It wasn’t all that long ago, that I wrote about whether or not I should update my daily-driver ’79 Chevrolet C10. In case you don’t recall, I was debating whether I needed to acquire to a new(er) truck or make a few changes to my Cheyenne, Well, I have made my decision. I have decided to upgrade in a sense, and by that, I mean I will “improve” the old Chevy I currently own. After much contemplation, I couldn’t bring myself to let it go, it’s too good of a truck to simply pass off to someone else, so let the enhancements begin. With a plan in mind, the initial modification will involve a set of properly-functioning and accurate gauges from Dakota Digital.
The HDX cluster comes with sensors, wiring, and the all-important control box that makes installation a breeze.
Upgrading the gauges in a classic car or truck used to mean hanging gauges on the steering column or below the dash. While that might have been a cool look in the ’70s, times have changed, and enthusiasts want a much cleaner look inside their ride.
As you can see, our factory cluster was barely visible and the accuracy was questionable.
A Gaugable Upgrade
The Dakota Digital HDX gauges I decided to install are a direct-fit instrument panel that combines original styling with the latest gauge technology has to offer. (Spoiler alert: I completed the install in my driveway with simple hand tools in less than eight hours.) According to Scott Johnson of Dakota Digital, “Our direct-fit kits are far more than individual gauges mounted into rings or brackets. Visibility of each gauge is considered and optimized from the driver’s position.” Make no mistake, these are an all-inclusive monitoring system, that will definitely bring your classic into the 21st century.
We asked Scott what he would consider to be the best selling point of these gauges that readers might not realize, and he told us, “All Dakota Digital direct-fit kits (like this one) are engineered to fit the intended vehicle dash application. They are designed internally by our in-house engineering team, and built on the production lines about a hundred feet away. From start to finish, this is a complete process which happens right here, allowing us full control over the processes.”
The C10 came from the factory with cruise control, so we attached the VSS to the transducer. This allows us to retain the cruise function.
Our direct-fit kits are far more than individual gauges mounted into rings or brackets. – Scott Johnson
Anyway, Dakota Digital built their reputation as being a go-to company for high-tech digital gauges, and their analog gauges – the VHX and the new HDX system, feature fully lit needles, backlit faces, and highly-visible LCD message display centers.
While the HDX system also has the capability to display various indicators like turn signals, you can also continue to utilize the factory turn signal indicators like we did. The display screen will also display gear selection if you also use the Dakota Digital GSS-2000 sending unit, which is sold separately.
The Dakota Digital system uses a supplied sending unit for the oil pressure gauge, and on small-block Chevys, there are three places it can be installed: Directly under the distributor (left), at the front of the engine near the intake (center), or down by the oil filter (right). We replaced the factory unit under the distributor with our Dakota Digital sender.
Something To Keep In Mind
One thing we need to let you guys know, is that you will lose the lighting in the factory gear shift indicator, as well as the factory cigarette lighter light if so equipped. But, Scott let us know, “Actually, our most common addition would be our GSS-2000 gear shift sensor, allowing the gear display to be shown within the Message Center. This would then allow our block-out plate to be inserted into the stock arched gear indicator opening, and then the stock shift indication is not used at all.” Personally, I like the classic look of the stock shift indicator with the new gauges.
After we had all the Dakota Digital sending units installed, we ran the wiring through the old speedometer cable grommet since the cable to the speedometer was removed because it is no longer needed.
Don’t let the electronic nature of these gauges deter you. According to Scott, “‘Digital’ sounds complex, and that can intimidate many users. We often hear comments like ‘my vehicle doesn’t have a computer in it, so I couldn’t use those things’. Little do they realize how simple the installation is. Our instrument systems utilize an external control module for several reasons. One major factor is the simplicity of installation. Rather than a separate power and ground connection to each of the six gauges, you only need to connect a constant-voltage wire, a switched-voltage wire, and a single ground. When it comes time to remove the cluster, one small connection is easily removed.”
A central control box makes installation very easy. There are two power (constant and switched) and one ground connection needed get things running, while vehicle-harness-sourced wires and sensor inputs connect at their respective terminals.
What You Get
The HDX cluster is available with either black or silver-alloy faces, and allows the user to change the color of the gauge readings, needles, and the message center display screen to fit the style of the vehicle it’s installed. Calibration and personal settings are easily accomplished with the system’s buttons located on the dash face, or with the available Bluetooth app for Apple and Android devices.
In case you’re wondering, your speedometer cable will no longer be used, as this cluster uses a supplied Variable Speed Sensor (VSS). Starting in the ’80s, auto manufacturers stopped using mechanical cables to operate speedometers, and began using VSS’ to control electronic speedometers.
We used some of the factory wires to run some functions of the cluster like the high-beam and turn signal indicators.
To control the multitude of function monitoring, as well as the critical gauge functions is a central control box that has become a calling card for Dakota Digital. This box can be mounted anywhere in the vehicle, as long as it is within 3 feet of the gauge cluster.
But Wait, There's More...
Although Dakota Digital includes the required sensors for the Oil Pressure, Water Temperature, and the Speedometer, you might want to consider the following optional items.
GSS-2000 – Universal Gear Position Sensor
All guage clusters contain a gear shift-indicator to be shown in the message center. The GSS-2000 mounts to the transmission to utilize this function.
DIM-1 – Light Dimming Knob
Although Dakota Digital instrument systems are programmable for both day and night intensity levels, the DIM-1 will allow rotary, or on-the-fly brightness adjustment.
SEN-06-1 – Fuel Level Sensor
Dakota Digital systems are designed to utilize a stock or aftermarket fuel level sensor. If a universal or replacement sensor is desired, the SEN-06-1 is a great choice.
BIM-01-2 – ODB II/ Can Interface Module
The BIM-01-2 OBD-II (J1850/CAN) Interface connects directly to the ECM diagnostic port to extract engine and transmission data and supply it to the VFD/ VHX instrument, making installation a breeze.
BIM-17-2 – Compass w/ Outside Temperature Module
The Dakota Digital BIM-17-2 adds compass and outside air temperature information to your instrument system’s message center.
The use of this single control box allows for easy service, a cleaner-looking finished product, and delivers an abundance of technology that can be delivered to a classic dashboard.
There is no arguing that the gauge cluster arrangement in ’73 through ‘87 Chevy and GMC pickups is an already pleasant looking arrangement with a big speedometer and fuel gauge or tachometer front and center with a few ancillary gauges placed to the left. In the case of our C10, there was no tachometer from the factory, which we sorely missed. While upgrading the dash with a factory cluster that included a tach could easily be accomplished, installing a new HDX system would be just as easy, but affords the capability to deliver more monitoring functionality and surely give more accurate readings.
The HDX gauge cluster delivers the very latest technology in aftermarket gauges, and some of that technology allows user input. If you’re like us, you can appreciate the features that many new-car gauge clusters offer, and if so, you’ll love the HDX system. We were amazed at how far the HDX gauges take personalization and usability to an entirely-new level by including features like changeable LED backlighting for the gauge faces, multiple function indicators (turn signals, high beam, check engine, cruise control engaged, and parking brake) that are not visible until actuated, and illuminated needles that also feature color changeability.
The HDX series gauges also incorporate two message centers with the ability to display odometer (which can be set once by the user), dual trip meters, clock, and estimated range/miles to empty. For you performance junkies, you can also watch 0 to 60 mph times, 1/4- and 1/8-mile mph and elapsed times, and recall top mph and engine RPM. Scott added to that, “The addition of our BIM series allows for the ability to display extra information like boost pressure, exhaust gas temperature, and compass information, the list goes on and on.”
The HDX system allows the use of a cluster-integrated gear indicator, or the factory PRNDL. To use the cluster-integrated indicator, the optional GSS-2000 module is needed.
The message centers are programmable via the LED-backlit onboard capacitive touch pushbuttons located in the speedometer gauge face. Additionally, remote mounted switches are supplied, and can be wired into the system if need be.
All gauge calibration settings are handled through the two previously-mentioned touch switches, and Dakota Digital has already supplied various pre-set parameters for the various gauges. All you have to do is choose the preset option for your vehicle needs. The speedometer can either be connected to a VSS, or to Dakota Digital’s GPS-50-2 unit (purchased separately), making the speedometer fully GPS monitored.
These adjustable cluster mounts are great. They overcome the issue of varainces in vehicle construction. If your mounting hole is slightly off, adjust the mount to fit. Like we said, easy.
Finally, every kit is supplied with an optional warning buzzer that can be connected to give a warning tone for each gauge at a user-defined set point. This buzzer will coincide with a red warning light that is incorporated into the gauge faces.
According to Scott, “The two topics which are brought up most often are the calibration of the fuel gauge and speedometer. Our instrument systems are designed to retain the OE fuel level sensor/float if desired. If this is already working properly, there’s no need to be forced into changing this out. But if something fresh is desired, an aftermarket sensor/float can be installed and utilized with our system as well. Within the setup menu of the system, the type of sensor input is user-selectable, allowing the system to be told what type of sensor to look for. This step should be completed on every installation, ensuring that the gauge knows exactly what’s in the tank so it can respond accordingly.”
Calibration and personal settings can be changed with the lighted, capacitive-touch buttons on the speedometer face, or with the available Bluetooth app for Apple and Android devices.
“Additionally, the speedometer will need to be calibrated to the vehicle. This process can be completed using many different tactics like driving from one mile marker to another, and pressing our buttons at the beginning and end of the process. Or, the user can use the gauge’s pushbuttons to increase or decrease our speedometer reading to match a known reference such as a standalone GPS, another GPS-enabled smartphone app, etc.”
The gauge faces and needles are fully color-customizable. Choose your color and select.
Now that you know how much Dakota Digital’s HDX gauges can do for your car – or in our case, truck, isn’t time you checked out their website and found a system that you can install into your classic. It’s so easy that anyone can handle the install in their driveway and then enjoy the same improvements I am? The install is as easy as ordering your set.
The finished install is a great improvement to our Cheyenne. Now all we need to do is decide what to upgrade next.