Up until this past summer, if you wanted to wire your car the old-fashioned way―with a quality (insulated) cloth-wrapped wire, that is―you literally had to do it the old fashioned way: individual wire by individual wire, as there weren’t any full vehicle harnesses previously available. You could, however, have an automotive electrician scratch-wire your car, but it’s getting harder and harder to find skilled individuals still willing to perform this.
Fortunately, someone who could do something about this finally did. The company is American Autowire, and thanks to them, you can equip your car with one of their proven Highway 15 harnesses and get that old-timey look only a cloth-wrapped wire can provide. With their new and improved Nostalgia version, every single wire―from the heavy-gauge main power feed to the gauges and even the horn button− features fully insulated cloth covering, just like the good old days. But contrary to how it was back in the day with the uninsulated wire, you won’t have any potential meltdown worries, granted that you’ve taken the precautions and obtained secure grounding and terminal connections as well.
When I learned of American Autowire’s latest product, I knew that’s just what I was going to use to wire my ’39, no qualms about it. My eagerness, however, may come back to haunt me, as my wish was granted and I was given the opportunity to install one of the very first harness kits. The haunting part would turn out to be that the week I chose to do my install ended up being the hottest week of the year. Luckily, I was able to knock out an old inoperable window and rig up a box fan to keep the warm air moving, which allowed me to string my ’39 with the new wiring kit without too much of a sweaty mess.
Extreme conditions aside, I’m still glad I chose this particular kit as my virgin attempt at a full vehicle rewire. While it may not have each individual wire screen printed (with source/termination), like any of American Autowire’s harness kits, the Nostalgia Highway 15 did come with detailed schematics for each and every section, which are grouped alphabetically to help make things even easier. With 15 circuits, which is more than enough for this project, a 175-amp Maxi fuse main circuit breaker, ignition/headlight/dimmer switches, and enough terminal connectors to last till the next project, this kit has it all.
On the user’s end, you’ll not only need to be familiar with open-barrel F-type crimps, but have the proper tools in which to perform these styles of crimp (yes, that was plural―see the sidebar for more on the Delphi terminals), as well as standard non-insulated/insulated terminal crimps. Furthermore, it’s strongly recommended the user be outfitted with the appropriate soldering equipment―if not, call in a favor from a friend who’s a proficient solderer (soldering connectors helps promote conductivity). Along with crimping pliers, wire cutters, solder and soldering iron, you’ll also need a means in which to shrink heat shrink tubing—an old Bic lighter will do, but a handheld mini-torch or even a heat gun would be ideal. Finally, since you’ll be dealing with yards of wiring, have a way to secure all that wire: a big bag of 4-inch zip ties as well as sufficient frame clamps are a good start.
The colorful and varnish-coated exterior is the same insulated heat-resistant wire used today and in every American Autowire harness.
1. This ’39 is ready to be wired.
2. Yep, that’s just what it appears to be―cloth-wrapped copper-stranded electrical wire. Except this isn’t the type grandpa’s used to, as beneath the colorful and varnish-coated exterior is the same insulated heat-resistant wire used today and in every American Autowire harness.
3. Despite the absence of one convenience factor (labeled wires), the Highway 15 Nostalgia full vehicle kit has already been separated nicely into alphabetically categorized sections, which not only gives you a clue where to start, but where to end, too.
4. The “15” designates the number of circuits American Autowire’s Highway-series kit provides, which has more ample power supply options for most of us (a Highway 22 is also available). Nice and compact, the panel can mount in both common and uncommon locations, such as beneath the seat―as long it’s secure and shielded from the elements.
5. Starting with the first letter of the alphabet—A—will “start” things off with the ignition portion of the install. Before scattering the spaghetti all over the garage floor, consider having all the ancillary items already in place―that includes starter, alternator, distributor, and most importantly, the engine they attach to.
6. A word or two about tools: for specialized jobs, having not only the appropriate utensils, but also quality ones, is almost as crucial as having a competent operator handling them. Wire strippers are no exception―cheap ones can damage the core wire.
7. Same goes for crimping pliers. But it gets better: it can, and likely will, require more than one set/type to handle a job like this. Achieving a proper crimp is vital to both the holding strength of the terminal and the conductivity of the current it carries.
8. A small piece of DynaMat Xtreme beneath the fuse panel will provide sufficient shielding from drivetrain heat and vehicle vibration. The panel features a pre-wired pigtail connection for the main power feeds; yellow/black route to ignition while red supplies 12 volts from the battery through an inline 175-amp mega-fuse (right).
9. Initially, the stock inner framerail location was to be used to locate an XS Power S925 AGM-type battery―but even with its compact size, the presence of a Turbo 350 near there wouldn’t allow, so under the seat it too would go. There’s ample space to still use a lowered seat bottom as well as install a stereo amp and probably a few other things as well.
10. Another multi-application feature of the Highway 15 is its ability to accommodate HEI or traditional points-style ignitions; the ballast resistor, for one, is a dead giveaway for which system’s used here. But considering the situation, it’s kind of nice being able to “flaunt” as much of the cloth-covered stuff as possible.
11. Immediately below the Delco ignition is something unfamiliar to a Stovebolt 6―a small-block Chevy starter. But if you’ll notice, what should be the front of a manual trans bell housing is actually an adapter from Buffalo Enterprises, which should help explain the presence of the out of place items…or so it seems. Regardless, wiring is same save for the solenoid thingy part!
12. The ignition switch wiring will be the final portion of Section A―or the first, depending on which sub-section you start with. Considering this is where the initial dose of “special” crimping is administered (see sidebar), leaving this till now isn’t a bad idea. Note that the two groups of wire were covered in expandable nylon sheathing with small pieces of heat shrink tubing securing the cut ends.
13. After mastering the way of the Delphi, snap the terminals into their prospective plug connectors and before attaching to the ignition switch included in the kit, give each wire a slight tug to ensure secure crimps (if they’re not, redo and solder).
14. The absence of a foot-activated starter switch is a definite plus, not to mention a necessity with an automatic trans―but that doesn’t distract from the original aesthetics of the 70-year-old dash. Thanks to Bowtie Bits, the original 1939 gauges are up to modern standards; a beveled switch bezel from SO-CAL Speed Shop helps blend the key switch in (a set of re-popped GM key blanks will get cut to match the current ones).
15. With the fuse panel on the driver’s side of the seat pan, the charging system feed is easy to route. The harness is set up to accommodate standard SI and single-wire alternators (eliminate exciter terminal wiring for these).
16. There is a third option, though it’s no different than a one-wire alternator in terms of wiring: Powermaster’s PowerGen 70-amp alternator disguised as a Delco-Remy generator, which is just what this minimally accessorized 235-six needed.
17. Even though the Highway 15 can handle more than its share of power accessories and components (heat-A/C, wipers, radio, etc.), for now, just the four major component groups will be used. This next stage will focus on the lighting, starting with headlight switch and accompanying harness.
18. Bowtie Bits provided some needed preservation once again; this time with a reproduction headlight control knob that was press-fit on the new switch and uses another beveled SO-CAL bezel sandwiched between the jamb nut and the dash (later, the nut will get machined off, leaving just the threaded shank).
19. Odd as it may sound, the lighting will be the only active dedicated circuits until the other accessories, such as the turn signals (which require a slight harness modification that will get covered next month), are installed. When securing fuse panel connections, make sure 3/8-inch of bare (stripped) wire is inserted into each circuit cavity―and always use a flat screwdriver with a max .150-inch blade.
20. After the switch is installed and wired to the panel, there are still quite a few yards of wire to be run and almost as many connections to be made. Before wiring the headlights up, mount the dimmer first and run the power feed down from the headlight switch. The dimmer harness will supply power to your headlights, but there are a few different ways to do this depending on applications.
21. Even though the intent is to eventually facilitate turn signals (using a separate turn signal harness), the headlights were wired accordingly using the diagram for the open-wheeled vehicles with everything routed down the left frame rail. The signal wiring will simply splice into the running light feed (brown wire).
22. With the help from Chevs of the 40’s and Juliano’s, the stock ’39 headlights retain their Deco styling and appearance, but illuminate and protect like a new vehicle thanks to a halogen conversion and LED signal/marker lights (another installment soon to follow).
23. Speaking of turn signals, unless you plan on using the popular ‘70s GM-based type steering column (orig or aftermarket), you’ll need to improvise in order to accommodate the brake light function in the taillamps. The column harness will be used with the forthcoming signals, so just enough length of the brake feeds (green/yellow) was cut from the “tail” end.
24. The improvise is by bypassing the steering column harness and feeding the brake lights directly from the hydraulic switch on the master cylinder; the running or park lights feed as-intended from the headlight switch.
25. Running into “snags” isn’t uncommon, especially when attempting to route wiring through a lengthy piece of enclosed frame rail. To help avoid that, not to mention skinned knuckles, try using one of those inexpensive spring-loaded extractors with the small metal claws to pull rather than push.
26. As with the headlights, the taillights (re-pops from Bowtie Bits) were wired in the same fashion with a single harness that splices off to the right-side lamp. Unlike the headlights, though, when the signals do get incorporated, it’ll require a full-length feed for both lights from the column plug, so the brown (park) wire will be the only portion unaffected.
27. Finally, some light at the end of the tunnel…or is that gauge illumination? The final stage of the initial install can end up being one of the easiest steps to accomplish depending on the type of instrumentation used―as was the case here, with the “bulk” of the labor simply getting set aside… literally.
28. This is all the ’39 required: fuel gauge (orange/black), grounds (black), lights (grey w/ bulb socket) and 12-volt lead (red/white) for main power/voltmeter. If you’ll notice, the termination point for that last gauge connection is non-existent―the stock ammeter will be converted internally to a voltmeter, as a recent bad experience with the prehistoric method won’t allow the use of such potentially “explosive” equipment!
29. Jeff at Bowtie Bits did an amazing job restoring the ‘39’s original gauges, from the aesthetics to the delicate mechanical sending units and 12-volt upgrade. It doesn’t get much simpler than this.
30. At the moment, the almost-complete dash is one of the biggest visual highlights of the Chevy… right next to the Highway 15 Nostalgia kit, that is! It’ll be a shame hiding that cluster behind a big ol’ ’41 DeLuxe steering wheel, but it’ll eventually have to happen if this project’s ever to see the light of day.
31. Save for that obvious bundle of ignition wire (a safety precaution done so as not to get shorted lengthwise if the fuse panel ended up getting relocated behind the dash), the seat pan confines wound up pretty neat and tidy. What’s better, everything from the battery to the fuses will be easily accessible just by lifting the seat bottom rather than having to pull up carpet or get all contorted up under the steering wheel.