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djwarner

Leather Dash Cover Installation

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After much searching, I found an overseas source for an S30 leather dash cover made from Italian leather. Finally got it delivered yesterday and will document the installation process here for those interested.

 

I had previously attempted a dash repair with SEMS bumper repair but found problems with thermal expansion/contraction causing failures at the vinyl joints. The advantage of leather is the material will expand and contract with the material underneath without failing. 

 

Since this vendor is new to me, I won't give the source until I determine the quality of the fit and difficulty in installation. I am also working with them to verify their design.

 

So far the only discrepancy I've found is in the recesses for the hazard switch and spare recess for fog light switch (as in my series I - believe later years mounted the cigarette lighter there). They only included one funnel shaped recess for the upper recess. This will mean relocating the hazard switch to the upper position for my installation. I am anticipating the manufacturer will be adding the second funnel in future production.

 

There are also funnel shaped additions to wrap around the recesses for the speedo, tach, and fresh air vents. The shallow recesses for the three gauges are not included and will be molded in during installation.

 

After a trial fit I've determined I will pull the dash to install. As with any compound curve fitting with leather, there will be shrinking and stretching involved. Unfortunately, most of the stretching will be in the valleys between the gauges and in the recesses.

 

Here is where I can use some help from our more experienced members. I've custom molded pistol holsters by soaking them before molding and then boning them to shape. Shrinking with a heat gun should be no problem. I am anticipating rough sizing wet, allowing it to dry in place and then a final fit and glue in place. Any suggestions here would be appreciated.

 

The leather itself measures 1 mm thick, so I am pondering whether adversely affect installation/removal of the speedo and tach.

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Please keep us up to date and include lots of pictures if you can. I'm very interested.  Thanks  JB

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Fantastic project, definitely looking forward to the progress reports. Sorry no upholstry experience. I'm pretty sure the suitability and quality of the glue will be critical.

 

Regarding the tach/speedo removal issue. If the leather is 1mm thick it will likely cause removal issues. The standard plastic dash covers are likely a bit thinner than this, and they more or less remove any chance of removing the instruments from the front. Now the fact that leather is soft "might" mean the gauges can be weasel'ed out with a lubricant and gentle prodding, but only trial and error will prove this one way or the other. not a show stopper, you can after all, always take the dash out!

 

Good luck!

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Here's an update on my dash upgrade.

 

Pulled the dash and prepped for covering. Noted the vinyl covering is only 0.5 mm (0.020") thick. Original construction appears to be a vacuum formed sheet of black vinyl and then back filled with an expanding foam using a form to match the metal frame of the dash. Originally this foam was soft to act as a cushion in an accident. Age has turned the foam hard and the vinyl brittle. 

 

I had previously attempted a repair with SEMS plastic bumper repair epoxy, but found it difficult to use due to its 15 second working time. I ended up relying on a butt joint between the epoxy and the vinyl/foam. The bond area was too thin on the vinyl to withstand thermal stresses in the Florida sun. 

 

Also, the failure points appeared to be in gaps between metal frame members spanning several inches. While cleaning out the gaps and widening to accept the new filler, I was surprised to see the table top rather than metal. So there was nothing there to back up the new filler. So I decided to back the gap with a plastic mesh you can find hobby shop used for embroidery. Cut to fit and secured by Gorilla Tape, it allowed epoxy to spread through the mesh and make a lap joint with the foam on either side. I also cut out the foam beneath the vinyl to allow epoxy to form a lap joint with the vinyl as well. 

 

The epoxy used was West System Six10 thickened epoxy adhesive with a 40+ minute working time purchased from a local boating supply store. The material is a two part epoxy in a caulking tube and comes with a mixer tube. The material comes out like toothpaste and is easily spread to fill voids. It is too thick to self level so a putty knife is needed to form the new surface. There is little to no shrinkage as it cures, even though I laid sections up to 1/2" thick.

 

The epoxy skinned up in about 40 minutes and takes 24 hours to fully cure.

 

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nice write up...

 

When I did my dash repair I used fiberglass as a backing on the underside of the dash and filled the gap with great stuff spray foam. I also did an undercut on the dash cuts vs a straight cut. I did my dash over 3 years ago and still no cracks.

 

Steve

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My current dash is in pretty good shape, but I know it's a ticking time bomb like they all are.

 

So what does the other side of the leather cover look like? Is it all "baseball wrap" stitching everywhere, or is it pretty plain? I've seen some other leather covers that have stitched seams all over the place and I don't like the look. Looks like I'm staring at the back pockets of a pair of designer jeans from the 70'.

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My current dash is in pretty good shape, but I know it's a ticking time bomb like they all are.

 

Many years ago, as a teenager, I had a Z with a pristine dash.  One day, the clock stopped working and I decided to give the top center guage pod a good slap to hopefully get it ticking again.

 

I think you all can figure out the rest :angry:

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I repaired my dash this past summer and experienced the same fast-set problems with the SEM 'Bumper-Bite' product.  As noted above, you really do get only ~ 30 - 45 seconds before it gets chalky and will no longer spread properly.  Interesting that the label instructions offer no cautions about this.  I experimented with different proportions of hardener and resin (even as little as 1:5) and found that it really didn't make much difference (!).  I wonder if a lot of this stuff has been sitting on the retailers' shelves for too long and has started to chemically change?

 

Even though it was a giant PITA to work with, I liked the semi-flexible aspect of Bumper-Bite and decided to stick with it.  I worked with very small batches -- about a half-inch of product squeezed from each tube, then a fast mix with a putty knife, followed by quick transfer and smoothing into the dash crack area.  I used a 4" x 6" tear-off notepaper pad as my mixing sheet and just threw away each page after use.  Bumper-Bite sands and forms really well, and takes primer nicely.  I had to use regular autobody glazing putty to final-treat the inevitable pin holes. 

 

FWIW, I used Dow 'Great Stuff' (red label version) foam-in-a-can to fill most of the crack. This was backed it up with an under-layer of fibreglass wherever possible.  The foam layer was carved down so that the Bumper-Bite fill layer never had to be much more than ~ 1/8" thick.  All of the cracks were vee'd and the edges of the top vinyl surface were beveled.

 

I live in a much more temperate climate than DJ, so I'm optimistic that my dash repairs will last.  Not sure that I'd still be that optimistic if I lived in Orlando or Phoenix.

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Here is an update.

 

Some things I've learned:

 

Watch the Youtube - several times.

 

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Don't expect an exact fit as supplied. The dash has many compound curve to be fitted and with a limited number of pieces of leather, stretching and shrinking will be required.

 

Since you will be fitting over a waterproof covering, I'd soak the leather in water to allow stretching. After soaking, wring out the leather. Without glue and while damp, establish the best fit and stretch where required. Attach with spring clamps to hold in place (you can't have too many). Allow it to dry in position before attempting any glue up.

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This is not a Saturday project. It is not a weekend project. Due to the soaking, stretching, shrinking and 20 minute drying time for each section of contact cement application. Several sessions will be required. This is not all bad. There will be times when you get frustrated, let it go for the day and come back tomorrow, the leather relaxes overnight and gets easier to work. Also, things never look as bad the next day.

 

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Using contact cement allows one attempt at placement and it adheres instantly. But if you find you made a mistake, you can pull it off and try again. Just make sure that any balls of glue are removed to prevent bumps underneath when you re-glue. Clean up messy areas with mineral spirits. I found this feature useful while trying to stretch sections in valley curves. I'd temporarily attach the leather beyond the area to be stretched, wet the leather, and press in place with towels and clamps. Let the area dry and then remove the temporary glue up. Fold back and continue installation process.

 

As with any project, the more features you include in the design, the more things there are to go wrong. I had a problem with the location of the holes for the three small instruments. I've been in contact with the manufacturer and suggested they eliminate the three holes and leave it for the installer. I've been communicating small hints like this as I go along to make the project easier for those who follow and to help make their product better. I've had positive responses from them.

 

For areas that don't require stretching or shrinking, You can use a Loctite Spray Adhesive used for attaching interior panels. The label says "High performance, middleweight bonding, 200 - middle, high initial tack." The SKU number is 79340 68720. This eliminates the 20 minute drying time required for contact cement.

 

When laying down a clumsy area or where there is an opportunity for the coated leather can stick to itself, use an uncoated piece of leather or newspaper to prevent contact prematurely. fold the paper back on itself to slowly expose the two contact cement surfaces when you are ready.

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No Mike, that looks like a one-off installation.

I'm about 95% through the installation of the cover. I'm contemplating re-installation of the speedo and tach with the extra layer of leather. I'm thinking of thinning the lip of the bezel on a belt sander to give the 0.020" relief.

Will be posting pictures later this week.

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It looks good, and it's a good option to make the dash look nice. But it doesn't come close to the original dash look. If you want to do a restoration I personally wouldn't do this. But if that's not that important, this is a great option.

 

I have a friend who works in the plastic industry, where they make dashboards for trucks and cars. Making an exact replica of the original dash isn't expensive, the problem is you will need the mold to be created ( they could actually scan an original dash dimensions ), that could costs thousands, but after that producing an exact one like the ones left the factory would be easy, and every club member or anyone restoring a datsun 240z could buy one.

 

http://img.weiku.com/waterpicture/2011/10/28/4/Plastic_Injection_Auto_Dashboard_Molding_634572337907634575_1.jpg

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I've finished mounting the leather cover and I am currently in the process of re-installing the dash. Finished pictures in a few days.

 

I did run into problems trying to mount the speedo and tach. Due to the difference in taper angles between the bezel and dash hole, there was no way to get within an inch of properly seating the bezel.

 

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Following my own advice about quitting for the night when things looked dim. I realized the next morning that I would have to mount the instruments before installing the leather cover.

 

I worried future instrument removal would be a problem similar like incurred when installing a full plastic dash cover. Then I realized that leather is pliable and could be pulled away from the vinyl when needed for future removal. 

 

I mounted the bezel and used a ball point pen to mark the trim. Pulling the leather tube inside out made cutting to the trim mark easy and accurate.

 

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Bart, many have talked about making a replacement mold and the problem is finding a pristine example to make the mold from. Then no one wants to be the entrepreneur to make the initial investment.

 

As I mentioned earlier, my prior attempt using Sems Bumper Repair failed and I had resisted another attempt until I had committed to the leather cover. Using the Six10 Thickened Epoxy Adhesive appears to be a stronger solution. I could have followed with Sems texture coating and trim paint and have an acceptable repair. The question of long term survivability with Six10 remains. If it cracks again under my leather, no one will see it.

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Making an exact replica of the original dash isn't expensive, the problem is you will need the mold to be created ( they could actually scan an original dash dimensions ), that could costs thousands

 

I'm in for $100. You get thirty of us and you've got $3K you can drop on tooling.  :)

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I'm in for $100.00 also!

Only 28 more to go!! ;)

Jim D.

"Zup"

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I'm in for $100. You get thirty of us and you've got $3K you can drop on tooling.  :)

 

Well I asked my friend said if use aluminium mold ( lower production numbers than steel one ) the costs ( tooling, making mold etc ) to the point where you actually can start making them would be around 50k euro. Actual price of dash about 90 to 100 euro per piece.

 

But if could actually find the Original mold which Nissan used to make those dashes back in the day, costs would be much much cheaper because don't need to re-design.

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i'm assuming the 50k pricing is for injection molding tooling - an accurate, but very expensive way to do it. based on the shape, it would seem the dash could be vacuum formed or possibly done with high-density urethane foam. there are self-skinning foams that are used to make seats which form a precise and solid outer layer but stay soft inside. this might be an option because a flexible part would allow some install tolerance.

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Yeah, I was mostly kidding on the crowd funding a traditional mold for the dash. At $100 a piece, it would take 500 of us to come up with the 50K tooling for a traditional mold. I mean, I'd definitely be in for a hundred bucks, but at that rate, I don't think it's possible.

 

I'm surprised someone hasn't molded a fiberglass shell that can be backfilled with polyurethane foam and foamed into position on the existing metal skeleton. Or foamed into place on a skinned original dash ("skinned" as in "had the original black covering removed, but the remainder of the entrails remain).

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From what I can tell, the dashes were made with two molds. First the vinyl was vacuum formed in a negative mold. A thin sheet of plastic sheeting was placed over an inside, positive mold, along with some threaded fitting. The positive mold/sheeting was placed into the formed vinyl. An expanding foam liquid was injected between the vinyl and sheeting where it expanded and solidified. This foam didn't fully harden and with the thin vinyl outer layer became a "padded dash" touted to reduce injuries in a crash.

 

Over time the soft foam has hardened and the vinyl has become brittle.

 

Honey do's  have delayed completing the re-installation and photos. I'm also taking my time to clean up some wiring issues like re-connecting the hatch defroster and adding courtesy lights. Hope to have some photos posted by this weekend.

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Got the dash reconnected to the point I could start the engine and verify my electrical connections. I still have to do some smoothing with a steamer and clean things down, but I promised some pictures.

 

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At this point, you can get a pretty good idea of what is will look like when I'm finished.  

When I started this, I said I would let you know the vendor if I would recommend him. And to those who have guessed it is an English firm doing business on Ebay as "topgaiters".

I paid $225.00 including postage.

 

I have been providing feedback to them as I installed the cover and hopefully your will be better and easier to install than mine.

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