dried and, I covered the dash in carbon film. Unfortunately, the film started wandering at an angle, so I had to peel it back slightly. This resulted in pulling a few small bits of filler off with it, so the surface isn't perfectly flat. For the meantime, this will stay as it is as I cannot really afford the time to fill, sand and cover the dashboard again.

All instruments have been installed, a small LED control box created and the dash wired up to two 15-way multi plug connectors for connection to the main wiring loom. There is currently a thin piece of plywood behind the fibreglass dashboard to add strength. However, this will be replaced with 4mm MDF when I can get to B&Q to purchase some.

Completed dashboard
Completed dashboard

The cowling was completed by sanding, filling and sanding again before applying carbon film. The film had to be applied very slowly with lots of heat to contour around the tight corners, but it ties it in very nicely with the rest of the dashboard.

Following an alternator failure, and resulting flat battery, I have also added an ammeter and volt meter below the tachometer and speedometer. The LCD display has also been removed from the steering wheel due to interfacing problems with the Webcon Alpha engine management unit.


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