Morgan Gauge Restoration
by Alan Truax

One of the new challenges my 1954 Plus 4 transition Morgan rebuild presented was the restoration of the dash and instruments. The 4-1 cluster gauge was in particularly bad condition. This, I think, was caused by the release of the mechanical temperature gauge fluids. The paint on the gauge faces were mostly gone and the temperature gauge itself was missing. I replaced the missing gauge with an electrical temp gauge. What little paint remained was loose and crumbling. There was no possibility of restoration by just touching up the instruments face. The gauges would need a total refinish.

There are two methods I considered for the restoration, Decals and Silk Screening. Decals seemed to be the easiest method so I opted to try that method first.  I do plan to further explore silk screening for future projects because that method should be more durable.

1. Documenting the graphics

The first step is to photograph the gauges.  I took several photos of each of the four gauges and the frame.  I needed these photos to first document the location and orientation of the graphics and second, to provide the base photos for photo-shopping the artwork to print the decals.  Next, I measured and recorded the dimensions of the existing graphics so that I could later exactly size the decals.  It is important to have the camera directly over the gauge and perpendicular to it so that the image isn't distorted.

2. Refinishing the background color

When I was satisfied that I had a good record of the old graphics, I was ready to proceed with the stripping and refinishing of the gauge faces.  The faces of each of the four gauges were removed from the bodies and the insides were carefully cleaned and tested.  The finish on all the gauge face plates washed off easily with acetone.  I found that all gauges were polished brass except the Amp gauge which was aluminum.  The Fuel and Temp Gauges have stop pins that need to be removed in order to apply the decals.  This was carefully done to preserve the pins for re-installation after the decals are applied and to not distort the plates. (I later decided that punching a hole in the decal was a better option.)
The surfaces to be refinished were then either scuffed with 220 wet and dry paper or bead blasted to provide a substrate that the new finish will adhere to.   I used a beige lacquer that looked to me to be a good match of the Morgan gauge color. The script "Morgan" in the center is printed in white.  I do not have the capability to print white on the decal so I needed to paint the center of the gauge beneath the Morgan script white and make a decal with a transparent "Morgan" graphic.

3. Producing the graphics

I used Adobe Photoshop to modify the base photos to produce a decal graphic.  First I cropped the photo to just the area of the decal and next photoshopped the following steps;

Step 1 - convert the photo to black & white
Step 2 - increase contrast
Step 3 - adjust threshold levels to decrease and eliminate unnecessary gray tones
At this point the photo is mostly pure black and pure white but still has many areas that need work.
Step 4 - fill in areas of paint loss and missing graphics
Step 5 - improve edge definition and correct any remaining flaws
Step 6 - convert back to color and fill with appropriate colors

That may sound simple, but hours of work were required to get the graphics up to a good standard.  Some of the instrument faces had text graphics that were mostly missing.  For these I used Photoshop's text insertion methods choosing a font that matched the damaged text.  I did this by simply using the base photo as a reference background and creating a new Photoshop text graphic over it.

4. Scaling the graphics

Once the graphics were deemed good enough to use, they were printed on plain paper at a known size to compare to the recorded sizes required of the decal.   For example,  I might have printed the Fuel Gauge graphic out at a 2" width and found that the measurement across the outside edges of the O and the F was 1.3 inches and the actual measurement of the gauge that I recorded before stripping the finish was 0.95 inches, I would need to correct the print size to (.095/1.3)X 2".

5. Printing the decals

I printed sample decals using the corrected size to verify the scaling and color.  The actual color of the decal on the decal stock will differ slightly from that printed on paper and some did require color correction.  My printer is an inkjet type and the inks used will run when exposed to water.  The solution is to coat the decals with lacquer to seal the inks.  I used two coats of a satin lacquer to seal the ink before cutting them out to size.  If you cut to size and then lacquer, you will have difficulties in sliding them off the paper backing.  It is important that you keep the decal stock clean and do not touch the film surface.  Your fingerprints on the film will affect the uniformity of the printed colors.

6. Trimming the decals

The four gauges are framed by the large round plate with the Morgan insignia in the
center.  I made a template in the shape of the frames that was slightly larger than the gauge frame and used that to outline where I trimmed the decal to get proper positioning while having the plastic film of the decal filling the full frame.  The purpose is to hide the edge of the decal film from view when positioned properly.  The "Smiths" , "Made in England", and "Morgan/AMPS/OIL/WATER/FUEL" for the frame were trimmed slightly beyond the graphics and trimmed with rounded edges avoiding sharp corners.

7. Applying the decals

The decals have a water soluble adhesive factory applied. The decals are released from their paper backing by soaking in room temperature water.  If the decals are left in the water too long, the adhesive will be lost.  About 20 to 30 seconds is usually enough time loosen the decals from their paper backing and be ready to slide them on the gauge plates.  Keep the gauges, water and decals clean because it would be all but impossible to remove any dirt under the decal.  Slide the decal off onto the gauge plate and position it properly by referring to your record photos.  Once the decal is in position, gently but thoroughly force out all the water and air bubbles using a wadded paper towel.   Set aside until completely dry.  
Restored 4-1 Gauge

8. Materials used:

Krylon MAXX Almond Satin spray paint
Deft Clear Wood Finish Satin Lacquer
Rust-Oleum Automotive Enamel Gloss White
World of Paper Inkjet/Clear Waterslide decal paper


The main face surrounding the individual 4 gauges is keyed and you must maintain the orientation.

If you opt for a white script "Morgan", I suggest that you first prime the main face with a white lacquer primer and then mask off the area under the "Morgan" before applying the beige lacquer.   After the lacquer is completely dry,  use an abrasive pad, the type that is used between coats of finish, to lightly smooth the transition between the white and beige areas.

Removing the stop pins may not be necessary.

I did not use any additional coating after applying the decals. To Improve the durability of the restored gauges, you want to apply an additional coating of lacquer after applying the decals.  It would be prudent to test on a sample first to be certain of material compatibility after allowing the finishes to cure a week or two. I found that the lacquer I used for sealing the decals was compatible with the beige lacquer only after two weeks. Testing indicated that applying a sealing coat of that lacquer too soon would cause the finish to lift.