Every year, us lucky editors sit down with aftermarket manufacturers and listen to their best new product pitches. Going in, we never know if we’ll be stifling back yawns, or if a new product is going to grab us by the balls and say, “Hey, check me out!” At this year’s manufacturer’s conference, we got a nice surprise from Auto Meter with their new Elite series gauges. The Auto Meter Elite gauges were designed for the racing environment; a large, easily read face helps keep your attention on the road or track, an advanced design stepper motor improves durability and precision, and all Elite gauges have small solid-state data acquisition grade sensors. And while that stuff is definitely cool, what really got my attention was one feature that I’m kind of embarrassed to admit. Simply put: These gauges are perfect for us older guys whose vision isn’t the best.
Our console quest starts with...
Our console quest starts with Auto Meter’s new three-gauge pod for late-model Challengers. It’s only a drill and rivet gun away from working on any car. We filled it with Auto Meter’s new Elite gauges—more on them later.
As soon as the Auto Meter guy showed us that the dial changes color the moment it goes over (or under) a preset level, we were sold. Let’s face it—you just don’t drive around staring at your gauges. You’re looking at the road. We’re all familiar with shift-light tachometers, and the Elite line takes that idea to the next level. Set your gauge face to automatically change from green to red if, for instance, your coolant temp goes over 220 degrees. Even better, once your gauge changes color when it goes into the warning zone, it will begin blinking rapidly when it gets 10 percent higher than the preset warning level. I call it gauges in stages—and you don’t even have to be staring at the dial to know if your proverbial excrement is hitting the rotational ventilator. The warning is bright enough and big enough that you need not position the gauge directly in your line of sight. You are free to place the gauge in a more out-of-the-way location. For us, that means the A-pillar doesn’t have to be festooned with gauges like a refugee from the NOPI Nationals, nor will we have to drill a one-year-only dash for a bunch of gaping holes.
First order of business was...
First order of business was to find an ergonomic late-model center console that would fit the Nova. Other guys have used Dodge Neon consoles in Novas, and they’re a great fit. The day we bought ours, we paid $75, but they typically range between $50 and $80.
Wish we could say we thought of all that when we first saw the Elite gauges; it was actually Auto Meter’s new ’08-11 Dodge Challenger gauge pod that spurred the idea to drop a set of Elites in the Nova. During the same meeting, the guy from Auto Meter showed us that they had developed a three-gauge pod for late-model Mopars (PN 5287). He went on to say after they started the project for mother Mopar, they realized it could work for most muscle cars, and did we want to try one? Uh, you betcha. And if you don’t mind we’ll take three Elite gauges with that—oil pressure, water temp, and voltage. Those are the three essentials we needed to keep our Dart 400 SHP small-block healthy.
Meanwhile, Tech Editor Christopher Campbell had just finished a story on putting a ’69 Camaro SS console with factory-style gauges in Project EcoNova (see “Decisive Shift,” Mar. ’12). That was way cool, because the X-body shares a ton of sheetmetal with first-gen Camaros and the ’69 console fit like it was meant to be there. Only problem—the console, shifter, and gauges cost $1,100, and didn’t provide modern comforts like a usable armrest, cupholders, or a place to lay a cell phone. Our low-buck solution was to find a late-model console on eBay. We’d seen a couple of Novas at cars shows that had a center console from a late-model Dodge Neon, so we found one on eBay from a ’05 SRT4 for $75. The plan was to place the Elites in the Auto Meter pod, then mount the pod to the console. We even added an extra power point under the clamshell!
And speaking of “we,” that would be Outlaw Motorsports in Riverside, California. We recommend Outlaw Motorsports to anybody in SoCal who needs quality, affordable work on their muscle car. Ron Aschtgen runs the place, and he’s been wrenching on our Nova for the past year. He chewed through the install so fast, we had to hold him back to get the photos and video. (Speaking of video, head over to YouTube.com/PopularHotRodding and look for “1968 Nova—Auto Meter Elite Gauge Installation.”)
Installing the Challenger...
Installing the Challenger gauge pod on the Neon console doesn’t require the base pedestal that comes with the kit. Here, Outlaw’s Ron Aschtgen mounts the bottom of the gauge clamshell directly to the console.
A pop rivet gun is a wonderful...
A pop rivet gun is a wonderful tool to have ’round the shop. After drilling some small holes in the base of the Auto Meter gauge clamshell and into the console, Aschtgen mated them together with five small pop rivets.
The Nova’s tunnel slopes more...
The Nova’s tunnel slopes more rapidly than the Neon’s, and there’s no flat surface to mount the console, so Aschtgen built a mounting pedestal out of aluminum. This allowed him to firmly bolt the Neon console to the tunnel using the existing holes in the console.
The Auto Meter Elite gauges...
The Auto Meter Elite gauges came to us mounted on a carbon-fiber faceplate; the gauge assembly just drops into the channel and the top of the clamshell clips right on.
Elite series gauges also have...
Elite series gauges also have another cool feature—they can control other stuff like switches, lamps, ignition kill, rev limiters, pumps, alarms, or relays. Need your fans turned on? Your temp gauge can switch the fan on and off at your high- and low-warning set points. This feature is called Pro Control, and the wiring scheme for it is called out clearly in the instructions. Our Nova doesn’t need this—yet.
When Outlaw Motorsports installed...
When Outlaw Motorsports installed our Painless Performance wiring harness, we knew we were going with console gauges, so the switched 12V power wire and the headlight illumination wire were already in place. Here, Aschtgen crimps both wires with a pin terminal so the console and gauges can easily be installed or removed. Note that the TCI Fast-Gate shifter has already been mounted, and how the shifter gate from the Neon console has been enlarged to accommodate the travel of the TCI lever.
Now the fun part—bolting in...
Now the fun part—bolting in the console. Check out the extra power point under the clamshell. The dangling wire is the power point ground, which was attached to the tunnel. The oil pressure and temp gauges come with plug-in sensor harnesses, which plug into the rear of the Elite gauges.
Here’s the two harnesses for...
Here’s the two harnesses for oil pressure and water temp—they just need to be fed through the firewall into the engine bay.
Auto Meter includes the oil...
Auto Meter includes the oil pressure sender and a �-inch NPT adapter with the Elite oil pressure gauge, but we needed a 90-degree adapter to clear the firewall with our Dart SHP block. Auto Meter recommends a small dab of liquid Teflon on the threads to aid sealing. Once the sender is mounted on the block, the pre-terminated Auto Meter harness just clips right on.
We reused the temp sender...
We reused the temp sender from the previous set of Autogage gauges; the output is the same and the Elite gauge harness clips right on. Auto Meter includes a new sender if you don’t already have one screwed into your intake manifold.
To adjust your warning set...
To adjust your warning set point, momentarily press and release the “WARN” button. When the gauge flashes, the needle will move to the current set point. Press “WARN” to move the set point down, or press the “PEAK” button to move it up. Your set points are saved, even when the power is off. You can also choose from seven illumination colors, and any color can be designated for a low or high warning level.
|What To Get
|Salvaged Dodge Neon center console
|Elite series oil pressure gauge, 0-100 psi
|Elite series water temp gauge, elec.
|Elite series voltage gauge, 8-18 V
|Dodge Challenger 3-gauge pod