Street News

Dynamic Dashboard Re-Do: Restore your early-Fox dashboard for cheap!

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Content provided by Barry Kluczyk

It’s one of the most common maladies of ’79-86 Fox-body cars – Mustang, Capri, Thunderbird, Fairmont, etc.: unsightly dashboard pads.

If you’re lucky, your Mustang only has a weathered, faded dash pad. Because of their extreme brittleness, the other all-too-common affliction of the pads is cracking and splitting, particularly around the speaker grilles. And let’s not even bring up the times many of us have ruined an original pad by cleaning the dash and inadvertently pushing through a speaker grille.

The original dash pad on our black ’86 GT convertible project car, thankfully, survived more than a quarter-century without physical damage, but the sun wasn’t kind to its charcoal finish. Faded and blotched, it was one of the few detractors from an otherwise great-shape drop-top.

Although there are reproduction dash pads (see sidebar story), we knew that a little elbow grease, some vinyl dye and a lot of careful preparation could renew the look of the faded pad.

Vinyl dye is available in just about every early-Fox Mustang dashboard color, from just about every restoration supply company. A single can is more than enough for the dash pad and it will run about $20. Another can of preparation spray is recommended, too, for about another $20, so the entire outlay is a measly $40. The results, however, are hard to value. The restored, original dash pad looks better than terrific – it looks brand new.

Preparation and patience are the keys to success with this job. The brittleness of the pad must be taken into consideration when removing the pad. In other words, go slowly and gently. The pad also must be absolutely cleansed of any dirt and oils, such as years and years of Armor All or, like ours, cigarette residue. Like any paint job, the dye won’t adhere without a clean surface – and that’s where the preparation spray comes in. It will help clean the pad to really lift off the ingrained grime.

We were more than thrilled with the appearance of our ’86’s dash when the project was complete. The investment in materials and time were low, but the return in appearance was very high.

Not bad for $40 and a couple of hours’ worth of work!

After 26 years, the dash pad on our ’86 GT convertible was faded and blotchy. And the gummy feel of it gave us the distinct impression that a previous driver smoked more than a small-block Chevy. But, with no splits or crack in the pad, it was definitely worth saving.

After 26 years, the dash pad on our ’86 GT convertible was faded and blotchy. And the gummy feel of it gave us the distinct impression that a previous driver smoked more than a small-block Chevy. But, with no splits or crack in the pad, it was definitely worth saving.

 

To start the dash pad restoration, the pad must first be removed. We started with the visible screws that also attached the instrument panel cover.

To start the dash pad restoration, the pad must first be removed. We started with the visible screws that also attached the instrument panel cover.

 

At the top of the dash pad, there is a pair of screws in each defroster vent. Because of the rake of the windshield, they can be a little tricky to reach and easy to drop down into the vents. So, we held one of those 99-cent extendable magnetic pick-up tools to the screws as they came out. We didn’t lose a single screw to the vents this way.

At the top of the dash pad, there is a pair of screws in each defroster vent. Because of the rake of the windshield, they can be a little tricky to reach and easy to drop down into the vents. So, we held one of those 99-cent extendable magnetic pick-up tools to the screws as they came out. We didn’t lose a single screw to the vents this way.

 

With all the visible screws removed, we pulled off the instrument panel cover, revealing a couple more attaching screws.

With all the visible screws removed, we pulled off the instrument panel cover, revealing a couple more attaching screws.

 

After all the screws were removed we CAREFULLY lifted up on the pad to release it from its quarter-century resting place. These old pads are delicate, so patience was required when removing it. It doesn’t take much pressure to remove it — or damage it.

After all the screws were removed we CAREFULLY lifted up on the pad to release it from its quarter-century resting place. These old pads are delicate, so patience was required when removing it. It doesn’t take much pressure to remove it — or damage it.

 

A couple of sawhorses make an excellent platform to rest, clean and spray the dash pad. This shot really shows how gross the pad got over the years. It looked terrible, but again, wasn’t split or cracked.

A couple of sawhorses make an excellent platform to rest, clean and spray the dash pad. This shot really shows how gross the pad got over the years. It looked terrible, but again, wasn’t split or cracked.

 

Yuck! This is a close-up of the driver’s side front corner of the original pad. It’s grimy, faded and blotched.

Yuck! This is a close-up of the driver’s side front corner of the original pad. It’s grimy, faded and blotched.

 

Here’s the $25 in materials we invested in our restoration: a can of prep spray and a can of charcoal-color vinyl dye. The prep is an absolute must for getting out baked in grime and, as with our car, cigarette goo.

Here’s the $25 in materials we invested in our restoration: a can of prep spray and a can of charcoal-color vinyl dye. The prep is an absolute must for getting out baked in grime and, as with our car, cigarette goo.

 

After first cleaning the pad thoroughly with other cleaners, we used the prep spray to bring out the grime that lurked in the grain of the dash pad. Our pad was so grungy, a second can of prep would have done us well.

After first cleaning the pad thoroughly with other cleaners, we used the prep spray to bring out the grime that lurked in the grain of the dash pad. Our pad was so grungy, a second can of prep would have done us well.

 

When it comes to applying the dye, the process is just like spray-painting. We used a very light touch at first, misting the pad to get a feel for the way it covered, then applied a heavier coat.

When it comes to applying the dye, the process is just like spray-painting. We used a very light touch at first, misting the pad to get a feel for the way it covered, then applied a heavier coat.

 

After letting the first coat of dye soak in and dry for a while, we applied a second coat. At this point the pad was completely covered and we followed up with a few extra coats at the corners to ensure adequate coverage in those hard-to-see areas. We used about 90 percent of the can of dye during the job.

After letting the first coat of dye soak in and dry for a while, we applied a second coat. At this point the pad was completely covered and we followed up with a few extra coats at the corners to ensure adequate coverage in those hard-to-see areas. We used about 90 percent of the can of dye during the job.

 

Finished and dried, the dash pad looks remarkably better than when we started. The dye covered the darker blotches on the dash, but didn’t fill in the pad’s grain pattern. The smooth, even appearance looks first-class, too.

Finished and dried, the dash pad looks remarkably better than when we started. The dye covered the darker blotches on the dash, but didn’t fill in the pad’s grain pattern. The smooth, even appearance looks first-class, too.

 

Finished and dried, the dash pad looks remarkably better than when we started. The dye covered the darker blotches on the dash, but didn’t fill in the pad’s grain pattern. The smooth, even appearance looks first-class, too.

Finished and dried, the dash pad looks remarkably better than when we started. The dye covered the darker blotches on the dash, but didn’t fill in the pad’s grain pattern. The smooth, even appearance looks first-class, too.

 

After allowing the pad to dry outdoors for a couple of hours, it was dry enough to handle and we simply popped the pad back on to the dashboard.

After allowing the pad to dry outdoors for a couple of hours, it was dry enough to handle and we simply popped the pad back on to the dashboard.

 

Reinstallation of the pad was simply the reverse of removal, including sliding the instrument panel cover back into place and screwing it down, which was the final step in our project.

Reinstallation of the pad was simply the reverse of removal, including sliding the instrument panel cover back into place and screwing it down, which was the final step in our project.

 

We were absolutely knocked out with the results of dash pad restoration. It looks like new, and required only $40 in materials, an afternoon’s time and a couple of screwdrivers. With our heads swelled with confidence, we’re next going to tackle the seat covers!

We were absolutely knocked out with the results of dash pad restoration. It looks like new, and required only $40 in materials, an afternoon’s time and a couple of screwdrivers. With our heads swelled with confidence, we’re next going to tackle the seat covers!

 

Sounds Great – Speaker upgrade for the original audio system

After 26 years of rock, rap and country buzzing through their cones, the original, tinny front speakers in our ’86 GT convertible produced sound only slightly better in quality than, say, a tissue-covered toilet paper roll. And this was the Premium sound system for 1986!

While the dash pad was off for its dye job, we decided to replace the stock 3.5-inch speakers with some off-the-shelf, 30-watt Rockford-Fosgate units we picked up at Best Buy. They dropped right in to the stock speaker holes, requiring only about 10 minutes for installation.

The simple swap produced a night-and-day difference in sound quality and the fitment didn’t require hacking up any original parts. And they were hidden under the restored dash pad. No, it doesn’t come close to rivaling the amped-up system in a new ’Stang, but our old Van Halen tapes have never sounded better.

 

A couple of 3.5-inch, 30-watt Rockford-Fosgate speakers were just the ticket for our worn-out, tinny-sounding original “Premium” front speakers.

A couple of 3.5-inch, 30-watt Rockford-Fosgate speakers were just the ticket for our worn-out, tinny-sounding original “Premium” front speakers.

 

Trick tip of the month! Because the rake of the windshield makes it almost impossible to access the forward screw heads of the speakers, we improvised by using a pair of pliers to hold a Philips-head screwdriver bit for a nut-driver. The low-profile setup was just right for the job!

Trick tip of the month! Because the rake of the windshield makes it almost impossible to access the forward screw heads of the speakers, we improvised by using a pair of pliers to hold a Philips-head screwdriver bit for a nut-driver. The low-profile setup was just right for the job!

 

The rear screws of the speakers are easily accessible with a small driver. The new speakers simply drop in the place of the originals and are covered by the dash pad. There’s no outward giveaway to the new speakers (we even pulled off the chrome tips seen in this photo), but the improvement in sound quality is significant.

The rear screws of the speakers are easily accessible with a small driver. The new speakers simply drop in the place of the originals and are covered by the dash pad. There’s no outward giveaway to the new speakers (we even pulled off the chrome tips seen in this photo), but the improvement in sound quality is significant.

 

 

About Jefferson Bryant (221 Articles)
A life-long gearhead, Street Tech Magazine founder and editor Jefferson Bryant spends more time in the shop than anywhere else. His career began in the car audio industry as a shop manager, eventually working his way into a position at Rockford Fosgate as a product designer. In 2003, he began writing tech articles for magazines, and has been working as an automotive journalist ever since. His work has been featured in Car Craft, Hot Rod, Rod & Custom, Truckin’, Mopar Muscle, and many more. Jefferson has also written 5 books and produced countless videos. Jefferson operates Red Dirt Rodz, his personal garage studio, where all of his magazine articles and tech videos are produced. You can follow Jefferson on Facebook (Jefferson Bryant), Twitter (71Buickfreak), and YouTube (RedDirtRodz).

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