Shoring up the gauge cluster with a new metal binnacle and support from Raptor Engineering

For the most part, I’ve been able to source Land Rover Defender components from American companies. In fact, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how easy it is to find what I need for the Land Rover in the states, whether genuine spares or sensible alternatives.

There are exceptions, however, such as the metal binnacle from Raptor Engineering, based in Sheffield, England.

Unboxing the Deluxe Binnacle that freshly arrived from Raptor Engineering in Sheffield.

Binnacle is a great word, isn’t it?

As an American, I wasn’t familiar with the word before I took ownership of the Landy. I looked it up, and it refers to the housing of a ship’s compass. However, in this context, it is the British-English name for the Defender’s gauge cluster.

The Raptor Engineering binnacle all mocked up with the Land Rover Defender gauges.

I saw pictures of the Raptor Engineering piece on social media, and immediately regarded it as a “must have” due to the deteriorated state of my existing binnacle. The original binnacle and its underlying support are made of plastic.

These parts are notorious for breaking down over time, losing tabs and fasteners over the years, until the gauge cluster is eventually so deteriorated that it’s able to flop around freely on the dashboard.

This was the sorry state of mine, which is what made the metal components from Raptor Engineering so compelling. It was clearly an elegant, very permanent solution.

Special delivery from Sheffield

Raptor’s website is designed for commerce within the UK, but they do have an “Overseas Orders” page where they ask you to email your parts requirements. After doing so, they’ll bill you for parts and shipping using PayPal, which automatically handles conversions.

After they receive payment, Raptor promptly fulfills your order, but it might take a week or two to cross the pond!

ItemGBPUSD
Pre-2000 Deluxe Binnacle w/ Black Bezel£77. 08$102.68
Defender Binnacle Mount£37. 08$49.39
FedEx Shipping to Tucson, AZ, USA£37. 65$50.15
Total£151.81$202.22

Installation is simple -ish

The caveat is that if you have an over-30 year old Defender such as mine, by disassembling the gauge cluster, you’re likely opening Pandora’s Box, and will find a wild assortment of curiosities, unused connections, missing fasteners, and a rat’s nest that requires close inspection and unraveling.

Previous owners might have harvested original components, added-and-removed their own 12V accessories, or made dubious repairs to the factory electronics. It is beneficial to spend some time in there with a multimeter and make at least some sense of the madness.

Phone photos taken of the back of the gauge cluster for reference.

As I dismantled the gauge cluster, I took numerous photos with my phone, to which I could refer for the reassembly process.

You can never take too many photos so you have something to look back at if you get confused or if you don't recall where something goes.

The speedometer, fuel, and temperature gauge are all original. The odometer stopped turning at 200,000 miles, but I managed to get it working again by jostling it. The boost gauge on the far right was added by a previous owner.

While it wasn’t difficult, it was certainly worth taking one’s time and being very methodical. Yes, it could’ve been done in a one full day, but I parked the Defender in the garage and picked away at it very slowly for two weeks.

I didn’t record my own installation video, because I spent most of the time completely bewildered and muttering obscenities. However, there are a number of very helpful videos on YouTube, like this one from Roaming the Outback:

Let there be (more) light

One of the light bulbs in the speedometer was blown, and the gauges were so poorly illuminated that they were barely visible at night. I solved this problem with a new set of LED bulbs from Amazon. Though it did require some trial-and-error, as the sockets in the gauges are very snug and required particularly small bulbs.

Very inexpensive LED 194 bulbs found on Amazon work perfectly in the Land Rover Defender gauges.
The Land Rover Defender gauges have green filters, so you will likely want to get white bulbs unless you're aiming for a different appearance.

A rock-solid gauge cluster

The installed product from Raptor Engineering is brilliant. It’s sturdily attached to all metal components, all the way to the bulkhead, so you can give it a good tug and it’s not going anywhere.

Sturdy new binnacle not only looks great, it's so firmly attached you could use it as a tow point.
The sleek black powder-coated binnacle doesn't quite match the 30 year old faded dashboard plastic. Oh well.

This is a night-and-day difference from the deteriorated plastic binnacle, and like I mentioned earlier, it’s a very elegant and permanent solution that single-handedly rejuvenates the cockpit of the Defender. It was money well spent, and well worth ordering overseas for this one!

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