Dashboard Restoration - Classic Cars

When enthusiasts consider restoration of dashboards there are two fundamental issues that must be considered -

• The "finished appearance"
• The quality of work - "Restoration" or "Repair"

Finish in any restoration is paramount to ensure the original aspect of the vehicle is maintained. As far as dashboards are concerned this comment relates directly to the texture and grain of the finishing material. Unfortunately, due to the passage of time, material in the original grain and texture is almost impossible to locate, however, professional restorers do have alternatives that are almost identical to the OEM finish.

Enthusiasts should ensure that this aspect is clearly settled prior to committing their unit to the restoration process. Professional restoration businesses will have material available that has been used in prior classic car restorations that has been found to be acceptable by the car clubs with whom they deal. They should happily provide references from these clients together with material samples for your consideration. Insist on the material you require!

Dashboard restoration has been available for over twenty years but unfortunately, despite the advance in technology, only a small group of professional restorers have moved forward with these advances. The techniques of twenty years ago remain with us today and provide an extremely poor quality result that is actually a simple repair rather than a quality professional restoration. This method is known as "crack-fill and cover" which in essence involves the dash surface material cut away from the dash cracks, that are then filled with automotive body-filler putty. The area is then sanded and a vinyl sheet glued over the dash surface. Failure of this type of repair occurs very shortly due to the effects of heat and cold on the body-filler that causes movement under the dash skin. Lumps form and the material will eventually force itself through the dash surface material. This is a low cost, no quality, method that should be avoided at all cost!

Professional restoration companies have taken advantage of technology and, in cooperation with major chemical companies, have developed products ideal for restoration purposes. Original dashboards were filled with low-density foams, which over time actually die and turn to crumble. In a professional restoration this dead material is removed from the unit and replaced with sophisticated products that replace the original foam and provide lightweight strength and durability in the dashboard. This material is then handcrafted in shape and size of the original unit.

Enthusiasts are not always aware that dashboards actually shrink and warp through the passage of time and only professional restorers understand that this can only be remedied by a quality approach. This aspect is undertaken by the use of tooling jigs especially designed for the vehicle in question, which ensures a correct specification. Unfortunately, those in the industry who are not true professionals, ignore this issue and often dashes simply wont fit or look absolutely unsightly due to obvious gaps between body and dash.

An important part of any high quality restoration is the surface preparation of the unit prior to the vacuum forming of the finishing material. Specially prepared adhesives must be applied to a specially prepared surface if total bonding is to be successful. This involves professional treatment of both the material and the dash surface. Perfect bonding will only take place if heat relief provision is made on the dash surface. This is due to the extreme pressure and temperatures required in the vacuum forming oven process. Bonding will fail, due to air bubbles, in corners and instrument apertures if suitable relief is not provided.

The final finishing material must be of high quality to provide the UV protection and durability of the dashboard. Professional restoration businesses will only use OEM quality products. Colour should not be an issue to anyone, as professional restorers will use material that is pre-treated to accept quality colour dyes. Your dashboard should be available to you in any colour whatever. It costs no more to colour a unit black than it does to provide you red!

For further information see www.dashboardrestorations.com.au

By James A Kirk