The BugShop: Project '57, pg 18

This page last modified- 11/3/01

Remarkably, all of the vinyl material in the interior of my car was very well preserved. The previous (and only) owner had really babied the it. Despite second guessing my plans as I was putting all the new stuff on the freshly painted car, I stuck with my decision to re-use all of the vinyl upholstery. I had considered reproducing the B-piller covers (one had a small rip at the very bottom) but was unable to find an exact match for the material. The door panels were in nice shape for their age but were suffering from severe warping. Not uncommon especially in the early Beetles where plastic sheeting was not used a moisture barrier in the doors. Somehow, I just thought keeping some of the original stuff in my car would earn me more "points".

This page shows the final stages of the interior installation, covering the re-boarding of the interior panels in detail. 

This is one of the front panel boards, cut from a sheet of 1/8" masonite. I bought a 4x8 foot sheet from Home Depot for around $9 and it was more than enough for all 4 panels. 

Tip: Cut the 4x8 sheet in half and stack it as a 4x4. Then use your old boards as a template and scribe the outlines with a pen. You can get one front panel and one back panel on the 4x4 easily. Then use a jigsaw to cut them out 2 at a time. Use a nice sharp blade and go slow for a nice clean cut. Dress the edges with a file if needed. Then trace the outlines of the holes and cutouts for each.


When drilling the holes for the panel clips, I used a 3/8" spade bit on a high speed drill. Again, go slow, it makes for a cleaner job. You can do two at a time like the tip above. Make sure you drill in the exact same locations. Other cutouts for the panels might be different side to side. On my '57, the drivers side door had a map pocket, but it required no cutout for that. The passenger front panel had an armrest (2 holes). Both of course had window winder and release handle holes. My rear right panel had an ashtray that required a cutout.

 Mark and drill the small holes for the molding pins now too. If you don't do it now, it will be difficult to drill them with the padding and vinyl in place (but there is still a trick you can do if you forget and go on, see below) 

The padding that you use in the door is important. Too soft, too much, and the panel looks like a pillow glued to the door. Too little or none, and the interior has a hard, "cold" look and feel. I actually used the original padding on one of my front panels. The first one I did, I didn't really try to remove it carefully, it came off in shreds. The padding in the early panels is a gray, cotton like felt/fiber, with a real light backing. On e second panel, was able to remove it by sliding a sharp, wide putty knife underneath it. Sort of reminded me of shearing a sheep (no, I don't have any sheep). I wasn't so successful on the back panels. I noted that the padding in them doesn't go all the way to the bottom either.

I had two types of "aftermarket" padding to use, and ended up using both. One is a thin poly "batting" that I got a massive roll of for a few dollars at a local surplus/junk store. The other stuff is a 1/8" gray foam padding that I also got at that same store. I used a lot of the poly stuff in the headliner install. One thickness of the foam padding made it soft until you pressed on it a bit, then it was hard. Two thickness made it look and feel like a vinyl chair cushion. Same for one thickness of the poly, 2 thickness and it started looking overstuffed. What ended up being perfect (in terms of making the panel look and feel like the original) was a layer of foam and a layer of poly on top.

I took some digipics of the padding but they didn't come out at all (discovered that after all the panels were done). I simply sprayed some low grade spray adhesive on the masonite (like a "Photo mount" adhesive or craft store stuff, not the 3M stuff), and layed a big piece of foam on it, smoothing it out. Then I sprayed the foam and layed the poly batting on it. After that I took scissors and trimmed it off around the edges.

Make sure you glue the padding on correct side of the board!

Here you see the padding glued on the masonite board and the original vinyl laying on it. The gray foam padding is underneath the white poly batting you see here. The holes for the winder and release handles were cut in the padding after it was glued on the board.

Hey, there's those binder clips again! Take you time on this step. You don't see it here, but fit your chrome molding strip into the vinyl/panel now, slipping the pins through the masonite (you did drill the holes, right?). It will serve as a guide to make sure the vinyl is centered on the board correctly. Use the binder clips to secure it around the edges. It should be stretched just a bit. The winder/release holes should line up too. 

If you are using a new material to cover the panel, don't cut any holes yet, just fit it over and proceed to the next step.

They way I glued the vinyl to the board was with the 3M "Super 90" adhesive. The can from Home Depot actually has a neat adjustable nozzle that you twist for L-M-H (low, medium, high). The problem is that the masonite tends to soak up the glue. After messing with it for a while, I found this method to work well:
  • Spray the board along the edge where the vinyl will lay, moderately heavy.
  • Immediately press the vinyl flap down into the glue. The glue will feel cold and even "boil" a bit (not sure why).
  • Let it go, the vinyl will pop back up.
  • Wait about 3-5 minutes then spray some more glue across the board, same place as before.
  • Wait about 10-15 minutes
  • Pull the flap back and then up and over, pulling it a bit and lay it down in the glue.
The glue has to "tack up" to stick right, putting a second coat on the board helps out. If you haven't used this spray glue before, this may seem messy. But the glue on the "L" setting on the nozzle comes out in a nice, concentrated thin stream, easy to control. 
The "piping" on the original panels was stapled around the edges by multitudes of thin wire staples (not the ones seen here) that were about 1/8"+ (3mm) deep. No glue was used. I looked all over the place trying to find 1/8" staples that could be shot from a gun and found none. (Did find what looks like a cool upholstery supply site here)   So I tried gluing the piping and got one panel done but it didn't seem all that secure. Finally in desperation on another panel I tried a 1/4" "narrow" staple that I had for my gun. It worked fine. The thickness of the vinyl, padding, piping and the masonite all combined hide the staple shank well. You see those staples in this pic, still used no glue under the piping.

Tip: Is your original piping yellowed? (you can't clean it off, believe me I tried) Flip it over and use the backside. For the rear panels, swap the left and right sides. 


I bought new clips from Wolfsburg West, and the new "seals" that go in the door. They go perpendicular to the panel edge all the way around. I found that I had to "open up" the U clip part that went over the masonite just a bit. Use a pair of pliers to pull them toward the panel edge, make sure they get up over the piping material where needed. 

Now about those chrome moldings. The "pins" shown here on an upside down molding piece are amazingly robust; they don't snap off after a couple cycles of bending/unbending.

This is the first front panel I did and I neglected to pre-drill the molding pin holes. The problem here (as I learned the hard way in my car stereo installing days) is that if you try to drill into almost any upholstery material padding, it will instantly "catch" on the drill bit and wind up into a huge ball. Poly batting, felt, even carpet. Don't even try it. How did I get out of this? 

Get about a 2" finish nail and clamp it in a pair of vice grips. Heat it up with the propane torch until it glows good, then quick, insert it down into the hole in the vinyl and press hard. It will actually burn through the masonite. You can the burn the hole bigger on the other side with a bigger nail, or if you have a Dremel or drill with a depth stop, you can use that from the back side.

But do yourself a favor and pre-drill the holes before the padding, that is the right way.

Incidentally, I used the "hot nail" technique when installing my pop out windows. Remember I installed that very nice felt headliner, with lots of jute and poly padding behind it, the realized I had to drill holes in the metal behind it (just behind the back of the rear quarter window) to install the latches. The hot nail saved me. It burned through the felt headliner and basically "cauterized" the padding behind. That is it melted it and made it hard and strandless around the burned hole so the drill bit didn't catch. If you do this though, keep the drill slow and watch very closely, if it catches and starts bunching up, stop immediately and reverse the drill slowly, you can usually back it out.

Ok, we're a bit off the door panel topic, but let me pass along a couple more tips that I learned back in the 80s doing car stereo. Another way to drill through material is to make a slit with a razor, and insert a piece of plastic straw. Then slip the drill bit through the straw to reach the metal.

Hole saw through upholstery? You've got to be kidding, right? No, it is easy, did it all the time with 4.5" and 6" hole saws for speakers. Trick? Make your pilot hole using the technique above if necessary, then reverse the drill and spin the saw fast. It will burn/cut through carpet, padding, vinyl, etc. with nary a pull.

Here is the finished passenger door panel. One thing I didn't mention, the sewn seam you see on the left in this pic (along the bottom of the panel, about 4" up) was actually sewn right through the panel board on the original. I had to cut the stitching to free the vinyl from the old board. I had my wife sew the two pieces back together with some heavy thread. Maybe the original panel had a bit more of a "cut" in the contour of the surface with the vinyl sewn to the board, but this one came out fine. In this case the two pieces of vinyl are sewn together, but just resting on top of the padding, not sewn through the board.

I had "resto'ed" my armrest. In the '57, only the passenger side has one. It is cushioned vinyl on top, but has a metal "frame" and a metal clamshell lower half. I polished up the chrome strip and repainted the lower metal part when I did all my other "black parts" with Spies black urethane. By the way, these armrests are fairly hard to find. If you are buying a '57 or earlier, make sure it has it. Or if you see one at the swaps for $5 like I did last June, snatch it up.

Back to the driver's side to see some details on re-installing the panels.

Those black strips in an "X" formation were originally tarboard, like what covers the tunnel (under the mat). It helps deaden sound in the door, makes it close with a nice thud. Of course I pulled them off then found out that material, like the engine bay tarboards, was not to be found. I almost used rolled roofing, mineral side glued. But I just wasn't comfortable gluing those "rocks" up against my doorskin interior (again, a mineral-less rolled roofing would be perfect). So last minute, I made up tarboards by gluing six layers of 30lb roofing felt together. It was very close to the original thickness. Used the 3M "super 90" adhesive to glue it in place. 

The plastic sheeting was not used originally in '57, but I have learned it really helps keep the panels from warping and the car airtight. It is a 4 mil thickness, and is glued around the edges with Dap Weldwood contact cement. Brush it on both the door and the plastic, let is dry for 15 minutes then stick it up. Slits for the handles, poke holes for the door panel clips, insert new "witches hat" seals (you can see them here) 

Note that in my "Doors" article in the tech section, I talk about this plastic sheeting. I recommend not gluing it at the bottom edge, rather leaving it about 2" too long and draping it back into the door shell cavity, rather than between the flange and the door panel. This insures that water dripping through the door cannot come in contact with the panel and will be assured of dripping into the bottom of the door where the drain holes are (yours are clear, right?)

I opted not to do this on my '57 for two reasons. One, the early doors have that vertical support piece that you see towards the front. Thus you would have to slit the plastic at the bottom and wrap it around that part, leaving space for water to leak through and get to the panel. The other reason is that I don't plan on driving this car in any wet weather (at least intentionally). 

And there you have it. A nice, fully restored, thick, heavy looking, Oval vintage door. It closes perfectly, and the window goes up and down real nice. Note map pocket and no armrest.

I wasn't sure which way that release handle went, ie. which way was it supposed to point? So I rifled manuals, and lots of VW mags covering vintage restos. While I saw handles pointing all over the place, I came to the conclusion that this position (pointing back, with the tip resting right over the chrome strip) was most common.

History on the engine for my '57 is probably scattered throughout this site, but I'll recap. When I bought the car in 1991, I got a completely rebuilt 36hp engine with it. It had been rebuilt by a VW garage literally across the street from the guy I bought the car from. I know the owner of the shop, I had used him as a parts/tech help source in the past and I was sure he knew what he was doing. A Hungarian immigrant who had been wrenching on VWs for many, many years (School St. Garage in Acton, MA). The engine was very correct, with the rebuildable fuel pump, steel lines, 28PCI carb and all. The only "surprises" recently found were a heat exchanger with a 40 horse lever rod in it (won't work, had to make a correct one) and at least two exhaust studs that had been drilled out, re-tapped and a "Step" stud used.

I had been "maintaining" this engine over the years by keeping four quarts of oil in it, and spinning it with a drill periodically (w/the plugs out) with a drill. I started it up for the first time in 1995 when I completed the resto on the chassis. I couldn't believe how easily it started. I drove the chassis down my driveway and back, and then mothballed it again. Last summer (1998), I pulled the chassis out for "International Drive Your VW to Work Day" and while I didn't drive it to work, I raced up and down my street a few times on the open chassis.

I am very confident that this engine will scoot me around nicely. I won't use this car as a daily driver so it will get light use. It isn't quite as detailed as I would like it to be, but I am willing to forgo that to just get it in the car and get the car on the road. It still looks pretty "fresh" though.

I have probably 85% of another 36hp engine in the loft. I have an NOS crank, new std/std crank bearings, a full set of tin, pair of heater boxes, a 36 hp muffler, intake manifold and some used heads and other stuff. Ideally, I need a NEW case to use the std bearings, but I have a couple used ones.

Ever "wash" your engine? This one had gotten a little dusty over the years. I used some Simple Green in water and few odd brushes. Don't worry, I covered the carb throat before I started.

For those childless, that is sidewalk chalk on the driveway.... 

Basics of installing the engine:
  • Take the aircleaner and rear engine tin off first
  • Jack up the rear end real high like this.
  • Roll the engine under.
  • Lower the car back down about halfway (will will likely not be able to lift the engine high enough)
  • Raise the engine carefully, slip it onto the transmission
Those are the basics. Some folks slide the engine under from the side (wheel off) as you don't have to lift the car up quite as high. You really have to "wiggle" the engine in, tilting it front and back, to clear the generator pulley in the front and to get the clutch plate to clear the tranny mainshaft. As you lift, hold the tailpipes and keep wiggling the engine to insure it is not getting hung up on something. I can go in, take your time. Usually, just as you get it to line up, it is tilted down a bit and you lift up on the tailpipes and scoot it in. 

Here is a little engine dolly that you can make. It allows you to slip it around the floor jack, lower the engine down onto it, and then release the jack and roll it out. Many folks make these out of 2 or 3 inch angle iron, I made mine out of wood just because it was quicker for me. It is held together with 3" deck screws.

In my case, I was not able to roll the engine under the car while it was on the dolly, I had to rest the engine on the jack, scoot it under, then put it back on the dolly so I could use the jack to lower the car down some. Just a result of how high I had jacked up the car initially and how "tall" my dolly was.

While I have in my cheap, "living with mom and dad" days, removed and engine without a floor jack (just a bottle jack and bunch of blocks, yikes!) it is not something you ever want to try. BUY a floor jack, you will be glad you did. you can mail order one and not have to pay the shipping on this heavy tool from Harbor Freight 


As you start to slip the engine onto the tranny, turn the engine over by hand (gen pulley) to insure that nothing is binding, and to help it line up with the tranny mainshaft. Usually, I have just aligned my clutch disk with a finger when assembling the clutch, but sometimes with a 3/8" ratchet extension wrapped with masking tape to the appropriate diameter. Some light grease on the tranny shaft splines, and it should slip right in. You may also want to wire up the engine, start it up and check the operation of the clutch before you button everything up like replacing the tin and all. You don't have to remove the deck lid to remove/install, but for 4 bolts worth of work, it makes the job a lot easier.

And make sure your engine bay seals are perfect before you do this. They are cheap insurance!