Hello to all; I'm working generally toward getting this car ready for installation of a complete reproduction wiring harness. We had a few weeks of real winter here in Port Huron with temperatures below zero which means the home heating system is taxed enough it doesn't make sense trying to heat a cold 3 car attached garage by opening the kitchen door to the garage. One of the major projects on my list was resurrecting the instrument panel which was scuffed and scratched and improperly painted red, the faux wood trim panel that spans the width of the panel and the instrument cluster which was loaded with instruments that were not usable. With the cold weather I thought why not pull the panel and bring it in the house to work on so one cold day I went to the garage and removed it. Once in my hobby room I removed the cluster and started taking inventory of all that needed attention. The panel itself needed to be repainted gloss black and needed to be pinstriped. It was also missing the Fisher VV decals that go on the top corners of the air dam. The faux wood insert was scratched and had one tiny chip through to the metal. I removed the cluster assembly and found the chrome surround, bezel plate, speedometer lamp brow and back pan were all held together with strategically placed pieces of duct tape. The surround has a perimeter crimp rail that is supposed to hold it all together. The bezel plate, once wood grained, was painted red. The back pan was thoroughly coated in white paint which I suspected was epoxy based, including the instrument lamp socket attachment ears which cannot be painted because they are the ground circuit for the instrument lamps. All the gauge unit attaching screws were painted white probably while still loosely installed on the back pan. There was no sign of the instrument lamp sockets and wiring. Eventually, through pictures of another panel which I eventually bought, I figured out the instrument lamp switch was missing. The dial glass backing plates on the back of the bezel plate were also taped, the glass backing plates were originally riveted. One of the toy tabs was broken off the speedometer lamp hood. Later I discovered the heat control lever was from a later car with a different design. The speedometer instrument was dirty but intact. The ammeter gauge face was badly bent and the needle was stuck and missing paint. The King Seely Tele-gage gas gauge was dirty, the glass column tube was broken off just above the capillary tube joint to the glass, the temp gauge was pegged at 200+ degrees. Later after adjusting the gauge to read at the cold end of the scale, when tested, turned out to be inoperative. What I found that was good was gauge dials that were legible, especially the fuel gauge had a nice dial with clean markings, and the bezel surround and instrument dial trim inserts had been re-chromed. Also the choke and spark cable assemblies were very nice with no major kinks. Other than that it was what it was.
I wasn't sure where to start with the cluster assembly but eventually started sorting the gauges. I started with the speedometer by opening it. I discovered it was really in not too bad shape, just really dirty. I cleaned the dial drum carefully with warm soap water applied with Q-tips. I used petroleum based solvent and some artist brushes to remove the old grease, then replaced the grease and oiled the dial drum and other small pivots with synthetic clock oil. I cleaned the housing, bezel and glass, cannibalized a missing seal that seals the odometer reset stem to the housing can from another speedometer and carefully crimped it back together. Next I straightened the sheet metal ammeter dial face and freed the needle which I carefully re-painted. After an hour of fiddling with needle height and adjustments to the dial face I got an ammeter that read zero at rest and it moved to end of - to + scales without needle bind. Then there was the gas gauge. I carefully removed the dial and discovered the glass tube had broken off cleanly with no missing chips and the break was below the line of sight masked by the dial. I cleaned the tube with vinegar and a clockmaker's pivot cleaning stick, re-attached the broken off tube with industrial epoxy, replaced the white background panel, leak and flow checked and re-assembled. It turned out nice. The oil pressure gauge needed next to nothing, I re-painted the red needle tip and brushed the back place clean with a brass bristle wire brush. I sent the temperature gauge to Bob's Speedometer in Howell, MI and for the princely sum of $225 they replaced the sensing bulb and capillary tube, charged it with formaldehyde and calibrated it and sent it back to me. I got it back yesterday.
AACA member Dave39MD has an original 31 Buick 8-66S down in Georgia and as noted in my previous posts has bee a great source of pictures and information from his car. I told him what I was dealing with regarding the instruments and cluster housing and he wrote that he had a spare cluster in a box somewhere in his shop that he bought for spares. He found it and sent pictures of the assembly to me and I asked if he would sell it. He had the complete cluster housing assembly that had never been apart, it still had a part number stamped on the back of it. He also had the gauges but decided to keep those for his car. Eventually we struck a deal and I bought the complete housing with all the mounting screws for the gauges and it had the original Delco instrument lamp switch and lamp sockets with toasted wiring that would have to be replaced. The original wood grain was still there on the bezel plate but was just bad enough to not be usable. There was no doubt this housing had never been apart as base pan, bezel and surround were held together by the original crimp job. I carefully photographed the assembly then disassembled it. I learned a lot about the original construction and found the assembly I had was also missing two green acetate lamp filters and their attaching clips for the outboard lamps, a gasket that goes between the speedometer lamp hood and the bezel plate and 2 anti-crush support tubes at the choke and spark cable ports. I decided not to disturb the rivets that held the individual gauge bezels, dial glasses and backing plates together because the wood grain was not quite good enough to use.
As I worked to clean 88yrs worth of rust and dirt off the back pan, instrument lamp sockets and switch of the donor cluster housing I began to formulate a plan of how best to combine parts from the 2 cluster assemblies to get a pretty authentic cluster to put back in the car. I decided an economical way to have nice woodgrain on the cluster bezel was to veneer it with real rosewood. I bought a sheet of paper backed 0.040" thick rosewood veneer on E-Bay that was big enough to do at least 3 bezels. I cut a piece to size using the surround to get an outline of the required piece of veneer and contact cemented it to the red painted bezel plate from the cluster that came with my car, thus preserving the original wood grained part I got from Dave's cluster. Working carefully with an Exacto knife and a fine 1/2 round miniature file I trimmed out the gauge openings, then gave the veneer 3 coats of clear acrylic lacquer. It looked really nice in a temporary buildup of the bezel plate, gauge bezels, glass and the chrome bezel surround.
The next day I started a careful re-assembly of the cluster housing now consisting of the re-chromed bezel surround, the speedometer lamp hood from donor assembly because the toy tabs were intact, the veneer wood grained bezel plate from the cluster that came with my car and the donor back pan carefully cleaned without disturbing the part number still clearly stamped on the back. I used brass wire to hold the backing plates that secure gauge glasses and gauge bezels to the bezel plate because original bras tube rivets are not available. I included the acetate instrument lamp filters, clips, instrument lamp switch, cable support tubes and heat control parts from the donor panel along with the nice original gauge mounting screws. After carefully crimping the assembly all together with the surround crimp I made new gaskets for each of the gauge units and assembled all except the temperature gauge which didn't come back from repair for a couple of weeks. I replaced the instrument lamp wiring with correct cloth covered 16ga wire and rewired the sockets to the switch. I bought NOS Tung Sol #63 bulbs to replace a hodgepodge of old corroded bulbs that came with the donor cluster. I took the choke and spark cables apart and cleaned and lubed them. All the knob faces were re-painted. Now I had a cluster that looked authentic and should be fully functional.
The other part of the project that was going on it the background was re-painting the instrument panel in the correct for 31 gloss black. I found reproduction Fisher VV Windshield decals at Bob's Automobilia and installed them in the original locations on the brow of the panel air dam. The hardest part was coming up with a pattern for pinstriping the left and right ends of the panel. I looked at a million pictures on the internet of other people's 31 Buick instrument panel pinstriping schemes. The layout and colors varied. I decided to make an overlay of geographic locating points on my panel and mailed it to Dave who agreed to trace the outline of the pinstriping on his car and mail it back to me. Eventually I made a stencil template of the layout. I couldn't decide if I should just attach the template to the panel with magnets and spray the pattern or tape the panel, trace the template pattern onto the tape, cut the openings in the tape with a hobby knife and paint the stripes on with a brush. I finally chose the hand-paint method which came out ok, but not great. I almost sanded the hand striping off to do it over by the spray method but came to the conclusion that this is an amateur restoration and will probably have a few signs of such so I left the striping as is. The panel was clear coated after pinstriping and installation of the decals. I used a clear lacquer touchup bottle sponge brush to fill in the scratches on the faux wood grained trim panel, then polished it up with 3M Finesse It polishing glaze and save for the fact it should really have a pinstripe around the perimeter (don't look at me for this job) the trim panel turned out pretty nice.
I don't expect the instrument panel to go back in the car anytime soon as it's easier to work under the dash without it. The next big milestone is to re-paint the outside of the firewall black. It is currently incorrectly painted in the red paint the rest of the body wears. Then I will work from the inside of the car out. I just took a million #6 sheet metal screws out of the cowl lacing and replaced them with split rivets which look correct under the hood and don't stick into space the firewall insulator will occupy. I will install firewall tags, insulator and under dash pieces of the new wire harness before the instrument panel goes back in. I'll cover that in another post.
Picture 1: This is an old picture of my car as I got it and shows the starting point for the instrument panel. The instrument panel was painted red and was scuffed, missing pinstripes and Fisher VV windshield decals , the faux wood trim panel was scratched and the bezel plate on the cluster was painted red instead of wood grained. The ammeter and temperature gauges were pegged at the high end of their scales. The fuel gauge glass tube was stained and later turned out to be broken off. The oil pressure gauge looked pretty good, the speedometer was dirty and the painted bezel was scratched.
Picture 2: A picture of the cluster housing that came with the car. It came apart easily because it was taped together. The wood grain on the bezel was replaced by red paint and the back pan was painted white inside and out including instrument lamp socket receptacles through which the lamp sockets are supposed to be grounded. There were lots of missing internal parts and the instrument lamp switch and sockets were missing.
Picture 3: These are the instruments plus an extra ammeter I got with the car and minus the temperature gauge which I sent for repair. This picture was taken after numerous repairs to gauges described in the main body of my post above. Most of the gauges have pretty decent dials, the ammeter I settled on is the upper one and has the worst dial paint but the dial is not as bent up and it has the most legible scale. The ugly paint is not as noticeable in the cluster. Also in the picture are the new gaskets I made.
Pictures 4, 5: The donor cluster housing doesn't look that impressive at first blush but had never been apart and was complete with all the parts my housing was missing. Note the wood grain on the front, part number stamped on the back, original lamp sockets in unpainted receptacles for grounding with toasted wiring which is connected to the Delco instrument lamp switch on the left that my housing did not have.
Picture 6: First time apart for the donor panel, note the inside of the back pan IS painted white but the back of the pan is bare steel. The round green things in the top picture are the instrument lamp color filters missing from my back pan. The sheet metal pieces on the back of the bezel plate hold the individual instrument bezel trims and dial glass in place and were riveted to the bezel plate. The back of the speedometer lamp hood has a gasket also absent from the cluster housing I got with my car.
Picture 7: The original wood grain on the donor bezel plate was not salvageable. The little tubes are support tubes the prevent the bezel surround, bezel plate and back pan from collapsing from clamping force produced by tightening the attaching nuts on the backs of the choke and spark cable housings. The speedometer lamp hood from the donor panel wasn't as shiny as the re-chromed one that came with my car but the donor hood had both attaching toy tabs intact where one was broken off the re-chromed piece. The heat control lever from the donor panel is correct for 31 so I used it in place of the shinier but incorrect later model re-chromed lever that came with the car.
Pictures 8, 9, 10: The original bezel plate now has wood grain courtesy of a piece of real rosewood veneer. In picture 8 the veneer has not been clear lacquered, and is shown with the bezel plate temporarily installed behind the chrome surround. Picture 9 shows the bezel plate after lacquer and heat control labelling. The brass wire was used to hold the sheet metal plates that attach the individual gauge bezels and dial glass. The attaching plates are visible in picture 10.
Pictures 11, 12: Pictures of the now assembled and crimped cluster housing without the gauges.
Pictures 13, 14: Pictures of the cluster with all gauges installed except the temperature gauge. The oil pressure gauge is installed in the wrong opening in picture 14, it later moved one slot left in car and the temperature gauge was correctly installed in place of the errantly place oil pressure gauge.
Picture 15: Now the lamp sockets have been re-wired and installed with NOS Tung-Sol bulbs made in America.
Pictures 16, 17: I made a translucent parchment paper overlay of the right end of the instrument panel that indexed to cluster opening on the left and panel mounting holes on the right and mailed it to Dave39MD in Georgia. He then indexed the overlay on his instrument panel, traced his pinstriping onto the paper and mailed it back to me. By indexing to features on the panel I not only got the pattern of the pinstripes, I got the location the pinstripes occupy.
Picture 18: The instrument panel is finally painted black.
Picture 19: I made a template of the pinstripe layout which was used to trace the pattern onto masking tape applied to left and right ends of the panel. The tape was then cut out with a hobby knife. The openings in the tape were brushed with 3 coats of white acrylic lacquer touch up paint.
Pictures 20, 21, 22: The result of the pinstriping effort is shown in picture 20. The pinstriping is far from perfect but hey, I'm a card carrying amateur, never did this before. Pictures 21, 22 are reproductions of the original Fisher Body VV Windshield decals, patent numbers on the left, VV trademark on the right ends of the air dam brow.
Pictures 23, 24: The finally completed cluster assembly now has a temperature gauge and it and the oil pressure gauge are now installed in the correct original locations.
Picture 25: This is the final product shown with the faux wood grain trim panel installed temporarily. The trim panel is missing a pinstripe around it's perimeter but if that ever gets added someone who knows how to pinstripe will get the job.
Picture 27: This is the instrument panel in Dave39MD's original 31 8-66S.