Project Respect: Classic Industries’ Camaro Dash Panel Upgrade

It’s been well documented that the Gen-III Camaro doesn’t receive the same level of respect as the first two generations of the model. Initially, there were a few good reasons that enthusiasts were slow to warm up to the 1982 to 1992 Camaro. Unlike the first-generation, whose interior looks have been copied in current designs and custom builds, the 1980s and very early 1990 models have been criticized as being underwhelming-especially their half-moon gauge design. Classic Industries has a solution to GM’s dated interior with a cleaner, sports car-appearing dash panel with Auto Meter gauges.

Our project Camaro’s outdated interior was in need of a serious style update. The first thing we attacked were the gauges that were stuck in the 1980s. Happily, we took one last look at the mullet-era styling of the factory dash panel.

Our plan for the humble Camaro RS project car included a major facelift to the car’s 1991-era interior. Seeking to add a sporty and current look to match the attitude of the upgraded drivetrain, we contacted the crew at Classic Industries for some help to bring this project from plain Jane to next-level Lucy, starting with the dash.

Keeping in mind that budget is one of the biggest priorities with any project car build, Classic Industries offers an entire line of interior components that won’t break the bank, but perform and look like custom-made parts. We jumped at the chance to upgrade the entire interior, starting with the dash panel.

The more we looked at the out-of-style interior, the more we wanted to change it. Especially those hideous gauges.

Six-Gauge Dash Panel Kit

Classic Industries’ six-gauge black dash panel kit with Auto Meter Phantom gauges (PN 19020021) is designed as a direct replacement for the 1990 to 1992 Camaro dash panel. The panel itself is formed from acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS), which is lightweight and known for its superior hardness, gloss, and toughness. Used in the automotive industry because of its great shock absorbent properties, many cars feature ABS bumpers and trim components.

Classic Industries Dash Panel Kit Gauges And Indicator Lights

  • 5-inch 160 mph speedometer
  • 5-inch 10,000 rpm tachometer
  • 2-1/16-inch oil pressure gauge
  • 2-1/16-inch fuel level gauge
  • 2-1/16-inch voltmeter gauge
  • 2-1/16-inch temperature gauge
  • Turn signal indicator lights
  • High beam indicator light
  • Emergency brake indicator light
The panel contains six Auto Meter Phantom gauges: two 5-inch gauges (speedometer and tachometer), and four 2 1/16-inch gauges (fuel, oil pressure, water temperature, and volts) already installed. The Phantom gauges are made of race-quality mechanisms and include subtle black bezels on white dials, bright orange pointers, and perimeter incandescent lighting. These are high performance gauges with an easy to read, crisp and modern appearance. Wiring is simple, as it comes with a wiring harness. In addition to gauge connections, the wiring harness also attaches to the factory indicator light connections for the turn signals, high beam indicator, and emergency brake, if the vehicle was originally equipped with those indicator lights.

Our kit came with an American Autowire wiring harness, which is intended to be an upgrade modification, and not simply a plug and play interface that accepts the vehicle wiring limitations. As such, the installation requires some modification to the original under-dash wiring, but it’s nothing beyond what a handyman with basic maintenance skills can’t do in an afternoon.

The comparison shows us exactly how outdated our old instrument cluster appeared.

Features And Benefits:

  • Tough ABS panel finished in black
  • Compact six-gauge layout
  • White-dial Auto Meter gauges with black powdercoated bezels
  • High-contrast design that is easy to read at a glance
  • Top-quality American Autowire wiring harness

Removal Of The Stock Instrument Panel

Every good installation begins with removal of the old part, but when it comes to electrical, attention to detail, and labeling connections will make the upgrade much easier. Removal of the original dash panel is as simple as removing the fascia surrounding the instrument cluster by removing the fasteners along the top of the fascia and pulling the panel away from the dash with a firm tug.

We removed the fascia plate that surrounds the factory dash panel, the steering wheel, and then pulled the factory dash panel out so we could disconnect the wiring connectors. You don't have to remove the steering wheel, we were just tired of looking at it, and wanted to replace it.

Once the fascia is out of the way, the factory instrument panel is removed by undoing the bolts holding the panel to the dash frame and pulling the entire panel out of the frame. There will be two large electrical connectors to disconnect. One is for the electronic speedometer, and the other is for the tachometer. There are two smaller electrical plugs that connect the other gauges and indicators, and it will also need to be disconnected.

Our wires were labeled from the factory, but we have always found it prudent to label the wires that we remove to ensure proper reassembly without confusion or questions. This is especially true if a second technician completes a job that the original technician started.

With the wiring harness disconnected from the factory dash panel, we were ready to begin installing the new dash panel.

Preparation

There are three different terminal connections that Auto Meter has used over the years for its electronic tachometer, and four different connectors for its electronic speedometers. According to the American Autowire instructions, it is critical that the right connectors are identified before any wiring work begins. The American Autowire instructions contain a color-code chart that helps the installer determine which connection is on the gauge, and the function of each socket in the connector. The chart is easy to use and visually identifies the connectors on the gauges in the set.

Once the proper connectors have been identified, the next step is to start connecting the harness to the gauges, beginning with the four small gauges. One at a time, remove each gauge and install the blade terminals to the back of the gauge. The gauges have specific blade terminals that are installed in the left, center, and right hand position of the gauge. The voltmeter uses the ground and “I” terminal locations only. With the blade terminals installed, the lamp socket pigtails are installed in preparation for final assembly.

All four of the small gauges are reinstalled in the dash panel, along with the tachometer and speedometer. Before attaching any connectors, holes for the indicator lights need to be drilled into the panel at the desired locations with a 5/32-inch drill bit. Two green LED lights are included for the turn signals, a blue LED for the high beam indicator, and one red LED for the brake warning. An additional amber LED was included for the check engine warning light, but we declined to add that light to the panel. The six gauges in the panel provide enough engine information that the check engine light was not necessary for our purposes.

The new Classic Industries dash panel installation began with wiring the dash panel wires to the American Autowire harness.

The LED housings are a taper fit housing that fit directly into the 5/32-inch hole perfectly. We were advised to press the LED housing all the way into the into the instrument panel for a tight fit. Inserting the LED lights indicated that the complete assembly was ready for connection of the wiring harness.

Wiring Harness

To keep the wire harness from becoming a batch of tangled spaghetti, American Autowire’s harness instructions explain how to keep the harness organized by plugging in the connectors in a specific order. First connect the voltmeter, followed by the tachometer, temperature gauge, oil pressure, fuel level, and finally, the speedometer.

With the harness connected to the gauges, the connections for the indicator lights can be finalized. Following the directions, splice the indicator wires to their respective power wires in the original factory harness. Splicing the existing wiring to the new wiring kit can be frustrating if the process is rushed. We recommend undertaking the task of connecting the new wire harness connectors with the mating connector to the original factory harness, when there is plenty of time to properly trace each wire. There will be some wires that are not used from the original instrument cluster connectors. Those wires were left in the original connectors and taped back against the original under-dash wiring.

The aftermarket wire harness was spliced into the factory wire harness and the dash panel reinstalled back into the dash.

Final Installation

After the wires for the new connectors have been spliced into the factory harness, the instrument panel was reinstalled into the dash. The fascia that was removed at the very beginning was reinstalled and retained by the four retaining screws and panel fasteners.

We still had miles to go with updating our interior, but the dash panel kit made a dramatic improvement in the way we felt about the car.

We were finally able to put the key in the ignition and turn on the lights to see how our new instrument panel looked in all its glowing glory. Suffice to say that we were satisfied with the fresh look of the upgraded panel. The original half moon gauge set up was fine in 1990, but our Camaro was entering a new era and this was a big step toward earning respect. 

Article Sources

About the author

Bobby Kimbrough

Bobby grew up in the heart of Illinois, becoming an avid dirt track race fan which has developed into a life long passion. Taking a break from the Midwest dirt tracks to fight evil doers in the world, he completed a full 21 year career in the Marine Corps.
Read My Articles

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