LED Bulb Dash Gauge Upgrade


Costs:

£28 for a set of four.

https://mustangmaniac.co.uk/part/36/1454/instrument_panel_led_lights

What’s in the pack:

Just the four LED bulbs that fit the standard 1895 bulb sockets.

Here is a comparison of the old style tungsten bulbs next to the new LEDs. The new bulbs are designed to have four lenses on the side to spread the light sideways as much as possible as well as the main lens on the top. Quite a clever piece of engineering in fact.

Background:

It’s a known fact that the illumination for the classic Mustang instrument gauges is pretty poor to say the least, if not for safety but to see any potential warning signs from the gauges. The yellow tinged tungsten bulbs sit behind a blue filter which gives a subtle green/blue colouring. The trouble is the bulbs are a low wattage and the amount of lighting required for the whole cluster just doesn’t cut it. This became evident when traveling back from a car show in the dark. I knew I was low on fuel and needed to fill up, but the fuel gauge on the far left was hardly lit up at all. It was at this point I decided it was time for an update. The bulbs and filter covers were new when I restored the whole gauge panel and swapped out the standard ammeter to the more accurate and modern voltmeter. Here is the view of the standard gauges at night, the very faint green/blue tint isn’t picked up by the camera unfortunatly. With the dimmer turned off in order to make sure they were as bright as possible. The speedo is showing fine in the middle, but the rest get worse going to the outsides.

Process:

The process to swap the bulbs is fairly simple but fiddly at the best of times. You will need to remove the gauges and take the unit apart.

First of, disconnect the battery! Shorting out wires on the dash will destroy your gauges as they work of 5v pulse and not the more common 12v.

Note: 

There are few precautions that I always take and recommend you do the same. Cover the steering column with a cloth to avoid the damage to the paint and also to protect the possibility of the brittle gauge cover being cracked if you drop it. I wrapped a large fleece blanket around the column.

This is a step you don’t have to do, but I makes sense. Unscrew the indicator stalk from the switch inside the column, this stops it getting in the way and also prevents damage to the switch just in case you catch it accidentally.

The whole cluster is held in place by six screws, four at the top and two at the bottom either side of the steering column that I have arrowed some of them here.

Unscrew the gauge and keep the screws safe.

With all the screws out gently unseat the gauges and pull forward to expose the back of the cluster. You will be greeted by a mass of wires behind the cluster and a speedo cable screwed to the back of the speedo gauge itself. Here you need to be dexterous to reach behind and unscrew the speedo cable, if you are lucky it’s not all crusted in place and can be undone with fingers or a small handled stubby spanner. There isn’t much room to work behind here either, so be carefull not to damage any of the wires. When I replaced the wire loom with an American Autowire loom kit during the restoration, I created an additional quick disconnect plug, just in case I needed to remove the dash for some reason in the future, this is a good example why. Here you can see the disconnect plug and the speedo fitting. You could do the same if you are confident enough to do so, but it’s not needed realistically as how often do you take the gauge dash out? If you are going to attempt the quick disconnect plug, make sure you get all the wires in the right place as you will have to cut the dash loom! This one plug controls all the wires required for the gauges and make it a lot easier to maintain.

Option 1:

Not recommended, but at this point you could just swap the bulbs over. However the old filters could be cloudy and block some of the light from the bulbs. But, it’s the easiest way to do it. If you take this route, just replace the bulbs and put the dash back in place again and it’s job done.

Option 2:

Do it correctly by removing the bulb filters. The following steps shows you how to do it.

If you have the original loom in place, the back of the gauges has press on fittings to each of the connection studs on the back of the individual gauges. One will be common to all the gauges and is the earth the other is sensor wire itself from the Temperature, oil or Gas. Make a note of what goes where, and then disconnect the remaining light bulb connections. Now the whole cluster should pull away from the dash with a little twisting.

I took my cluster to the work area and laid it on a towel to protect the finish of the face.

Remove the eight screws around the outside and tease the back away from the face and lens section. There could be some anti rattle sponges in there as well.

With the two sections apart this will expose the gauges and the filters for the bulbs. If the filters are the originals they could be distorted and will need to be broken away from the back of the case. This is simple as the filters just had the studs heated over to hold in place, like a flattened rivet. A small screwdriver will break away the studs and the filter will come away. If they have been replaced previously, then you will have the scenario I have here. The replacements are held in place by a stud and a screw. Undo the screw and lift way the filter.

With the filters out of the way you can see all of the bulbs. You can at this point twist the old bulbs out and replace, or remove the sprung loaded bulb holders out of their holes from the rear.

The Bulbs:

These have in effect five lenses, the large one on top and four more around the sides to spread the light evenly. You can buy these bulbs in various colours, they even do an exact colour match to the original colours that would have been from the factory. I chose the blue for my car to match the paint and is easier on the eyes as well. There is a pack of seven if you wanted for the indicator bulbs and the high beam. For me these are fine with the tungsten fittings to be fair.

The new LED’s are the same fitting as the old bulbs and are a simple replacement like for like.

Replace everything back together again with the new bulbs in place. Do not over tighten the screws for the bezel to the gauge backing or you will crack the plastic, especially if it’s the original and brittle.

Take the completed cluster back to the car and replace all the wires back to where they came from. Now is the most difficult part to refit the speedo cable. Inside the speedo is an inner cable that has a flat side that twists inside the cable from the gearbox to show the speed. Make sure this is pressed into the cable and not hanging out. Now you have to align the cable and speedo up to screw the collar nut back into place. At this point you could connect the battery and test the lights before final replacement of the gauge cluster to be sure.

With all the cable assembled now manoeuver the cluster back into place on the main dash. Take the screws and start at the top and just catch the screws in place to hold it there and then move onto the next. This will allow movement for all the screws to be seated correctly before tightening up. Make the final adjustments and then tighten all the screws up, again do not over tighten the screws or you will crack the plastic. Remove the steering column cover and replace the indicator stalk by screwing it back into the switch.  Reconnect the battery and test your new dash lights out.

Thats it – Job Done.

Time Taken:

It took me an hour and a half all in, and about a third of that was trying to get the cable on the back of the speedo.

Results:

What a difference. Everything can now be seen clearly and I just love the shade of blue. I seriouslt recommend doing this upgrade. comparison for you.