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How To Series: Don't cover it with sheetmetal, learn the correct way to... Rebuild Your Door Panels

By Jefferson Bryant

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 annoyance is the door panel. Because several cars feature designs and materials that are long extinct, just picking up a catalog for a complete panel isn‘t going to happen. Professional help is needed; in this case, reproduction door-panel upholstery from Original Parts Group. OPG has a full line of restoration products for most GM musclecars, which is good since we are working on a ‘69 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 and original piece cannot be located, as the replacements are usually not as 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 backing board.

The upper section of the upholstery ships 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 the basic assembly completed, the trim can be reinstalled. While most of the trim holes are prepunched 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 altogether, depending on the car. It is wise to layout the trim on the panel before cutting the vinyl, as some holes aren‘t needed. On this GTO, the upper and lower stainless trim strips required drilling new holes, as the prepunched holes did not line up. The original plastic armrests were in pretty sad shape after almost four decades of dutiful service. OPGI.com sent out a set of reproduction armrests, pads, and chrome bases, which mount just like the originals. The plastic armrests require drilling three holes to mount the chrome trim.

The crew at Redline Autosports in Wilson, Oklahoma, restored this ‘69 GTO Judge in a matter of three weeks. The complete interior took these guys about eight hours, including upholstery.

1. The original door panels have seen better days. Not only are they ripped and warped, but the cardboard backing is also covered in mildew and mold from years of leaky windows. Time for an upgrade.

2. The stainless steel trim was removed by prying the tabs out, then the tabs were straightened with pliers and set aside for reinstallation.

3. Before the old panel was removed, the metal upper backing plate was marked with a felt-tip pen to locate the new panel. Once marked, the cardboard peeled right off.

4. The original window felts were stapled on; these needed to be removed to complete the installation. A die-grinder and cutoff wheel made quick work of the staples.

5. Again using the die-grinder, the original star-punch holes were ground off leaving a flat, uniform surface to mount the new panel. We also hit the metal with a Scotch-Brite Roloc pad on a die-grinder to clean up the surface rust and residual adhesive.

6. The new panel was laid against the backing plate along the line we marked earlier. A couple of clamps held it in place while the backing board and metal support were drilled approximately every 6 inches.

7. Using a generic pop-rivet gun, the two pieces were joined together. This was much easier and more secure than trying to reuse the original punched holes.

8. The backside of the rivets needed to be knocked down so the panel would sit flush against the body. A 2x4 block and a hammer flattened them nicely.

9. While rattle-can spray glue is OK, much better results will be 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.

10. 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 underside of the metal panel.

11. 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.

12. The new panel comes prepunched 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.

13. The GTO has three pins that require the vinyl to be pierced. This was accomplished with a small pick tool.

14. A window-crank hole was cut with a razor knife. If the car had been equipped with power windows, the panel would have accepted the switch by cutting out the perforated sections.

15. The window felts were drilled and riveted to the metal backing plate to complete the rebuild.

16. The original plastic armrests were cracked and crumbling from years of UV exposure. The new OPG pieces were drilled for the stainless trim inserts.

17. The front and read armrests also had new soft pads installed. The rear armrests came fully assembled with trim ashtrays.

18. The installation was simple, just like removal. The top went on first.

19. Redline installed new pushpins in the panels. These will require some adjustment when installing the panel.

20. All done, the new door panels really set off the interior and add that new-vinyl smell. Much better than mildew.

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