By John Gunnell
You've probably heard that businesses are going "paperless" these days, but at Gunner's Great Garage we're doing the opposite—kind of. We used what we call a "cardboard dashboard" to make the disassembly of a real dashboard easier. To adopt this system yourself, you'll need two large, long pieces of cardboard (or even one), a good marker pen and some electrical ties of different sizes in an array of different colors. Plus hand tools to take the real dash apart.
The dashboard from a late-1940s Mopar had already been removed from the car. It was a pretty nice piece, but some wood veneering was needed to make it perfect and that can't be done well with the dash in the car. We also wanted to buff the chrome trim, clean up the yellowed plastic pieces and restore any knobs that had worn or dimpled chrome plating.
A new wiring harness will be installed on the back of this dash.
As is typical with 1940s cars, the Mopar had wiring covered with braided cloth that was originally color coded by running different colored threads through the braided cloth. Ever see the wiring in an old radio? Ever see it when its 65 years old? It's not pretty. New wiring harnesses are available, even though prices rose when copper did. To install a new harness, you have to remove the old wiring. Then, you have to attach the new wiring to the proper bulbs, switches, flashers, lights, gauges and other electrical components in the proper order.
Around the mid-1950s, Detroit went to plastic coated wires that came in different colors and smartened up by making every connector and connection unique so that proper hook-ups are easier. Up until around 1954 (in most cases) the old wires were covered with yellowish or black lacquered fabric that had either different color threads woven in for identification or distinctive patterns (i.e. a zebra stripe) used in specific locations. The problem is the fabric covering fades, making it hard to spot colored threads woven into the fabric.
A high-quality new harness made in the original way should have the same colors and patterns woven in. That means that the factory wiring diagrams (if available) can be followed. However, it isn't always easy to work with a fat "bundle" of long wires in the tight space behind a dash. It gets cumbersome to replace old connections with new connections one by one. It's much better for a restorer to come up with techniques to carefully record the removal of the old harness so that the new harness can be connected in exactly the same way.
"Take a LOT of pictures," restorer Jerry Kopecky once told us about rewiring a dashboard, With a digital camera, you can take hundreds of photos. "You can't take too many," Kopecky explained. "You can always erase the ones you don't need, but when you have a photo you really need to finish a project, you'll be glad you took so many." Kopecky even built a special "dashboard rotisserie" so that he could work on dashboards from different angles.
We didn't have a dashboard rotisserie so we color-coded all wiring connections on the back of the real dashboard. Then, we made a cardboard dashboard. With a marker, we made a rough schematic of the dashboard parts right on the cardboard. As we removed each wire from the real dashboard, we attached it to the proper spot on the cardboard dashboard. String tags were used to add notes where we felt they were needed. We also recorded each photo number in a notebook and added a written description of what the photo showed.
Fabricating our cardboard dash from long, large cardboard panels.
A schematic of the rear of the dash was drawn on the cardboard.