We have a long-time customer that owns one of the cleanest MK2 Jettas in the country or perhaps the world, which we've been helping him out with here and there for about ten years now. It seems like every show season, Russ calls with some wacky idea that would be a challenge for any fabricator. Thus far, he hasn't presented an idea that we can't handle, and are happy to as it ties in with our Volkswagen roots and keeps the fabrication skills polished up, not to mention we like helping people realize their dreams.
This year, he wanted to swap his original MK2 Jetta cluster out for a Corrado instrument cluster and add some gauges for the air ride system we were going to be helping to get up and running as well. This essentially meant coming up with a solid and serviceable way to mount the new cluster and gauges, and building a brand-new trim bezel to fit within the confines of the dash opening that looked like something that could have come in the car if Volkswagen had done it themselves. Here's what he brought us...nice, right?
The first step was positioning and mounting the cluster, which is deeper and larger than the original. We used some flat steel bar stock to bend up brackets that mount to the firewall and dash structure in exactly the same way that the OEM brackets originally did. This photo shows the bracket screwed into place for mock-up, but in the final result these were riveted to the car for more strength over time.
Next came the fun part - fabricating the new dash bezel. Originally we thought it best to make an entirely new piece from scratch, but after a little bit of working through the best way to do this, we decided to cut all the now unnecessary pieces out of the original bezel and then rebuild the entire center section to match the new design. Basically, all that we kept from the original bezel was the outer border and two points for mounting to the dash once the piece was completed.
After cutting away all the excess and making a front ring for the cluster out of 1/4" acrylic using our laser cutter, we ended up with this as a starting point:
We also luckily had an original Corrado dash bezel laying around the shop, so decided to use the portion of it that rested on the face of the cluster to go behind the piece we were making to lend some OEM feel to the part. If you're familiar with these older VWs, you'll recall the row of raised lines that are molded into the floor of this piece. We really wanted to keep that feature intact.
The next step was to lay out the rest of the features of the bezel - namely the air ride gauge locations and two other openings that replaced the auxiliary switch locations and air conditioning controls. These openings were needed for having access to the mounting points of the bezel and also fit in from a design standpoint...more on these later.
Some more 1/4" acrylic was cut using the laser, and all the pieces were mounted in place using cyanoacrylate adhesive in preparation for fiberglassing. We pulled a quick tub for the cluster using grille cloth and fiberglass mat to get to this point:
Now we're getting somewhere! The tub around the cluster was (as expected) a bit rough, but the point of any project like this is to get to a point where all of your precise openings are in place and there is some solid structure to add body filler to in order to sharpen the details of the finished piece. After a good amount of filling, sanding, spot filling and blocking, we were really starting to get a feel for what the finished piece was going to look like. We really tried to retain some details that were reminiscent of the original dash design, such as the lip to the right of the gauges and the overall shape of the cluster opening.
This is the point of any project where you want to make sure you've figured out how the piece is going to mount, and that everything fits perfectly. It's no fun taking a grinder, drill or any other more destructive tool to a finished painted piece! You can see in the above photo that the bezel mounts in a very OEM fashion - behind a removable insert panel and behind the center gauge. A round of our favorite Featherfill G2 epoxy primer, finish sanding and painting, and we're well on the way to being done!
I mentioned the two rectangular openings earlier, which we felt were really important to the OEM look of the finished piece, so I'll take a moment to talk about the fabrication of these as well. This was a feature of the dash that really had Russ scratching his head, but we had a pretty good idea what these were going to be for all along. The panel below the gauges needs to be there in order to access the bottom mounting point, and the vertical opening is really just decoration, but having a large blank area would simply spoil the look.
We eventually decided to use the lower panel to label the gauge functions, and the vertical panel was used to display a modified version of the information sticker found on original Porsche Speedster windshields. The diagram indicates the shift pattern and shift points, which were of course updated to specs for Russ's VR6 5-speed motor and transmission setup. We used the laser to cut 1/4" acrylic backing plates for the 1/16" black anodized aluminum panels (these were cut on the router), and then used the laser to engrave the design through the black anodization. The shift pattern is epoxied into the dash bezel permanently, while the lower panel simply presses into place.
And here's the finished product! Looks like it came straight out of Wolfsburg in 1992. Perhaps Russ has a better photo than this one we grabbed off of Instagram...
We truly love doing these kind of one-off things to keep ourselves fresh, and to keep the ideas coming. You truly never know where inspiration is going to come from, and it's really great to have friends and customers that challenge us almost daily! Since Russ never knows when to say when, the Jetta is currently undergoing some major engine bay upgrades, rumor is that new wheels are on the way and even more parts are getting polished and chromed. I have a feeling we're going to be getting a call with another zany idea any day now, but we wouldn't have it any other way! Thanks for reading, and stay tuned - always more to come...