Pati’s Truck Project: Custom Dash

JANUARY 27, 2012 – Pati takes the prize in our club for most number of super cool projects. She doesn’t have one, or even two… but seven fabulous beasts to care for.  You can read the story of how each found a way into her heart on Pati’s Member Page. After much contemplation, Pati has chosen to focus her attention (for now) on her ’51 Chevy Pickup!

’51 Chevy Pickup

And so… the work begins.

THE DASH

1947-54 Chevy pickups are pretty on the outside but soooo painfully boring on the inside.

1950 Chryslers, on the other hand, are drop dead gorgeous inside, but got nothin’ on the outside. Guess who wants the best of both worlds?

After collecting parts for a while and never having all the right pieces, I came across a guy selling a whole Chrysler dash. Perfect! I was bummed I had to spend so much for it when I’d already spent at least that in parts, but it was worth it having the actual metal dash with correct bolt holes to work with. Only one problem- it was 6″ wider than the stock truck dash!

Luckily, the speaker section is exactly 6″ wide and really, who wants to use a crusty 60-year-old speaker? But before I could start cutting and pasting, I had to fix some rust damage from a leaky windshield gasket on the old dash. The Chrysler dash had a very different shape on top, so I plan to use the top of the Chevy dash to make installation and installing stock windshield moldings easy.

The rust was bad. I had to make patch pieces out of a 90-degree angle bent piece of steel. A tool called a shrinker-stretcher made the nifty end curve. Ask me how it works some time. It’s cool.

Measure twice, cut once, and always TEST FIT.

These are special-shaped welding vise grips I got at Harbor Freight. Welding is easiest when the pieces fit tightly together, so the clamps help a lot. After I was happy with the fit, I made some tack welds to hold things together just enough for me to test fit the dash in the truck. The clamps would have gotten in the way. Never make more tack welds than you’re willing to grind off in case it doesn’t fit. :(

Turns out the patched dash fit great and so did the molding. Now it’s time to make a scary cut!

This tool is called a Shear.

It’s basically a 3-blade scissors, and the center blade moves up and down to cut leaving a curly ribbon of metal. It’s designed this way to prevent warping the steel and is very balanced and easy to use. I now have a perfectly good stock dash in two past-the-point-of-no-return pieces. This better work!

I also had to cut the Chrysler dash and split it vertically. That way I could telescope the pieces together once they were installed. Even though I measured a hundred times (6″ too wide, every time), I still only cut once, leaving the rest to overlap where it wanted. Tape measures aren’t are reliable as you think, so always leave yourself a safety net.

A test fit of the old dash half and left new dash half shows a scary gap on top. Patch metal is needed to smooth it, but I came up with the better idea of bending the old dash so it could sit on top of the new dash. I liked the curve it had, so why not use it?

The old dash had a peak in the center, so I couldn’t just bend it as-is. I made a cut down the center so each half could bend easily. It will get welded back up later. I also cut most of the top of the Chrysler dash off, leaving just a small folded edge. All bends and folds in metal add strength, so leaving that edge will help keep floppiness in check while I test fit and make the dash stronger to support the 40-pound radio that the Chrysler came with (ok, maybe it’s not 40 lbs, but it’s HEAVY). It will also give me room for error in case I cut the old dash too short.

These bullet-looking things sticking out of the dash pieces are called Cleco (klee-co) clips.

They are spring-loaded and can be put into drilled holes to pinch sheets of metal together. By compressing the spring with the Cleco pliers, the feet draw together. Insert. Relax the spring and the feet spread out. Clamped and aligned. Pretty smart!

Next pic is of the dash pieces all in place and clamped for welding.

What is the quote? “It is better to be lucky than good, and baby, I am both.”  ;)  The small square clamps with wing nuts are called intergrips- another brilliant invention that holds side-by-side panels in alignment for welding.

Last pic shows the side gap I will have to fix.

The ends have a complex curve to them so I will be slicing the dash again, moving the top end into place and then making a patch for the gap. I can do this after I make some tack welds to the rest of the assembly for strength.

More to come…

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Next up? Look for Kristin’s My Ride Is Me reports from the Grand National Roadster Show!

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