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.