Wagon is coming back together. Not gonna do the big reveal until it's all done. But I am happy to share bits of how I've changed the car in the interim.
Due to how the wagon was modded, I had to add some rocker switches along the way. One for the trans cooler fan, one for the power antenna, and now I have two more things to add: a dimmer and a rocker switch for for the Dakota Digital dash I am installing. I despise seeing aftermarket switches. No matter where you put them, they look like crap. So, I try to hide them. With this many things to install - I've run out of hiding spots and none of the available pre-fabbed panels look anywhere close to acceptable. After some noodling around, I had an idea that would allow for discrete controls that look as close to stock as possible.
First off, if you smoke and use the ashtray - this ain't for you. In looking at all the possible spots inside the car to easily hide switches, the wasted box of the ashtray sprung to mind. I'd already had the rocker switch for my antenna buried back there in the weird little flat spot behind the tray, so I thought I could modify and expand on that install location.
I decided to get some new, flush, push-button latch LED switches from Amazon. I think they were $6 each. I liked these because they have a harness which makes life loads easier on install.
The dimmer for the Dakota Digital dash is monstrous. Yes, you can dim from within the VHX control panel, but it requires hitting the rocker, going into the submenus, and adjusting. I wanted to do it as easily as I could with the stock setup, so the dimmer is a must. Anyway, it's big.
Here you can see my old ashtray setup, along with the hole from the power antenna rocker. I bought another unmolested ashtray, but I will use this one to mock-up.
From this point, I started off with bits of paper and tried to create a pattern that fit the inside of the ashtray opening, and down into the rear recess where my old switch was. I wanted to make one piece that would cover ALL of it. Then I could use the spot in the back to mount the dimmer, which would also act as the fastener to securely hold-down the switchplate. After much trial and error, (and tape) I thought I had a decent pattern. Really, you want to get your paper pattern to conform exactly to the shape you want in the end. All the curves, angles, etc. The nice thing about using paper is that once you have all that done, you can pull it out, lay it flat, and trace it out for cutting.
I decided to use .060 steel plate for my swichpanel. Mainly due to the durability, and that it would fit into the front lower lip of the ashtray opening and sit flush. It's kind of a PITA to bend, but more on that in a bit. I wanted to build a proof-of-concept first, and then build a second one that would be the final version. I rarely get it right the first time and cutting metal usually doesn't give you a second shot.
Once I had my pattern, I traced it out and using both a jigsaw and my Dremel, was left with this:
Not too shabby, but the top part that fit into the recess was all wonky. I'd address that in the final.
To make the bends, I took my Dremel with the metal-cut wheel and scored the backside of the sheet wherever I wanted to bend it. This effectively weakened the steel, but really - this panel isn't going to be subjected to any stress that's of consequence. Here are my bend-lines:
And here is how the part comes out once all the bends are done:
As you can see, it's kind of a weird little shape, but with some time and patience (and a tester piece like I did here) you can get it done. The way I handled the bends was I used some 1x2 strips of wood and clamped the piece between the wood - right on the bend line, and then clamped that to my workbench. Then I used two 10" long pieces of 1/2" solid square steel billet and put vice grips on either side, clamping the outside of the bend - right up against the bend line. Using the vice-grips as your handles, slowly work the steel in the direction you want. Since the piece is clamped on either side, and close to, the score-line, there is zero warping beyond where you are clamped. It makes for very tight, very clean bends for those of us that don't have a press brake.
Once I was happy with the fit of the tester, I went back in with more paper and further refined the shape. Using another bit of steel and repeating the entire process, I ended up with this:
Edges are all crap and some of the lines needed massaging, so the next step was cleanup and radiusing the corners. Once the cleanup was done with the Dremel and a sanding drum, the fitment was about perfect. Here's how the panel fits - looking at it from the side. This leaves about 1/4" above the panel for clearance of the switches.
And here's how it is with the dimmer installed, and acting as the fastener to the entire panel:
I made the panel itself angle down a bit so it would push into the edge of the opening, and then the dimmer switch would pull it down into place - putting the piece under a slight tension to mitigate rattles.
Unfortunately, the knob for the dimmer provided by Dakota Digital is also way oversized.
Installing the knob leaves you with this situation - which isn't any good.
Off to Amazon, and $8 later - this is heading my way.
Once I get the 16mm hole punch and the knob, I'll install the switches and update this post. Eventually the piece will be painted a textured matte black to match the black plastics of the interior.