How To Make A Retro Desk Clock Out of An Old Car Clock

As you know, this Car Hacks column isn't just a forum for my inane ideas and projects— it's a forum for your insane ideas and marriage-destroying obsessions as well. And, happily, I've been getting some very interesting emails about things readers are working on.


This week I'm featuring a sleek, elegant hack of a BMW dash clock, from Andrew Burke, whom I believe is Australian. Which explains why his emails always come upside-down.

Essentially, Andrew created that lovely desk clock you see up there from an old E30 dash clock. The concept's not new, but I was taken with the really lovely execution, and the way the overall result so nicely reflects the modern, unadorned Teutonic minimalism of the original design. Let's let Andrew tell us about the project:

The basic inspiration came from the fact that I like the E30 BMW, or as it should be correctly referred to as "God's Chariot". I was also missing my E30 that I blew up at a track day in January. This is the clock from that car.

I don't know why I like the E30 so much, suffice it to say I think they are splendid things that are exactly all a car should be. Anyway I like a good clean E30. So much so that I came across a 1990 318is and I sold the E92 335i I bought new so I could have the 318is as a daily (I only have so much garage room and my wife is very understanding but still..) I have a couple of chariots previously owned by God, and this particular clock comes from the one I blew up at Winton Raceway back in January 2012. It's a 1988 325is, diamantschwarz in color, or as I imaginatively refer to him as "Mr Black."

[Andrew here goes into a lot of exciting detail about his E30 and the awesome race engine he had in it. But that's not what this column is about. To cut to the chase, a bearing was spun, a tow truck driver made a lot of money, and Andrew was doing a lot of new work on his car.]

Anyway, the clock.
As Mr Black has been on life support for 9 months, I have bought him many presents to wish him a speedy recovery. A full dashboard of data logging Stack instrumentation being one such gift. I saw in the Stack catalog that they also do a clock. SO I thought what the hey… and I pulled the OEM clock out and put a Stack on in. (the trigger.jpg) In for a penny and all… I remade my instrument cluster to house a data logging tach and speedo and for the dash to retain all other OE functionality. Took me a while and bit of circuit board hacking.

So this clock has been sitting on a shelf next to a couple VANOS units and god knows what other BMW stuff and every time I see it I think "I should turn that into a clock". Like a glacier reaches the ocean, so to this idea eventually happens. As a tinkerer of old cars, I like making stuff. I work on Mr Black myself though I did outsource the exhaust.

I had just built a new deck for my house and I used this really nice 32mm thick Australian hardwood called Ironbark. Real nice colour, called ironbark because it dulls your saw like it's made of iron. I had a bunch of offcuts sitting in the shed. One day after work as I am pondering all things that are shedly within the shed, I look at the offcuts and I look at the clock. Then I look at the clock and the offcuts. Then I glance a set square a pencil and a router… You know what happens next.

I made the initial clock just as a piece of timber and that was it. Simple countersink to sit the clock flush, 5 degree setback on the base to angle it and that was it. But I liked what I saw more than I thought. I had Mr Black on my desk. I had to finish the project.


I had some thin 0.5mm thick alloy sheet that's real easy to fab and fold with a Stanley knife and a straight edge. Made up a cardboard fold-template first to check the size was OK then transferred that to the plate and off we go. A quick review of the internet reveals the pinout for the clock and the backlight. A simple switch toggles the backlight whilst the RCA socket (using what I had lying around) provides +12v. I hacked up a plug pack with an RCA plug to suit.

Now I have the clock ticking away on my desk, reminding me every minute that Mr Black is not on the track making the sorts of snorty sounds that only a highly cammed, straight 6 with 6 throttle bodies can…


That's a nice little hack, and it's one that should easily translate to many kinds of cars. Different clock styles can suggest different housings— sleek metal for, say, 90s Audis, ornate carved furniture chunks for baroque 70s "personal cars" with all those wreathes and crests, bright colored plastic for some sassy hot hatch. I bet we've all got either an old dash clock laying around or an excuse to yank one from a junkyard.

And, as always, remember how nosy I am. Send me your interesting hacks!

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