Imperial Electroluminescent Dash Lighting


Note:  The following is a June-July, December  1999 and September 2004 of email messages on the IML on electroluminescent dash lighting problems and repairs:

Anyone know who replaces the luminescent coating on the instruments? What  shop rebuilds them?

If you mean the coating on the once-red pointers, that can be done by the DIY'er. The tricky part is getting the gauges out of the dash (which you have to do to send them off to be rebuilt anyway....)

All you need is a can of electroluminescent spray paint (also called "safety paint"), available at most home-improvement, hardware or hobby shops. Use the red (or "red-orange" as some are labeled) for Imperials. Be sure to shake the can up REALLY well before spraying.

Slip a small piece of newspaper, doubled over, under the needle, and shoot it with a few, quick shots. DON'T spray too much on all at once! Just a quick whisk every ten minutes or so, slowly building up the paint layer until the needle is back to it's former, glorious red color.

I did this to a '63 Crown that I sold just this past summer, and after 13-years in the harsh Colorado sun (car was never garaged or covered), those needles still looked as good as new.

Actually, I've used this same paint to restore faded needles on many late-50s to early-70s dashes, E/L and non-E/L, though the orange (or orange-yellow) shade is more correct.

'52 Chrysler Imperial 2-door hardtop

How can I fix my Imperial's electroluminescent lighting power supply?

Subject:    IML: Blew out my '63's dash. DUH!
Date:        Fri, 18 Jun 1999 11:25:03 -0600
From:       Mark Brauer,

Well, folks, it wasn't easy, but I managed to smoke my '63's E/L system. Stupid, STOOPID!

But we shall not dwell on the past....

At present, what I have is a power pack with a blown 2 ohm, 5- or 10-watt resistor, and a 3-way wire that used to be a transistor. The resistor's no problem, they're easy to find, and if I pay a dollar for it I've paid too much. But that transistor - does anyone know what to replace it with now? It's a Bendix number PS 26, and it's not in any of the semiconductor manuals I have (I'm sure it's germanium), so I don't know what the specifications for this little baby are. I don't even know if it's PNP or NPN!

Perhaps if someone out there knows the operating parameters in a properly working system I can see if I can come up with a silicon replacement. After all, it seems to be a simple switching circuit.

How about the power packs used in the '66-'67 Dodge Chargers? I've heard of people using these in '60 - '63 Chryslers and Imperials. (Heard it makes 'em brighter...!) I would think they'd have a silicon transistor by then, but maybe not....

I've read through the Tips and Resources page on this subject, and while it mentions replacing the capacitor (always a good idea to replace those waxy capacitors, where ever they're found....), it doesn't get into the real nuts 'n bolts 'n transistors 'n such.

Any help would be greatly appreciated. (Brain's thinkin' - "Maybe I could get a vibrator from an old car radio to work for this....")

'52 Chrysler Imperial 2-door hardtop
'63 Imperial Crown 4-door hardtop

Subject: Re: Transistor substitution for a '63's dash.
Date:    Tue, 22 Jun 1999 10:20:00 -0700
From:     Dick Benjamin,

Hi Mark;

It looks to me that the best choice for a transistor would be an MJ2955, available at Radio Shack as their number 276-2043, $1.99 (!)

You'll have to change the bias resistor to 120 ohms (your "R2") in the circuit diagram, this should make it hammer pretty hard. I'd just fire it up and let it run for a few hours to make sure it is not dissipating too much heat, but it should be fine. If you think it is running a little hot, you could try reducing the forward bias resistor, maybe to 100 ohms or so, but if you go much lower, the chopper will have trouble starting in cold weather.

Dick Benjamin

Subject:    Re: [IML: Blew out my 63s dash. DUH!]
Date:    18 Jun 99 23:09:35 EDT

To Mark Brauer,

I am an experienced electronics technician of 9 years. I have played with these power supplies for Chrysler dashboard lighting for over 7 years now. It started off MANY years ago with a friend who has a few 300 Letter cars (59, 50, 61) and the dashboard lights would fade to nothing after about 10 to 20 minutes.

With help from co-workers we learned how to correctly repair these devices. A paper capacitor MUST  be used, not an electrolytic type.  As far as we know, paper caps. are no longer made in this country. Must be imported, and are hard to find.  The transistors are available, as well as most of the original electronic components from electronic component catalogs and manufacturing companies.

I no longer work directly in bench repair, I work in RF engineering; BUT we have successfully restored about a dozen of these units for $35.00 a piece. Have been put into Coronets, Imperials, Chargers, and 300's. Some repairs only lasted a few weeks and had to be repaired again at no additional cost. Eventually everyone's dash lights worked again and all were satisfied customers.

The device is a basic power inverter - converts 12VDC into 225-270 VAC with very low current. We never had one blow up or short out after being repaired OR do any damage to anyone's electrical system...Hope this helps

Dave Brown (TWO 66 LeBarons)

Subject:    Re: [Re: IML: RE: Blew out my 63s dash. DUH!]
Date:    20 Jun 99 22:28:15 EDT

The capacitor is usually the culprit in these power supplies for dash does break down and wear out with age...the analogy I use is...How many 1960 to 1963 TV sets do you still see in use in peoples homes today? Hopefully none....

Moisture problems that were mentioned are definitely not a good thing for ANY electronics and the parts will change their tolerances with age and heat conditions. It has been my experience with the 12 units I have helped in repairing that all parts in it are obtainable NEW today...

As far as taking a power unit from a modern car...the voltage and current rating would have to be known and the connector would have to mate up OR it would have to be hard wired. One final note from my experience...ALL (and I do mean ALL) Chrysler cars that used electroluminescent dash lighting used the same interchangeable power supply (including Chargers, Coronets, Imperials, 300's and I have not seen them but heard some Chryslers did too).

At Carlisle and Hershey NOS units are being sold for $100 to $200!!!  Restoration shops in Hemmings will charge from $50.00 & up to rebuild these things...all parts inside total less than $20.00 to $25.00...and all parts would never need to be changed...the most frequent problem I have encountered is that dash lights work and then fade away after a very short time of being turned on, due to failure of parts in power supply...

Good Luck to all from

Subject:    IML: E/L Power Pack EPILOGUE
Date:        Fri, 16 Jul 1999 13:05:26 -0600
From:       Mark Brauer,

I know you've all been holding your collective breaths, waiting for the exciting conclusion to the tale of woe I begat when I blew out my '63 Imperial's electroluminescent lighting. If you'll recall from our last episode, Dick Benjamin had just suggested to me a modern replacement for the germanium transistor I had popped. He had also provided me with secret instructions on re-biasing the circuit to accommodate the new, silicon wonder. Now, start breathin' again 'cause here are the results:

Works good.

Derned good. In fact, that dash never looked so good, at least not as long as I've owned that car, which was just over 11 years. Output was 190 volts A.C. And the transistor and assembly stayed cool, baby, cool....

I went ahead and took some voltage measurements around the transistor while it was operating in the car, and have included them with the JPEG schematic I drew up, along with the new transistor's part number and re-biasing instructions. I'm going to send it along:

And on behalf of everyone who has or ever will have one of these beasts with E/L dash problems, and finds their solution at the IML website, I want to thank you, Dick Benjamin, for all your help in solving yet another MoPar restoration/repair mystery.

'52 Chrysler Imperial 2-door hardtop

Subject:    IML: Re: '63 E/L dash capacitors - value, pls
Date:    Wed, 23 Jun 1999 09:38:38 -0700
From:    Dick Benjamin,

It appears from a schematic I received from Mark Brauer that the original capacitor was a .068 mfd rated at 330 VAC. I would suggest a replacement be the same value (sets the frequency of oscillation) but of mylar or polystyrene construction, and rated at least 600V. The original transistor was a germanium PNP in a TO-3 case, which will be a bear to find. I have suggested to Mark that he try a MJ2955 as a replacement (Radio Shack part number 276-2043 at $1.99), but it will be necessary to adjust the bias resistor from 50 ohms to 120 ohms to accommodate the Silicon replacement.

I think it would be wise to let Mark try this substitution first, and let him see if everything still works properly with it before others flock to a less than optimum "repair".

Mark's schematic is reproduced above.

Dick Benjamin

Subject:    Re: Repairing E/L panels
Date:        Sun, 18 Jul 1999 05:44:36 EDT

Here are the details of the E/L panel fix. Please excuse the amateurish drawings. I am no draughtsman, but I hope it helps to illustrate my description of the process.

1.    In order to replace a broken or corroded contact it is first necessary to expose the edges of the foil conductive layer. This can be done by grinding away a small patch of the outer white protective shell about 1/4" to 1/2" from the edge of the panel (I used a Dremel multi-tool). Stop grinding as soon as the blue E/L layer is exposed. In some cases, where the contact has broken off, this lower layer is already exposed.

2.    Using conductive paint, paint the exposed patch and a small surrounding area of the outer layer. (Conductive paint should be available from Radio Shack or a similar electronics outlet).

3.    Using a thin plastic strip or insulating tape, cover the steel backing plate on the opposite side of the painted patch. It is best to fold the plastic just over the edge of the panel to avoid any possibility of a short.

4a.    Solder the white wire from the power pack to a small speed nut. and slide the nut over the painted patch. Ensure that the part of the speed nut under the panel is fully isolated from the steel panel. This method is suitable for large E/L panels such as the '61-'63 transmission and heating control illumination panels.

4b.    For smaller panels, Go through steps 1 & 2 and then, using either the original tag or any suitable metal contact, hold the tag firmly in place within the painted patch ( a pair of needle nose pliers are handy), and use rapid setting epoxy resin to fasten it firmly to the panel.

I have used both methods on my own E/L dash and the results have been very satisfactory.

Tony V.

Subject:    IML: 62 Dash Board Lights ?
Date:    Sun, 04 Jul 1999 23:14:14 -0400
From:    Paul,


Paul Phillips in Camp Hill, Pa....62 Crown Convertible here.....

I  have a question regarding the lights on my dashboard. Under the speedometer, were the individual gauges each are displayed, at night, when the headlights are on and therefore so are the dash lights, each block of the dash is lit in a funky green glow.....but a couple of the orange needles are lit....and two of them are not. I don't understand this as the blocks are well light...but the needles are not. And I can't tell where the needle is....I guess I think if the block is lit, then the needle should be. Can anyone explain this and any recommendations on a repair person? Thanks.

Subject:    Re: IML: 62 Dash Board Lights ?
Date:    Mon, 5 Jul 1999 09:44:03 -0400 (EDT)
From: (Brett C. Snyder)


There should be plenty of discussions about the electroluminescent lighting system on the web site:  (Editor's note:  I couldn't find it)

Essentially, there are no light bulbs in the dash of your car. There is a power converter that converts the 12v. DC power to high-voltage AC current. This current (the white wires under the dash) causes the phosphorous coated parts of the panel to glow. There are long, thin rods inside your instrument cluster that glow and very, very thin wires that attach to the gauge needles. Typically, the wires become brittle and break. (Except for the ammeter, which gets its power through the gauge stem) This is a specialized lighting system that was developed by Chrysler and Sylvania. It has it's quirks. So, I would not recommend taking your dash cluster to the local electronics shop, they are likely to not want anything to do with it or charge you $60+ an hour to fiddle with something they've never seen before.

I'd recommend sending your cluster to one of the shops listed on the web site. They're all familiar with the "EL" system and can properly connect power to your needles... they'll usually give the needles a fresh coat of orange paint as well.... All for probably much less than a local repair shop would charge. I sent my '61 unit to Don Steger in Sacramento, CA (916) 929-8274. I chose Don because he ran a regular repair shop that was open regular business hours. (Editor's Note:  Don is a member of the Imperial Owners Association of Sacramento Valley and has twice given repair seminars at statewide Imperial meets.)  The others listed as "EL" repair technicians didn't answer their phones at reasonable times when I was in the market.

Good Luck,

Brett Snyder

Subject:    Re: IML: 62 Dash Board Lights ?
Date:    Mon, 05 Jul 1999 11:16:10 PDT
From:    Paul Niemi,

Hi Paul,

You have electroluminescent dash lights. They glow. They work by applying a voltage to a phosphorescent substrate, usually in layers. All the gauges, radio, pushbuttons, speedometer, etc., are intended to glow when the lights are on. The device that causes this is a power pack located up under the left kick panel. The wires for the system will be white, 22 gauge or perhaps a little bigger.

The needles on your gauges are supposed to glow too. If some don't, then look for a really tiny little wire in each gauge that has broken off from the needle. You may reattach it with electrical solder, and a precision solder iron. This is one of the really cool things about these cars. By the way, is your convertible a light grey with black dash? PEN

Subject:    Re: IML: 62 Dash Board Lights? There *are* some bulbs
Date:    Tue, 06 Jul 1999 07:51:24 -0700
From:     Jay McKee,

Hi IMLers,

I have had success with getting everything working in our '62's dash lighting system. I got lucky as there were no shorted EL panels to troubleshoot. The hardest part was resoldering that little microscopic (and insulated no less) litz-wire that powers the illumination of the four gauge needles. If you don't have good eyes, a steady hand, a low wattage soldering iron and a lot of patience, send the gauge to the professionals. I believe that the pros charge about $25-35 a gauge to completely disassemble and restore them to their original glory.

Online Imperial Club - Tips and Resources - Component Parts - Interior - Dashboard - Electroluminescent

Brett, you are right for the most part. The '61-'62 Imperials have no light bulbs in their dash "cluster" with the exception of the "high-beam indicator" and the "parking brake warning". The bulbs "outside" of the dash cluster are turn-signal indicators, map light, glove box light and sometimes an ash-tray light.

Transmission and climate control push-buttons should illuminate using the EL system, but don't expect to see the radio's pushbuttons. They are not designed to illuminate.

Imperial Regards to all,

Jay Mc Kee
1962 Crown Southampton 4-door HT

Subject:    IML: Electroluminescent Power Pack and Gauge Repair
Date:    Sat, 24 Jul 1999 08:05:37 -0600
From:    Bill Johnson,

Thanks to Bob Merritt, I am posting some outlets for power pack and gauge repair for those interested. We may want to post this on the web page.

Sources for electroluminescent power pack rebuild:

Electroluminescent Power Pack: Rebuild & repair for `60-`63 Imperials & Chryslers. Dave Brown, 116 Linden Ave. Bloomfield, NJ., 07003. (201) 748-4617 eves. Email:

J C Auto Restoration, 11303 20th Ave. NE, Seattle, WA., 98125-6553. 206-363-5270 Fax 206-440-7461. Gauge repair and power pack rebuilt. $70 exchange for power pack.

Keisler Electronics, 3657 Wildwood Road, Maryville, TN, 37804, Shafi Keisler, Rebuilds power packs and gauges.

Much later:

From: "mike sutton" 

 Subject: IML: alternative sources for EL power pack parts Date: Wed, 22 Sep 2004 

As many of you probably know, the 66-67 Charger uses an electroluminescent power pack lighting system that is electrically and functionally identical to the ones in the Imperials that uses EL lighting,  as far as the power pack goes.   Today on the Charger list a member posted some information regarding parts suitable to repair faulty components in an EL power pack.

I know Dick Benjamin did an excellent job with a schematic of these units and from experience I know they are not difficult to work with as long as the transformer is good.  Many people have used Radio Shack for a parts source , but I have found that often the local store just gives me a blank look when I want  a particular component other than a RC car of cell phone.

The following excerpt from the Charger list post gives a very good supplier of electronic parts, I have used this company for work related items for several years now doing avionics projects.  I hope it will be useful to someone. The rest of this post is copied from the posting on the Charger list.

Mikey 62 Crown Coupe

My source is Newark Electronics ( <> )

I found a capacitor that very closely resembles the original in physical and electrical characteristics.   The original was rated for 0.05microfarad [mfd] @ 330VAC and the replacement I found is 0.047mfd @ 630VAC (2000Vdc) but that's close enough.  Higher voltage tolerance is always better in a capacitor.  It's Newark stock #48F3940. It's round with axial leads and almost the exact physical dimensions. Very pricey for a capacitor @ $2.29 each. Our caps measure L=1.438 & d=0.532.  The replacement I found is L=1.339 & d=0.591. It's also a film cap like the originals but in a more modern casing without the wax.

I also found two types of replacements for the transistor.  One is virtually an exact replacement in physical and electrical characteristics but rather expensive at about $15 each.  It's a true Germanium PNP transistor like the original. (NTE121 - Newark Stock #29C4423) The other also has the correct physical characteristics but the electrical characteristics are slightly different.  It's still a PNP but is a cheaper silicone transistor.  It will function perfectly well and is about $5 each.  (NTE219 -Newark stock #29C8652) I prefer the NTE121.  The 219 has a lower current gain than the 121 and some of the voltage parameters on the 121 are more robust.

The following are replacement resistors that most closely resembled the originals in style, color, physical dimensions, and electrical characteristics.  A resistor is a resistor, so Radio Shack and other electronics outlets (even Newark) will most likely have perfectly acceptable replacements for less money.  Just give them the resistance and wattage and take your pick.  As I said, this info is primarily for the purists.

Even though resistors seldom go bad, at 35 year old it's very likely they shifted values somewhat.  If I have to repair a power pack, I also replace the resistors just so I don't have to worry about it later.

For the 1.5ohm @ 5 watt resistor I found an exact replacement in physical as well as electrical characteristics.  It is a true wire-wound resistor in a white ceramic fire proof rectangular case, just like the originals.  There are many other perfectly functional styles of fire proof resistors but they do not have the same "look". It is Newark stock #33C8895 and sells for $.040 each (expensive for a resistor).

For the 1.5K ohm watt resistor I found Newark stock #84N2195 @ $0.07 each.  It is slightly smaller than the original but is a carbon resistor like the original.  It also has the resistance code bands like the original.  Many of the newer resistor styles do not have the bands and are not carbon.

Finally, for the 50 ohm one watt wire-wound resistor I found Newark stock #02F1195 @ $1.31 each.  Definitely expensive for a power resistor, but this one closely resembles the original in physical dimensions.  It does not have the exposed wires like the original but it is a true wire-wound (with a brown ceramic coating) and it's the closest I could find.


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