In the hot rodding hobby, not everyone wants their car to look custom, or different, from the way it came from the factory. This isn’t to say they aren’t interested in a drivetrain or suspension upgrade. They just want it to look like it did when it first appeared. One area of internet debate has been the instrument cluster. Many think it should be left alone. Luckily, Dakota Digital has stepped in and offers the Retrotech series (RTX). It’s a modern touch to a classic appearance.
When searching for instrumentation with options of design, color, and style, it’s difficult to not think about Dakota Digital. Starting with its LCD displays that hit the scene decades ago, instrumentation has evolved to include a choice of backlighting colors, creating a look and feel to your instrumentation that is only limited by your personal taste.
The RTX series gives a classic feel while maintaining the advanced features we’ve come to know from Dakota Digital. We recently installed the RTX-70C-CAM-X in a 1979 Camaro Z/28 clone at a local hot rod shop, Overdriven Performance in Murrieta, California, and learned about the features and functions of the RTX.
We reached out to Greg Karpe, assistant marketing manager, and sales associate, to find out more about the RTX series, and the challenges of maintaining the factory look while providing modern technology.
“Not only are we trying to replicate designs and arrangements from the ’50s and ’60s and add modern technology, we’re also adding gauges and elements that weren’t there before,” says Greg. “If you know classic cars, you know that one feature missing from many muscle cars is the tachometer. Dakota Digital had to figure out where to add one to its RTX series.
He adds, “We decided a tach is a must, so the question became ‘how’ and ‘where.’ We often look to the factory in the form of optional sport gauges for an excuse to use a tach, or take advantage of a clock or block-off plate in the cluster.” To some, this addition might make an otherwise factory look seem custom, but it’s truly a welcomed upgrade when performance is part of your diet.
“Other applications — such as the ’57 Chevy and ’66 Chevelle — received hidden bar-graph tachometers. They are invisible when not in use, but come to life in bright LED segments to indicate engine RPM.” This addition was a challenge for some clusters and simple for others — like the 1979 Camaro — which arrived at the showroom with a tachometer. While a tachometer is an add-on gauge in many vehicles, Dakota Digital tried to make it look like a factory option to avoid the dreaded hose-clamped appeal of the add-on tachometer.
“For the RTX,” Greg says, “the main goal is always to mimic the factory layout and design elements as close as possible. This often includes custom-designed circuit boards, intricate machined parts, and more. A lot goes into an RTX display in the name of making it look stock.”
To an untrained eye, the RTX series simply appears to be a factory cluster; nothing fancy, just your typical set of gauges. To some, there are little clues that might give away the fact there is something different beneath the plastic lens — such as the window that houses the information display. When the ignition key is turned, the gauges come alive and — providing the user has dabbled in the LED paint bucket of color — the deception of the stock-appearing cluster becomes evident.
Greg tells us, “There are around 30 colors standard in the RTX systems. I say ‘around 30,’ because there are more than 30 for the face numbers and tick marks, but less than 30 for the needles.” This means the user can custom-tailor the look of their gauges. There are several themes available, too, which provide a simple one-touch implementation for those who aren’t quite ready to dip their brush in the proverbial paint bucket.
One area that appealed to us almost instantly, is the way the odometer/trip meter reading is displayed. “There are a few subtle tweaks, such as the graphics in the TFT message centers, that differ from the HDX,” Greg tells us. “RTX systems have a simulated-tumbler odometer and other numbers in the screen to retain a bit of vintage flair.”
Then there are Bus Interface Modules (BIM), which allow you to add up to 16 additional channels to your cluster for reading other information, like fluid temperatures or pressures, boost, air suspension pressures, ambient temperature, and even tire pressure.
Each of these additional gauges become a virtual reading in the information display window and take up their own channel. The expansion modules can be daisy-chained together, meaning each additional BIM can be paired to the previously added BIM. All of this information comes only as a monetary cost, not a physical cost, as you won’t need to cut up your dash and add another hole for a gauge.
Bluetooth Technology, Analog Display
Looks aren’t the only feature that makes the RTX series intriguing. There are also some cool features carried over from the HDX series that might appeal to the tech-savvy enthusiast who likes to mix smartphone apps with classic automobilia.
Setup mode on the VHX series is done with push-button switches, either remote or cluster mounted. The HDX series has built-in switches on the instrument lens. The RTX series uses a remote-mounted rocker switch to enter setup mode. A free download app for Apple or Android devices allows you to make those color choices and set up your gauges.
While the app cannot be used without first keying on the system with the rocker switch held, once the setup mode is activated, the Bluetooth function can take over. If you prefer to sample the rainbow of color options, plan to spend a while playing around with the features and setting up your RTX series cluster just the way you like it — you could literally spend hours with it.
Every time we turn around, there’s something new and unique on the market for enthusiasts. There’s a little bit of something for everyone with Dakota Digital, and we asked about the changes in technology and how that has helped Dakota Digital stay current with the market.
“VHX was a revolutionary product, and in many ways still is,” Greg tells us. “That said, we learned a few new tricks over the past 10 years and put them to work in the HDX and RTX lines. Big changes are the larger, full-color displays, user-selectable lighting colors, Bluetooth technology, and a free mobile app, streamlined setup menus, and audio feedback from the system.”
But the more things change, the more some things stay the same. He stated that some components you just don’t mess with, like the stepper-motor needle movements, LED illumination, central control box, and expandability, thanks to the BIM-series of modules. It’s almost hard to imagine they can still find ways to improve the art of the instrument cluster, but we’re pretty sure they’ll come up with something new, in due time.
“For now, we’ve got our hand’s full pumping out more RTX and HDX systems,” he says. “We’re currently focused on filling our application lists in these two platforms.” Those applications continue to grow, and even after this install, the next release was only days later for another popular Bow Tie vehicle, and we’re sure they’ll be plenty more to come.
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