Okay, for those paying close attention to our restoration articles, we did say that the T-Bird would look externally faithful to the original cars and that the only modifications would include the front suspension/steering, brakes and stuff like that. That's not totally true.
During the planning stages of the project we included air conditioning as a "must-have" option. Like the original cars, our A/C evaporator housing will hang from the center of the dash. Unlike the original units, ours' has horizontal outlets, but we do plan to modify some old dash knobs for its fan and temperature controls.
The A/C unit fits nice and snugly under the dash.
While the dash was hanging out of the way in the office we used the opportunity to fit the evaporator to it and drill the necessary mounting holes. Once that was done our minds started working. Should we paint the housing to match the bottom of the dash (white)? Will the ashtray be able to be grabbed from underneath after the A/C housing is installed (the answer was no)? Where can we mount our (planned) engine temp, oil pressure and voltage gauges? Where will we relocate the hood release bracket and mount the new choke cable (we chose to use a manual choke on the engine's new carburetor)?
Then it occurred to us: we might be able to create a vertical console that would incorporate everything. If it were shaped in a way that mimics the curvature of the dash and could surround the A/C unit, it could be made to look like Ford had designed it back in the 1950s.
We got to work with some stiff construction paper and took careful measurements of the A/C unit. Once we had cut the paper to the proper shape and drawn centerlines for the gauges, we played around with various outer shapes until we found something we liked. We taped the final shape to the dash and stepped back to admire our work.
This looks very close to what we think would have been a console shape in the '50s.
There's only one hole in the paper at the moment so we can use the center points to mark the sheet metal later.
The new console would have to be pretty rigid in order to hold the gauges, hood release and choke cables. It would also have sides, so we used our paper shape as a template for cutting sheet metal. For this task we used one of our (many) sheets of 24-gauge metal that we got from a real estate company that moved away a few years ago. These old metal signs are very useful for such projects and they were free, so why not? We cut out our panel shape and started the process.
Once we had bent the metal to the bottom shape of the dash, we cut out the "final" shape.
This was a good time to drill out the holes for the gauges.
Always test-fit the gauges before proceeding. Having to enlarge holes after painting is dangerous.
Now for the sides of the console: to do this we created a plywood "form" the exact shape of the front panel. Using our air nibbler we cut a straight, flat strip of metal. We then clamped our front plate to the wood form in the vise and bent the straight piece of metal over the form. We felt this was the best way to weld what would be the sides to the front plate, while maintaining the perfect shape.
The form is ready to use.
We cut a straight, flat strip of metal.
It's getting ready for welding.
We tack-welded the side piece every few inches along the seam, taking our time to keep the curved shape. Once we were satisfied with the overall shape we ran a weld seam all along the panel.