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Old 03-16-2010, 07:00 PM   #1
markeb01
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Sun Tachometer Retrospective

If you have an interest in vintage gauges or if you’re tachometer compulsive like me, the following narration may be of interest. What follows is a history of the original Sun tachs and some observations about the new retro model. The historical perspective is accurate based on my own experiences, so there may be some technical inaccuracies in chronology. Please share any corrections, if someone knows more than I do. This stuff matters to me since I see so many people build “vintage” cars with parts that are really from decades before or after what would be correct for the period. That, and my wife reminds me I’m nuts and have way too much time on my hands!

Here’s an ad for Sun tachs from 1966:



The RC model Sun tachometers were the pioneers in performance tachs, and were a must have accessory. They were exceedingly popular in the 50’s and real race cars frequently had one, along with all the cool cars in hot rod magazines and at the local drive in. Popularity increased again when Chevy stuck them in their 409 cars, with the knee knocker mounting. This design enjoyed a very limited lifespan from roughly the late 50’s to the early/mid 60’s. By the end of the 60’s the RC/FZ style was dead, having been superseded both in production and popularity by the full sweep Sun Super Tach. Being around for such a short but memorable period, evolutionary changes occurred rapidly.

Dixco jumped on the band wagon making a more affordable replica which ended up in a lot of high school cars, but it was kind of like having Portawalls on your tires. They looked great in pictures but everyone knew they weren’t the genuine article.

Along with an assortment of rpm ranges and face designs, there were 3 basic variations of the early Sun half sweep tachometer head, along with 3 different cups. They could also be panel or dash mounted, but my focus is on the cup mounting. The early RC models were sold as 2 pieces, the tach head and the transmitter box. The head indicated the rpm range, and needed a compatible transmitter depending on the number of cylinders, voltage, and ground. The transmitter ran a unique battery with an odd voltage, and once out of production the tachs mostly ended up in the garage until electronic conversions became available.

1. The original head/face design shared similar styling with the new retro FZ88R production, having a chrome face with a smooth indentation below the window.



Many of the earliest gauge faces had a large red oval near the bottom of the window. This face design is now referred to as the “football” tach. (A lot of magazine writers lacking familiarity with old Sun tachs often incorrectly refer to any half sweep tach as a football tach). The gauge faces for GM factory installations had a yellow and “red line” imprinted on the face. There were also other designs with various color sweeps under the rpm numbers, but the chrome metal portion of the head remained unchanged.

The earliest cup available was what is now referred to as the “pinch cup”. It had a split in the bottom of the cup along with a pair of small angle brackets spot welded to the cup to clamp the tach head in place. The tach wires exited one of two holes near the bottom of the cup, and the mounting bracket (one for dash mounting, one for column mount) had a ľ” hole for the mounting bolt to attach the bracket to the cup, using a dished threaded washer inside. This style cup is now being reproduced by Show Cars Automotive:

http://www.show-cars.com/cgi-bin/com...ction&key=3597

2. For lack of an official description, the next generation of cup had a pair of “dents” or cavities in the lower rear corners, for chrome acorn retaining nuts. The split in the cup, the spot welded brackets, and the wiring holes in the cup were eliminated. The head was now retained in the cup by the mounting studs on the back of the gauge, and wiring left the cup via a hollow bolt holding the bracket and cup together. The front to back length was similar to the pinch cup, perhaps a tad longer. This was a much smoother design and was also easier to clean and wax. Sunpro has recently released a virtual duplicate of this design identified as the NC-5 cup, which includes both mounting brackets.

http://www.sunpro.com/product_detail.php?pid=16514

About this time or a bit later, the tach head gained a “black dot” at the bottom center in the recessed area of the face. This was actually a stylized Bakelite screw head allowing external adjustment to zero the pointer, and remained until the end of production.

3. Somewhere in the early/mid 60’s a transistorized version was released and no longer needed the separate transmitter. Sharing the same tach head style as the RC models, this was identified as the FZ model. The FZ88N was an 8 grand tach, and there was a 10k version with a different part number. The electronics previously held in the transmitter box, were now contained in a separate can attached to the back of the tach head. This necessitated a longer cup to house the new length of the head assembly. I believe (but cannot confirm) the part number for the “long cup” is NC-1. The FZ88 was the model I fell in love with – long cup, black adjusting screw, RC style face. It lived a very short life, since the Sun Super Tach was released soon after and immediately dominated in popularity.

For me, the original half sweep Sun tach was one of the 60’s icons I longed for in the years before I had a license, along with a Hurst shifter, American Mags, Moon pedal, Covico wheel, Corvette valve covers, and Cal Custom dash knobs. Until now only the tach has eluded me. I’ve been looking for a new old stock or mint condition original for almost 10 years, but could never afford anything I wanted. In the interim I did find an NOS mint condition NC-1 long cup, and tried to make myself happy installing a Moon/Autometer tach head. Although it functioned correctly, I thought it looked stupid and was always disappointed with the arrangement. A few days ago I discovered the recently released Sunpro FZ88R, and last Friday took the plunge and bought one, hoping it would look decent enough to work. To my amazement it was shipped Saturday and arrived yesterday, traveling 2,000 miles over the weekend!

Since the new model comes in the shorter NC-5 cup, a bit of work was required on the internal hardware to get it to fit properly in my NC-1 long cup. Fortunately I have a junk original FZ88N for parts, so I robbed the pieces I needed including the Bakelite pointer adjusting screw.

It’s now mounted up and in my opinion makes a pretty decent substitute for an original.




Pros – It looks pretty cool. Unlike other air core tachometers, the needle rests at zero against a peg when turned off. It always bugged me the Moon tach (and other air core tachs) leave the needle anywhere in the range when switched off. It works perfectly with HEI ignition. It appears very accurate and responsive. Cosmetically it’s a close simulation to the casual observer. It has green LED lighting, which should last indefinitely, and illuminates the gauge face nicely at night. It is correct in size, and fits perfectly in the NC-5 cup it comes in.

Cons – the new window opening overall is smaller than the original and doesn’t look quite right. (Why can’t anybody just make a reproduction that looks exactly like the original)? This makes the gauge face appear to be mounted abnormally low in the window. On original tachs, alignment of the gauge face to the window is infallible due to the mechanical design of the parts. On my retro tach, the face has a tiny tilt to the left in the window. In the internet circulated promotional photo I notice a slight tilt to the right.



This is not user correctable. The chrome on the face is mediocre production plating, not bad, but no where near the quality of an original RC/FZ tach. The chrome on the cup is much better than the face (nearly as good as NOS originals) but close inspection reveals minor linear scratching under the plating. There is definitely no copper under any of the new chrome, it’s just nickel over bare steel. I have an NOS original NC-5 cup and it appears to almost be show chrome, but compared to the cost of restoring an original the new reproduction would be a great addition to any original vintage tach for anything less than a six figure show car.

Note – the new FZ88R will also work with coil on plug ignition equipped engines, and diesel engines with electronic injection – but – you will also need the CP7560 Tach Signal adapter, and I don’t think this is mentioned anywhere but in the instructions - after you have purchased the tach and opened the packaging.

Note – the new retro Sun Super Tach does not appear to have a zero peg/rest for the pointer. In internet photos the needle drops almost straight down when off, which instantly identifies the new version as not being an original.



Overall – I’m very pleased with the results and will close the chapter on looking further. To the casual observer it looks just like an original, and works well. Cost has always been a prime consideration for me. I paid less than $130 delivered while the cost of an NOS original Sun tach can run $200-$500, and if it’s the earlier RC type, requires another $175 (or more) to convert it to modern functionality.

Last edited by markeb01; 05-14-2015 at 06:46 PM. Reason: Corrected detail.
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Old 03-16-2010, 07:12 PM   #2
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Re: Sun Tachometer Retrospective

Reference 1964 GMC Accessories



Reference 1963 Chevrolet truck dash.



Reference 1960 Gmc Accessories Book NOTICE THE DIFFERENT FONT OF THE NUMBERS.



Reference " This I Know " thread. 1964-66 Dash

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Old 03-16-2010, 08:44 PM   #3
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Re: Sun Tachometer Retrospective

Hey - thanks for posting, great info. Have to admit, I'm a but "tach-impulsive" myself... Used to troll pomona's swap meet like a bum on a baloney sammich for old sun tachs (since I couldn't afford what I really wanted to buy), but found some great deals. While a fan of the vintage tachs, and glad they are reproducing - have to say I'm partial to an original Super Tach II... Now i just need another ride to stick it on.
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Old 03-16-2010, 09:37 PM   #4
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Re: Sun Tachometer Retrospective

Here's one for ya:





That Tach has been sitting there for 45 years -

K
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Old 03-16-2010, 10:29 PM   #5
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Re: Sun Tachometer Retrospective

Here is an original Sun Tach as listed in the 1960 Options Catalog. You can note the design of the numbers.
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Old 03-16-2010, 10:55 PM   #6
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Re: Sun Tachometer Retrospective

You might appreciate this little tidbit:

My car still uses the old battery powered sending unit, mounted underhood -





When I got the car running again back in the mid 90's, naturally the batteries were dead and the tach didn't work. I thought "...where am I going to get those old batteries like that?"





Well, I noticed that they were physically about the same size as a modern "AA" size battery, although the modern battery is 1.5V and these vintage batteries were 1.35V.



I asked one of the electrical engineers at work about it and he said "...I'd just put a couple AAs in a flashlight and run 'em down until they're 1.35V".

That's what I did and it's been working fine ever since.

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Old 03-17-2010, 12:56 AM   #7
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Re: Sun Tachometer Retrospective

some cool stories/info here
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Old 03-17-2010, 01:26 AM   #8
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Re: Sun Tachometer Retrospective

Thanks for all the additional input guys. I've been around a long time and I've never heard of the tired battery solution before. Thanks for sharing a tip that may help someone else get theirs back in service.
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Old 03-17-2010, 08:55 AM   #9
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Re: Sun Tachometer Retrospective

Quote:
Originally Posted by markeb01 View Post
Why can’t anybody just make a reproduction that looks exactly like the original?
Mark,

Very nice write up. And I am with you on "reproductions" that fall short of the originals.

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Old 03-17-2010, 11:16 AM   #10
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Re: Sun Tachometer Retrospective

hey what memories- i have a tach that looks just like the sun fz- but it is a napa part. it was in the belknap catalog - i worked at a napa after school & bought a lot of parts out of those catalogs. i think this tach even says belknap on it. can't remember if i ever used it but it is about from 1972 or so. do yall think it takes the box or would it be a "stand alone"? thanks
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Old 03-17-2010, 02:31 PM   #11
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Re: Sun Tachometer Retrospective

Quote:
Originally Posted by andyh1956 View Post
hey what memories- i have a tach that looks just like the sun fz- but it is a napa part. it was in the belknap catalog - i worked at a napa after school & bought a lot of parts out of those catalogs. i think this tach even says belknap on it. can't remember if i ever used it but it is about from 1972 or so. do yall think it takes the box or would it be a "stand alone"? thanks
andy
If it truly is a Sun tach marketed under a different brand name, all you have to do is look at the back of the head. If it requires a transmitter there will be a rectangular tag spanning the gauge mounting bolts which identifies the model number and transmitter required. If it does not require a transmitter, the model number will be imprinted directly on the surface and there will be screw heads indicating the wire connections.

Thinking back I seem to remember seeing a Sun tach marketed under a Mopar part number on eBay not long ago, which isn't surprising since GM did the same thing.
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Old 03-18-2010, 05:15 AM   #12
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Re: Sun Tachometer Retrospective

ok i will check that when im home on leave in june- plan on using this in the 66. i know it has several wires coming from someplace on it & i think i remember the rounded rear cover held on w/ one center screw and of course the "steering colum" mounting bracket. thanks!
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Old 05-13-2010, 01:45 PM   #13
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Re: Sun Tachometer Retrospective

Figured I would share my tach. My dad bought this when he was 13, it went in my uncles 56 chevy. It has been sitting since the 70's he figured I would like to put it in my truck. It had been painted a few different colors, I had to clean it up. The front looks to be brass, hopefully it still works.

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Old 05-13-2010, 05:46 PM   #14
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Re: Sun Tachometer Retrospective

The chrome on vintage Sun tachs consisted of a layer of copper which built up and smoothed the surface, followed by a layer of nickel which turned it silver, finished off with a layer of chrome to seal and protect the nickel. What youíre seeing is probably the copper coat.

If you look at the back of your tach head, it will state if it needs a transmitter, and which model. Transmitters are routinely available on eBay. If it doesnít need a transmitter, it will have model FZ88N printed on the back. Unfortunately these tachs were designed to work with points ignition, and may or may not work with HEI.

There are places that offer electronic conversions, so they can be used with new ignition systems, and also eliminate the need for the transmitter. Here are some links:

http://www.williamsons.com/tachs.htm
http://www.dandmrestoration.com/tachometers
http://www.autoinstruments.com/services.htm

There is also an article in the May 2010 issue of Hot Rod Deluxe showing the rebuild process.
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Old 05-13-2010, 06:29 PM   #15
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Re: Sun Tachometer Retrospective

I asked this in the 73-87 section, but you might know. What would have been popular in '79, when my truck was new, and would you have a picture? I would like to add a period tach, but I was only 5 when it was new.
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Old 05-13-2010, 09:01 PM   #16
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Re: Sun Tachometer Retrospective

I never outgrew my interest in the stuff that was popular in the years before I could drive. Black paint, Sun tachs, Covico steering wheels, pleat and roll upholstery, and five spoke Americans were what I grew up on, and every street rod I’ve built fit the same pattern.

By 1979 I was pretty much out of fashion with what was popular, but best I can remember, cars and trucks that received tachometers were mostly race inspired or actual dual purpose race cars for weekends or the Wednesday night grudge races. Every one I can think of had an Autometer tachometer. They had the dull silver bezel, and the cup was mounted with a band clamp similar to what’s shown here, although I think the shift lights came along later, like in the late 80’s. Originally the base/bracket between the band clamp was die cast aluminum rather than the folded steel version shown:

http://www.autometer.com/cat_gaugede...id=3926&sid=75

For the guys that still wanted a good old Sun tach, the Sun Super Tach II was released in the late 70’s or early 80’s. It was a pitiful excuse for a real Sun tach. It was all plastic including the chrome bezel, had a paint splotch in the middle of the glass, and a plastic movable pointer to indicate redline. I had one that lasted a few months before it quit working. Here’s an example on eBay:



On a related note, Stewart Warner also made tachometers, although in my experience they were never as popular as the Sun versions. Regardless, Stewart Warner was the must have brand for 2” gauges all through the 50’s, 60’s and into the 70’s. When I built my 46 Ford in the late 70’s I tried to buy SW gauges, but all the local dealers dropped them due to terrible supplier and customer support. This is part of why Autometer and VDO became so popular.

Hopefully other members with better experience on then current equipment will offer some additional opinions.
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Old 05-13-2010, 11:38 PM   #17
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Re: Sun Tachometer Retrospective

I'll have to keep this one for when I need it

I picked up a vintage sun tach at a junkyard a couple weeks ago. The control box will need to be updated, but at least the tach itself will clean up with a little elbow grease

I didn't know these were an accessory from a GM. It makes perfect sense though, since it came out of a early 60s GMC dump truck.
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Old 05-21-2010, 09:42 PM   #18
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Re: Sun Tachometer Retrospective

Quote:
Originally Posted by Jonboy View Post
I asked this in the 73-87 section, but you might know. What would have been popular in '79, when my truck was new, and would you have a picture? I would like to add a period tach, but I was only 5 when it was new.
I can comment here, since when I ordered my '80 Chevy pickup the first thing I did after installing a 4 speed and floor shifter was mount a "Sun Super II" tach on the column.

K

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Old 05-22-2010, 07:02 AM   #19
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Re: Sun Tachometer Retrospective

I graduated HS in '83 and late 70's early 80's everyone (that had one) had a Sun Super II. Remember times were tough, everyone was poor.
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Old 05-22-2010, 08:21 AM   #20
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Re: Sun Tachometer Retrospective

I bought a Sun Super Tach after I bought my ole '71 C-10 from Summit Racing. I swapped it over to my 80 C-10 after the 71 was sold.
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Old 11-24-2010, 12:04 AM   #21
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Re: Sun Tachometer Retrospective

ok now that i am home i can do some things i want to, like learn to post piks. i dug my old napa tach out of the dusty storage box it has been in for 37 years. i have not used this tach since i was 17 years old so i don't remember if it uses a transmitter box or not. that 283 i had would bounce that needle on the "8" with no effort! the "red" needle is just a "suggestion" any way, right? also an exercise in picture posting. bear with me!
andy





Last edited by andyh1956; 11-24-2010 at 12:43 AM. Reason: re-post pictures- again- edit text
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Old 11-24-2010, 12:16 AM   #22
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Re: Sun Tachometer Retrospective

I have a Sun Super tach II in my old 66, bought it in high school back in 1999 when it had the 250 inline 6. but I always wanted one of those short sweeps. They just match 60s vehicles. Good info
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Old 11-26-2010, 12:11 PM   #23
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Re: Sun Tachometer Retrospective

upon close inspection my tach don't resemble a sun. not sure who made it but i bought it at the napa i worked at after school, more research required. ok here is a pik of the inside of my tach. as you can see it has three wires, black, tan & lets call it white. there used to be a sticker on the plastic back of the head, long gone now. a single long screw goes through the mount & cup & threads into the plastic back in the center. also you can see the two transistors hooked up between the terminals. anyone have any idea how this tach should wire up? also if it should use a transmitter box, which i don't think it does. also hidden behind the lower chrome face on the front, on the left of the needle it says balkamp inc & on the right side it says made in usa. thanks guys!
andy


Last edited by andyh1956; 11-26-2010 at 12:13 PM. Reason: picture post
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Old 11-26-2010, 02:43 PM   #24
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Re: Sun Tachometer Retrospective

It appears Dixco probably made that tachometer for Napa under the Balkamp trade name. Here's a current link on eBay showing a similar model.

http://cgi.ebay.com/ebaymotors/VINTA...Q5fAccessories

Perhaps this thread (or other searches under Dixco) will help with the wiring:

http://wiki.answers.com/Q/How_do_you...h_with_3_wires
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Old 11-26-2010, 10:32 PM   #25
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Re: Sun Tachometer Retrospective

Quote:
Originally Posted by markeb01 View Post



For the guys that still wanted a good old Sun tach, the Sun Super Tach II was released in the late 70ís or early 80ís. It was a pitiful excuse for a real Sun tach. It was all plastic including the chrome bezel, had a paint splotch in the middle of the glass, and a plastic movable pointer to indicate redline. I had one that lasted a few months before it quit working. Hereís an example on eBay:




Mark I still have my super tach II, had it sense 1976 still running, in fact I `m looking at installing in my `64 gauge panel, although I did have one of the originals in my dodge when it was sold in `75.
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