Tech: Alcantara Dashboard Re-Skin
This tech article was published in last year’s Issue 14, but after the recommendation of a few of our readers we’ve decided to start putting up a few old tech articles online. Hopefully you guys enjoy these write-up’s, and feel free to leave us any feedback on what you’d like to see more of!
This specific dash is from a ‘91 240SX. You probably couldn’t find one in much worse condition than this. It was cracked; it was dry; it needed help.
We finally chose to go with the Blue Alcantara from Road Wire. Road Wire has a special manufacturing process to their Alcantara – that allows it to stretch slightly when pulled diagonally. Most Alcantaras do not stretch at all . . . making it very difficult to lay on the concave/convex surfaces of many 90’s dashboards.
Road Wire’s Alcantara runs about 130 dollars per yard. We used 2 yards, but we got three – just so we wouldn’t be stressed about being short. Plus – we’d have some left over . . . maybe for the headliner or door panels or console.
Ok – so first things first. You have to get the old leather/vinyl off of the dash. We used a combination of a razorblade, flathead screwdriver, and fingernails. Be somewhat gentle and don’t go at it like a damn monkey, because you don’t want to gouge and damage the foam underneath.
When all the old stuff is removed – you need to sand down the dashboard . . . getting all the dead and dry residue off of it. 60-grit sandpaper will do the job. Just like earlier – you need to be a little gentle, with fluid-like sanding motions. You can also use the sandpaper to smooth out the areas where the a/c vents fit in . . . which sometimes get a little rough when you’re pulling up the vinyl. Make sure you smooth-over any area where there are cracks, because if it’s not smooth – you’ll be able to see where the crack was, through the new material. When all is good, dust the whole dash off to get a clean surface for the glue.
Before you spray the glue, take masking tape, and lay it over any cracks that are in the dash. It’s important not to get glue in (or too closely around) the cracks. By laying tape down, the glue will stick to the tape, and not the edges of the crack. After the glue is sprayed, just PULL UP THE TAPE before you lay down the fabric. This step is to further make sure that you won’t be able to see or feel the cracks through the new material.
Now it’s time to lay down the new Alcantara. Remember from earlier – the Road Wire Alcantara stretches diagonally, so as we got ready to place the Alcantara, we turned it at a very slight diagonal angle to the dashboard . . . just enough to help naturally stretch over some of the curves in the dash. We then made sure that we were going to have enough excess material on all corners. At that point – we folded over the Alcantara at the middle of the dash, and began spraying glue.
The glue needs to be sprayed on BOTH the dash, and on the underside of the new fabric. (Important: Make sure that when you’re spraying glue, that you don’t overspray on the finished side of the Alcantara. Always remember this; and never let it slip out of your mind; not even for a second; because it won’t come off.)
The glue then needs at least a few minutes to oxygenate before you stick the two together. After the few minutes – you can lay it down – CAREFULLY – working from the center of the dash out. It’s a lot like a laying a sticker or windshield banner – you do not want to get bubbles or wrinkles in the fabric. The good thing is – it stretches a little, whereas a sticker does not. So you can pull it, and stretch it, and press it through contours of the dash. If a section is not going to your liking – you can also pull up on the fabric, and re-work it, without having to worry about the glue losing strength. It’s not necessarily a one-shot thing like a vinyl sticker.
It is important to work from the center – out. We started dead center in the middle of the dashboard. Then we would spray glue for about a foot in the driver’s direction of the dash (and on the underside of the Alcantara). Then we would pick up the other side, and spray about a foot in the passenger’s direction . . . working for the center – out. I’m not going to lie. On a 240SX, it can get a little tricky when you get around the gauge cluster . . . and all of the curves of the dashboard come together. It’s definitely a two-man job. But you’ve just got to work with it and stay calm. Don’t panic. The glue is not going to dry on you. And like I said – you can pull up sections and re-work it, without having to worry too much about the glue losing strength.
When you get the fabric down, you are going to want to hit all the perimeters with a staple gun. Put more staples in the stretched areas to reinforce. And obviously – make sure you’re not shooting them into areas that are going to be visible when the dash is back in the car. Get some staples shot in the a/c vents too – just for good measure.
Other tips for success . . .
The masking tape over the old dash cracks was tip number one (see above).
Here is a second tip: It’s called “Drum-Stretch” (aka: The Batwing). In areas where you are having to stretch the fabric to an impossible extent. The Batwing is sometimes an alternative. Basically – you just stretch the fabric really tight around the end of the dash, and hit it with the staple gun a bunch of good times. The glue will grab it where it can, and the staples will take care of the rest. The result is fabric – stretched like a drum skin. We used this technique on the passenger side of the dash, down where it starts to meet with the center console.
If you’re dealing with an area that is too stretched or wrinkled, and the Batwing doesn’t seem like a good alternative – here is a third tip: It’s called The Fold. What you do here – is you cut off the fabric at what would be a natural seam . . . and staple it. But you DON’T discard the piece you just cut. Instead – you turn it around so the glue-side is facing out. Put a staple or two in it at that “natural seam”. Then you fold the fabric over . . . thus hiding the staple and exposing the nicer side of the Alcantara. You have to make sure, however, that the Alcantara is flowing in the same direction. See – Alcantara flows in a certain direction – like suede. You move your hand over it one way, and it’s lighter . . . another way, and it’s darker. So you have to make sure when it’s all finished . . . that if someone were to run their hand over the fold, both sides would match.
A forth tip: If you’re trying to stretch the fabric in areas around an a/c vent, and it’s just not quite stretching enough . . . you can take a razorblade and cut a small slice in the fabric in the hole over the air vent. This will relieve some of the stress in the fabric and allow it to stretch more. The hole itself doesn’t matter, because you’re eventually going to trim it and fill it with an a/c vent. Just don’t make the slice too big, or else you’ll screw yourself over.
A fifth tip: Heat gun. Heat helps the stretchiness! With quality Alcantara, you are really not going to burn it. But with other fabrics, you could overheat it. So pay attention.
Last tip: Paneling. With the 240SX dashboard, it’s just impossible to stretch the Alcantara around the side of the dash with out getting massive amounts of wrinkles. You can do two things. If you’re a seamstress, you can make patterns and sew it on your sewing machine (you know how I know you’re gay?). Or you can make panels like we did.
To make a panel – you stretch the fabric about an inch or two into the side of the dash, and slice it off. Take the masking tape, and completely cover the side of the dash with it. (You can do this after the rest of the dash has already been covered – it’s no problem.) Then you take a pen, and trace the shape of the side of your dash . . . but about a half inch smaller all the way around. Then – you pull off the tape all as one piece, and stick it to a thin piece of aluminum.
Cut the shape out with a jigsaw, clean up the edges with the 60-grit sandpaper, spray glue on the aluminum and Alcantara. Wait for a few minutes, and then stick them together. Now – you’ve got your panel. You need to clean the lose fabric off with a razorblade. Then you just need to drill some small holes with a drill and a drill bit. Shoot screws through the holes, into the side of the dash.
At this point, you’re done . . . and I’m done writing (whew). Put the dash back in your car – and enjoy!
- New Dash Material – check roadwire.com; anything from standard vinyl to gator-skin. Price varies depending on material. Alcantara = $130 per yard. You’re probably looking at 2-3 yards (3 should give you plenty left over.)
- Sandpaper – 60 grit; 4 bucks at Home Depot.
- Glue – Weldwood Original Contact cement; 7 bucks at Home Depot.
- Aluminum Sheet – at Home Depot; about 1ft X 3ft . . . maybe 2ft X 3ft.
- Sprayer For Glue – forty-five bucks at Home Depot. Runs off of air compressor. If you don’t have access to an air compressor (or forty-five bucks to burn), you can probably apply the glue with a brush.
- Staple Gun – If you do not have access to one that runs off an air compressor, you can buy a manual staple gun at Home Depot for 15 bucks or less.
- Jigsaw – I know Walmart has ‘em for like $25 bucks . . . Black & Decker.
- Screws – about 6-8 stainless screws if you don’t have any around.