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How to remove, restore and replace your early Mustang dash pad

By Jim McGowan

Wrinkled, drooping, lackluster and old! No, we're not talking about you, but if the shoe fits! Anyway we are referring to that unsightly original Mustang dashpad that you have been looking at for so long, but not doing anything about. Ford chose to create the early Mustang pads from a rubberized foam that was then covered with a vinyl skin. It has no internal metal support frame and consequently, after years of varying weather conditions, the foam alone usually appears as we have previously described.

In order to have the pad restored, you must first remove it from the car. Here we will show you how to remove and replace the eyesore, and also how to have it returned to concours condition. Our project is a 1968 Mustang notchback that is undergoing a complete restoration.

Tools that will be necessary are a 3/8-inch nutdriver with sockets, short and long Phillips head screwdrivers, 3/8-inch box end wrench, towel, and whatever size wrench is necessary to disconnect your negative battery connection. We are removing the instrument cluster as well to clean all the gauges. This pad is drooping so far over the top of the cluster that it will be impossible to remove without creating further severe damage to the pad itself. This cluster must come out, your's may not have to. Put the screws and fasteners into individual bags and label everything as you take it from the car. This will make the reinstallation a lot easier.

Begin the pad removal by disconnecting the battery cable since both doors will be open for some time. Then remove the four Phillips head screws holding the temperature control panel and pull it forward and down out of the way.

Pull out the ash tray and remove it from the bracket. Remove the three screws holding the ash tray bracket and remove the bracket. Now reach up through the ash tray hole and remove the speed nut securing the right side of the plastic cluster to the metal dash. Then remove the five screws securing the instrument cluster (three top, two bottom) and pull it forward. The towel is placed over the steering column to prevent damage to the paint.

Reach in through the hole created by the temperature control panel removal and unscrew the speedometer cable from the back of the cluster. Then pull the cluster forward enough to disconnect the three harness plugs at the back of the cluster. The gauges can be removed as a complete unit. The three screws holding the top of the cluster also pass through the dash pad.

Using the long Phillips head screwdriver, remove the metal trim moulding at the very front of the pad at the windshield. When the trim is removed, you'll find several screws that secure the front edge of the pad. Remove them.

Now remove the glove box, and through the resulting hole, remove the speed nuts securing the right hand decorative dash facing. Part of the vinyl material from the pad is tucked behind this trim item, so it must come off.

By reaching through the temp control hole you can remove the 3/8-inch speed nut from the stud at the very bottom corner of the dash pad. The opposite side can be accessed through the glove box hole.

With all the retainers removed the pad can now carefully be peeled up and off the metal dash face. Use care not to rip or destroy the floppy foam pad while removing it.

With the pad out of the car it can now be sent out to be restored. We are sending this wasted example to Just Dashes for a complete make over. While the instrument cluster is out, you can clean all the gauges, replace any burned out light bulbs and lubricate the speedo housing and cable with graphite.

At Just Dashes we followed the resto process through the various steps. We also removed the vinyl trim facing around the radio and console storage area. It was warped and the vinyl was peeling away from the frame.

The pad was first skinned, and all the old cracked and broken vinyl removed. Then a new skin of closed-cell, high-density foam was glued to the original factory foam. The new foam is then hand sanded to conform to the exact shape of the pad. The original ridges as found on the upper facing edge of the pad are replaced using a round welting. For the perfectionist, the factory style stitching can be added. This is a labor intensive process but the end results are worth the effort.

After the foam is finished the pad is placed into a Thermo-Vaccum forming machine and a new skin of correct grain vinyl permanently applied. New speaker holes are then drilled using a special template created by Just Dashes.

The end product is perfect and exactly matches the original as when it was new. No more drooping, cracks or disfiguration.

The replacement process is just a reversal of the removal procedure. No tricks or special tips, the pad will simply slide over the dash and be secured at all the original points. Once the pad is in place, the items you removed can be reinstalled and the project completed.

If you have never tried this procedure before, allow an afternoon for the removal. It pays to proceed slowly and not damage any other parts in the process. It is an extremely rewarding job that will bring a smile to your face every time you drive your Mustang.

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Mustang dash pad

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Mustang dash pad
The original dash pad in this '68 Mustang is cracked and severely drooping on both sides. This is a common problem with the early pads as they have no internal structure but are entirely composed of rubberized foam under the vinyl.
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Mustang dash pad
After disconnecting the battery, four Phillips screws holding the temperature control panel are removed, and the panel pulled out and down out of the way. This gives access to the speedometer cable at the back of the instrument cluster and also the attaching stud at the lower point of the pad where we are pointing.
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Mustang dash pad
Since the dash fascia trim panel also covers the vinyl overlap of the pad, it must be removed. By removing the glove box door you can access the speed nuts through the glove box hole.

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Mustang dash project
The lower stud on the passenger side can now be removed from the point of the dash pad. It is behind where we are pointing.
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We have taken the instrument cluster free of the dash and it is resting on a towel on the steering column. The pad was jammed over the top of the cluster and never would have come out without severe damage. The three screws securing the top of the cluster also pass through the pad.

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Once all the attaching points have been freed, the pad can be carefully removed from the dash face. It is advisable to have a friend help at this point to save what is left of the pad during removal.
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Here the cracked and misshapen pad looks pathetic. It is a big lump of rubbery stuff, sadly in need of some serious cosmetic surgery. One of the lower corners of this pad was broken and the attaching stud completely missing.

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Prior to starting the restoration at Just Dashes we laid out the Mustang parts, along with a severely wounded Cougar pad, to illustrate that no matter how bad the original might be, it usually can be salvaged.
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After removing the original 27 year old vinyl, a new skin of closed-cell high-density foam is hand applied to the factory rubberized foam core.

Click Here to go to Foam Alone!, Part Two.
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