Recovering a Cracked Dash Top (Crash Roll)
by Schuyler Grace, email@example.com
So, your vinyl dash top, or crash roll in LBC parlance, is looking a little more “rustic” than you would like, and you’ve grown tired of loosing quarters, bolts, small children, etc. in its canyon-size cracks. Basically, you have four options:
- Find a NOS dash that has been stored in a climate controlled vault, surrounded by inert gas;
- Purchase an aftermarket dash overlay;
- Strip the dash down to its frame and start from scratch; or
- Use the old, cracked dash as a form and recover it with new vinyl.
The first option is, of course, the best if you are a stickler for originality; however, it requires substantial luck to locate such a beast and a bankroll to match your good fortune to actually purchase it. Option two seems to be the standard way to go, but the experiences of others have led me to believe that really good results are difficult, if not impossible, to achieve following this route. Provided you have the upholstery skills (or know someone who does), recovering the stripped frame can yield a perfect copy of your original dash, but trying to get the padding just right while wrapping covering material around compound curves isn’t something I want to even think about trying.
To spruce up my Spitfire, I chose covering over all of the nasties with new vinyl fabric, leaving the old covering and padding in place as a form for my work. The process was fairly simple, and the finished product looks great and has received many complements. The dash has also held up well in two years of unpampered use, while apparently forestalling further deterioration of the underlying material. Another benefit is that the process is reversible (for the most part), so the covering can be replaced whenever it begins to show its age.
Materials and Prep Work
This process should work with almost any padded dash, provided the dash isn’t a complete basket case. Even large cracks and holes can be filled, but you must have enough of the old covering and padding in reasonably good shape to allow reestablishing the original dash contours. Also, the dash will be slightly oversized after recovering, so tight clearances at the windshield, windshield posts, and dash face will be even tighter. None of these turned out to be a problem with my paint spattered, severely cracked Spit dash.
The materials required are as follows:
- Enough vinyl fabric to wrap completely around the dash with several extra inches all the way around so you can hide the raw edges (about one yard for a Spitfire dash). I purchased mine from Vickie Brit, but any good automotive- or marine-grade vinyl should work–just pick a grain pattern and color you like. I would advise against using regular upholstery vinyl that’s found at fabric stores, since it isn’t designed to be happy in the environment typically found in our LBCs.
- A quality (3M, for example) spray upholstery adhesive. Get two large cans, just in case, but less than one will suffice if all goes well.
- Two-part, five-minute epoxy for gluing the fabric edges and indentations in the dash.
- RTV silicone as required to fill cracks.
- Household dishwashing or laundry detergent.
- Naphtha or some other quick drying, relatively mild solvent (not gasoline!).
- A stiff bristled scrubbing brush.
- Single-edge razor blades.
- A fabric marker (Sharpie).
- Clean rags.
Begin by removing the dash from your car and any trim from the dash. Next, use a single-edge razor blade to pick away any loose bits of old vinyl and rotted foam padding. Don’t get too carried away with this, though, because the less you have to work with, the more difficult it will be to get the proper contours when refilling the cracks. It is especially important to trim the edges where the vinyl has cracked because these will tend to curl up and telegraph through the new covering.
Now, you must thoroughly clean every square inch of the old dash to give the adhesives a good bonding surface. I just laid everything out in the driveway and went to town with the scrubbing brush, a bucket of suds (detergent, not beer), and the garden hose. You’ll be surprised how much crud has accumulated in the crevices of your “clean” dash. When you finish, completely rinse the dash and set it out in the sun to dry. Drying may take an afternoon or a day or two, depending on how much water the foam soaked up, but you definitely want as little water as possible trapped in there to rust away the dash frame. After the dash has had time to thoroughly dry, wipe it down with solvent to take care of anything the bath didn’t get and trim away any newly discovered high spots, flaking vinyl, and disintegrating foam.
Filling cracks and holes in the old dash is probably the most critical part of getting a good looking finished product. I used RTV silicone because it stays flexible and doesn’t seem to attack the old vinyl or foam. You don’t have to be terribly careful, either. Just overfill each of the cracks, making sure the silicone penetrates to the bottom of the crack and extends out to the edges. After it has had time to fully cure, carefully trim away the excess silicone, following the surrounding contours. Very small imperfections in your crack repairs won’t telegraph through the new covering, but you should pay particular attention to high spots and irregularities around areas like the front edge of the dash and the ashtray recess, because they will be the most noticeable in your finished dash. If you aren’t happy with the results so far, simply add or trim away more silicone, or pull out the bad plug and start again.
Applying the Covering
This is the messiest part of the process. Upholstery adhesive and epoxy are nasty things to work with, and they get everywhere if you aren’t careful. It also helps if you are ambidextrous, have a prehensile tail, or are equipped with opposable thumbs on your feet to hold onto everything while the adhesives set. I spread an old comforter on the bed, and it made the perfect (clean, soft, and disposable) work surface. It will also peel off of the dash when you accidentally manage to glue the two together, but newspapers will just make a mess.
Start by laying out the vinyl fabric face side down and placing the dash top-down on the vinyl. If you are using vinyl that has a “direction” to its grain pattern, make sure it is oriented the way you want the grain to run. Then, use a fabric pen to mark off the indented areas of the dash around the ashtray, vent holes, etc. and trace the outline of the dash on the back of the vinyl,. Next, wrap the vinyl around the dash and trim off any excess fabric. Be careful not to move the dash around too much at this point so the indentations you marked stay in place, and leave plenty of extra fabric around the edges for gluing. A good rule of thumb for trimming the fabric is to leave two or three inches of excess all around and then, add a couple more for good measure. Remember, you can’t uncut the vinyl, but you can always trim more off.
Now, you can begin the fun part by turning the dash over (top up), placing it next to the vinyl, and spraying everything down with upholstery adhesive, following the directions on the can. Try to avoid