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).