Most of us just glaze over at the thought of actually installing an electrical system in our classic pickups. Those bundles of multicolored spaghetti are just more than many of us can handle. Maybe wiring seems confusing because, unlike fuel, cooling, and oil systems, we cannot see the electricity flow. The actual wiring of a truck is pretty straightforward. The hardest part is running the wires neatly and avoiding sharp, moving, and hot objects.

Today’s street rod/classic truck wiring kit manufacturers—American Autowire, Keep It Clean Wiring, EZ Wiring, Haywire, Kwik Wire, Painless Performance Products, Rebel Wire, Ron Francis Wire Works, and others—have made the process of wiring your pickup extremely easy. With labeled wires; easy-to-follow instructions; and smaller, more compact units; the task of wiring has become relatively simple.

Since we are putting together a basic, no-frills ride—meaning no power windows, no power door locks, no A/C, just the basics—we searched for a simple no-frills wiring kit. While many such wiring kits are out there, we chose a kit from Rebel Wire.

Assembled in America from American-made components, the Rebel Wire kit we chose is a simple, eight-circuit kit that handles the lighting system, ignition/engine starting, gauges, charging system, as well as radio, wipers, heater, and horn. Rebel Wire also offers a nine-plus three-circuit kit, and a 20-circuit kit for the highly optioned pickup or hot rod. In addition to the basic wiring kit we purchased a fan relay kit from Rebel Wire. Since we were not using a GM column or an aftermarket column patterned after a GM column, we purchased a turn signal switch from American Autowire.

The tools required in wiring a classic pickup are pretty basic: wire cutters, wire stripper, screwdrivers, and heat gun to seal the heat-shrink tubing. We do not recommend a lighter or matches for this task, but we have to admit that we’ve used a flame in a pinch.

In addition to the wiring kit some other items may be required depending on what comes in your kit, and some decisions you may need to make on just how you plan to connect and route wires. In our case, we needed an assortment of crimp connectors, an ignition switch, a battery disconnect, the turn signal switch, a horn button, a light switch, several dual-row barrier and jumper strips, and some heat-shrink tubing. Note: 3M makes standard heat-shrink tubing and heat-shrink tubing lined with a sealer. We located the sealer type of heat-shrink tubing at a local boat supply store. The sealer in the tubing creates a waterproof seal—which is good.

Armed with our Rebel Wire kit, instructions, and our additional hardware, we set out to wire our subject. The first decision to make is where to mount the fuse block. The normal mounting spot is under the dash near the driver side. We chose to mount the fuse block under the dash on the passenger side. We felt that in our case that would allow the easiest access to the fuse block, and the most room to bundle and run the wires (not dealing with the steering column, the throttle linkage, and the clutch and brake pedals).

We mounted the fuse block and the flasher/relay panel to a piece of PVC board and secured the board to an underdash support. The next step was to cut a 1¼-inch hole in the firewall to pass the forward wires of the harness through. The kit came with a grommet to fit this hole and the wires were neatly bundled in a manner that allowed us to separate the wires that were required to go to the engine compartment.

Next, we separated the front wiring harness into smaller wiring harnesses. Since the wires are marked every 6 inches it was a simple task to separate them into smaller bundles based on where they were to be used. We used the supplied wire ties to form the various harnesses. Note: Enough wire ties are in the kit to do the job, but since we feel strongly about neatness, we redid many of the harnesses as we progressed and that required additional wire ties.

The front harnesses and wires consisted of the headlight harness, starter/ignition harness, and wires for gauge sending units, fan wire, electric choke wire, coil wire, and more.

The wires were then routed to the appropriate connections as noted in the instructions. After the individual wires were cut to the desired length, the appropriate terminal ends were crimped in place. Note: There is a correct way and an incorrect way to crimp the terminal ends. The seam in the terminal end should face away from the dimple portion of the crimping tool, thus the dimple, or the part that crimps against the wire, is solid. Heat-shrink tubing was used at each terminal end. Shrink tubing adds strength to the connection, makes the connection waterproof, and adds a professional look to the finished product. Note: In most cases, the shrink tubing will need to be slid over the wire in its preshrunk condition prior to installing the terminal end.

We chose to build a gauge wiring harness rather than connect the wires directly to the gauges. Since gauges normally are removed from the front this allows the gauges to be installed and removed by disconnecting the gauge harness from the electrical harness, instead of laying on your back, under the dash, installing or removing the nuts that secure the gauge wires. The construction of this harness only required us to cut the individual wires and install bullet-style connections to the ends of the cut wires. The reconnected wires remain color-coded and marked.

After installing the gauges in the dashboard, with the gauge wiring harness attached, we routed the various gauge wires (temperature sending unit and oil pressure sending unit) that are part of the wiring harness to the gauges.

The electric speedometer wires were separated and “paired” (twisted together) per the gauge instructions. One of the twisted wires was connected to the sending unit “in” lug on the speedometer, while the other wire was attached to the ground lug. A separate chassis ground was run from the speedometer ground lug to a chassis ground. The speedometer instructions suggested that the twisted wires not be run with other wiring, as that may cause interference with the electric speedometer.

The ignition switch was purchased from a local parts store. The switch is rated at 30 amps, and has the power in, accessory, ignition on, and start terminals. Per the wiring kit instructions the appropriate wires were connected to the marked terminals.

An off-on-on-on light switch, also from a local parts store, was selected for the headlights. This switch allows parking lights at the first on, driving headlights at the next on, and bright headlights at the final on. This eliminated a floor-mounted dimmer switch. The switch also had a terminal for the taillights, and we ran our dash lights off of that same terminal.

The rear section wiring harness was run along the edge of the passenger floor through a grommeted hole in the seat riser and out of the floor of the pickup truck cab. Obviously on a coupe, roadster, or sedan you would run the wires through the trunk area. The rear wiring harness consisted of taillight/brake light wires, license plate light wire, and the fuel sender gauge wire. Since we are utilizing an electric fuel pump we also included a switched fuel pump wire. Since we were not running a heater (we live in Florida) we used the fused “heater” wire in the wiring kit as the fuel pump wire.

The fan relay was mounted under the seat and wired per the instructions. We also added an on/off switch on the ground side of the relay. This allows us to manually turn the fan off should we choose to do so during engine maintenance. We chose to run the fan whenever the engine is running; we may add a temperature-controlled fan switch at a later date. We also installed a relay and a switch on the fuel pump; this, too, was mounted under the seat.

A piece of plate stock was formed to match the curve of the dashboard, and the American Autowire turn signal toggle switch and the horn button were mounted to that plate. The plate was then mounted to the left of the steering column, near the front edge of the dashboard. These switches could have been located on the dashboard, but we wanted to keep the dashboard uncluttered.

Since we are utilizing an original, 6V Model A horn, we purchased a 12V to 6V voltage reducer from Speedway Motors and placed it between the power side of the horn button and the horn, the opposite side of the pushbutton horn switch was attached to one of our grounding strips.

The turn signal wires from the wiring harness were attached to the American Autowire turn signal toggle switch according to the supplied instructions, and we had front and rear turn signals. Note: Since we are utilizing LED taillights/turn signals, we purchased a turn signal flasher from Speedway Motors that is designed to work with LED turn signals.

The float rod on the fuel tank sending unit was cut, bent, and installed per the instructions. The rod is cut based on the depth of your fuel tank. The sending unit was then installed in the tank. We elected to run a ground wire from one of the sending unit screws to a chassis ground. This grounded the sending unit as well as the fuel tank.

The battery circuit was next. Obviously there are various ways to connect and ground a battery. The battery location has a lot to do with the selection. Since our battery is located in the bed of our pickup truck we needed some fairly long cables. We ran a number two cable from the positive side of the battery to the starter solenoid. We then ran number two cable from the negative battery terminal to the battery disconnect switch that we had located on the front of the seat riser. Another number two battery cable was then run from the battery disconnect switch to a good chassis ground. Note: A good ground consists of an area of metal that is free of rust, corrosion, paint, and the like. We used premanufactured battery cables with the correct ends (battery clamp or terminal ends) factory installed (you could also make your own).

Grounding cables and ground wires should always be attached to clean metal areas. Many electrical problems are often traced to poor grounds.

Battery disconnects are an excellent safety device, in addition to being a theft deterrent. By interrupting the battery circuit, all electrical flow to the system is disconnected. Thus, a short in a wire or an overloaded circuit cannot start a fire while the vehicle is unattended. The battery disconnect location should be at a point at which it can be easily reached by the driver. This allows the electrical circuit to be shut off immediately should something unexpected occur. Battery disconnect switches are available as a simple on/off switch, or on/off switch with a removable key. In addition, you can select a battery disconnect switch with a terminal to allow a power wire to remain on when the switch is in the off position, this allows you to retain various memory selections in a radio or other such devices.

Once all of the wires were run we tested each circuit. Satisfied that all electrical circuits were operating as planned, we covered the various wiring harnesses with a split plastic conduit. This added a professional and finishing touch to the wiring. Throughout the process we generated rough, hand-drawn wiring schematics of the various systems. This will allow us to troubleshoot the electrical system at a later date should something malfunction.

Thanks to today’s wiring kits the task of wiring our truck was not nearly as tough as it might seem, and we have the satisfaction of being able to say we did it ourselves. CT

American Autowire
150 Heller Place
NJ  08031
EZ Wiring
Painless Performance Products
2501 Ludelle Street
Ft. Worth
TX  76105
Keep It Clean Wiring
201 SE Oak Street
OR  97214
Speedway Motors
340 Victory Lane
ME  68528
Rebel Wire
PO Box 348
TN  37331
Ron Francis Wiring
200 Keystone Road
Suite #1
PA  19013
Kwik Wire
N4936 Hwy V
Fond Du Lac
WI  54937
Haywire, Inc.
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