Project El Diablo Gets New Dakota Digital RTX Retro Gauges

Project El Diablo Gets New Dakota Digital RTX Retro Gauges

We’ve brought you several updates to our El Diablo project, a well-loved 1984 Chevy C10 stepside pickup, documenting its transformation from an underpowered hay hauler to a beefed-up muscle truck. These old Chevy trucks are a red hot commodity in the collector truck scene these days, and they need all the help they can get. Stout and built for the long haul, they also have emissions-strangled motors and ancient technology. The trucks take well to the restomod route and El Diablo has had some upgrades from the best of the best.

We’ve updated the suspension with Aldan American coilovers and performance tubular suspension components and completed the $100 junkyard LS swap with Edelbrock Pro Flo 4 system. So now it is time to add some modern gauges to monitor the vitals of our new power plant. Let’s start at the beginning and then we’ll walk you through the installation step-by-step.

New Dakota Digital RTX gauges installed in OEM fascia panel.

The factory gauges in the truck were in working order, but they had seen better days. The clear plastic lens had become cloudy over time, the engine swap deemed our odometer inaccurate, and the old-school analog gauges wouldn’t interface with our new-fangled fuel-injected LS. To remedy all this, we called our long-time partners, Dakota Digital, and as luck would have it, they’d just launched their new RTX  line of gauges which included square bodies of our truck’s vintage (Part#79C-PU-X). The fact that the digital gauges mimic the aesthetic of the ’70s and ‘80s, but with modern construction, made us keen to incorporate the new-era cluster into El Diablo.

Illumination can be customized to fit your tastes. What strikes your fancy?

According to Dakota Digital, “The RTX series is one of our newest line of modern gauges, focused on retaining that stock look without sacrificing the late-model features you love. Every effort has been been made to incorporate OEM design elements in the layout, face styling, and indicators. An initial glance may dismiss these as original equipment, but once you hit the switch and the LED backlighting comes on in your favorite color scheme, all doubts will be removed.”

Aside from some digital readouts, this Dakota Digital RTX cluster looks like it could have rolled off a GM assembly line.

“Our CNC machined housings are equipped with electronics designed and built in-house and once again, we’re raising the bar for aftermarket instrumentation. Bluetooth integration, GPS technology, and RGB backlighting with a full-color TFT screen bring you the technology that you want. The RTX Series offers the look of yesterday, with the features and functionality of today,” says Scott Johnson of Dakota Digital.

Now, let’s jump in and take a look at the installation process.

Our new RTX gauges arrived in a well-packaged box with practically everything we needed to install them into our 1984 Chevy C10. The only other thing we special ordered was the CAN connector, which Dakota Digital calls their, BUS-Interface Module For Edelbrock Engines (P/N: BIM-01-2-EDBK).

As you can see, with all the parts laid out, there isn’t much to the gauges and system overall. Dakota Digital does a great job of keeping things simple. The quality of the gauges was immediately apparent with CNC-milled aluminum parts and sturdy, textured poly construction.

We started the installation by removing the truck’s dash and gauge trim, which was easy because the components are held in with only a few fasteners.

Next, we removed the original gauge cluster which was attached to the truck’s dash via six hex head screws and a single electrical connector. Easy breezy.

If we compare the Dakota Digital control box and the BIM Module to the truck’s original gauges and electrical connector loom, we can better understand its function. Where the loom of wires previously ran to the analog gauges and varied voltage to communicate information to the driver, the new control box receives information from the ECU digitally via the BIM module and then displays it on the motorized gauges and digital screens. What's great is there are additional inputs on the box that allows for things like a GPS speedometer if one is so inclined.

We plugged the gauges into the control box and the control box into the BIM module using the supplied connectors. The BIM module included a connector specifically for our Edelbrock Pro Flo 4 system.

Before we could test the system, we had several wires to connect to the control box. They are listed in the manual clearly which made things easy. We didn’t connect everything just yet, like the turn signal indicators, because we have yet to install our new LED units. But what we did connect was just enough to get the gauges running and test their function. They included a 12-volt constant power source, an ignition-on power source, and a ground. The only other connector is for the switch input, which enables us to cycle through the gauge menu.

We tapped into the original gauge harness for our 12-volt constant power source.

With the turn of the key, the gauges sprang to life and we instantly loved the look of the updated classic styling. As the needles flashed and rolled back and forth, we couldn’t wait to install them in the dash.

With the gauges in their new forever home, we cycled the key and set all of the accessory functions like the clock and the odometer using the switch input which we later hid in the glove box.

The setup is intuitive and the instructions walked us through everything from setting the odometer to calibrating the speedometer.

Installing modern gauges like these enables us to monitor vital system information on an LS and was easily connected to the Edelbrock ProFlo 4 ECU using a CAN-connector. 

In closing, the quality and simplicity of Dakota Digital’s RTX gauges were readily apparent. The installation was easy and straightforward. We love the look of the gauges at night, especially because we were essentially driving blind before. Even the headlight dimming function worked perfectly. The tiny OEM bulbs were so dim on the factory gauges, we had no idea how fast we were driving. But now, the Dakota Digital gauges are as clear as day and give a whole new look to El Diablo. The best part is we now have an accurate “control central” for our engine transplant and mods while leaving the cool factory look unmolested. That’s truly the best of both worlds.

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About the author

Dave Cruikshank

Dave Cruikshank is a lifelong car enthusiast and an Editor at Power Automedia. A zealous car geek since birth, he digs lead sleds, curvy fiberglass, kustoms and street rods. He currently owns a '95 Corvette, '76 Cadillac Seville, '99 LS1 Trans Am and big old Ford Van.
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