Tuesday, May 31, 2016

C3 Door Panel Replacement

Since the door panels my '76 Vette came with from the factory were showing their age, as well as a few tears, it was time to "bite the bullet" and purchase new ones.

I decided to go for the "basic" panels since as of late, I am favoring a more Spartan look when it comes to these cars. There's just too much chrome and fake wood trim in C3s with deluxe interior packages, and the savings between the basic versus the deluxe panels is substantial.

You can always transfer the trim from yours to a basic panel, provided the pieces are in good condition and save quite a bundle, but I like the way a plain panel looks. Besides, new vinyl and leather have such a nice sheen to them so why cover that up?

And so I decided to just use the horseshoe moldings that fit in the armrest, plus the door lock/unlock bezels, which I had to detail (more on that later).

Since I had detailed the passenger side door a while back and had also installed weatherstripping (see end of article for link), replacing the panel on that one was the easiest. The driver's side door was a bit more challenging since it needed detailing, FatMat installed and the new weatherstrip glued on. Not to mention that the driver's side panel also has a plate for the manual remote mirror, which would have to be cut out.

After removing the panels, you can then take off whichever trim pieces you would like to transfer to the new door panels. Since I was only going to use the armrest horseshoe molding and the lock/unlock bezel, I removed those.

As the photos above show, you have tabs to bend as well as mushroomed studs to break. It is not difficult, just a bit time-consuming. I also chose to smooth out the bezel studs with the help of a pair of pliers that helped me remove what was left of the deformed stud heads.  This helped with the installation.

The instruction sheet that came with the new panels suggested using the trim pieces to "stamp" the correct location of the tabs and studs, in order to drill the necessary holes. I did that and proceeded to drill the new panel, which is always an unnerving task.

With the holes drilled, I installed the lock/unlock bezel first, followed by the horseshoe molding. I decided to trim the latter a bit so it would fit more to my liking, and I used my Dremel tool to remove a bit of steel in the area where it met the bezel. Once I was happy with the fit, I installed it one last time and bent the tabs to secure it in place.

But as I mentioned earlier, before I reinstalled the bezel, I decided to detail it a bit by polishing the chrome and repainting it with SEM Landau Black trim paint. Of course I sanded the scratches so it would look nice, and once the paint had cured I lightly sanded the raised lettering with a little piece of wood to which I glued a small piece of 400-grit sanding paper. The results were worth the extra work.

Reproduction lock knob bezels cost around $70 for the pair, so if the originals can be saved there's good reason to do so. Repro bezels usually come with threaded studs along with the corresponding hardware, which makes installation easier. In my case, I chose to Epoxy the bezels in place which worked just as well.

Once the Epoxy had cured, I removed the excess vinyl for the door handle and door lock knob.

Installing the new panels is a bit challenging since they tend to have a more pronounced curvature than the original units. Also, since the backing panels are made out of ABS plastic, they are stiffer than those with cardboard backing, so getting them to lay flush against the inner skin of the doors is quite difficult.

So, in order to achieve a satisfactory look, I had to resort to using a couple more screws than originally intended. After the panels were in place, I painted the screw heads with satin black paint, which helped hide them enough so they don't stick out like sore thumbs. It was a compromise I was willing to make so the door panel would look right.

The repro panel came with plastic Velcro-style pads, and even though they were properly aligned, they failed to do the job. Not sure if that was related to them being of a lower quality or because the pressure exerted by the panel itself made it impossible for them to work properly. Either way, the extra screws did the trick for me.

By the way, I measured the approximate length of screws I needed and bought a few—along with the right size finish collars—from the local ACE hardware store.

As far as the driver's side door was concerned, it took additional work since I had to first paint the front of the exposed inner skin as well as the access panel. Like I did previously for the passenger side door, I used bedliner spray, which gave it a nice texture. I also made a new neoprene gasket for the access panel.

Once the painting was done, I installed the new weatherstripping and proceeded to apply FatMat to most of the inner skin in order to help quiet road noise down.

Installation of the driver's side door panel posed its own challenges since I had to cut the vinyl in order to feed the rearview mirror manual remote control plate. This is one of those cases where you really have one shot at getting it right.

I also detailed and painted the mirror remote plate with bedliner paint so it would look the part when installed. Glad to report that it turned out pretty nice. Having said that, this plate is not the best work by Chevrolet designers as it almost looks aftermarket. They could've done a lot better design-wise but for whatever reason chose the "utilitarian" look. Oh well.

Replacing the OEM door panels of a '68 through '77 Corvette—with aftermarket panels with plastic backing—is an all-day job. And if you want to address other issues while the panel is off the door, add the needed extra hours accordingly.

Once you're done—provided everything goes well—you'll be very pleased with how great your car feels and looks.

Thank you for reading!

Follow this link for the C3 Corvette door weatherstripping article.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

C3 T-Top Repaint and Chrome Trim Removal

Certain trim pieces date cars, and while that is not necessarily a bad thing per se, in the case of my '76 Corvette, less is more.

I tend to favor a cleaner, more up-to-date look for my car, so when the time came to have the T-Tops repainted, the chrome trim had to go.

My Stingray was originally silver metallic, and when the previous owner had the car repainted, the shop he used dropped the ball when the time came to tape the tops, which left a sliver of the original paint showing.

T-Top chrome trim pieces can be expensive—and since my T-Tops had to be modified to look properly without them—I will probably sell them on eBay in order to recoup some of the painting expense.

I used an auto body shop in Longwood, Florida to do the necessary bodywork and paint, and they did a pretty decent job.

As I mentioned, the T-Tops needed some work since the front lips have a groove that runs across in order for the chrome trim to remain in place, so Jeremy had to fill in the groove with the right product and then prep the whole area for paint.

In addition to that he had the paint scanned so the color would match exactly, which was great since I did't have a clue as to which paint they used when the car was repainted. I am glad to report that it was a perfect match and now we have the formula for the paint.

Here are a few Before & After photos. I am very happy with the new look and I've already ordered new weatherstripping seals for the tops, so stay tuned for that project.



Thanks for reading!

Saturday, May 21, 2016

C3 Bubble Taillight Conversion

Finally made up my mind to replace the original OEM taillights with aftermarket "bubble" lenses. The brake light lenses were cracked and dull-looking, and replacement kits sell for around $185. Not excessive but not cheap either. Conversely, aftermarket bubble taillights cost around $85 for a set of four.

The conversion kit also allows you to go from two brake lights to four, which of course eliminates the backup lights, but those can be substituted with aftermarket LEDs or with a LED license plate frame. However, since I rarely drive my Vette at night, I am not overly concerned at not having those.

The taillight kit I got from Corvette Central is made by Eckler's Corvette, and although it is well made and of very nice quality, the extra taillight sockets provided with the kit are of very poor quality, which is usually the case with Made in China automotive parts.

Had I known that this was going to be the case, I would've gone to the local U-Pick yard and gotten OEM taillight sockets. But, since I got them to work, I will see how long they last and make a decision at that point.

One detail that I did not care for was the fact that the edge of the base is white, and it sticks out like a sore thumb with most paint colors, except maybe for white and silver. So I had to do something about that.

Another detail I did not like was how close the taillight bases were to the upper edge of the bumper so I decided to modify them so they would sit a touch deeper in the holes.

But before we get to those issues, we must start with removing the OEM taillights, which involves a couple of screws to loosen the lenses, followed by three 3/8" bolts that hold the assembly plates.

There also are backing plates that hold the plates and you have to reach behind the bumper in order to get them out.

Once you get them out, you also need to trim some of the bumper material behind the backup lights in order for the sockets to fit properly.

Above are Before & After photos that show the excess bumper material that needs to be removed. I used my Dremel tool with a router bit which allowed me to cut the rubber bumper material without much effort.

I then proceeded to splice the extra taillight sockets with the Scotchlok/tap connectors provided with the kit. I also tested the lights to make sure everything was working correctly, only to find out that the light socket was a cheap POS that required some "massaging" so the lights would work properly.

By the way, the Eckler's kit also includes a heavy-duty flasher since the load of the four lights, versus the original two, requires this. Replacing the original flasher with the heavy-duty one is a matter of unplugging one and plugging in the other.

After I ensured the parking/brake lights were working correctly, I proceeded to install the kit lens bases. I had to get a bit creative here and used 1/4" nylon nuts from Dorman—the kind used for fastening license plates—available online or at any auto parts store. And just to make sure they would stay in place, I used Crazy Glue.

As I mentioned earlier, I modified the lens bases a little so they would fit better. And in order for them to look right, I had to assign two of them as "outer" and the other two as "inner." I did this since the "outer" base spacers had to be trimmer two-tenths of an inch, while the "inner" base spacers had to be trimmed three-tenths of an inch.

Another modification I made was to remove part of the top lip of each base since it interfered with the bumper after making the studs shorter in order for the lights to sit deeper (see photos below). The Dremel with a cutting disc made quick work of that.

Once all the trimming was done, I secured the bases as described earlier. I was lucky that the nylon nuts I used to anchor the taillight bases fit very snugly in the original holes. Had the holes been too large, I would've had to find a different way to secure the bases, such as using nuts and washers, which makes removing the bases far more challenging.

Above: Using Epoxy to secure the nylon anchors to the bumper is a good idea.

I did not use the self-adhesive gaskets that came with the kit since they pushed the lenses out which sort of ruined the look I was after. If I drove my car in the rain often then I would've certainly used them, but since I avoid bad weather like the plague, this is not a concern.

And here's the finished product. I understand that this look may not be everyone's favorite, but I've come to really like how well they blend with the rubber bumper, and I am very pleased with the more modern look.

And here's a before and after view of the whole rear bumper.

I did run into a problem when I tested the turn signals. Both the OEM and heavy-duty aftermarket flashers made them blink extremely fast, to the point of rendering them useless. However, the hazard lights (all four lights flashing at the same time), as well as the brake lights, worked just fine.

I tried switching the wiring to see if that was the reason, but nothing helped. I even purchased a new, Made In The USA heavy-duty flasher at the local O'Reilly Auto Parts store. That one did not help either.

So, in order to keep whatever's left of my sanity, I decided to use the OEM flasher and only the outboard lights for turn signal and brake light duties. All four taillights illuminate when the driving lights are turned on. That was an acceptable compromise in my opinion and they look great.

Zip Corvette is another vendor that offers a complete bubble taillight conversion kit, including a new flasher, for around $89.95.

Thanks for reading!