MGB Metal Dashes
- Tom Rynne

As of:  17 April  2006 


        Or:  "Whatís under that padding"?  (Or:  flat dashes made easy Ė sorta)

        Padded dashes in MG's have been a source of consternation and discussion since they were introduced in 1968.  Many owners still prefer the clean, classic look of the early ďflatĒ dashes MGB's featured until 1967, when the Feds required padded dashes in all cars sold in the US.

        Owners of í68-'71 MG's got a double whammy, as their ďAbingdon PillowĒ dashes lost the glove box all other MGB's had.  As with so many other things on the MGB, many owners have seen fit to undo what the government so thoughtfully required and have gone back to a flat-dash style.

        Before you start tearing out your dash, it would be wise to figure out exactly what you hope to achieve.  If you think youíll just swap your pillow dash for an early style, think again.  Itís tough job with a fair amount of custom fabrication involved, as Tony Barnhill outlined on theautoist.com.

        For most folks the better answer would be stripping their existing dash, or a dash of a similar year.  This still requires some planning.

        First off, and this is very important, do not strip a good dash.  Someone wants it, and good original dashes are getting harder and harder to find.  Find a junk one.  Theyíre not hard to come across, and if the padding is shot they sell cheap.

        Now, are you planning on installing the same year dash or a different year?  Do you want plain metal or would you like a padded header rail?  These are the kinds of things that make a relatively simple project get real complicated real fast.

        If the flat-dash candidate is a '68-'71 Abingdon Pillow type, the conversion is relatively simple.  If itís a '72-'76 type itís considerably more complex; and if itís a '77-on dash only the brave or foolish should even attempt the conversion.

        Before getting started, youíll need to assess your skills.  Youíll need some basic bondo skills, painting skills, and you may need to be able to fiberglass, depending on exactly what youíre trying to do.  Also note that there are tons of detail differences between the different years and styles.  If you are switching the year, get a dash as complete as possible.  Turn signals, heater knobs, lighting and tons of other small things changed over the years, and youíll need the correct type.

Pillow Dashes (the easy ones!)  

        Remove dash.  If you donít know how, youíre not ready for this project.

        Remove padding from dash.  Ideally, you want to remove the padding as cleanly as possible, as it may be of use to you later.  Iíve had good luck removing the black vinyl cover first, then using an x-acto knife or other tools to get the foam off.  Youíll notice thereís several different densities of foam.  The lightest stuff on top of the dash will be your friend if you plan on making a header rail.  Take care of it and save it. 

       With the foam stripped off, youíll see the cleanup to be done.  There will be remaining foam to take off. You may have rust damage to be repaired.  There may also extra holes in the dash to be filled and some dashes have seam in the middle to be filled.  Use bondo, glazing putty or fiberglass as needed to smooth the dash, then sand it and prep for paint.  This is where your bodywork skills come into play.  If this stuff is new to you, read up on John Weimerís bodywork 101 (http://theautoist.com/body_repairs.htm).

  Once the dash is all smoothed and ready, paint it and reinstall.

'72-'76 Dash

      The í72-í76 dashes have two big advantages over the pillow dashes Ė face level vents and a glove box.  These two advantages make the conversion to a flat dash much more complex, though.

      Generally speaking, the process is the same.  The problem is that thereís quite a bit of extra dense padding and steel superstructure supporting the vents and glove box.  The vent structure is padding.  It can be cut out and the vent bezel can be modified to fit the new, flat space.  The glove box has a steel structure jutting out toward the passenger.  For a flat steel dash youíll need to grind out the spot welds and level them, then either have an open glove box or custom make a new glove box door.  The old one wonít work.  It follows the contours of the padding.

      For '68-'71 owners thinking of upgrading to the '72-'76 dash, note that the '72-'76 dash has more lighting, different turn signal bezels, different heater knobs, and the pillow-dash cars have no provision for face-level vents.  All of these things will need to be addressed one way or another.

'77-on Dash

        Just donít do it. 

        In addition to all of the '72-'76 problems, the '77-on dashes are missing a big chunk of steel below the glove box that would have to be reformed from fiberglass or steel to get a smooth line to the bottom edge of the dash.  Itís a lot of work, and just really not worth it, as the '77-on dash is already pretty good from both ergonomic and aesthetic standpoints.  It can be done, but itís a LOT of work.

        And donít even think about putting an earlier dash in a '77-on car or vice versa unless you have a 100 percent complete dash.  Everything Ė absolutely everything -- is different.  Even the threaded shafts holding the gauges in are different, having metric threads instead of standard.  Even with a complete dash, the wiring is substantially different, and the conversion is just probably best left alone.

The header rail

        So by now youíre probably noticing the big problem with flat-dash conversions: the row of flat bolt tops across the top edge of the dash give it a distinctly unfinished flavor.  A padded header rail would go a long way toward making the dash look more complete.  While not easy, you can create your own.

        Start with the foam you saved when you stripped the dash.  You want the relatively lightweight stuff.  This is urethane foam, which has two properties that work nicely for you Ė itís surprisingly shapeable using a sharp knife or sandpaper, and fiberglass doesnít destroy it.

        Youíll need to shape that foam into the shape you want your rail to be.  ďGreat StuffĒ, which is just urethane foam in a can, can be a big help here, too, especially if you want to modify the shape of the rail in some way, like adding a shroud over the gauges.  Remember though, the simpler the rail, the easier it will be to finish.

        A layer of fiberglass or two will help strengthen and smooth the rail.  Make sure you know what youíre doing when you mess with fiberglass.  Read and heed the warnings, as fiberglass is nasty, nasty stuff.  In particular, if you have to sand the stuff make sure youíre wrapped up like an Eskimo mummy.  Microscopic shards of glass embedded in your skin are no fun.

        Most important of all, the rail must be smooth.  Any imperfections whatsoever will show through in the finished piece.  Smooth the foam, fiberglass, smooth that out, and you should be set.  Use Johnís bodywork tips again, and donít hurry it.  Once the rail is the shape you want and smoothed out, cover it in a thin layer of light-density foam or felt and cover it in vinyl.  Stretch the vinyl TIGHT, (you donít want wrinkles) and leave the top edge loose.

        Use 3M (gorilla snot) glue to glue the rail to already-painted dash, then wrap the top edge of the vinyl around to the back of the dash, pull tight again, and glue there (just like the factory did).  This way, the bolts help hold it all in place, nice and snug.

        Alternately, you could work out a method of embedding bolts in the foam/fiberglass composite, drilling through the dash, and bolting the header rail on.

Think before you do anything

        If youíve got a good dash, donít do any of this. 

        If youíre unsure of yourself, donít do it. 

        Even if you are going to do it, you may want to farm some parts out.  Just to give one example, getting a good smooth covering on the header rail is hard.  Handing it off to an upholstery shop could be a smart move.

        Think about what exactly youíre trying to achieve, and how exactly you want to do it.  Just stripping a pillow dash is easy, assuming the dash itself isnít rusted.  Any further modifications or swaps get exponentially harder.

        But if you think it through, take your time and put in a little work, you can leave the pillow dash for good.

 

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