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Engine Turning Dash Panels, etc. by Jim Clark (The Hot Rod MD)

The “deuce” roadster was once plentiful and cheap.  It became the car of choice for those building a hot rod because it had a much more substantial frame and a cockpit with more hip and legroom than the Model A Ford.
Eventually the supply dried up though and good “deuces” became more expensive.  The price rose so high that only a few with the money to spend could build one.  Eventually fiberglass reproduction bodies were produced to make them affordable to the masses again.  These were good substitutes for the original but never really measured up to the real thing for die-hards.  However, that all changed when Brookville, Rod Bods and Dearborn Deuce began producing all steel replicas.
Once “deuce” roadster bodies were made available to everyone by simply ordering one, the hot rod world exploded with “deuce” highboys everywhere.  They have remained the favorite choice among hot rod builders but have to feature a unique combination of paint, drivetrain and accessory choices if they are going to stand out from the crowd.
I am fortunate enough to have acquired a real ’32 Ford roadster many years ago when the price was not to bad, but have had to use many repro parts to restore this former race car derelict body.  It has many traditional pieces like the Buick Nailhead drivetrain and vintage PSI suspension parts.
But probably the most unique item on the car is a rare Stewart-Warner accessory instrument panel.  Les Jarvis, my friend and co-worker at Street Rodder Magazine in the early ‘70s, acquired it for me back then at an Early Times Car Club Swap Meet in Buena Park, CA.
The dash panel is a Stewart Warner accessory panel (594 BNX in the old Bell Auto Parts catalog) that was used in many custom applications, including those classic wooden Chris Craft speedboats from the ‘30s and ‘40s.  I have only seen this panel in two other cars; a high-tech, but unfinished style ’32 highboy in the “suede palace” at the Roadster show and in Tom McMullen’s ’32 roadster when he first bought it.
We took it out in 1960 to install a full set of new S-W gauges and I don’t know where the panel ended up.  If someone out there knows where it went please let me know.  It’s very ironic that I unintentionally ended up installing the same model instrument panel in my roadster as the one that we took out of Tom’s roadster over 50-years ago.
Dash MD-1
This old photo of Tom McMullen’s roadster shows the S-W gauge panel that was originally installed when it was built in 1957.  That is Nick Adams who starred in the late ‘50s TV series “The Rebel” (1959-1961) as Johnny Yuma, shown in this promotion photo for the show.
Dash MD-2

The full set of new S-W gauges that we installed can be seen in this high rear-angle shot of Tom’s roadster from a 1964 magazine photo session.

The original S-W accessory panel was equipped with early round-face S-W gauges that were a little larger in diameter than most current gauge sizes.  I chose VDO’s cockpit series gauges for my car so I had to make a new panel insert with smaller holes for the new gauges.  The first insert that I made was cut from plastic sheet that looked like wood-grain.  It worked but didn’t fit in with the style of the rest of the cars period pieces.

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The panel was originally installed with this faux-woodgrain insert to accommodate the smaller VDO Cockpit series gauges.
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This photo of the panel and plastic insert show the difference in size of the gauge mounting holes in both pieces.
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Panel mounts to the dash via these machine screws protruding through the rear of the panel.
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Flat dash in roadster was marked and holes drilled for the gauges and attachment screws.
Dash MD-7

Gauges are held in place by the U-clamps supplied with the gauges.  They were installed in this photo to show that installation.  The clamps are actually installed after the panel is attached to the dash.

Les suggested that an engine-turned insert would look more appropriate and provide more support for the gauges in the larger original holes.  I agreed but had no source for doing engine-turning myself.

There are some sources where you can buy readymade engine-turned panels or have one custom-made for you.  One of the biggest of these sources is FPM Metals Inc (www.fpmmetals.com/Automotive.htm).  They make panels specifically for a long list of vehicles or will make engine-turned panels for almost any application.

Shown here are a few examples of the items and services that they have to offer.

Dash MD-8
F-2 is a five-gauge style insert patterned off of a 1932 Ford.  Pattern uses DGL-50 on .063" aluminum.  Center speedometer hole 3-3/8" with four holes 2-1/16" for additional gauges.  Size approximately 5-1/4" tall and 14-1/2" long. 
Dash MD-9
A-5 is an Auburn style gauge panel.  Pattern uses DGL-50 on .063" aluminum.  Center speedometer hole 3-3/8" with four holes 2-1/16" for additional gauges.  Size approximately 4-5/8" tall and 17-1/2" long. 
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This custom insert was created for an FPM Metals customer car.  A pattern supplied by the customer was necessary to create the finished product.
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Here is another custom panel that FPM Metals created for another customer.
Fortunately, I was able to create my own panel, because my friend Les Jarvis has a good friend Jim Izlar, former Sprint car race driver and retired Hughes Aircraft engineer / master machinist with all of the equipment and skills necessary to make the insert and the time to do the project.  Jim said, “It is a very basic procedure —just time-consuming”.  He is not in the business of machining things for the public but builds his own, and friends projects, in his very well equipped home machine shop under the title: Izlar Engineering, Tucson, AZ.
Dash MD-12
Jim starts by cutting the shape of the gauge panel out of 1/16” aluminum and then sending it out to be polished.  The engine-turning is brighter and crisper on polished aluminum than polished stainless steel.
Dash MD-13
The engine-turning was done on a Bridgeport Milling Machine.  You get more accurate lines and spacing on the Bridgeport than with a drill press.  Jim starts by lubricating the aluminum panel with WD-40 and uses WD-40 throughout the entire procedure.
Dash MD-14
For the engine-turning on this panel insert Jim used a 1/2” abrasive rubber stick.  These are available from the Eastwood Company or your local abrasive store.  Other sizes are available for applications where you want smaller or larger circles.
Dash MD-15
The engine-turning is spaced out 400 thousands apart with the 1/2” abrasive rubber stick.   Also, each row is 400 thousands apart.  This close-up of the machining shows how the circles overlap and how the additional spacing that he left between each circle creates another element in the design.
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Final rows of circles along the bottom of the panel complete the engine-turning.
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Here is the finished engine-turned insert, before cutting the holes for the gauges.
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The finished panel insert is fitted into the panel to fine-tune the finished shape of the insert.
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Holes for the gauges are cut after the engine-turning is completed.  Hole pattern is laid out on the back of the insert, then cut out slightly smaller than needed with a hole saw.
Dash MD-20
Holes for the gauges are enlarged to their finished size with a boring bar.  This assures a cleaner and more precise hole for the gauges.
Dash MD-21

After everything was finished, the gauge panel was sent out to Jim Geare for some accent black pin-striping.  Here Jim Izlar shows the finished panel with the insert and gauges installed.

When the finished panel was returned to me I photographed it with the gauges installed, and then mounted the panel into the dashboard of the car.  The accompanying photos show the process that I followed during the installation.

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This shot of the finished panel shows how the circles overlap and the extra design element that the 400 thousandths spacing between each circle and row added.  Note the striping added to the lower raised area by Jim Geare.
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Panel attaches to the dashboard via the machine screws that protrude from the rear of the panel.
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Gauges are then installed, secured in place with the U-shaped brackets supplied with them.  Precise cutting of the holes assured that they would all line-up perfectly.
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Here is the finished panel installed in the car.  It will have to come out one more time when the dashboard gets painted (Hugger Orange) body color of the car.

This unique and rare 5-W dash panel adds a lot of original character to  the car.  The faux woodgrain insert worked as a means of reducing the hole sizes to accomodate the smaller diameter guages, but changing to this engine-turned aluminum insert is much more appropriate for this vehicle.  Engine-turning was very popular on many early hot rods and could be used effectively on your current project.

For more information on engine turning: www.fpmmetals.com

 

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