To show us how to walk that fine line is our pal Marshall Woolery. One of his customers has a 1936 Ford that bore a 1950s hot rod treatment yet lacked an appropriate gauge treatment. So he solved it by crafting an instrument cluster that at once respects the car and honors tradition.

Among other things this thoughtful panel takes advantage of otherwise unused space: the divot taken out of the dash to accommodate the shifter in Reverse and Second gear. That it fits that space and still accommodates the shifter makes it more sophisticated. That it matches the car's general shape and style without trying too hard to fit it in makes it authentic in a way. It's a custom part in a custom car and it makes no apologies for standing out just a little bit.

He used a very simple hammer-forming technique to form the panel. It's a process within the grasp of most enthusiasts. As the photos show he sandwiched a sheet between two wooden bucks and hammered over the edges—who with a saber saw, a vise, tin snips, and a collection of inexpensive body hammers couldn't do that? He used aluminum for its willingness to form with minimal effort but for those who lack a GTAW welder or the skill necessary to acetylene-weld aluminum could use steel with the same effect. For that matter one could form the panel and call on a pro or a well-practiced friend to weld up the seams. In that case exploit the easy-forming nature of the aluminum. It's much easier to shape.

Aluminum also has the advantage of an appealing natural finish (most people mistake it for a casting). It would be a shame to cover up aluminum but steel naturally requires a plating painting process. For paint we recommend a wrinkle finish: black for availability or brown for an Eisenhower-era field-radio appeal.

However you decide to finish it, a hand-made accessory gauge panel has a presence that no universal part can ever match. Plan it right and it'll take on a quality like a fine clock, a piece of functional jewelry that you can say you made.

Thun Field Rod & Custom