There are relatively few items on a muscle car that aren’t readily restorable at home. Most restoration jobs require a little research, maybe some welding or paint, while not necessarily easy, it is somewhat straightforward. Vinyl dash pads are a whole other animal. How do you restore a vacuum-formed vinyl dash pad that has weathered and split after sitting in the sun year after year? The vinyl turns to brittle plastic that cracks if you look at it wrong, much less touch it. There are things that can be done if the vinyl is still flexible and soft, but hard vinyl is pretty much useless, rendering the pad a total loss. Sure, there are dash rebuilders who have the specialized machines to strip and re-vinyl your old dash, but that costs big dollars. While that may be fine for the deep pockets of a concours resto builder, the average hobbyist simply cannot afford to spend 600-1000 on a dash pad.
Now there is a solution to this problem, one just about anybody can do at home. www.dashcaps.com now offers an alternative to expensive rebuilding services. A thermoformed plastic dash cap is created to fit over your existing dash pad, reversing the damaging effects of the sun. DashCaps.com carries products for most muscle cars, all for around $100, depending on the model.
The caps are easy to install, taking only about an hour for our model. They are designed to be installed with the dash in the car, but I took the dash out, to make things a little easier. There were a couple of issues with the dash we used, due to the original design. The 71 Buick dash has a plastic “BUICK” plaque that is recessed into the dash. Now instead of making a proper recess for the plaque, the new cap is cut out and leaves the original dash exposed just over the plaque. While this would have been acceptable, the person who trimmed my cap did a fairly poor job, cutting an oval instead of a rectangle. This was not a problem for me, having spent the last few years as a plastics designer, building thermo-forming tools; I am quite familiar with modifying plastics. I will show you how to do the same, creating a beautiful dash.
That being said, the dash was otherwise, a good quality unit that fit well and looks like a brand new dash. If your dash doesn’t have any weird cut-out, there should be no problems with a straight forward install. So follow along and see how to restore your vinyl dash at home with a Dash Cap.
1. The original dash pad in our 1971 Buick GS convertible has seen better days. This section has split and cracked out, losing some of the vinyl covering. Although I have seen worse, this pad is basically junk.
2. The resto begins by removing the vents and emblems. This BUICK plaque created a few unique problems with this job.
3. The pad needs to be clean so a liberal spraying of an ammonia-based cleaner was used, and then wiped off with a clean towel. Both front and back sides are cleaned.
4. The outer edges of the pad need to be scuffed up so the adhesive will stick. Some 80-grit paper does the job. Only the outer 1” needs to be scuffed. The inner sections for the vents and gauge panel should be included as well.
5. To ensure the pad is super clean and residue free, some Eastwood PRE prep spray was used. A clean towel is used to wipe the pad down.
6. Here is the problem, the guy who trimmed this cap didn’t do a clean job, the edges are cold (the plastic was not hot enough when the part was formed) and they didn’t trim it out completely. This will have to be fixed for a good looking dash.
7. First, using a die-grinder and a 36-grit Roloc pad, the opening is trimmed out just slightly larger than needed. This so it can be smoothed up later. Due to the shape of the dash, the grinding was done from the front side. Extreme care must be taken here, if any of the moving parts touch the rest of cap, it will get pretty ugly and require even more repairs.
8. The corners and outside verticals need to be trimmed with a razor. Little cuts, not big ones are the key to a clean edge.
9. Now that the prep is done, the cap is ready for installation. The adhesive needs to be warmed up, a few minutes in a cup of hot water does the trick.
10. The adhesive is applied around all of the outside edges, about a 1\4 to a 1\2 inch from the edges. This allows the adhesive to flatten out and get a good grip.
The cap slides over the dash, and even pressure is applied to make sure it fits correctly.
Some excess adhesive will squeeze out; some areas will be easy to clean while the adhesive is wet, while others would clean up easier after the 4-hour cure time.
To ensure even pressure and a good fit, 2” 3-day masking tape and some clamps were used. Be creative and use whatever works. Just don’t use anything that could damage the new cap.
The inside of the vents provide a unique clamping challenge. The original vents were inserted backwards, creating excellent uniform pressure.
The excess adhesive on the inside of the vents is easier to clean with a razor blade after the adhesive cures. Don’t cut yourself!
Here is the end result from the trim work. This is perfect, just enough area to complete the modification.
The plaque is taped up with masking tape, 2 times over. This extra size will give just the right wiggle room for a stock look.
A little body filler is mixed up and spread into the cavity. Enough filler was put in for some excess to squeeze out, which is what we want.
The plaque is then pressed in and the excess is blended to the outside edges. Note the little pull tab, this makes it easier to remove the plaque. Any filler on the face of the cap should be removed before it cures, we don’t want to lose the grain pattern.
20. Once the filler has fully cured, the plaque is removed.
21. Some 80-grit paper smoothes the edges and removes any excess filler.
With the dash prepped and clean, it is time for paint. Since our pad is black, we used some SEM Trim Black. This paint is formulated for automotive use and is exterior rated, meaning it will last under the sun. If you need a colored dash, SEM offers plastic spray dyes that will match just about any original color. SEM paints are available at any auto body supply store.
23. Once the paint is dry, the plaque is popped in place.
24. The vents are reinstalled and the new restored dash can go back in the car. Looks just like new. One note- protect the new cap by using windshield reflectors or a soft carpet dash pad when parked outside nothing can escape the ravages of the sun’s rays forever.
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).