Hot Rodding has always been about coming up with your own way to transform your ride into YOUR vision of what the perfect hot rod is. Mike Selvaggio is building a 1966 Malibu wagon in his California garage and decided he wanted to give the classic dash a modern vibe. The aftermarket didn’t offer anything to fit his vision, so he borrowed a welder and started getting creative.
Mike’s vision didn’t include an ashtray or the stock A/C controls since he was moving to a Vintage Air system with a Dakota Digital controller. This meant he needed to use some patch panels to delete these holes so he could do his redesign. First up was grinding off the paint on the edges so there was a clean surface to weld to.
Aside from various cutters and grinders, his main tool for this was a Miller 211, which, given its dual-voltage flexibility, is a great choice for the garage hobbyist.
If you are new to welding the toughest part will be getting all the settings right for your particular project. The hot tip here, if you’re unsure, is to practice on some similar material to get everything just right. Luckily for Mike, the Miller 211 is pretty easy to figure out.
With the machine dialed in it was time to make some patch panels. The process starts with paper templates which, once perfect, are transferred over to sheetmetal and then cut out. The best tactic is to cut them a bit big and then grind them down until they fit perfectly.
The better your patch panels fit the better the results will be. The dash on the Malibu had a slight curve, which added to the challenge. After what seemed like an endless cycle of test fitting, grinding, and test fitting again, the two patch panels were just right.
Of course, it won’t matter if your patch panel is the right size if it’s not properly lined up with the edges of the hole in the dash. To help keep everything in place, Mike used magnets on both sides as he started tacking around the edge of the panel.
With the ashtray sealed off it was time to tackle the hole for the old A/C controls. Since this panel was longer it wanted to bow and not line up. It also wanted to warp if too much heat was put into the patch panel, which is exactly what happened the first time around. The panel had to be removed, straightened out, and then welded in place again.
Mike found the key was to go slow and do his tack welds farther apart to help stop the panel from warping out of shape. Again, the magnets were a big help here.
Supporting the panel from the bottom with his gloved hand (be careful, it can still get pretty hot even through the glove) Mike continued tacking around the edge of the panel.
After a bit, both panels were adequately tacked in place. This area of the dash is going to be cut and modified before being body worked, so the tacks were enough. If you were going to leave it smooth you could fully perimeter weld it with the MIG (being mindful of the heat causing warps) or better yet TIG weld the whole deal. For what we’re doing here, though, this will do just fine.
After adding more tack welds Mike grabbed his grinder and knocked everything down smooth.
And here’s the final result. If we were leaving this area alone we could just skim coat it, sand it smooth, and paint, but more work is planned.
Another view with the dash back in the car. With the holes filled in the area was now a clean slate for Mike to work with as he executed his dash idea.
That idea was to build a mount for a modern audio head unit and incorporate two A/C vents that didn’t look like tacked-on afterthoughts. He found that his biggest issue was what to do with the old radio mounting area.
Mike figured out that this would be the perfect spot to mount his Dakota Digital A/C control unit. Of course, the oval controller didn’t quite fit right in the Malibu’s radio bezel.
After a lot of work Mike was able to fabricate a steel panel that fit inside the OE bezel and another bezel that would hold the Dakota Digital controller.
Once the controller bezel was welded to the radio delete panel Mike tack welded two bolts to the new panel so they would go through the old radio knob holes in the OE bezel. This will hold the whole deal in place and help pull the new panel tight against the OE bezel. Hot Rodding has always been about being clever and working with what you have on hand.
And here you can see it all from the front.
The unit installed in the dash. We think it’s a clever way to integrate the super modern Dakota Digital control unit with the classic Chevy Malibu dash.
And just in case you’re curious, here’s how Mike added the audio head unit mounting area and A/C vents to the spot that he had previously closed-up with the patch panels. The 1966 Malibu wagon (riding on an AME chassis and powered by a Magnuson supercharged LT1) is at paint right now and we can’t wait to see it all come together. Hopefully this will inspire you to try something different with your hot rod.
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