The more we modify our classic Mustangs the more we need to keep track of vital systems like oil pressure, engine coolant temperature, and so forth. Installing add-on gauges often makes the Mustang's dash area a cluttered mess. Gauges hanging off the bottom of the dash, a tach strapped to the steering column, and so forth usually just get in the way and are hard to read due to being so far out of the driver's line of sight. Replacing the stock gauges with something more accurate that can offer up your engine's status at a glance (or even flash a warning message) means keeping the dash free of clutter and putting the gauges right where your eyes normally go for information. There are several gauge package options on the market today and one of the most interesting we've found is the new VHX gauge system from Dakota Digital.
This all-new gauge concept has been a big hit for Dakota Digital and the company now offers VHX systems for dozens of cars, including '65-'70 Mustang, '79-'89 Mustang, '66-'77 Bronco, '67-'79 trucks, and even earlier '50s-era Fords/trucks. The VHX lineup features fresh analog instrumentation in a brushed silver-gray or a carbon-fiber look pattern with blue or red accents, all with contrasting lettering and white needles for superior daytime visibility. At night, when the cluster is illuminated, you'll find your choice of red or blue “through-the-dial” LED lighting. Much like a modern gauge cluster that you'd find in your daily driver, the through-dial illumination offers enhanced legibility in nighttime driving without putting a strain on your eyes. Furthermore, you'll find modern ISO symbols buried in the gauge faces for items like check engine, cruise control, and more that only show up when illuminated.
The VHX gauge systems install in the stock Mustang gauge bezels with little-to-no modifications to the bezels themselves, and no modifications to your dash at all. You'll find each system comes complete with required sensors, mounting screws/adapters for the system to mount in your stock gauge bezel, and complete instructions. Dakota Digital offers expansion modules to provide even more data to the digital readouts in the bottom of the main gauges too. Modules include such modern features as outside temperature and compass heading, wideband oxygen sensor reading, air suspension pressure reading, and more.
1. The ’67-’68 Mustang VHX system is as complete as they come, including the gauge assemblies, sensors, wiring, and control module. The ’65-’66 version comes in a single housing, while the ’67-’70 kits require a little more assembly work (trust us, it’s easy).
2. While the VHX system was designed to fit original Ford gauge housings, Dakota Digital has checked the fit with popular aftermarket housings and has not found any issues. Since the ’68 coupe that is going to receive the new system was in need of fresh dash trim, we ordered up the black camera case pieces needed from National Parts Depot.
5. The three smaller gauges fill the upper portion of the gauge bezel and are installed with the provided screws. We did have a small plastic pin on the bezel preventing the oil gauge from seating fully. A quick pass with a hobby knife or razor blade will rectify the issue if your bezel is the same as ours.
7. Once you have secured the five individual gauges to the bezel, this pre-cut ABS plastic panel is installed. The panel features optional LED turn signals that light up through the gauge bezel’s turn arrows, and it secures the stock wiper switch in place as well.
6. Since the metal back plate of the stock gauge housing is not used in the VHX conversion, Dakota Digital provides a pair of these small brackets that are attached at the bottom of the two main gauges to replicate the factory gauge bezel retaining ears.
3. Dakota Digital’s VHX gauges feature the brake pressure differential warning light and high beam indicator in the gauge face. As such, the two areas of the gauge bezel require small block-off plates. These are provided in the hardware kit and are simply glued into place using a little dab of silicone adhesive (black or clear is best).
10. Dakota Digital’s solution for the three mounting holes found at the top of the bezel is this trick little aluminum insert that simply presses into each hole in the gauge bezel. A small amount of hand filing on the bezel may be required for them to seat properly, but in our case they snapped right in.
8. Due to the individual gauge mounting configuration utilized by Dakota Digital for the ’67-’70 gauge clusters, it’s necessary to connect the gauges together via the ribbon cables found on the rear of the gauges. The ribbon cables are clearly marked as to which gauges they attach to.
4. Dakota Digital provides complete instructions for disassembling your stock gauge cluster, but for the cost of a new bezel, it will save you disassembly time and keep your stock gauges intact. The two primary gauges easily seat in the bezel and are secured using the long Phillips head screws provided.
13. The new sending unit easily installs with one of the included brass thread adapters. The wiring utilizes a locking weather-tight connection; simply plug the wiring in and route the harness to the dash area of the car.
11. Complete, sans wiper switch, the Dakota Digital VHX system is ready for installation. The ’68 coupe that the VHX system is going into is Gillis Performance Restorations’ in-house project we’ve been following.
15. The ’68’s progress from when we last visited for our EFI wiring install (Dec. ’13 issue) included wiring the rest of the chassis with a new American Autowire harness. One of the reasons for our upgrade is the AAW harness does not support the stock ammeter gauge, plus Rusty Gillis from GPR wanted something along the line of the Mustang’s optional tachometer gauge cluster but with better lighting.
9. Since we had previously discussed the option with the owner of the Mustang, we will be using the stock turn signal locations on the gauge bezel versus the indicators found in the VHX gauge faces. The included two-wire harnesses simply plug into the LED indicators found in the ABS back panel.
14. The oil pressure sending unit on this 4.6L Two-Valve engine is threaded into the oil filter adapter. Using one of the included thread adapters, the sending unit threads right in here as well. The water temperature sensor is the two-wire sensor and the oil pressure sensor is the three-wire unit. Don’t mix them up.
12. Once arriving at GPR, we dug right in with swapping out the stock water temperature and oil pressure sending units with the provided pieces from Dakota Digital. Here, the stock coolant temperature sensor from the ’96 Thunderbird 4.6L engine transplant is removed from the intake.
16. Removal of the stock gauge cluster is simply a matter of a handful of Phillips head screws and one retaining nut directly above the ashtray. Once extricated, the only thing we needed off of the stock cluster was the wiper switch assembly.
17. Transferring the wiper switch to the Dakota Digital VHX system entailed attaching the switch to the ABS rear panel with the included screws, washers, and nuts. Once secured, the ABS panel was fastened to the gauge cluster with the provided Phillips head screws and lock washers.
18. Before seating the new Dakota Digital VHX gauge system to Rusty’s dash, his son, Brian, drops the new dash panels from NPD into place, securing them with a dash trim fastener kit, also from NPD.
19. Wiring the Dakota Digital VHX module couldn’t be easier. Between the well-detailed instructions and the call-outs on the module itself, it is a simple matter of routing the required wires to the control box. Here we’ve routed the fuel level sending unit wire (from the AAW harness) and the oil pressure sensor wiring.
20. The box is small enough to mount just about anywhere convenient. You can wire the connections first and then mount it, or mount it with more access and terminate the wiring after it is mounted, whichever is easier for you. We found this cowl side panel just above where the driver’s kick panel will go to offer a nice spot. We’ve also connected the tach signal (purple), switched power (red), high beam indicator (green), and dash lighting (gray).
21a. As noted previously, Rusty decided to use the stock turn signal locations in the gauge bezel. The wiring pigtails for the two LED indicators are shown here. We wound the white/black wires together to be connected to a ground source, while the white/green wires are the positive wires for the LED lights and must be connected to the original dash indicator wires.
21b. Since we’re using the AAW chassis harness wiring that Rusty installed, it was simply a matter of routing these two dash indicator wires to the dash and connecting them to the white/green wires coming from the gauge cluster. If you opt to use the turn indicators in the face of the gauges, these two wires would alternatively be routed to the VHX module.
22. The VHX gauges communicate with the module via a standard RJ-45 network cable (like the one connected to your computer at work or broadband Internet at home). The VHX kit includes a three foot cable and if you have mounted the module farther away than that, a quick trip to your favorite electronics store will net you a longer cable.
23. Besides the VHX communication cable (and optional turn signal indicators), the only remaining wiring left before installing the assembled gauge bezel is to connect the OE wiper switch wiring to the stock wiper switch now residing in the ABS back panel.
24. Since the Dakota Digital VHX system resides in a stock gauge bezel, the installation into the dash is standard Mustang. You will utilize the three slightly longer screws provided by Dakota Digital for the upper mounting, but you will use the two factory lower screws, shown here.
25. It was easy for us to access the module to plug in the data cable after the gauge bezel was secured, but depending on where you mount the module in your installation, you may wish to connect the data cable to the module before securing the gauge bezel.
26. The finished Dakota Digital VHX installation (along with new dash trim from NPD) gives the Mustang’s dash a little more flair compared to the black painted bezel with stock gauges shown previously. Plus, the addition of detailed engine monitoring, an in-dash tach, and more make the upgrade well worth the $795 purchase price.
If you are running a modern crate engine with OBD-II–based electronics, you might wish to consider the BIM-01-1 OBD-II interface module from Dakota Digital. This module connects to the main gauge module and uses data from the OBD-II diagnostic port in your EFI wiring harness to provide the gauges with certain data, including speed, tachometer, engine temp, and more. Simply mount the module, supply it with power and ground wiring and connect the two supplied leads to the gauge module and your diagnostic port, respectively.
While we've featured Dakota Digital's VHX gauge line in their Silver Alloy gauge face design, Dakota Digital does offer a sharp looking Carbon Fiber Look gauge face option as well. Besides picking the actual gauge face to complement your interior, Dakota Digital offers both gauge face designs in either red or blue LED lighting. Shown here is the Silver Alloy in red illumination (what we installed) along with a Carbon Fiber Look system in blue illumination. Note that the colored accent in the Carbon Fiber Look faces match whichever illumination choice you pick. One additional note for those readers north of the border (or overseas), Dakota Digital does offer its VHX gauges in Km/H and Celsius readings as well. Finally, if you're in need of a new dash bezel, you can pick up a '67 or '68 style bezel directly from Dakota Digital as well. However, please note they only sell the bezel. If you need the rest of the dash trim, fasteners, and more, then you'll have to hit up NPD for those parts like we did.