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INTERIOR DECORATING
Restoring classic vinyl interior parts
By Jim McGowan
     In the late Fifties most American car manufacturers moved away from sewn material upholstery for seats and door panels in favor of more durable vinyl. Dielectrically stamped, multi-colored and patterned door panels and seat covers were an instant success with the automotive consumer. Most new car buyers of the time were accustomed to installing protective clear plastic covers over their fabric interiors, so introducing non-breathing vinyl was no inconvenience. Plus the bright colors and Mylar inserts brought excitement and personalization to previously sedate interior designs.
      But, like its fabric predecessor, vinyl brought its own set of problems. It was hot to sit on, and adversely affected by temperature and Ultra-Violet rays from the sun. Items padded with the foam available at the time were particularly vulnerable to damage. When you see a dash pad that is severely cracked or split, chances are it is the fault of the foam. The large air pockets present in mid- 20th century foam were prone to expand and contract with the ambient temperature, eventually weakening the vinyl surface and breaking through. The vinyl surface also became dry and brittle with age. Obviously, the Detroit manufacturers didn't expect these cars to last for five decades, or become popular with collectors and restorers, so the foam technology of the time was considered more than sufficient.
      During the last quarter century, Fifties and Sixties cars have exploded in popularity and created what is now a major aftermarket industry; restoration parts and services. Companies specializing in particular marques have reproduced almost everything needed to do a complete interior or exterior restoration. Interior vinyl seat kits are now plentiful along with all the trim items, head liners and carpet kits. Plus the demand for new restoration products is constantly growing.
      The desire for factory style vinyl restoration on original parts has resulted in the creation of several companies. Many deal only in reproduction parts such as door panels, dash pads and seat covers for the most popular brands and models. Obviously that's where the largest sales numbers are, i.e. Chevy Camaro, Ford Mustang, etc. But there's one restoration supplier that has taken a different road. For twenty years Just Dashes has concentrated on restoring original parts, regardless of the manufacturer, using the same factory grain pattern vinyl and original colors. They can restore almost any vinyl-covered part you can remove from the vehicle, including the multi-hued, Mylar trimmed, dielectric door panels.
      Just Dashes uses Thermo Vacuum Forming to apply the new vinyl to your parts. It is reminiscent of melting cheese on your hamburger, with the hot vinyl conforming to every contour of the part. This process works on the most intricate shapes and items like head rests, arm rests, dash pads, etc. To illustrate the process we followed a space age looking 1959-'63 Cadillac dash pad through the restoration procedure from start to finish. It's extremely interesting to see the vacuum forming take place and watch a badly damaged dash pad emerge like new, actually better than new, and ready for installation.
      We say better than new because the foam and vinyl manufacturing technology is so far superior today than that of the Fifties. The materials are more durable and the use of closed cell, high-density foam reduces the expansion and contraction damage. The new vinyl has UV protection built into the material, plus there are several products available to help protect the surface from the elements.
      Original factory dash pads were manufactured in black vinyl and then dyed or painted to the desired original color. Just Dashes finishes their restoration and reproduction pads the same way. Using state-of-the-art vinyl dye, and reference charts from the correct time period, each part receives the correct color. They also have a kit called Fade Away, which contains all the products necessary to re-dye your interior at home.
      Here's the procedure on this space age looking '59 Caddy dash pad from initial inspection to packing and shipping back to its owner.
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Inspection
When a new project arrives it is thoroughly inspected and the amount of damage is recorded. At this time the restoration process is decided upon. It might be completely stripped to the metal frame or the old vinyl stripped off and new foam installed on the old foam base, or any number of other avenues can be taken. Regardless of the process, the end product is always concours quality.
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Damaged
Here we see some fairly serious damage to one of gauge pods. In this case the pod area will have to be rebuilt and reinforced. This pad is in very poor condition and will require a lot of handwork to be brought back.

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Shaping
Restoring a large dash pad requires many hours of hand work as there are no machines to do this kind of resto work. A new layer of closed cell high-density foam has been installed on the core and is now being hand shaped. Like a paint job, the prep work is 90-percent of the battle.

Gluing
After the foam work has been finished, a layer of professional grade adhesive is applied to the entire surface of the pad. It is allowed to get tacky before the new vinyl skin is applied.

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Here's the pad cooling on the vacuum table. You can see the detail achieved by the vacuum process. After the material is cool, the pad is cut free of the excess material, the rags removed from underneath and then it goes to the trim table.

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Approximately 3 to 4 inches of excess is left around the edges of the item for final trimming. The material is trimmed, wrapped and glued around all the edges, inside the instrument cluster area, etc. Again, each project is hand finished. This work is very labor intensive.
(Click Here to view a larger photograph) Paint
After the pad is trimmed it goes to the paint area for color if required. The correct factory color is mixed, in this case for a red interior, and carefully sprayed on the item. Custom colors can also be mixed to order.

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Once the color is completely dry, the part is ready for shipment back to it's owner, usually via UPS. Careful packing in foam and packing peanuts insure a safe trip home.


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