So you’ve decided to ditch the standard instruments and install a new dash. The new dash might use a digital panel (as here) or it might contain traditional round instruments – either analog or digital.
That’s great – but the new display doesn’t quite match the shape of the factory instrument binnacle.
You need something that will fill the space between the new dash and where the old instrument panel fitted – so what do you do? One approach is to use a pre-made carbon fibre panel, cutting and drilling it to suit.
Let’s take a look at this approach.
The requirement in this case was to fit a MoTeC CDL3 dash panel in the space that originally contained an all-electronic Honda dash. The new digital panel would physically fit into the space, but being much narrower than the original panel, there would be gaps either side. So how to fill those gaps?
A carbon fibre panel was sourced from the UK via eBay. An A3-sized, 3mm thick single-layer sheet, it cost about AUD$100 by the time it got to Australia.
By ‘single layer’, the description means that most of the sheet comprises glass fibre; the carbon fibre is just the top layer.
While 3mm sounds rather thick, don’t go for a thinner sheet – it needs sufficient stiffness to maintain shape while also coping with holes and cut outs.
An A3 –sized panel will, in most cars, provide enough material to make two dash panels. This allows for mistakes or changes of mind in placement of instruments.
Working with the panel
The first step when working with the panel is to use wide, good quality masking tape to completely cover the gloss side. This protects the sheet while still allowing accurate marking-out.
If the dash binnacle can be easily removed from the car, lay it over the masked carbon fibre sheet and, using the binnacle as a template, accurately mark the area of the instrument panel.
If the dash binnacle cannot be removed, you will need to develop a template (eg from cardboard) that shows the same area. Accuracy here is vital – when a panel is constantly positioned in front of you, your eye can easily pick discrepancies of a few millimetres…
The area that you’ve marked now becomes the area in which the new digital dash panel, warning lights, extra displays and so on can be located. Do not cut the carbon fibre sheet to this size – the final panel will need to be larger so that it can be properly mounted, with these mounting screws or nuts out of sight.
Lay out the new dash area, devising precisely where the different ingredients will fit. Working very carefully, drill appropriate holes or cut out appropriate shapes to fit these parts in.
Holes should be drilled in a drill press, starting with small drill bits and working upwards in size. (Going straight for a large drill bit will make it hard to accurately position the holes and they will also often not be circular.) Test on a scrap piece first, but I found that a spring-loaded centre punch was effective at marking the hole centres without causing crazing or cracking of the sheet.
A hole-saw can be used to make larger diameter holes. If slotted openings are needed, use the hole saw to make two adjacent holes then cut out the material in-between.
A thin 1mm cutting disc in an angle grinder will cut the composite carbon / glass fibre sheet cleanly and precisely.
Always drill and cut from the masked gloss side of the sheet.
Edges of the sheet can be shaped using a belt sander.
Before you cut the perimeter of the sheet to size, work out where the mounting screws will be located. In the case of the Honda, the sheet was being mounted both further forward and also at a different angle to the original dash panel.
Six millimetre threaded rod was used to provide the mounting pots for the new panel. These rods screwed (via nuts and washers) into the original mounting holes of the dash but allowed the location and angle of the new panel to be adjusted as required.
The surface finish of most carbon fibre sheet is very glossy: often too glossy for a dash panel. Again, working first on a scrap offcut, you can experiment with different ways to reduce this gloss.
My approach was as follows: buff the dash panel gently with a Scotchbrite belt in a belt sander. (A fine Scotchbrite pad could also have been manually used.) Follow this up with hand work in a circular motion with fine steel wool, followed by three applications of ‘rejuvenating’ car polish and a final buff with a soft cloth.
This gave a relatively dull finish but one where the carbon fibre weave was still quite prominent.
No matter how sophisticated your instruments, it’s likely that your car will also need some conventional warning lights.
In the case of the Honda, after looking very hard all over the world, I chose to use Black Bezel LED warning lights from Car Builder Solutions in the UK.
These are high quality, machined alloy warning lights with common symbols already engraved on the bezels.
They also look excellent against the carbon fibre sheet.
With pre-made carbon fibre sheet available off the shelf and with some simple tools, you can make a professional looking and effective new dash panel to house your new instruments. Just take it very carefully in the measurement, cutting and drilling stages!