1979 Monte Carlo New Dash Cluster

I thought I was done with the interior of this car, but when I started driving it I discovered that I no longer had any dashboard lights!  This was not going to work!  So I took the dash unit apart and discovered that the ribbon electrical connector was cut leading to the first set of lights.  I attempted to solder it but that did not work out well with the connection not working and the plastic of the ribbon connector melting.   Various other “backyard” attempts at fixing the problem eventually led me to the conclusion that the dash cluster would need to be replaced in order to get functioning lights again.  I briefly though about just wiring up some LED’s or something on the outside of the dash to come on with the light switch but since the plan is to sell this car I decided to replace it instead.

I was leaning towards going with a custom unit to replace the factory one and eliminate all the factory wiring for the lights and connections but was dismayed by the cost of the gauges.  The unit to mount the gauges was not too expensive but the gauges to go in it were.  I eventually won a bid for an 86 dash cluster on EBay and the swap out was on!

This is the dash i won on EBay

This is the dash i won on EBay

When I first got the unit the color was burgundy!  I obviously knew this going in but the unit would need to be painted.  I again used the interior paint that was mentioned in the interior repair post, this made the dash the right color.

When putting the dash in the car I needed to reverse some of my “backyard” fixes that did not work and return the wire harness back to factory.  I intended to get all the gauges working again and this new dash came with the newer center cluster with a temperature gauge and an oil pressure gauge, not just the warning lights of the original.

I plugged the back part of the dash cluster in and immediately noticed an issue with it, there was no cutout for the windshield wiper switch!  On the newer model Monte Carlo’s the wiper switch was on a stick that was connected to the steering column!  On the older model (at least the 78-79 models) the switch was in the dash!  This was a minor issue that I solved by using my old cover plate with the proper cut outs.  The wiper switch sits a little deep in the cut out due to the change of model years but it doesn’t look too bad and the wipers work!

New Cluster Installed

New Cluster Installed

This new dash looks great in the Monte Carlo, but it brought a little bit of trouble along the way.  I ran into an issue with the temperature gauge reading extremely high within minutes of starting the car.  I instantly thought that the original sender was not the proper one and went to AutoZone to purchase one.  The guy at the counter was a hot-rodder and suggested that I use one that came from a Chevy caprice.  This was a sensor not a sender and I installed it in the intake manifold.  After the installation and wiring it up the gauge still read hot.   At this point I was concerned that the car was actually overheating (which it may have been) and started troubleshooting those issues.

I replaced the thermostat which was a cheap fix but did not resolve the problem.

This was done by draining the radiator to a level lower than the thermostat housing.

Typically located on the opposite side of the radiator from the lower radiator hose will be a drain cock. It is circled in red.

Typically located on the opposite side of the radiator from the lower radiator hose will be a drain cock. It is circled in red.

The next step would be to unbolt the two bolts to the thermostat housing.  You can then remove the old thermostat and reinstall.  I didn’t use a gasket but instead used gasket maker made for coolant.  This is super easy and I didn’t think it needed its own post….

Unbolt the 2 bolts holding the thermostat housing in place.

Unbolt the 2 bolts holding the thermostat housing in place.

I replaced the water pump; this did not resolve the issue.

I got a new upper radiator hose due to a kink in the original one that was possibly impeding flow, still overheating.  This one was probably a legitimate problem!

I drained all the coolant and flushed the radiator; water flowed very quickly through all rods in the radiator.  This still did not solve the problem!

At this point, I was very concerned that the coolant passages in the block were clogged and that the motor was trashed…….

However, I started thinking back to what my original thought was, a bad or incorrect sender.

I purchased the proper one wire sender for an 86 Monte Carlo which is:

As well as a 60PSI Oil pressure sender.

After hooking these up to the new dash cluster, all systems are good and the gauge cluster is working properly.

Lesson learned……Always start with the last part that you changed and work from there!

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