by Jon Mikelonis
In our March 2006 issue, FordMuscle covered the high level
and problems posed by offshoring the manufacture of speed
parts within the article Port
Job. From blatant knock-offs to private labeling to low-level
sub-brands created by reputable names in the industry, US
companies are turning to foreign labor in order to compete.
The strategy is evident at all price points within most product
categories. Employing foreign labor to produce speed parts
destined for our american street machines is a hot debate
between manufacturers and enthusiasts alike. The problem is,
passion and loyalty for American made products can cloud our
ability as consumers to make normal purchasing decisions based
on the basic criteria of a good product, regardless of where
a product is made.
To simplify the "is it right or wrong to buy speed parts
made by cheap foreign labor" dispute, it is helpful to
remove the "Made In America" element from the shopping
experience and focus solely on quality and value when evaluating
any product. By doing this, we place the competitive advantage
back in the court of manufacturers who's research, design,
and marketing, are founded in a keen understanding and close
relationship with us, the enthusiasts. And nobody has the
opportunity to understand enthusiast behavior better than
an American company embedded in the hobby due to that company's
proximity. It is here where the secret to the longevity of
American made speed products exists, which this simple product
category evaluation will expose.
Gauges, more specifically mechanical oil pressure gauges,
are a product
category for which there are numerous contenders in the performance
aftermarket. The theater includes reputable players like Auto Meter
and VDO, private labeling champions like Summit Racing, and
"street" level names like Autogage (an Auto Meter
brand). Rounding out the mix on the high-end is Stewart Warner,
a John Deere supplier. On the low end, America's favorite
retailer, Wal-Mart, has an offering under the Equus name.
So what's the difference between these gauges? Do they all
pressure the same? What would happen if you tried six gauges
different manufacturers on one vehicle? Would the readings
be the same if the conditions were held constant? Other than
size, what makes mechanical oil pressure gauges range in price
from $7.28 all the way up to $49.95? If one eliminates the
gauge itself, what included parts should you be inspecting
when determining which gauge to buy? Or simply put, which
manufacturer offers the the best option in terms of the basic
criteria of a good product? We'll answer all of these questions
and more in a simple gauge-by-gauge evaluation from Stewart
Warner, Auto Meter, Autogage, Summit Racing, VDO, and Equus.
Let's get started with the Stewart Warner 114521.
Stewart Warner Mechanical Oil Pressure Gauge
Part No. 114521
Price - $49.95
At the top of the price food chain in our evaluation sits
the Stewart Warner
114521. With little brand recognition at the grass roots level,
this oil pressure gauge could be easily overlooked, even with
its very attractive "face-forward" design. The relatively
high price among the other subjects chosen for this article
raised our expectations and forced us to examine this gauge's
fine details. We even put an anonymous and hypothetical consumer
inquiry into the Stewart Warner tech line. Once connected
we challenged the sales representative to tell us why we should
buy their gauge over a well known Auto Meter Sport-Comp equivalent.
Although it is just ancillary to some, packaging says
a lot about how a company views their own products. Sturdy,
simple, and reminiscent of a pedestal, the Stewart Warner
package showed us they gave a damn about what was inside.
By positioning the representative Stewart Warner gauge
(right) adjacent to the very popular Auto Meter Sport-Comp,
it's clear the Stewart Warner Gauge appears larger even
though they are both 2-5/8" units. The more slender
Stewart Warner bezel makes a significant difference.
After placing our anonymous call into the Stewart Warner
tech line, we were made aware of their "Face-Forward"
design as shown by this photo. The Stewart Warner is
shown at left and an Auto Meter Sport-Comp is shown to
We were impressed with the Stewart Warner up to this point,
however the hardware package showed some shortcomings.
At almost $50.00 we expected more integrated and ergonomic
mounting hardware, like the kind found in Auto Meter brand
Speaking of hardware shortcomings, here we are picking
up one of the extremely tiny irridite nuts we dropped
on the garage floor.
Set adjacent to an Auto Meter gauge (right) within a standard
2-5/8" face plate, you can see that Stewart Warner
doesn't give their mounting hardware the same attention
that Auto Meter does with knurled fingertips nuts and a
correct-appearing mounting bracket.
Stewart Warner bezels are ultrasonically welded to the
casing while others crimp their bezels in place. Since
Stewart Warner has contracts with manufacturers like John
Deere, it is important that their gauges are protected
from moisture and dust. The Stewart Warner is shown here
on the left, note the smooth uncrimped bezel.
Speaking of moisture and dust, take a look at the Stewart
Warner's light cavity. Of the 6 gauges we reviewed, this
was the only one that protected this area with a sealed
The Stewart Warner was the first gauge we connected to
our test mule, Project
MX. First we needed to hook up a steel braided line
from the motor, through the firewall, and into the cab.
Once up to operating temperature and in a Park idle of
1,000 RPM, we took the first reading of our evaluation.
Just a smidgen over 40 psi at 190 degrees. Not bad for
a 351C with an original bottom-end.