1970 AMC Hornet, November 2004

Well it's not much, but it's a start!

I've actually had the masonite for the panels cut for some time, but haven't had even a few hours to work on them. Only part of the time was spent on final design (such as it is) and finding the right vinyl.

Basically the design, which you can see unfold below, is white (yes, white) vinyl, with the lower section of the front doors carpeted; I bought an extra yard when I got the carpet kit from Andre Jacob. The interior is white and light gray; we'll see how long white lasts! I know it might be nuts, but it ought to look great, up until it becomes hopelessly dirty, but it's easy enough to re-do in light grey later (one weekend).

These are made with the same process I used for my old Rambler's door panels a decade or more ago. Masonite is cut and fit using the old panels as guides, and checked for fit since the originals are so badly warped. The rear deck was long gone, and even the 72 Hornet's had been replaced with a poorly made plywood job.

Not shown here, but I painted the back of the panels (the rough side) with shellac. Yes plain old non-automotive shellac; it waterproofs and stabilizes the masonite, and isn't affected by the solvents in contact cement, I'm pretty sure that urethanes and other petroleum-based substances (paint, urethane, etc) would get soft and gummy when contact cement is applied, and I really want the back of these things to be waterproof. Though I'll install a plastic drip sheet to replace the long-ago-rotted paper, moisture does get inside door panels when it rains. Since it seals the masonite, it takes less (noxious) contact cement to do the job too.

The panels are made mainly from masonite, batting and upholstry vinyl, using the old solvent-type contact cement. Thin batting, which is the stuff that fluffs up jackets, blankets, and such, is polyester fiber in a loose tangle/weave. It gives the panels a bit of body. It's about 1/2" thick in the package but it flattens out under pressure to about 1/8". It's incredibly cheap to buy, and comes from fabric stores, as does the vinyl.

The masonite panel is sprayed with 777 aerosol glue and the batting laid on it; this simply keeps it from sliding around while I work on it. I didn't take the best set of photos for this operation; shown is the batting for the front door panels. The lower 5" has no batting (not yet neatly trimmed in this photo) so the 777 makes the job a lot easier.

What look like little squares of paper along the edge of the panel are, well, little squares of paper... I won't be using the "J" clips that AMC used to hold the panels onto the door; I'm using chrome trim screws with captive washers, for utilitarian reasons. I'm sick of arguing with those clips, even with new panels they are a pain to align and don't always pull the panels flat. So the paper bits are places where I drilled the panel for the screws, and used glue and the paper to fix the batting in place; screws tend to grab the batting and cause long pulls, making lumps. I'll carefully clean the screw holes before I assemble the panels but this extra will prevent pulling completely. The paper is simply so I can press the batting down onto the glue with my gloved fingers.

I bought about seven yards of vinyl. Basically the door panels are laid out on the vinyl, and the outline traced with a marker, then another line is drawn about 3" further out; the vinyl is cut out along this outer line. The inner line is used to apply contact cement, and later to align the panel onto the vinyl placed face-down on the floor.

First, the contact cement requires care. Be warned, there are two kinds at most hardware stores; the original, horribly toxic solvent-based type, and a more-modern water-based type. You unfortunately want the noxious old stuff; it's far stronger and is water proof. Follow directions; basically you have to put on 3 or 4 coats so that it's shiny, and nearly dry, and on to both parts. As the name implies, it adheres 100% and instantly upon contact -- there is zero (0) work time, no sliding parts into place! Hence the careful inside marker line; the glued-and-ready panel is laid onto the vinyl and carefully centered without letting the glue touch.

To get the vinyl flat and snug, you want to go carefully and slowly and get it right the first time. For example, the front door panels. Squatting in front of it, laid out horizontally, fold the middle 6" or so on one edge up onto the panel and press it down. It should stick instantly. I use a hand-held roller to press it down completely. Then I gently tug the opposite, far end of the vinyl, just enough to ensure that it's flat, and fold the middle 6" of that onto the glue-ready masonite and roller it down. Then I do the same at the long top and bottom sides, only folding down 24" or so.

I didn't apparently didn't take any photos of one of the trickier parts of the job, actually applying the vinyl to the door panel. There are two important areas: getting it pulled flat and snug (but not tight) across the panel, and fitting to the curved areas.

The corners are the other part of the trick. You must cut out "V" sections from the vinyl in order to fold it down without lumps or creases. The point of the "V" should NOT be visible from the inside of the car; the vinyl is pretty flexible so it will distort enough to pull this off. I do part of the curve, like 45 degrees, at a time; cut two or three notches, pull the little section of vinyl down and stick it. If you screw one up, just pull it up; it's small enough to lift. Move on to the next one, then later re-apply some contact cement, let it dry, and push it down. You have to carefully walk around each corner repeating this process. After that, you can press the remaining straight sections down to the masonite.

Man, I wish I had taken better photos... too bad. The rear panels are simple, just vinyl over batting, but the fronts have a section of carpeting along the bottom. This wasn't hard; instead of the vinyl folding over the bottom, it's cut short, and a very careful line is made where the carpet meets the vinyl; the batting is cut away carefully to this line, contact cement applied accurately using blue masking tape, and only 1" of vinyl glued to the front of the panel. Then, using a fine-point marker, a line is carefully drawn onto the vinyl where the carpet is to meet it.

A piece of carpet is cut that fits the section, with great care taken for the angled section; more on this detail below. The rest of the carpet can just hang over the bottom of the panel for now. I trimmed the carpet to be very straight and fit by hand a number of times.

I then put blue masking tape along the line drawn earlier, and applied a couple of coats of contact cement right up to the line where the carpet will meet the vinyl; cement is applied to the matching edge of the carpeting. When it's dry I placed the carpet onto the panel and pressed it down.

Once the carpet piece was affixed to the panel, I propped it up and applied contact cement to the remaining parts of the door panel and carpet, pressed it down when dry and carefully trimmed it with shears.

The line where the carpet meets the vinyl will be edged with 3/8" x 1/4" aluminum, held to the panel with #4 flathead Phillips screws. If I get ambitious I'll screw it on from behind, with blind tapped wells in the aluminum strip so that screw heads aren't visible. The carpet is approximately 1/4" tall, nap-wise, over the vinyl, and the aluminum will make a nice edging.

You can see one door panel partially completed above. It looks a bit stark because the door handle bucket, window crank, arm rest, and carpet edging aren't applied yet. I'll take photos of those as I do them.

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