Grafting a 1995 Windstar Digital Cluster into an F350 Crewcab

A couple of years ago I shared my "digital thunderbird cluster into my 93 F350 crewcab" project. I couldn't find the thread so those of you who don't remember this, well, can ponder what it looked like.

In a nutshell, I took the "guts" of a late 80s thunderbird cluster out of the original shell, and grafted them onto an aluminum plate which as a unit, I installed in place of my F350's boring analog cluster. I drove the truck around like this for about a year, however over time the lack of protection around the thunderbird cluster guts resulted in cracked LCD displays, and I was forced to remove that and reinstall the factory cluster.

A couple of weekends ago I was wandering through the local junkyard and spied a 1995 Windstar. I checked it out because I wanted the electric rear vent window mechanisms which were already gone unfortunately. As always I glance around any junk vehicle I look in for anything else "interesting" and discovered that the cluster was digital.

I remembered that the 95 Windstar cluster, while digital in presentation, was one of the last digital clusters that accept analog inputs, whereas most of the newer clusters (analog or digital) ride the network (CAN in Ford's case) and convert binary serial data to display instead.

So, I yanked it. Since I was there with my cousin who I just did a huge car favor for he offered to buy it for me which I didn't mind since I'm still unemployed.

Nothing beats a free toy.

After a couple of nights of comparing wiring diagrams of my 93 F350 and the 95 Windstar, I found that there were enough similarities that I could make this work fairly well without having to do that much digital trickery. More on this later.

I created a large, handwritten chart listing the F350 cluster wires, color codes and function and a value repsenting what the wire transmits. Some offer a resistance, some a voltage, some are grounded to illuminate an idiot light, and so on. Then I put on the same chart the 95 windstar wires, color codes, and what the wire transmits.

Cool, now I have a basic guide to slap the cluster into the truck. Time to make room for the cluster.

The first step is to remove the factory cluster, starting with the black plastic surround:

The next step was basic placement of the Windstar cluster, to see how much wiggle room there is and so on. As luck would have it, the mounting ears line up with the F350's cluster mounts PERFECTLY. The Windstar cluster sits slightly deeper in the dash with a 5 degree backwards tilt (top back further) but other than that it's a mechanical bolt-in. I was expecting to have to hack and glue mounting ears after cutting off the originals so that was a nice surprise.

The next step (for me at least) was to remove the thunderbird cluster wiring and connectors I added a few years ago, as they were unnecessary and in the way. The two white connectors, once in the center of the pic and one towards the right (and connected with a clump of red wires) were the removed items.

After some soldering late at night with a flashlight in my mouth for visibility, I decided to power things up and see if the cluster at least lit up. No sense in soldering the rest of the wires if the darn thing doesn't work at all. Never know with junkyard items. But it lit up and looked quite purty. Sorry the picture is blurry, unfortunately I was leaning to the side traying to take the picture around the steering wheel.

At this point I've completed most of the wiring and I was playing with the dashboard brightness control, to see if the cluster's brightness would follow the headlight knob's movement. Sometimes things like this have to be electronically insulated or inverted, but not in this case. Another pleasant surprise, making the project that much easier.

Here's another picture with the cluster at full brightness:

More wiring was necessary to implement the side-mounted control that selects things on the digital cluster. This includes "select", "English/Metric" and "Reset". The lighted switches came off the windstar of course and will be a PITA to mount on my F350's surround but I wanted the wiring down while I had the whole thing apart. Once I verified that the cluster and the control switches worked appropriately, I wrapped all these wires in cloth-based electrical tape for durability and to give somewhat of an intentional appearance.

Now we're getting to the fun stuff! Here's the F350's cluster/column surround and the Windstar switch. The mounting tabs of the switch are at 45 degree angles, towards and away from the face of the switch, and of course there's no obvious place to attach these mounting ears to since the windstar switch wasn't part of the F350 design :)

But where there is a will ther eis a way. Using some scrap lexan I had lying around I made a shaped plastic support and screwed it to the 4x4 switch mounting posts and carefully cut out the necessary, oddly shaped hole to press the switch against the rectangular hole I cut into the F350's surround. The reason why I put the switch all the way to the left is I have a dimmable vacuum flourescent dot-matrix display that I pulled out of my tool chest and it will fit next to it perfectly, and will mount on the lexan as well with standoffs, facing the occupants of the vehicle. This display can be used for many things - display of mp3 songs, a compass, air suspension pressure readings, boost pressure readings, and so on. It requires standard RS232 serial data so sending it information is easy. Anyway that's a future project, but I wanted to make sure that display fit before I commited myself to locating the cluster switches where I did.

Here is the partially assembled Windstar cluster mounted in the dashboard, wired correctly and fully functional, and my test fitting the F350 surround to make there is no interference. There was, so I had to reshape the plastic on the back of the F350 surround as well as the face of the windstar cluster. I tried where possible to shape the cluster more than the F350 surround, so I could put things back to stock if there was a need to do so.

Okay, with everything in place, snapped and screwed down, I turned the key to "run" and lit the cluster up without the engine running. As expected, the cluster illuminated nicely, the air bag light blinked twice and turned off as it did with the factory F350 cluster, the battery indicator illuminated and the check engine indicator illuminated, both remaining lit as the engine wasn't running.

There are some things that do not work or work property at the moment, and they are as follows:

1. The mpg and mileage remaining displays do not display anything useful, because I have not inserted the windstar's fuel monitoring sensor into my fuel line nor have I wired up the tiny transmission controller box that this fuel consumption sensor sends information to. I have both, just haven't reverse engineered them enough yet to shove them in. The trip odometer works perfectly.

2. The tachometer is off by 3/4, because the Windstar has a V6, and my truck has a V8. So my F350 cluster harness is providing the Winstar cluster with one extra pulse per rotation than it's expecting. I haven't decided if it's worth my effort to fix this because I generally shift much lower than the tach's display limit anyway (6000 rpm, which would be 4500 actual RPMs on my F350). I usually shift way below 2000 rpm unless I'm towing something heavy, or towing anything up a steep hill. Even with aggressive shifting I haven't pegged the tach yet. I may change my mind later, and have already worked out a simple digital circuit to do the conversion. It's a "can I be bothered" thing.

Overall I am very pleased with the outcome, much moreso than the original attempt using a late 80's digital thunderbird cluster. Vacuum flourescent displays are much nicer, cleaner looking than LCD displays, I think anyway.

I did have to create one "inverter" out of a NPN transistor and two resistors, so that the cluster can signal the door/seatbelt chime that something is amiss. If the oil pressure or the temp gauge pegs, or the cluster simply malfunctions, it will cause the door/seatbelt buzzer thingy to beep wildly. I tested this by "floating" the oil level input as well as the temp sender input to see what would happen. BUZZZZZZ!

There are some other indicators I haven't wired up yet simply because my F350 doesn't provide them. One being "door ajar". I have to make an inverter for that as well and there's room on the perfboard I put the other inverter for it. One of these evenings I'll get to it.

I also had to use the aerostar PSOM module I used with the thunderbird cluster in the original project. This ensures that my much larger tires as compared to the windstar, allows the cluster to display the correct speed.