Classic Instruments Offers More Information From Analog Gauges

We have well passed the industrial revolution, and mankind is now in what is called the “information age.” Everything from amazing wireless mobile device advancements to the internet has humanity receiving data at an incredible pace. This age now includes the performance gauges available from Classic Instruments.

Classic Instruments is well known for its instrumentation of every shape and size, raising the bar for elegant and classic muscle cars and street rods. Now, their line of performance gauges offers a higher level of information technology beyond the typical dial-type gauge.

When John McLeod, Chief Operating Officer at Classic Instruments, decided to expand into the performance gauge market, he spoke to many enthusiasts to learn what they ultimately wanted in a performance and racing gauge. With that input, the company developed a new microprocessor with its very own air-core movement that offers features beyond a sweeping needle.

Classic Instruments performance gauges come in a variety of face styles. Their 4-5/8 inch tach fits well where any large tach will mount. The gauges are very easily read with the "Autocross Yellow" face we chose, and the super-bright LED light inserts.

We set out to install a spread of gauges to complement and monitor the new EFI big-block in our Project Rover Camaro. With a wealth of engine readings offered from our dash, we chose four critical gauges, including the Classic Instruments Autocross Yellow tachometer, oil pressure, transmission temperature, and brake line pressure gauges.

Spread Of Styles

These gauges are offered in a wide selection of diameters, gauge face colors/designs, and bezel types. To illustrate their choices, we ordered our instruments with what we consider as the most eye-grabbing design that will be easy to read on-track. The black-on-yellow background of the Autocross Yellow design provides a wide gauge sweep, plus a large brushed aluminum bezel.

All Classic Instruments gauges come with straightforward instructions. The wiring connector on the rear of each gauge is a great detail. Always match the same gauge wire between senders and gauge; a heavier wire may affect the readings. We found this pack of 20-gauge auto wire for just a few dollars.

We chose their large 4-5/8 inch tach, plus the transmission temperature and oil pressure gauges, which are 2-5/8 inch diameter (they also offer gauges with a short sweep analog display), and their brake pressure gauge in the 2-1/8 inch diameter.

More Than A Needle

The advent of microprocessor-equipped electronics has created durability for motorsports applications, combined with accuracy and the opportunity for multiple features. Scott Avery from Classic Instruments explains how they incorporated many elements into the instruments that racers wanted.

One of the most popular features is [the gauges’] datalogger friendliness. We have eliminated the need to use a second gauge sender or splitting wires. Our gauges have an output wire to continue the voltage signal onto data loggers. – Scott Avery, Classic Instruments

Avery continues, “Another big feature is our warning light electronics. This warning feature is integrated right into the gauge itself. For example, a separate push button is included with your oil pressure gauge, and you can set exact low- or high-pressure warnings to the reading you want. Once installed, you can follow a process with the singular button to set high or low warning extremes.”

Immediate Indicators

We are trying a new synthetic oil combined with different bearing clearances in our new big-block racing engine. This combination will result in predicted high oil pressure readings upwards of 70-80 psi at the gauge when making a pass. On the dragstrip, we will set our oil pressure gauge warning light up to the ragged edge of our minimum pressures. The warning light may be annoying at idle, but we will know if something is awry during a pass quite quickly. With the beauty of the adjustable gauge, we can tweak that warning pressure around at will.

Our transmission temperature gauge has our minimum setting at 170 degrees and maximum at 240 degrees. This minimum and maximum range will ensure everything is within the temperature range we want at a driver’s glance.

We cautiously wired our system with properly crimped connectors and a wealth of heat shrink tubing. Any extra circuits we were not using were stagger cut and shrink tube fastened together for possible future use. We also used a wire junction panel inside our Camaro's wiper bay area and labeled each circuit.

Our brake pressure gauge will not be a warning light, but rather a minimum pressure indicator for setting the line-lock for burnout, with the red gauge light indicating we can lock our front brakes.

“If your gauge is outside your temperature or pressure parameters, the lighted gauge face will change from white to a very noticeable bright red,” Avery explains. “There is also an additional wiring option from each gauge wiring harness to power an external warning light. This additional warning light can eliminate the driver’s need to look away from driving duties to scan gauges, knowing anything wrong will notify them in their driving line of sight.”

With our standard 2-5/8 gauge holes already in place, we simply drill for our calibration push buttons.

We’ve gotten great feedback from others about these new gauges in the car, including praises for the available switchable cool- and warm-light LED gauge illumination, which is advantageous with varied lighting conditions at different tracks.

Classic Instruments is known for their custom instruments created with very owner-specific graphics on the gauge face. This is very popular with their classic street rod and custom gauge offerings. “We can even customize our performance/racing gauge faces beyond our standard choices, for someone who wants some very specific bling or their race car’s color coordination to carry into their cockpit,” adds Avery.

The new and smaller pressure transducers have quick disconnects and work around the engine bay very nicely. Our brake pressure warning light is set to indicate when minimum required pressure is reached. Now, the gauge will turn red to indicate there's enough minimum pressure to set the line-lock.

When discussing electric versus mechanical instruments, some racers contend that mechanical units offer superior life and accuracy, which Avery debunks. “That could have been the case many years ago,” says Avery. “Today, our gauges are a jump in technology. A rugged air-core movement is combined with microprocessor technology for precision and durability. Unlike some instrument manufacturers that utilize stepper motors within their gauges, there are no moving parts in these guages that are susceptible to shock.”

If a racer questions durability, consider today’s data recorders and engine control units used at the dragstrip can survive tire shake, wheelstands, and more. With that durable microprocessor technology applied in other electronics, there’s no reason to question microprocessor-based instrument life and accuracy, as well.

The calibration button beside each gauge is pressed when turning on the instruments. Following the manual, you then set your low and high side readings where the indicator will operate at normal colors. Outside of that range, they illuminate to an eye-grabbing red.

Avery finishes, “We have well known offroad Baja racers and dirt circle track racers who have had these gauges take an extreme physical pounding for years without a failure. This is especially true on the circle track, where side-to-side impacts are common.”

Computerized data logging and electronically controlled ignition and fuel delivery have raised the bar for performance with no major failure issues. More paramount than the data logger readings, these new-generation gauges from Classic Instruments provide more immediate info for the driver with split-second speeds.

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Todd Silvey

Todd has been a hardcore drag racing journalist since 1987. He is constantly on both sides of the guardwall from racing photography and editorship to drag racing cars of every shape and class.
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