Dashboard Rebuild - The Dash Caper
An Affordable Alternative To Dashboard Devastation
From the August, 1999 issue of Mopar Muscle
Photography by Steve Dulcich
If your Cudas...
If your Cudas dash looks anything like this one, you know that, barring some miracle find, youre in for some serious expense to put things right.
Our subject dash is a 1971-74...
Our subject dash is a 1971-74 ’Cuda A/C piece (1970 units use a differently-shaped emblem), which will replace the non-A/C unit in our 1971 &8217Cuda. The dash is incredibly rough. The first step is to remove the VIN tag. Then the emblem is carefully pried off.
The A/C vents unscrew from...
The A/C vents unscrew from the inside of the dash. The bezels on our vents are fine, but, as is commonly the case, the vent louvers are broken and missing.
Before any other work is done...
Before any other work is done the pad is thoroughly cleaned--first with a damp sponge to remove dust and dirt, and then with lacquer thinner to dry out any oils and silicones from the surface. This assures a good bond for the repairs and the Dashcap.
Heavily-raised areas, which...
Heavily-raised areas, which commonly occur around large cracks, need to be trimmed back to avoid hanging up the new cover. Cutting the brittle old material is a challenge, even with new razors.
Smaller cracks are sanded...
Smaller cracks are sanded back with a D/A sander locked off to grinding mode. The heat from sanding actually softens the material around the cracks, allowing the broken skin to resettle closer to level than when we started.
The repair putty we use is...
The repair putty we use is SEM Weld flexible repair compound, used by bodyshops to fix flexible bumpers and other soft plastic parts on modern cars. It is distributed by autobody supply houses which carry the SEM line. Equal parts of the resin and hardener are mixed to catalyze the product.
Regular autobody filler plastic...
Regular autobody filler plastic spreaders are used with the SEM Weld. Apply the compound slightly higher than level with the surface, and feather the repair well passed the actual crack.
The SEM weld is incredibly...
The SEM weld is incredibly sticky, and cures well enough to sand in about half an hour. We use a D/A sander with No. 80 grit, again set to grind, to shape the fill material level with the dash’s contour. There&8217s no need to get a razor sharp feather edge, or a glass smooth surface, since the Dashcap is very forgiving.
All bonded up, our dash looks...
All bonded up, our dash looks positively hideous, but now has one solid, level skin.
Next, our Dashcap is slipped...
Next, our Dashcap is slipped on for a trial fit. We notice a slight discrepancy between the window for the VIN and the recess in the stock dash. An outline of where the two line up is marked on the dash to fix the situation. The Dashcap goes on easily, but requires some finesse to remove without distorting. Actually, the fit is so good and snug, it will barely move even without being bonded.
The original dash is built...
The original dash is built of a thermoplastic material, which, although brittle, becomes soft and formable with heat. We also use the exhaust port from a gas soldering iron to heat (don&8217t burn it; a heat gun will also work) the material in the VIN tag area, and then coax the softened plastic to match the recess with the window in the Dashcap.
Now for the bonding. The Dashcap...
Now for the bonding. The Dashcap is bonded with silicone, a tube of which is provided in the kit. We bought a tube of black silicone at the hardware store to fit a caulking gun, which makes the application easier. Silicone is applied around all of the corners, edges, and openings, but not over the large flat areas.
Next, the Dashcap is slipped...
Next, the Dashcap is slipped over the whole frightening-looking mess. Don&8217t waste any time, since the silicone will hang up the Dashcap if it begins to set, ruining the installation.
The Dashcap pops right into...
The Dashcap pops right into position, and is tightly secured at the edges with duct tape, bungie cords, sticks, and even a pair of vice grips (jaws covered). Work quickly to press the edges tightly together before the silicone dries.
While the silicone is drying,...
While the silicone is drying, we turn our attention to those broken A/C vents. Here’s the type of tip you&8217ll only find in Mopar Muscle. Do we scour the countryside looking for E-Body A/C vents? No. We just go to our local wrecker, and pull the A/C vents from a common 1971-74 B-Body. The vent louvers can be removed by pulling the pins on the outside pivots, then sliding the center pivot to the right and then left to remove them. The vents are a drop-in interchange. Take care not to lose the spring clips, which keep the vents from flopping down.
The vents are cleaned up,...
The vents are cleaned up, detailed with new accent paint, and installed in the E-Body bezels. Installation requires finesse, not brute force. A small nail is handy to align the holes in the bezel, spring clip, and vent for installing the retaining pin.
Because of the slight added...
Because of the slight added thickness of our dash&8217s new skin, our center bezel requires a slight filing at both ends (about 1/32-inch) for a clean installation. The single vent requires no filing in our case. A small spacer is added between the vents and the dash at each mounting screw, to adjust the depth of the vents slightly.
Finally, the emblem is replaced....
Finally, the emblem is replaced. We drill three small holes in the dash’s emblem recess for the emblem’s mounting pegs. Then the emblem is pushed on using a dab of weatherstrip adhesive at each peg. If your emblem&8217s mounting pegs are broken, just glue the emblem on.
With a bit of handiwork, our...
With a bit of handiwork, our devastated dashboard is transformed. As with anything, coming up with a great-looking dash from what would have otherwise been garbage, depends on skill and patience. The Accuform Dashcap makes it possible.
Whether you're restoring or just fixing-up, bringing an older Mopar back to life has always involved balancing personal time, the necessary effort, and cold, hard cash. Got the bankroll? With enough dough, virtually no obstacle stands in the way of putting together anything you can dream up, any way you want it. For the rest of us, building that 440 in the garage, or lying on the cold concrete bolting-in the front suspension, saves us the nickels which makes the project possible. Some repairs, however, just smack of looming expenditure. No matter how you slice it, you just know getting it fixed is going to soak serious cash. For E-Body fans, the padded dash has always been on this list. So, your 'Cuda dash looks like a relief map of the Mariana Trench. Whatcha gonna do? Don't expect to saunter over to the local wreckers carrying spare pocket change, and pull one on a lazy Saturday afternoon.
The heavily-sculptured dash pads used on the E-Body cars were no more prone to cracking than any other dash of the era. Thirty years later, any survivors have passed an amazing endurance test. The fact is, there really aren't that many original E-Body dashes which have endured the decades. Those NOS, or used-original pieces, which remain are highly sought after by serious restorers and hobbyists alike, and carry a hefty tariff. An alternative to shopping original is to spring for a pro-rebuild on your existing dash. We know of only one company--Just Dashes--that can properly do the thermal vacuum forming for a stock appearance. Another option is to shop the Year One catalog for their reproduction, which is built on original steel backings--an excellent piece. Choose any of the following three approaches for a clean-looking dash: shop NOS, get a thermal vacuum-formed re-skin, or buy the reproduction. Just don't expect much change back from $600.
Aware of the high cost involved in remedying a cracked E-Body dash, we were intrigued to find a molded, semi-rigid dash cover designed to repair these dashes on display at a local Mopar show. We found that the Dashcap(TM) was manufactured by Accuform Plastics, a company known to Mopar Muscle readers for their recently-released reproduction E-Body door panels. Priced at a little over a $100, the product instantly appealed to our penny-pinching nature, while the molded form of the Dashcap promised a do-it-yourself installation. Compared to the cost of the alternatives, the Dashcap seemed to be a bargain, so we decided to give one a try. The Dashcap is pre-molded in plastic to the exact shape of the original dash. It's designed to glue over the existing cracked dash, effectively giving it a new skin. Since the thermal-molded Dashcap is semi-rigid, it is made to hold its shape, even when the surface beneath is less-than-perfect. Information from Accuform suggests that the cover can be bonded over the original cracked dash, with the only prep required being to trim back any raised areas. We were advised that the dash need not even be removed from the vehicle for installation. In our installation, partly because our original dash was so bad, we felt some additional prep would be an advantage, and our dash was removed for the rework.
With huge gaping cracks, holes, and plenty of the inner foam core showing, our dash was seriously trashed. We figured if we could bring this nightmare back to life, in our own garage, for less than $150, then the Dashcap would have proven its worth. We just wouldn't have felt right about tossing the cover over our unstable mess of a dash, so we purchased a couple tubes of SEM Flexible Welding Compound. The SEM Weld is a bonding and filling product used in the autobody industry for repairing flexible rubber bumpers and other plastics on modern cars. The dash was reworked and bonded with the weld compound to fill the holes and bond the patchwork that remained of the factory skin. We finished by sanding the repairs level to the original shape. The repaired dash looked ugly after the rework, but it was actually level and well-bonded together. Slipping on the Accuform Dashcap was just the icing on the cake, providing our dash with a tailor-made new skin. With careful installation and attention to detail, our results with the Dashcap were nothing less than amazing.
85 East 400 North