It’s a task that I’ve been working on sporadically for several weeks: The dash-gauge lighting in our Mustang has never been particularly useful, nor attractive. What, if anything, could be done to improve it?
Well, with LED lighting technology now mainstream, I figured it’d be worth a shot to replace the Mustang’s cluster bulbs (your standard 1395 incandescent) with modern LEDs purchased from National Parts Depot. I was hoping to see better color (more blue, than blue-green) and brighter lighting on the gauge faces.
Certainly the lighting is much more “true blue” than it was previously, which, while it isn’t the original stock look, I greatly prefer. In the images above, thanks to my Nikon’s extended exposure time, the lighting appears to be much brighter than it really is to the naked eye. So while I believe the LEDs make the light somewhat better, and make the gauges easier to read at night, the improvement really isn’t that great.
New Gauge Lights: What I Did
Well, I replaced the old 1895 bulbs with clear LED equivalents (eight of them in all), as stated before. The old bulb filters were cloudy and brittle, so I replaced those as well. (Bulbs were from National Parts Depot; filter kit from CJ Pony Parts.)
According to my Ford service manual, the gauge bulbs themselves can be replaced simply by reaching under the dash and up behind the cluster. The blue filters, on the other hand, can only be changed or removed once the front bezel is taken off and the gauges (including the speedo) removed temporarily.
The back of the gauge bezel is designed to reflect the bulbs’ light onto the gauge faces, so I repainted the reflective parts of the bezel backs with a white gloss paint — Model Master #4696 Gloss White, to be exact.
In the photo at right, the gauge housing and the bezel have been separated, and the gauge faces cleaned up a bit. I’ve found the bezel plastic and surface “camera case” paint to be extremely delicate, so I recommend to always place it down on a protected surface. Note that the concave bezel surfaces are already partially white — though it’s a flat white. This is presumably to help reflect light onto the gauge faces, but it doesn’t do much of that. So, to remedy this, my first instinct was to repaint these surfaces with a gloss white paint.
However, the paint didn’t do all that much to improve the brightness. So I then lined the two largest gauge-bezel rims with super-shiny duct tape, figuring this would provide even more relectivity. (Pic at right shows the speedo- and pressure-gauge bezels after taping.)
While I had the cluster assembly apart, I also cleaned off all the gauge faces, repainted the needles (Model Master Enamel / Fluorescent Red #FS 28915), and generally cleaned up the wiring harnesses and stuff on the back of the cluster.
What About Leaving the Filters Off?
I wanted to see how both kinds of bulbs would look on their own, without filters, so I spent some time experimenting with this angle. As expected, the incandescent 1895 bulbs cast a brighter, yet horribly ugly, shade of yellowish light on the Mustang’s gauges. Totally unacceptable.
On the other hand, the LED light was clear and clean … and brighter. But darn it, I’ve grown used to seeing those gauges in color. Clear light just didn’t seem at all correct. So back on went the filters!
Better With LEDs?
Now that I’ve installed LED bulbs in the cluster, the gauge lights no longer dim when we rotate the Mustang’s headlamp knob. This doesn’t bother me a bit, though. Why would I want to dim the lights at all, when they’re already so dim at full power?
I like the “bluer blue” color that the LEDs and new filters give me, certainly. But I don’t know that brightness has improved all that much. Just for kicks and giggles, I may replace the clear LEDs with blue LEDs at some point, and remove the blue filters over the bulbs. I wonder how much different that would look. I suspect — and this is purely a hunch — that the blue filters restrict a pretty good amount of light.