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Dashing Dashes are "In" These Days

Dashing Dashes are "In" These Days
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Mark Seidler makes custom billet dashes, engine stands, Optima battery holders and other hot rod parts in a machine shop at his home in New London, WI. Seidler’s Phoenix Machine, LLC operates in a modern, well-lit steel building equipped with drill presses, lathes, bending and rolling machines, sheet metal brakes, shears and welders. He also has a computerized CNC milling machine.

The $50,000 CNC machine carries out multiple machining operations to create the hot rod dash panels that Mark designs. One computer-controlled tool after another does a different part of the job. They can drill holes, cut metal, bore holes, counter-bore hole edges and cut slots into the billet aluminum panels.

CNC stands for “Computed Numerically Controlled” and machines of this type have revolutionized design and production work. In CNC systems, parts are designed using CAD (Computer Aided Design) programs. Some of these programs produce computer files that contain commands needed to operate a particular CAM (Computer Aided Manufacturing) machine. Modern CNC machines combine different tools in one "cell." Sometimes several machines are used. Humans or robots operate external controllers to move a part from machine to machine. The complex steps needed to make a part are highly automated and result in a part that closely matches the original design.

Many of Mark’s dashes are billet aluminum styles. Billet parts are made by machining a bar of solid aluminum with the milling machine. Mark usually starts with a 3/8-in. thick 60-61 alloy aluminum bar stock. To make his dashes, Mark uses the drill press tool to make guide holes for each gauge opening. A second tool swings into action to bore the holes big enough to fit the gauges. Then, the holes are counter-bored, so that the metal bezels around the gauges fit snuggly.

Some of the dash panel designs feature long, horizontal grooves that are cut into the aluminum billet by using a ball mill tool. In his “Bomber” panel designs, Mark strives for an aircraft look created by purchasing aircraft grade rivets and hand setting them into the edge of the panel. He also makes non-grooved billet panels with both brushed and polished aluminum finishes.

“There’s a segment of guys who don’t like the polished look and prefer the brushed look,” Seidler explained. “And the brushed look is also less expensive because the customer isn’t paying for the time it takes to do the polishing.”

A new design begins with a drawing made on the CAD system. The drawings are used to make molds that get attached to wooden boards. Then the moldboards are used to make green sand molds that the aluminum can be poured into for casting. On these parts, grooves and other design features are created by the casting process itself. On certain parts—such as distribution blocks — holes for the line fittings are machined into the piece.

Fuel distribution blocks are used on cars that have multi-carb setups with only one line running off the fuel pump. Distribution blocks have a line from the fuel pump going into them two, three, four or even six lines running out to the carbs. The aluminum casting is done at a foundry. The cast pieces come to Mark and he drills the holes for the mounting bolts that hold the distribution block to the firewall. He also has to drill the holes through which the fuel enters and exists the blocks and tap threads into the end of each hole for the fuel line fittings.

Mark makes a billet aluminum battery tray to hold an Optima battery. The little “six pack” batteries are popular with hot rodders. Seidler asked Optima if he could buy a couple of batteries and they supplied two of their batteries for free.

Mark also manufactures engine stands for flathead Ford V-8s and Chevy and Ford small- and big-block engines. He uses simple tubular construction featuring horizontal bottom supports, curved-tube legs and two angle iron supports that can be attached directly to the exhaust manifold fasteners.

Mark lists about three dozen parts including the battery tray, exhaust flanges, three engine stands, three fuel distribution blocks and 25 different dash designs. He sells most of these items himself. Seidler enjoys vending at area car shows and meeting his customers face to face. Local hot rodders like the looks of his products—and his prices. They also enjoy “meeting their maker,” so to speak. Anyone interested in getting information can contact Mark Seidler at Phoenix Machine. Call (920) 841-0500 or email [email protected]

Mark Siedler is the owner of Phoenix Machine, LLC and currently manufactures some 35 hot rod parts.

Mark (L) is not all about making money and loves talking with other hot rodders who visit his shop.

CNC mill is part of a CAD/CAM system that converts computerized design into a manufacturing program that automatically guides up to 10 machining tasks.

Mark works on a 5-hole dash with small holes bored out to the sizes of the gauges, the edges of the bored holes are counter sunk for bezel installation.

No. 427 in a 3-hole "Bomber" style dash panel.

No. 521 is a cast aluminum 3-gauge panel.

This 4-port cast fuel block routes four inbound fuel lines to a single outlet.

Phoenix LLC makes these flathead Ford V8 exhaust flanges.

Optima supplied two batteries for Mark to use for making this battery tray.

Small-block Chevy engine stand comes in handy in any shop.