There aren’t many things better than cruising your ride down Main Street. The rumble of a finely tuned engine, the smell of mildew-infested upholstery…..oh, wait, that’s not supposed to be part of it. Nothing ruins a sweet ride faster than a ratty interior. While it may sound expensive and hard to replace, in reality, it is quite simple.
One aspect of interior replacement, that is a major source of confusion, are the door panels. Just slapping on some new vinyl isn’t going to make it all better. Professional help is needed, in this case, reproduction door panel upholstery from The Original Parts Group. OPG has a full line of restoration products for most GM muscle cars, which is good since we are working on a 1969 GTO Judge.
Replacing the upholstery isn’t a plug and play operation, there is some labor involved. All of the original trim needs to be removed, as well as the original stamped steel upper panel that slides over the door. There are replacement upper panels, but these should only be used in the cases where the originals are gone and original pieces cannot be located as the replacements are formed ABS, flimsy, and just not very good. Once that is done, the upper panel mount requires a little prep work. The factory used star-punched holes that were hammered into the cardboard backing of the door panel. While it is possible to reuse the original punched holes, it is much easier to drill new holes and use pop rivets to secure the new door panel to the backing board.
The upper section of the upholstery is shipped loose, which requires spray adhesive to complete the assembly. A heat gun or hair dryer makes the process easier as the vinyl needs to be stretched a little for a factory look.
With all the basic of assembly completed, the trim is reinstalled. While most of the trim holes are pre-punched in the cardboard backing, the panels are made to fit a variety of trim packages and styles. This means that some of the holes don’t line up, or are simply left out all together. It really just depends on the car. It is wise to lay out the trim on the panel BEFORE cutting the vinyl, as some holes aren’t needed. On our GTO, the upper and lower stainless trim strips required drilling new holes, as the pre-punched holes did not line up. The original plastic arm rests were in pretty sad shape after almost 4 decades of dutiful service. OPG sent out a set of reproduction arm rests, pads and chrome bases which mount just like the originals. The plastic armrests require drilling 3 holes to mount the chrome trim.
Once completed, the door panel reinstalls just like the original. We installed new push clips in place of the original rusted pins. OPG also offers replacement cups for the door, which are sometimes missing or broken. The entire operation, including front and rear panels, took about a day to complete. Our Judge is back to cruising the strip in style, and now, no more mildew scent!
1. The crew at Red Line Auto Sports in Ardmore, OK restored this ’69 GTO Judge in a matter of 3 weeks. The complete interior took these guys about 8 hours, including complete upholstery.
2. The original door panels have seen better days. Not only are they ripped and warped, the cardboard backing is covered in mildew and mold from years of leaky windows. Time for an upgrade.
3. The stainless steel trim was removed by prying the tabs out, then the tabs were straightened with pliers and set aside for reinstallation.
4. Before the old panel is removed, the metal upper backing plate was marked with a sharpie to locate the new panel. Once marked, the cardboard peeled right off.
5. The original window felts were stapled on, these needed to be removed to complete the installation. A die-grinder and cut-off wheel made quick work of the staples.
6. Again using the die-grinder, the original star-punch holes were ground off, leaving a flat uniform surface to mount the new panel with. We also hit the metal with a scotch-brite Roloc pad on a die-grinder to clean up the surface rust and residual adhesive.
7. The new panel is laid up against the backing plate along the line we marked earlier. A couple of clamps hold it in place while the backing board and metal support were drilled approximately every 6 inches.
8. Using a generic pop rivet gun, the two pieces were joined together. This is much easier than trying to reuse the original punched holes, and more secure.
9. The backside of the rivets needed to be knocked down so the panel would sit flush against the body. A 2×4 block and a hammer flattened them out nicely.
10. While rattle-can spray glue is ok, much better results are obtained by using high-quality spray adhesive and a cheap paint gun. The glue is available from most any upholstery shop. The glue was sprayed on the metal backing plate.
11. The fleece was stretched first, then the excess trimmed off. More glue was sprayed on, then the vinyl was stretched over the panel and wrapped around the under side of the metal panel.
12. The stainless trim was given a quick cleaning with a piece of steel wool. This little trick brought the trim back to a bright luster.
13. The new panel comes pre-punched for the trim, but the holes didn’t line up. The trim was laid on the panel and a piece of tape was marked to locate the holes. Then the panel was drilled in the correct places. The carpet was pulled back to clear the drill bit. When installed, the trim will cover the edge of the carpet.
14. The GTO badge has 3 pins that require the vinyl to be pierced. This was accomplished with a small pick tool.
15. The window crank hole was cut with an X using a razor knife. If the car had been equipped with power windows, the panel would accept the switch by cutting out the perforated sections.
16. The window felts were drilled and riveted to the metal backing plate to complete the rebuild.
17. The original plastic armrests were cracked and crumbling from years of UV exposure. The new OPG pieces were drilled for the stainless trim inserts.
18. The front and rear armrests also had new soft pads installed. The rear armrests came fully assembled with trim and ashtrays.
19. The installation is simple, just like removal. The top goes on first.
20. Red Line installed new push pins in the panels. These require some adjustment when installing the panel.
21. All done, the new door panels really set off the interior and add that new-vinyl smell. Much better than mildew.
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).