Sponsor Appreciation

Early this summer, when I was finalizing plans for the Sweet Chariot tour, I approached a few corporations in the collector car/restomod industry to inquire about sponsorships. I was dubious about getting much response, so it was a pleasant surprise to receive positive replies from two companies: Dakota Digital and LoJack. Follow-up discussions with their marketing personnel led to sponsorships-in-kind, and I’m grateful for their participation. However, I’ve been remiss in providing some personal endorsements for the products they provided. In the interest of full disclosure, I’d like to point out that neither company has pressured me or even contacted me to insist on providing endorsements; I’m writing this because the products deserve to be promoted.

The first company I approached was Dakota Digital, Inc. I had installed one of their VFD (vacuum fluorescent display) digital gauge packages in the Mustang in 2009. Engineered specifically for the 67/68 Mustang instrument bezel, it was truly a great upgrade for long distance touring. Where the original Ford instruments were vague—the temp gauge needle merely indicated something between “H” for hot and “C” for cold—the digital readout provided the precise coolant temperature in degrees Fahrenheit (with the option to select Centigrade if desired). The oil pressure and voltmeter readouts were just as accurate, and I liked the digital indicators for speed and rpm on the main gauges. Also, unlike the dim lighting of the original instruments, the Dakota Digital readouts were highly visible at night, requiring a separate rotary dimmer to optimize the display for different conditions. My only complaint about the system was that the highly polished Lexan lenses were flat, and therefore highly reflective in sunlight. The glare was especially bad when cruising with the top down and the sun behind my shoulder: in such cases, the digital indicators were virtually washed out, even with the display at its highest intensity. To help solve the problem, Dakota Digital supplied a set of darker lenses, which I sprayed with a light layer of clear satin finish to cut the amount of reflection. Even so, the display remained difficult to read in bright sunshine—something we typically have in abundance in Florida.

When I saw Dakota Digital’s advertisements for their next generation of cutting-edge instrument packages, I was immediately interested. The new “VHX” systems provide the perfect marriage of traditional clock-face analog instrumentation with digital enhancements—and the backlighting is vastly improved compared to the original Ford gauges. Dakota Digital also thoughtfully provided a choice between silver-faced instruments or carbon-fiber faces, each with blue or red backlighting, giving consumers a total of four options. Based on the ads, I had a strong hunch that the new systems would be much easier to read in bright conditions when the convertible top was down.

I contacted the marketing representative for Dakota Digital and presented an overview of the Sweet Chariot tour. The company was soon enthusiastically on board, with an offer to upgrade my VFD system with a new VHX package—a very generous level of support. I selected the silver face option with red backlighting, and waited a few weeks while the package was built to order for my Mustang (I received one of the first 10 systems with that combination). The package arrived in due time and I followed the straightforward instructions for installing the various gauges in the factory-style bezel. The upgraded system also included new sending units for water temperature, oil pressure, and volts; they were installed by a local mechanic, who also routed the wiring through the firewall, something I’m not able to do as a wheeler. With all of the components hooked up and the bezel installed in the dash, I was thrilled to see the system light up for the first time.

The VHX features a visually appealing display, with a combination of analog gauges for most readouts and digital displays to provide secondary information. Best of all, the display is much easier to read in bright sunshine, when the convertible top is down. The red backlighting is highly visible at night, and reminds me of the instrumentation in the Navy jet I flew in back in the 80s.  At max intensity it’s too bright for night driving, so I highly recommend the addition of the specially-designed rotary dimmer that Dakota Digital offers (the factory dimmer in the Mustang’s mechanical light switch does not control the new system). It’s helpful to adjust the brightness for different conditions, and I typically drive with the headlights on in the daytime with the dimmer set to max. After six weeks of daily use, I can say without reservation that the new VHX display is a huge improvement over Dakota Digital’s earlier displays. It’s easier to read, and looks more natural in a vintage car than the strictly digital readouts of the VFD systems. All of the components are well-engineered, lending confidence that the corporation’s lifetime warranty statement is not just a hollow boast. I never had any difficulties with the VFD system that was previously in my car for three years, and I fully expect the same flawless performance from the VHX display.

I drive with the headlights on, so the backlighting is always functioning in the VHX display. This helps to highlight the instruments on a bright day. Note the speed readout in the GPS–the Mustang happily cruises all day long at modern highway speeds.

The other corporate sponsor, LoJack, offered to install a “LoJack for Classics” system in the Mustang for a deeply discounted price—a proposition too good to refuse. The standard recovery system has been around for a long time, but the system designed for classics and high-end collectible vehicles is new—and unique. Rather than go into a lengthy description of how it works, I strongly recommend that anyone interested in protecting their classic vehicle visit the “LoJack for Classics” web page.  Briefly, the system is self-contained (its lithium-ion battery lasts for years) and small enough to be concealed just about anywhere inside the vehicle.  Not even the car owner knows where it is. Mine was installed in Jacksonville, FL by a technician who concealed and initialized it in about an hour.

The device is not a theft deterrent. As LoJack points out, if a thief really wants your car, he’ll take it. Rather, the LoJack for Classics system is a tool that enables speedy recovery of a stolen vehicle. I opted for the “early warning” add-on, which will notify me if the vehicle is moved—but only after a 15 minute delay (so that I don’t confront the thieves in the midst of a heist). Knowing that the system is in the car provides tremendous peace of mind. Again, visit the LoJack for Classics page to learn how the system works. The technology is impressive!

Please check back in a couple of days. I’m behind schedule in describing my road trip, but I hope to get caught up soon. I’ll be posting about a spectacular top-down cruise through the mountains of Northern Arizona, a trip down Route 66 in the desert Southwest, and a surprising day of fall colors in Missouri.

See you soon!


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