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Recovering a Bugeye Dash

The old dash

Tunebug is a remarkably complete and unmolested little car. He's been repainted, and there are a few bits of rust to attend to soon, but overall much of the car is as it was when he left the factory in Abington in 1959. This includes the dash and dash covering, which was definitely starting to show its age. The Bugeye dash is a simple flat metal piece covered in vinyl, and comes out with just a few bolts.

Stitched together shot of the back of the dash, showing the original markings

I had recently removed it to do some work on the car, and noticed that it was looking a bit sad. The vinyl was in bad shape, and the dash was starting to show some signs of surface rust. While it was out, I decided it was time to get it back to like-new shape. I had also just purchased an original dash grab-handle in good shape, and wanted it to go onto a nice looking dash. Another advantage is that new vinyl would cover up the 2 holes I wasn't using (heater switch and windscreen washer), and the 2 small screw holes a previous owner made at some point.

Prepping the dashboard for paint

The first task was to sand and wire-wheel the dash to remove the worst of the surface rust. Due to the rust location, I decided to paint the entire dash, which entailed painting over the original markings on the back. I took the picture above so that I can go back in the future and put them back on if I decide to. Much thought went into that decision, and in the end the integrity of the metal won out as the most important thing.

Prepped and ready for paint

The old vinyl was glued in place on the dash, and there were some metal clips to hold it to around the edges. The clips came right off to be reused later, and the vinyl was not too hard to peel of. I used a wire wheel in my cordless drill and some sand paper to go over the entire dash, focusing on removing any rust scale or flakes. Since the visible parts of the dash would be covered with vinyl, I wasn't to worried about it being perfect. My mission was rust protection for the future. A few evenings spent with the tools and the dash was ready for paint.


I decided to use good old fashioned Rust-Oleum Stops Rust in a spray can. Cheap, easy to use, and available at your friendly local hardware store. I did decide to use their primer; it too was inexpensive. For cleaning off the metal before painting I used a bit of acetone on a rag. It cleans off the dust and any oil and grease from handling the metal. Once that was done, I made space in the garage, covered the Tunebug to protect it from over spray, and got to work.

Primer applied, watching paint dry

My painting process was quite simple, as none of the painted bits would show anyways. I put the dash face down on some cardboard and sprayed the back side. Once that was covered, I flipped the dash over and sprayed the face. The primer instructions say to put the second coat on within an hour, or after 48 hours. I waited about 45 minutes, then proceeded to the painting stage. I figured that for this application, 1 coat each of paint and primer were adequate.


The paint went on the same way that the primer did, then I moved the dash (still on the cardboard) to my workbench for final drying. I wound up leaving it for about 2 days, giving it time to cure. I can't say that the paint job was all that good, but the metal was fully covered and should be protected well for another 50 years.

Gluing on the new vinyl

For the vinyl covering, I made the trek down to the city and braved the fabric store. I would up buying 4 yards of black vinyl (Pioneer) from Jo-Ann Fabrics for $6.99/yard. I got 4 yards so would have more for to eventually cover the other panels in the car, and in case I really made a mess of things and needed to start over. I probably needed about 1/2 yard for the dash. A can of 3M Spray 77 and some handy clamps finished off the process. I'd use at least Spray 90 next time, not sure the Spray 77 is really strong enough for the job.

Glued on to the face of the dash

The process I follwed was initially pretty simple, though I did run into a few snags that required some adjustments on the fly.

  1. Rough cut the vinyl to the shape of the dash.
  2. Spray the adhesive on the dash.
  3. Place the dash on the vinyl.
  4. Clamp in place around the edges and adjust to pull the vinyl tight.

This is at least what I thought I was doing. Once I got to step 4, I realized that I had made 2 slight miscalculations. The first was that I cut the vinyl a little bit too small -- it wound up working out just fine, but a few more inches on the end would have made things much easier. The other error was that I hadn't thought that I needed to glue the edges (outside and inside) where the clips go. I wound up removing most of the clips to re-spray the edges with adhesive, then things seem to go much easier.

Fitting the vinyl, re-spraying where I forgot the first time

It took probably 30 minutes or so of finagling, but eventually I had all the little clips back in place, and felt that the vinyl was as tight as it was going to get on the face. One note is that the vinyl I used was the kind that has a white cloth backing. This makes it a bit more durable, but also a bit thicker and puffier, so it was probably a bit harder to get fitted properly. All in all, though, it was not a hugely difficult task.

All covered up

Cutting the new holes for the instruments and switches.

Once the vinyl was on as tightly as I could manage, I went at cutting out the holes for the instruments and other fittings. At first I was using my trusty razor knife, which worked but had some trouble dealing with the cloth backing. My wife suggested that I use an X-Acto knife instead. A fresh blade in that knife and the cutting went much easier. I cut the holes for all the gauges by just running the knife along the inside of the dash holes, from the front. The gauges and such hold the vinyl in place (along with the glue). The original vinyl was done in a similar manner.

Dash holes cut -- note the wrinkles, most of which came out when the fittings were installed

Once all the holes were cut, it was time to put the dash back in the car and see how it all went together. I installed the grab handle and turn signal light, and got ready to reinstall the dash.

Reinstalling the dash and gauges

The dash goes in with 3 bolts to the top scuttle area, and 2 screws to a pair of braces on the bottom. Once everything was in it was time to add in the various fittings. In most cases I had to try a couple of times to get everything to fit, cutting a bit more vinyl away each time. Some of the switches are a close fit, and required the vinyl be cut back quite a bit. I was careful to go just a small amount at a time, so that the newly installed bits would properly cover the edges.

Dash in place

As I was installing the gauges and switches, I was stopping to test their functionality as I went along. The new paint was bound to cause some grounding issues, as some of the items were designed to ground through the dash metal directly. I had already run separate ground wires to all of the gauges, but the turn signal lamp needed a good ground right to the dash. A few minutes were spent with a small file, and after some test fittings I had a good ground and the flasher was working.

Getting the bits in place

I worked each hole, test fitting and cutting a bit more until all the switches and gauges were in place. A nice side benefit of the new vinyl is that it covers the holes for the heater switch and windscreen washer nicely. It's very hard to see that the underlying holes are there, and they'll be easy to cut in later once I get those systems working. The 2 small extra screw holes that the PO added don't show either.

Final Thoughts

All done

In the end, it was a good few days of work that continue to have a big impact on the look of the car. Not much money was spent for a big result. I was so motivated while putting everything back together that I decided to see if Tunebug would fire up after the long winter. A check of vitals and he fired right up. I took a very short trip around the block, just long enough to remember the fun that is to come. All in all, well worth the effort.

Now that some time has passed since I did this work, I've come up with a few tips from my experience. In no particular order:

  • Be generous when cutting the vinyl. A few extra inches can make the job much easier. It proved a simple thing to cut away excess once the vinyl was glued in place.
  • Spray glue on the dash face and the outside and inside of the edges. I didn't glue the inside edges at first, and wound up going back over them all a bit at a time. With the glue on the inside edge the vinyl stays put nicely. The clips are a secondary attachment method, really.
  • Go with at least 3M Spray 90 -- Spray 77 (what I used) probably isn't strong enough.
  • Have a fresh X-Acto knife handy for cutting the holes out. Sharp tools are your friends, but do watch your fingers!
  • Getting the gauges and switches in will require some trial and error, especially if the vinyl is a bit thick like mine was. With some massaging, I was able to get them all positioned correctly, and got most of the wrinkles out of the dash face.
  • The vinyl covers small unused holes in the dash just fine. The 2 screw holes are not detectable, though you can just make out the larger switch holes if you look closely. You might want to weld or glue in some sort of backing if you have large holes to fill -- luckily I didn't have anything like that to deal with.
  • Thinking back, I might have chosen to clear coat the dash instead of painting it black. This would have better preserved the original markings on the back. Not a big worry, but you can get clear Rustoleum.