Muscle Car Interior Restoration: Where to Start?

Pop quiz. You’ve just bought your first muscle car. You saved your pennies for years to buy the exact car you’ve dreamed about, stripes, scoops, and all. To the consternation of your wife, you cleared out a spot in the garage just for it while the transporter hauled it halfway across the country. Your coworkers can’t wait for it to arrive, if only so you’ll shut up about it around the water cooler.

 


This Tech Tip is From the Full Book, MUSCLE CAR INTERIOR RESTORATION GUIDE. For a comprehensive guide on this entire subject you can visit this link:
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It finally arrives, bumpers gleaming, Hurst shifter beckoning from between the bucket seats. You roll it off the truck, sign the papers with the transporter, and finally, it’s all yours. If it runs, you put the plates on it, grab the wife, and take it for a quick spin around the block, rapping the throttle so all your neighbors hear it. You then give it a good wash and wax and back it into the garage.

While admiring it and ignoring the wife’s calls to come to dinner, which of these do you do? a) open up the resto catalogs you’ve accumulated and start ordering every little part you’ll need to whip this muscle car into tip-top shape, b) yank the nasty seats and headliner and toss them to the curb, c) sell off the original parts in anticipation of new reproduction parts, d) pull and pile the original parts in the corner of the garage, or e) none of the above.

Putting the Plan Together

As difficult as it may be to restrain yourself from actually starting the project (because, let’s face it, they’re all projects, even the ones that are supposedly 100 percent restored), the only thing you should touch at this point is to put pen to paper. Interior restoration is no light project, and you can easily jump in over your head while trying to restore your interior. It’s the type of project that’s made up of dozens of different tasks, all of which require varying skill sets, and when you finish each task, nothing else in the car looks quite as nice, so you might as well replace the carpet and the seats and the headliner and, oh, the dash has a crack in it… And before you realize it, you’re either cutting corners just to put it all back together, or you’re down to bare floorboards and an upturned paint bucket for a seat. You don’t want that. Your muscle car doesn’t want that.

The way to avoid coming to that point is through proper planning and organization. It may feel as if you’re not making any progress at all during this phase, but you have plenty of tasks ahead of you in this project, and (at least for most of us) the distractions of everyday life to prevent you from devoting all of your resources—financial, mental, and physical—to this project. So if you take the time now to develop a plan, your interior restoration will progress much smoother when it actually comes time to turn wrenches.

So what do I mean by planning and organization? I mean, simply, methods for keeping you from overrunning your budgeted resources, methods for keeping you on track and focused on your time lines, and methods for keeping your project from devolving into an absentminded or even forgotten affair. Everybody has their own organizational methods, based on how well they’ve worked in the past. Those same organizational skills should be put to use here.

 

The project triangle visualizes the inability to complete a project quickly and to a high standard of quality with minimal resource outlay. In this classic project triangle, you can pick two aspects, but you can’t have them all. You’re thus encouraged to eliminate either speed, quality, or frugality from your project planning.

The project triangle visualizes the inability to complete a project quickly and to a high standard of quality with minimal resource outlay. In this classic project triangle, you can pick two aspects, but you can’t have them all. You’re thus encouraged to eliminate either speed, quality, or frugality from your project planning.

 

In a typical Gantt chart, each task is laid out as a horizontal bar spanning the amount of time that task is expected to last. You can then draw relationships (the little blue lines with arrows) between the tasks to determine the order the tasks should follow each other.

In a typical Gantt chart, each task is laid out as a horizontal bar spanning the amount of time that task is expected to last. You can then draw relationships (the little blue lines with arrows) between the tasks to determine the order the tasks should follow each other.

 

That said, a number of decisions need to be made before you crack open the toolbox. First and foremost, just how much work are you willing to do yourself and how much will you farm out? As I hinted in the introduction, one of the aims of this book is to familiarize yourself with the techniques so you have an understanding of not only how to restore an interior, but also how much outside help you want to rely on. Maybe you want to do only some of it yourself, but leave other tasks to dedicated interior shops. Maybe you feel comfortable with most of the tasks, but feel an experienced shop will better take care of one or two specific tasks. Maybe you want to leave the work to the shops, but make the purchasing decisions yourself.

If, after reading this book, you still have questions about how much work you can realistically accomplish on your own, speak with an interior shop. Ask around for one locally, consult the various shops mentioned in this book, or look up a reputable shop listed in the Services section of Hemmings Motor News. Ask them how much a beginner can do and how many tasks require an expert’s touch.

If you really want to do it all yourself, but find yourself lacking the experience, then perhaps diving into a one-of-one Hemi Mopar or Super Duty Pontiac isn’t the best beginner project. Instead, push the high-dollar muscle car to the side and replace the interior in a sixcylinder Falcon. The practice won’t hurt, and show judges won’t count stitches on a basic commuter the same way they would on a supercar. After figuring out what works and what doesn’t, then you can tackle your dream car.

Just as important as answering the question of who will do the work, is answering the question of what work will be done. The first part of this question concerns the approach you’re going to take with your car.

Is it in original, untouched, unmolested condition? Consider leaving as much of it original as possible. Yeah, that advice goes against the purposes of this book, but original interiors—down to their fasteners and build sheets—are a highly prized commodity, if only for the fact that they offer insight into how the factories built these cars, information that 100-point restorers hold precious. Original interiors also sometimes include more durable materials than what some aftermarket restoration companies provide, and they also include details that aftermarket companies neglect to include, either for the sake of manufacturing costs or for the purpose of appealing to a more universal subset of restorers.

More likely, your muscle car’s interior has suffered a few decades of abuse. Let’s face it: Muscle cars, for the most part, were built as cheap amusement for youth, so the manufacturers weren’t going to install premium-quality interior materials. Nor were the cars going to escape the rough hands of young drivers. The reason we love muscle cars is that we could beat on them, thrash on them, drive them hard and put them away wet. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, the secondhand and third-hand owners of these cars respected them even less and subjected them to fashions we consider obscene today. Pioneer tape decks? Chain-link steering wheels? Shag carpet?

Elements of Restoration

Some choose to further customize their car at this point, and it’s certainly possible to end up with a quality custom interior nowadays. Some guys deliberately set out to replicate the late 1960s/early 1970s street machine vibe, down to the Green Line gauges, eight-ball shifter knob, and questionable contents of the ashtray. Some muscle car owners have even started applying modern street rod interior fashions and techniques to their 1960s and 1970s muscle cars, including digital dashes, electronic transmission shifters, and fancy chrome steering columns. Far be it from me to criticize those choices, but tastes change over time and fashions come and go, as they always will. An entirely restored interior, however, remains stylish no matter what the era, and tends to increase resale value while a customized interior tends to lower resale value.

Even among the restore-it enthusiasts, there remain some shades of distinction. Are you going to restore it exactly as it came from the factory? Are you going to restore it using only New Old Stock (NOS) or original parts? Are you going to restore it, but add the options you would’ve liked had you bought this car new? Are you going to restore it as a clone of another car? Or are you going to mildly customize it— perhaps add some modern materials and technology that were unavailable when this car was new, but not interfere with the aesthetics of the muscle car era?

Answering these questions will in turn help you determine how much of this project you can accomplish with the budget and time you’ve allotted for it. Experienced restorers have a bit of advice they like to offer their first-time customers: “You can have it done fast and cheap, but not good; you can have it done fast and good, but not cheap; or you can have it done good and cheap, but not fast.”

In the field of business and IT, project managers have visualized the previous advice as a triangle, with fast at one angle, good at another, and cheap at the third. You’re then encouraged to pick any two.

Thus, if you have cash falling out of your pockets, if you don’t care how the interior of your car looks, or have all the time in the world, then you have no problem. The rest of us, meanwhile, need to reserve some of the budget for other aspects of the restoration, like paint, an engine rebuild, and wheels and tires, and we would rather not leave the car looking like a hillbilly circus just had its way with the interior. Time tends to give way for most of us, then, which is another reason why, barring logistical reasons, the interior tends to be the very last task holding up a complete restoration.

Fortunately, interiors don’t require a complete top-to-bottom restoration all at once. For the most part you can take a modular approach—that is, you can pick and choose what requires immediate attention and what can wait. Returning to project management references, if you were to map out your interior restoration project on a Gantt chart that clearly shows a project schedule, you’d find very few task dependencies and thus a very stunted critical chain. You’ll probably want to install undercarpet padding before the carpet, and both before the seats, but the rest can be completed in any order and, really, at any time.

Priority List and Budget

Here’s where you need to prioritize, then, with the absolute worst aspects of the interior (those that require the most resources to complete) at the top of your list. It may be fun and gratifying to peck away at smaller tasks that don’t require huge resources—replacing $3 switches rather than recovering seats for $300—but the danger to the project lies in expending all your resources on the quick-and-easy stuff, leaving little or nothing for the significant and resource-intensive parts.

You need to actually make a list—write it out. Go sit in the car with your pen and paper and jot down everything you see. Make sure all your gauges are working, make sure the steering wheel rim has no cracks in it, fully extend the seat belts, peel back the carpet. Next to everything you’ve jotted down, write a number, with 1 for the most egregious offenses and 10 for the least. Start a folder for all of your car’s paperwork and stick the list in it. That way when you think of something else, you’ll be able to keep all your ideas in one place rather than on a thousand notes spread all over the garage.

Hand-in-hand with prioritization, you should also formalize your available resources by creating a budget and a schedule. Figure out how much time and how much money you can allocate to this project. Do you need it done before the next show season? Do you need it done for less than what you inherited from Aunt Gertrude? Or is this a “Whenever I get it done, I get it done” kind of project? And be realistic here too. Only you know how capable you are of accomplishing these tasks within your given budget and timetable, only you know exactly how much money you’ll be able to devote to this project, and only you know how much time you can spend on it.

Experienced restorers also advise novices that the actual budget and schedule tends to conflict with the planned budget and schedule. They suggest settling on a realistic amount of time and money for the project, then multiplying those figures by some factor, usually one-and-a-half or two. Indeed, unplanned and unforeseen expenses and tasks can quickly add up.

So how do you plan for the unknown? You can either do as the expert restorers suggested and adjust your expectations—maybe the interior will be done in eight months rather than four—or you can adjust the tasks that require immediate attention—maybe you only need to recover the front seats for now; the back seats are good enough to wait until later.

Research

Thorough research and organization also helps combat the unknown. Beside each item on the priority list, figure out approximately how much that item will cost. Familiarize yourself with the reproduction parts available for your car’s interior, not just from the more well-known aftermarket companies, but also from the cottage industry guys who might offer a quality reproduction of a specific part that the big companies don’t offer. See if an abundant supply of NOS parts still exists for your vehicle and decide whether you want to go that route. Whether doing the task yourself or relying on a shop, ask that shop how long they tend to spend on that task. They may very well give you two different totals, one of them the number of hours they would bill a customer for that task, the other the number of hours it would take to do it yourself.

Most of the research you conduct for this restoration should take place now. If performing a concours, factorycorrect restoration, first obtain the judging guidelines for the relevant club or organization. Befriend one or more judges from that organization and start picking their brains. Go to club events and shows, camera in hand, and photograph cars like yours (or like you wish your car would end up). Speaking to the owners of those cars will not only net you valuable information about parts sources and restoration techniques, but the owner of the car may also allow you to further inspect the car, to sit in it, and to feel the different materials that owner used. It will also give you insight as to how the judging guidelines are applied on a case-by-case basis. Joining the relevant clubs or registries and subscribing to their newsletters often yields otherwise unavailable information about cottage industry parts sources and group buys of hard-to-reproduce items. The Internet-savvy restorer can also find plenty of marquespecific—even model-specific—assistance through web forums and mailing lists.

Of course, not everything can be found on the Internet. Two incredibly useful tools for your research are assembly manuals and fabric swatch books. The former are important simply because they show you exactly how your car was put together (and should be taken apart) and in what steps. The latter, used by dealerships when these cars were new to help customers choose a color and interior scheme for their cars, include every type of material in every color available for that year in sample form attached to the pages of the book. Just as a painter wouldn’t attempt to reproduce a factory color without a paint chip chart, an upholsterer wouldn’t attempt to reproduce seats or carpeting without a fabric swatch book. Neither assembly manuals nor fabric swatch books are particularly easy to find or inexpensive, if only because factories and dealerships tended not to retain such voluminous references for too long, but they do turn up from time to time. Check with literature dealers such as McLellan’s or Bob Johnson’s to track down pertinent assembly manuals and swatch books.

 

No matter the type of muscle car, there’s a club out there for it, with members who’ve been down the same road as you’re planning to travel. Check out the club’s publication and website for helpful tips and restoration information particular to your car

No matter the type of muscle car, there’s a club out there for it, with members who’ve been down the same road as you’re planning to travel. Check out the club’s publication and website for helpful tips and restoration information particular to your car

 

To keep track of expenses, both chronological and financial, you’ll want to use a spreadsheet. Create columns for Priority, Task, Budgeted (or expected) Cost, Budgeted Hours, Actual Cost, and Actual Hours.

To keep track of expenses, both chronological and financial, you’ll want to use a spreadsheet. Create columns for Priority, Task, Budgeted (or expected) Cost, Budgeted Hours, Actual Cost, and Actual Hours.

 

Once you’ve filled in a few figures, create a row for Totals below the last row of the table. Then use the AutoSum function (the sigma in the tool bar) to calculate the total. The program will automatically recalculate any rows you insert above the Total row

Once you’ve filled in a few figures, create a row for Totals below the last row of the table. Then use the AutoSum function (the sigma in the tool bar) to calculate the total. The program will automatically recalculate any rows you insert above the Total row

 

After totaling the budgeted resources and the actual resources, you can compare the two and decide whether to reduce the number of tasks in the project or adjust your expectations for the project’s end date and total cost.

After totaling the budgeted resources and the actual resources, you can compare the two and decide whether to reduce the number of tasks in the project or adjust your expectations for the project’s end date and total cost.

 

By adding more rows below the Total row, you can also keep track of the parts sold to finance this project. After adding up the money generated by any sales, you can then subtract it from the total amount spent on the project to discover the Net Total amount that the project costs.

By adding more rows below the Total row, you can also keep track of the parts sold to finance this project. After adding up the money generated by any sales, you can then subtract it from the total amount spent on the project to discover the Net Total amount that the project costs.

 

Magazines can prove useful with their tech stories, though interior tech stories tend not to be as numerous as tech stories on engine or suspension components. The greater benefit to magazines often lies in their advertisements, which can alert you to new products and restoration materials. The granddaddy of all car magazines, Hemmings Motor News, is chock-full of advertisements that can assist in your research.

Finally, restoration company catalogs and certain books prove to be worthwhile resources; the former for finding tools, parts, and materials and their pricing and the latter for researching exactly how your muscle car was built.

Your research will likely inspire ideas about your interior that you hadn’t thought of before. Now is the time to go back to your priority list and add those ideas.

Eventually, your priority list will contain enough information to warrant placing it on a spreadsheet on your computer, which is a perfect way to keep track of your resources. Ideally, you would create six columns: Priority, Task, Budgeted Cost, Budgeted Hours, Actual Cost, Actual Hours. The first, Priority, requires just a number to determine where in the list each task lies, and will help if you need to adjust your priorities. The second, Task, requires a brief description of the specific part of the interior restoration. Budgeted Cost and Budgeted Hours are what you expect to devote here at the beginning of this project, whether you’re completing that task yourself or whether you’re assigning it to a restoration shop. Actual Cost and Actual Hours are for a running tally once you’ve begun the project.

At the bottom of the last four columns, reserve a space for totaling the costs and hours, using the spreadsheet program’s AutoSum function to do that automatically.

You may also want to set up another section underneath the main spreadsheet section to keep track of any income you make from this car. The most likely source of income comes from selling off old parts, in which case, you would want to describe the part sold in the Task column, enter the price you sold it for in the Actual Cost column, and then use the AutoSum function to total the sales. Subtract that total from your previous total and you’ll have a more realistic accounting of your project’s financial situation.

MuscleCarB

This spreadsheet approach not only allows you to reshuffle your priority list quickly, it encourages you to consider any tasks that you may have overlooked. It also allows you to budget your time and money more realistically if you budget from the bottom up rather than from the top down. That is, for a moment ignore any estimates you’ve already made of the total budget for this project and focus only on what each task will require, letting the AutoSum function calculate what the project will cost. By comparing the total cost derived from the spreadsheet to your estimated total cost, you can see how much more or how much less time and money you will likely spend than you first thought.

However, even the budgeted cost in both time and money is still just a guess, which is why you have columns for actual dollars and actual time spent on each task. As long as you remain honest (and really, who would you be fooling if you didn’t?), these allow you to quickly and easily chart your progress and help you to keep on schedule and on budget. And when it comes to completely unexpected expenditures (for example, you accidentally put an elbow through your NOS center console lid. Not as if anybody we know did anything like that…), the spreadsheet allows you to simply add a row and fill in the actual cost and time to cover that expenditure. In the interest of keeping honest, you should leave the Budgeted Cost and Budgeted Hours columns blank for those unexpected tasks.

Of course, you may find that your estimated totals are actually stiffly defined upper limits on the time and money you can spend on the interior of your car. Here again, by using the spreadsheet you can quickly and easily determine what tasks to knock off your priority list until it falls in line with your budget.

Just as important a question as the above is how you’re going to come up with the money for this restoration. As with the amount of money you’re spending on your interior, the source of your funding is up to you. Nowadays, you’ll likely purchase many of the parts and supplies online or through a catalog. Whether you put your purchases on a credit card or debit card, be sure to include any interest charges and shipping charges on your budget spreadsheet. Finally, many car clubs arrange discounts for club members with certain aftermarket companies. Ask around within your club to see if any such discounts exist.

Organization

So with a plan in place, a budget decided upon, priorities defined, and credit card warmed up and ready, you’re probably thinking now comes the part where you bust out the tools. Not just yet. One common mistake derails many interior restoration projects: throwing parts out immediately after removing them from the car.

Every part still has a function until you declare the project complete, whether as a reminder of reproduction parts that you still need to purchase, as a comparison for quality and correctness against new reproduction parts, or as a materials donor for repairing other parts. Even if you don’t intend to reinstall a part, you’ll want to keep it for reference. You can tell a lot about how parts are supposed to go back together by their shapes and sizes and even by their quantities.

If you do throw a part out or sell it before you’re done using it as a reference, then inevitably minutes afterward, you’ll have a question about how the new part is installed that only the old part can answer. Finding an answer through other means then ends up becoming a huge waste of time.

Here’s why you should stay organized: In this picture of my garage, the car’s bucket seats are toward the back of the garage, behind the stack of tires, behind the boxes of new parts, and behind the mounds of old parts. Moving everything out of the way will take at least half an hour, whereas if everything were rationally organized or stored out of the way, getting to the seats wouldn’t take any time at all.

Here’s why you should stay organized: In this picture of my garage, the car’s bucket seats are toward the back of the garage, behind the stack of tires, behind the boxes of new parts, and behind the mounds of old parts. Moving everything out of the way will take at least half an hour, whereas if everything were rationally organized or stored out of the way, getting to the seats wouldn’t take any time at all.

 

Parts stores package some things in clear plastic containers nowadays, which are worth holding on to for small-parts storage. Clear glass and plastic containers saved from the recycling bin also make great, cheap small-parts storage.

Parts stores package some things in clear plastic containers nowadays, which are worth holding on to for small-parts storage. Clear glass and plastic containers saved from the recycling bin also make great, cheap small-parts storage.

 

To store and organize fasteners, use sandwich bags or larger storage bags that zip close. Label the bags with strips of masking tape and a marker that won’t rub off the masking tape. You’ll need plenty of these bags, so consider them a regular garage supply instead of borrowing them from the kitchen.

To store and organize fasteners, use sandwich bags or larger storage bags that zip close. Label the bags with strips of masking tape and a marker that won’t rub off the masking tape. You’ll need plenty of these bags, so consider them a regular garage supply instead of borrowing them from the kitchen.

 

Boxboard is that thin cardboard that cereal boxes are made from and, when broken down, makes for an excellent place to temporarily store all the screws that come out of your interior. Just push the screws through, then label them with a pen directly on the boxboard. The boxboard also provides space to jot down notes about the fasteners.

Boxboard is that thin cardboard that cereal boxes are made from and, when broken down, makes for an excellent place to temporarily store all the screws that come out of your interior. Just push the screws through, then label them with a pen directly on the boxboard. The boxboard also provides space to jot down notes about the fasteners.

 

And as you’ll soon find out, a car takes up way more space when it’s apart versus when it’s all together. In particular, molded interior panels, seats, and dashboards require a whole lot of room when they’re out of a car, and none of them fit on your standard garage shelving with much ease. So consider leaving those large, ungainly parts where they’re designed to belong—installed in the car—until it becomes necessary to remove them. While not mentioned earlier, space is just as precious a commodity as time and money, and should be at least considered through the course of an interior restoration, if not budgeted in the same manner as your time and money.

This is where good physical organizational skills become an asset. If your garage or basement resembles a thrift store, then maybe it’s time to spend a weekend tidying up. If it’s a lost cause, companies actually exist that will come in and organize your garage and set you up with the shelf and rack space you need to avoid “Level One Disaster Area” status.

And as with the time and money necessary for a restoration, figure out exactly how much storage space you’ll need for your interior, then double it. Invest in bins of all sizes or simply pluck plastic and glass containers—and their lids—from the recycling. Resealable sandwich baggies, especially the ones with a strip for easy marking, make great screw, nut, and bolt containers. In a pinch, you could push screws through a section of boxboard or run a zip-tie through a group of nuts that must remain together; all three methods offer quick labeling and quick-glance identification of the contents. Invest in a roll of masking tape and a couple felt-tip markers in order to label your containers. On larger parts that don’t fit into containers, you can still apply the masking tape directly to the surface of the part for identification (many parts are easily confused, left for right and vice versa) or for notes regarding the condition and fate of the parts.

Properly Store Your Parts

Clear off as much shelving space as possible, or even build additional shelving, for all the parts that will come out of your car’s interior. Try to keep different types of parts on different shelves. For instance, keep interior trim parts grouped together on one shelf and dash items grouped together on another shelf. This will help you not only more effectively keep track of your total inventory, but will free up an entire shelf once you’ve completed that particular task. Try to put the lighter, more fragile parts on higher shelves and heavier parts on lower shelves, both to reduce potential breakage of the parts and to save your back when lifting the parts on and off the shelves.

Bigger items, such as seats and headliners, tend not to fit on shelves very well, but don’t just clear some garage floor space for them. Instead, if you have to, build a small platform to get every interior part up off the floor. Garages and basements (especially basements) flood without warning. Suspension parts and body panels can survive a flooding; interior parts, made of fabrics, soft backing boards, and foam, do not easily survive water damage.

Garages and basements also tend to become habitats for rodents, which make beelines (mouselines? ratlines?) for the soft stuff of an interior, where they can inflict the most damage. So when setting up your storage area, consider mouseproofing the storage area and setting it up away from suspected rodent habitats already in existence.

Do not rely on your workbench for storage. All too soon, the workbench becomes crowded and you find yourself using the hood of your car as a substitute—not something you want to do if you value the paint on your car. And speaking of your workbench, make sure you have a large, flat surface for many of the tasks in this book; large enough for an entire bench seat. Many interior and upholstery shops prefer to cover their workbenches not in plywood, which is very rough and can catch and tear fabric easily, but in something smoother, like linoleum. In a pinch, an old, clean blanket is still better than bare plywood. And if you’re building a workbench, for the sake of your back muscles, build it to a comfortable height.

Another storage-related tip: Do not buy any parts or materials until you need them. This frees up your cash flow for the parts and materials you need immediately, and just as important, it frees up the storage space for the parts and materials you need immediately. Even Henry Ford, 85 years ago, realized the benefit to this approach when he wrote in My Life and Work, “We have found in buying materials that it is not worthwhile to buy for other than immediate needs. We buy only enough to fit into the plan of production… That would save a great deal of money, for it would give a very rapid turnover and thus decrease the amount of money tied up in materials.” His thoughts on that topic eventually inspired Toyota to develop the Just In Time inventory strategy that has since become an important management style for nearly every goods manufacturer, distributor, and retailer around the world.

Then again, if you can come up with the shelf space and can locate and pay for all the parts and supplies you need, then go ahead and buy everything before diving into the project. Aftermarket companies have a tendency to discontinue, modify, or increase the price of an item without notice, and NOS supplies never increase, so it sometimes doesn’t hurt to make an exception to this rule and hoard the parts you need when they’re available.

At any time up to the time you need them, however, is a perfect time to buy tools.

Tools

Henry Ford offered a lot of good advice to live by. One of his lesserquoted lines, however, has to do with the importance of tools: “If you don’t buy the tool you need, you will eventually pay for it, but not have your tool.”

He knew that, whatever the task, it’s going to take a tool to complete it, and you won’t complete that task without that tool. Refuse to buy the tool, and you’ll just have to pay somebody who has the tool to do it for you, then pay that person again and again every time you need to use that tool.

Henry obviously didn’t borrow tools from his neighbors, but then again, good neighbors share a six-pack of brew in exchange for borrowing tools. But the bright side of Henry’s advice is that he’s giving you permission to go buy tools, and not many guys are going to refute that advice.

Interior restoration requires some of the same tools as most other restoration projects: screwdrivers, wrenches, ratchets, pliers, and sometimes hammers. But interior restoration also requires many specialty tools due to the nature of the projects. Compared to the undersides of muscle cars, interiors tend not to feature as many exposed fasteners, for safety reasons and perhaps in an effort not to interrupt the aesthetics that the interior designers had in mind. Interiors also tend to feature much softer materials, which require vastly different fasteners in some cases, and vastly different tools designed not to damage those softer materials.

For that reason, one good rule of thumb to follow when restoring your interior: Don’t use a screwdriver unless you’re actually driving screws. We’ve all used screwdrivers as pry tools, poke tools, or as general substitutes for some specialty tool we don’t have. The danger of using screwdrivers for other than their intended purpose inside a car comes when the screwdriver slips and then gouges your console or rips your seat cover. And, of course, Murphy’s Law dictates that the seat cover you rip will be the brand-new one you just bought for $350. So keep them out of the interior until they’re called for. Nor do I have to remind you not to carry your screwdrivers in the back pocket of your jeans.

 

The real value of rotary tools such as this Dremel Multi-Tool is in their flexibility. You can rapidly change out a plastic cutting wheel for a sanding bit, a drill bit, or a polishing wheel. Even more flexibility comes from the collet extension that allows you to get into tighter spaces.

The real value of rotary tools such as this Dremel Multi-Tool is in their flexibility. You can rapidly change out a plastic cutting wheel for a sanding bit, a drill bit, or a polishing wheel. Even more flexibility comes from the collet extension that allows you to get into tighter spaces.

 

Heat guns should be in every car guy’s toolbox, and not just for their ability to activate heat shrink wire coverings (shown here with the heat gun). They’re also useful for removing adhesives, softening plastics, and quick-drying paint.

Heat guns should be in every car guy’s toolbox, and not just for their ability to activate heat shrink wire coverings (shown here with the heat gun). They’re also useful for removing adhesives, softening plastics, and quick-drying paint.

 

Even if you don’t plan on stitching your interior, a good pair of shears comes in handy for all sorts of tasks, from making patterns, to trimming the headliner or carpet, to cutting noise and heat barriers. Don’t just borrow your kid’s grade-school scissors; buy a professional set and keep them sharp.

Even if you don’t plan on stitching your interior, a good pair of shears comes in handy for all sorts of tasks, from making patterns, to trimming the headliner or carpet, to cutting noise and heat barriers. Don’t just borrow your kid’s grade-school scissors; buy a professional set and keep them sharp.

 

Even though it says DeVilbiss, this is not simply a paint spray gun pressed into service to shoot adhesive. DeVilbiss, among other manufacturers, makes a dedicated adhesive spray gun designed for easy cleanup and low adhesive buildup. While most home restorers won’t find such a gun necessary, pros use them all the time.

Even though it says DeVilbiss, this is not simply a paint spray gun pressed into service to shoot adhesive. DeVilbiss, among other manufacturers, makes a dedicated adhesive spray gun designed for easy cleanup and low adhesive buildup. While most home restorers won’t find such a gun necessary, pros use them all the time.

 

An air compressor supplies the air pressure for the adhesive spray gun, but the adhesive itself is delivered to the gun from a pressure pot, which can range in size from a 1-liter pot attached directly to the gun to a 30-gallon pot for larger, industrial uses. This one is typical and holds about 21 ⁄2 gallons.

An air compressor supplies the air pressure for the adhesive spray gun, but the adhesive itself is delivered to the gun from a pressure pot, which can range in size from a 1-liter pot attached directly to the gun to a 30-gallon pot for larger, industrial uses. This one is typical and holds about 21 ⁄2 gallons.

 

You’ve probably tried to melt two pieces of plastic together with a soldering iron. A plastic welder works on the same principle, but includes plastic welding rods designed to add material and strength to the weld. Reinforcing wire mesh sheets add more strength to thinner pieces of plastic.

You’ve probably tried to melt two pieces of plastic together with a soldering iron. A plastic welder works on the same principle, but includes plastic welding rods designed to add material and strength to the weld. Reinforcing wire mesh sheets add more strength to thinner pieces of plastic.

 

Steering wheels are held tightly to the columns for a reason; you don’t want yours coming off the column while driving down the street. This means that when you do want to remove the steering wheel from the column, it won’t be easy unless you have a steering wheel puller, a simple machine that uses screwing action to force the steering wheel off its splines.

Steering wheels are held tightly to the columns for a reason; you don’t want yours coming off the column while driving down the street. This means that when you do want to remove the steering wheel from the column, it won’t be easy unless you have a steering wheel puller, a simple machine that uses screwing action to force the steering wheel off its splines.

 

Most people have heard of hog ring pliers, but never seen one in action. These professional one-handed hog ring pliers load hog rings like a desktop stapler loads staples. When the handles are squeezed, the jaws at the front slice a ring off the stack and bend it to shape in one motion.

Most people have heard of hog ring pliers, but never seen one in action. These professional one-handed hog ring pliers load hog rings like a desktop stapler loads staples. When the handles are squeezed, the jaws at the front slice a ring off the stack and bend it to shape in one motion.

 

Stretching pliers stretch seat covers over seat frames and foam, and pull the fabric or vinyl tight so you can put a hog ring around the edge of the cover and secure it. Imagine trying to use your fingers or any other type of pliers, and you’ll instantly see the value of stretching pliers.

Stretching pliers stretch seat covers over seat frames and foam, and pull the fabric or vinyl tight so you can put a hog ring around the edge of the cover and secure it. Imagine trying to use your fingers or any other type of pliers, and you’ll instantly see the value of stretching pliers.

 

Staples are a cheap and effective way to secure fabric and vinyl in many areas of the interior. To properly remove them, you need a staple remover, which looks like a flathead screwdriver with a deformed head. A staple remover pries out the staples as a flathead screwdriver would, but a staple remover is lithe enough to get under the staples and do no damage.

Staples are a cheap and effective way to secure fabric and vinyl in many areas of the interior. To properly remove them, you need a staple remover, which looks like a flathead screwdriver with a deformed head. A staple remover pries out the staples as a flathead screwdriver would, but a staple remover is lithe enough to get under the staples and do no damage.

 

A tuck tool comes in handy for many phases of interior restoration, and is designed to be thin enough to tuck or push fabric or vinyl into places your fingers can’t reach. Note its rounded edges, designed to keep the tool from puncturing or otherwise damaging fabric, vinyl, and trim. In a pinch, a clean plastic spreader used for bodywork can be used instead of a dedicated tuck tool.

A tuck tool comes in handy for many phases of interior restoration, and is designed to be thin enough to tuck or push fabric or vinyl into places your fingers can’t reach. Note its rounded edges, designed to keep the tool from puncturing or otherwise damaging fabric, vinyl, and trim. In a pinch, a clean plastic spreader used for bodywork can be used instead of a dedicated tuck tool.

 

One of the specialty tools you may want to invest in is this one, used for fishing the cables (that keep convertible tops taut) through their fabric pockets in the convertible tops. A length of coat hanger or welding rod serves the same purpose, but the tool could conceivably be used for also fishing electrical wiring around dashboards and under carpet.

One of the specialty tools you may want to invest in is this one, used for fishing the cables (that keep convertible tops taut) through their fabric pockets in the convertible tops. A length of coat hanger or welding rod serves the same purpose, but the tool could conceivably be used for also fishing electrical wiring around dashboards and under carpet.

 

Eastwood sells a kit of nylon pry tools designed not to mar the soft plastics and vinyls of most muscle car interiors the way screwdrivers and metal pry tools do. Just remember, though, if the item you’re prying still isn’t budging, there may be additional screws you didn’t initially see.

Eastwood sells a kit of nylon pry tools designed not to mar the soft plastics and vinyls of most muscle car interiors the way screwdrivers and metal pry tools do. Just remember, though, if the item you’re prying still isn’t budging, there may be additional screws you didn’t initially see.

 

A little more specialized than the nylon pry tools, these panel clip removal pliers, also from Eastwood, work in reverse of most pliers. You slip them behind a panel, usually a door panel, and around the clips holding the panel to the sheet metal behind it. You then squeeze the handles to separate the jaws, popping the clips without ruining the panel.

A little more specialized than the nylon pry tools, these panel clip removal pliers, also from Eastwood, work in reverse of most pliers. You slip them behind a panel, usually a door panel, and around the clips holding the panel to the sheet metal behind it. You then squeeze the handles to separate the jaws, popping the clips without ruining the panel.

 

The aftermarket has made things much simpler for muscle car guys, and as a result, it’s entirely possible to restore your interior without once touching a sewing machine. If it becomes necessary to buy a sewing machine, invest in an industrial-grade machine and consider the models with deeper throats for stitching bulkier pieces.

The aftermarket has made things much simpler for muscle car guys, and as a result, it’s entirely possible to restore your interior without once touching a sewing machine. If it becomes necessary to buy a sewing machine, invest in an industrial-grade machine and consider the models with deeper throats for stitching bulkier pieces.

 

I’ve already discussed one tool you likely won’t find in your garage. Your computer is useful not only in organizing your project through spreadsheets (and project management software, if you’re that ambitious), it’s useful for ordering parts on the Internet, researching the correctness of your interior, and gathering advice on the parts and methods that work best for your particular car. A laptop, of course, would be infinitely easier to take out to the garage, but would then be infinitely more susceptible to dirt, dust, and overspray.

One of the most versatile tools I’ve found, regardless of the task, is the rotary tool, also known as the Dremel, after the brand that has dominated the household rotary tool business over the last couple decades. With the right attachments, it can become a router, a planer, or even a reciprocating saw, but you’ll be most interested in the various bits that are available for it that allow you to effortlessly cut plastic, shape materials, or polish metals, among many other tasks.

Unlike air-powered tools that rely on torque, electric rotary tools rely on speed and high RPM—sometimes up to 35,000 rpm—to do the job. While cordless rotary tools offer greater portability, you’ll want to use the corded types and an extension cord; battery-powered rotary tools just don’t provide enough oomph for the intensive tasks that an interior restoration demands. Invest in a multi-speed rotary tool; different materials require different speeds. Invest in the widest variety of bits you can afford, and buy the flexible collet extensions for greater maneuverability around tight spots.

 

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Another all-purpose tool I recommend obtaining is a heat gun, useful here for softening plastics, softening rubber undercoating, activating heat shrink tubing, and quickdrying paint. If possible, find one with multiple settings, and always start with the lowest heat range and work your way up until you find a heat range that works.

Remember, when using any device that produces heat in a garage filled with oily rags and other combustibles, always keep a fire extinguisher handy. Two if possible, one on either side of the garage, in case a fire blocks your access to one extinguisher. A cell phone that dials 9-1-1 is also a good idea.

Though not considered an allpurpose tool, a good set of shears come in handy for a number of different tasks in an interior restoration. Don’t cheap out and get a pair of scissors at the office supply store, however; you’ll be cutting more than just paper. Instead, any upholstery supply store or craft/fabric store will have heavy-duty fabric shears, the heavier duty the better. Make sure to keep the pivot oiled and the blades sharp.

Throughout your interior restoration, you’re going to use a lot of fabric adhesive or contact cement, and after you use it a couple times, you’re going to find a lot more uses for it than you would have expected. The stuff comes in aerosol cans, so buying a pressure pot and a spray gun dedicated to spraying contact cement may not be necessary for somebody doing just a few touchups here and there on their own car, but any upholstery shop worth its salt will have a pressure pot or two.

Even if using contact adhesive from an aerosol can, you need to keep in mind two things: First, you need to spray both mating surfaces, and second, you need to give the contact adhesive about a minute to set up before attaching anything to the glued surfaces. Jerry Ambrosi, of Master Upholstery in Newton, New Jersey, said if you don’t let the adhesive set up, during which time the glue releases its solvent vapors, “then the glue will bubble up the minute the car hits the sun.”

Along with contact adhesive, use a stiff piece of cardboard or pressboard as a shield to prevent overspray on the rest of your interior or glass. Should you squirt overspray on the rest of your interior, some restorers recommend using a short length of duct tape—adhesive side out—to pick up any excess adhesive. Any wax or grease remover, including 3M’s dedicated adhesive remover, will also eliminate oversprayed adhesive.

Like it or not, your muscle car interior will contain some plastic parts, and it’s likely that not all of them are reproduced. I’ll go over the repair of plastics in Chapter 2, but you should consider purchasing a plastic welding kit. Most of them work on most types of plastics, which can often mean the difference between a seamless repair and one that looks like booger-welded steel.

A number of specialty tools should also inhabit your toolbox for interior restorations. Much like a harmonic balancer puller, a steering wheel puller will do that job quickly and effectively without the need to resort to brute strength or some odd combination of pry bars.

Hog ring pliers and stretching pliers really only come into use when installing seat covers. However, both are essential in keeping the seat fabric pristine and free from tears.

Finally, a good set of trim tools should take the place of your screwdriver-and-clawhammer method of removing trim, door panels, window cranks, and about anything else with hidden fasteners or clips. Try to find a set of trim tools made out of nylon or some other type of plastic— they’re generally hard enough to pop the fasteners, but soft enough not to scratch, dent, or puncture the trim itself.

Do you need to invest in a sewing machine? Here’s where a lot of guys are put off by interiors, thinking they’ll suddenly become women if they touch a sewing machine, let alone own one. The reality is that a good sewing machine intended for heavy materials such as canvas, vinyl, and automotive fabrics can cost more than most guys figure on spending on their entire interior restoration, and unlike the previous tools mentioned, the proper operation of a sewing machine requires quite a bit of training and practice. Add to that the fact that many reproduction seat covers, carpets, and headliners come prestitched nowadays, and most average home restorers likely will not need to invest in a sewing machine.

On the other hand, you want to do it all, or perhaps your particular seat covers aren’t available in reproduction. Or you just have a cool custom concept in your head for your muscle car. In that case, following Henry’s advice, you’re going to want to look for an industrial sewing machine, preferably one with a long arm, able to sew heavier materials such as canvas and leather. To choose a brand and model of industrial sewing machine, ask your local upholstery shop, awning maker, or sailboat supply and repair shop.

Finally, figure out how you’ll go about refinishing your fasteners. While interior screws, nuts, and bolts tend not to suffer rust the same way their external brethren do, they are not immune from the ravages of time. Several companies make interior fastener kits for some of the more popular muscle cars, but not all, so many restorers must work with what they have. Hardware stores inevitably don’t carry anything close to what the original manufacturer specified, and fastenerspecific outlets like Fastenal and Au-ve-co can provide fasteners that do the job, but may not look the part.

The simplest method only requires you to box up the fasteners, ship them to a replater, and write a check. Unfortunately plating has become a scarce and expensive business thanks to environmental regulations. So it may come down to your own preferred method of refinishing.

Using a wire wheel effectively cleans the fasteners, but also effectively removes fingerprints if you’re not careful. If you have a small-parts wire basket, media blasting will certainly do the trick, but may try your patience. Tumblers make a great alternative, especially for small parts, but often require lengthy tumble times. Electrolysis and chemical strippers can work quickly and effectively, but leave residues if you’re not careful. Once you’ve stripped the fasteners of rust, paint, or any other unwanteds, replating is actually possible for the home restorer using kits from Caswell Inc. or Eastwood.

So you’ve now memorized every catalog that you requested, you’ve created the most detailed priority list known to man, you’ve charged the battery in your digital camera, and you’ve stocked your tool chest with these funny-looking nylon pry bars. It’s now time to tackle that interior, task by task. Take a deep breath and keep in mind yet another Henry Ford quote: “If you think you can do a thing or think you can’t do a thing, you’re right.”

Photographing the Project

A camera will help immensely with documenting the disassembly and reassembly of your interior. You’ll want to photograph parts before, during, and after removal, especially parts that require specific orientations, adjustments, or assembly procedures. Digital cameras make this documentation much easier than film cameras—not only can you see immediately whether you properly photographed the parts and processes, you can take many more pictures, thanks to memory cards that grow cheaper and larger all the time. If you don’t already have a digital camera, try to find one in the 5- to 8-megapixel range, then stuff it with the largest memory cards you can afford. Keep its batteries continually charged.

 

A typical point-and-shoot digital camera will help you document the disassembly process so you’re not finding yourself scratching your head when it comes time to reassemble everything. Look for one with a few more megapixels than the older camera pictured.

A typical point-and-shoot digital camera will help you document the disassembly process so you’re not finding yourself scratching your head when it comes time to reassemble everything. Look for one with a few more megapixels than the older camera pictured.

 

Here’s an improperly lit photograph, with harsh light from the flash blowing out details close to the camera lens, harsh shadows elsewhere, and soft focus on everything in the background. When photographing your car for reference, pictures like this don’t convey much information.

Here’s an improperly lit photograph, with harsh light from the flash blowing out details close to the camera lens, harsh shadows elsewhere, and soft focus on everything in the background. When photographing your car for reference, pictures like this don’t convey much information.

 

A more evenly lit and sharply focused photograph, however, does convey useful information for your restoration. If possible, use a small tripod for your camera, turn off (or turn down) the flash, and use additional lighting to obtain a better picture. And take multiple pictures from different angles for a better idea of how everything goes together.

A more evenly lit and sharply focused photograph, however, does convey useful information for your restoration. If possible, use a small tripod for your camera, turn off (or turn down) the flash, and use additional lighting to obtain a better picture. And take multiple pictures from different angles for a better idea of how everything goes together.

 

When photographing your interior, first make sure you’re focusing on the part you’re documenting. Try not to use your on-camera zoom and instead move as close to the part as possible. Light up the area as brightly as possible with work lights, but if your camera has multiple flash settings, set it to the lowest. This may seem contradictory, but a bright flash may overexpose your photo (especially close-up objects) and cast harsh shadows that make it difficult to discern important details.

Try to download the photos to your computer sooner rather than later and keep them organized according to task. When it comes time to reassemble your interior, you can then print out the photos that you think will best help and take those printouts to the garage.

 

Written by Daniel Strohl and Posted with Permission of CarTechBooks

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