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Project Split Personality AC and Audio Install

Covering Interior Features, A/C, And Audio Systems

Rich & Barb Lagasse Feb 22, 2009
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Through the first seven installments of our project series, we've covered project planning, chassis and suspension, engine, drivetrain and brakes, installing C5 seats in a midyear, engine electronics, exhaust and fuel systems, the exterior features of the body and the engine compartment, and air intake and cooling systems. In this finale we will cover the major interior features, including the A/C and audio systems.

We've tried to cover each one in enough detail to give you a good idea of what's involved and the sources we've used. At the very least, we hope it will stimulate some ideas, but the fun part of these projects is coming up with your own ideas to build a car reflecting your tastes and which will achieve your objectives. Since each project is unique, and you're sure to have your own ideas on the approach to take and components to use, we've described the approach we've taken and what has worked for us.

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ANYONE'S PROJECT | no tools required N
BEGINNER | basic tools NN
EXPERIENCED | special tools NNN
ACCOMPLISHED | special tools and outside help NNNN
PROFESSIONALS ONLY | send this work out NNNNN

Overall Design Approach
Our basic approach to the interior was to retain the flavor of the original design while incorporating several modern touches. If we've done our jobs right, the changes will have retained the original styling aspects of a '63 and blend in well enough to appear as something the factory might have done. As with the approach we took with the body, the changes are relatively subtle but distinctive in appearance to enhance what is already there and improve function, appearance, and comfort. Here are the major changes we made to the '63's interior.

Materials And Color Choices
While we've usually used black leather for our interiors in the past, we wanted to use a color combination that would stand out a bit more and have a more modern look. We decided on a two-tone grey leather interior. After learning more about leather than we ever wanted to know, we sourced the leather from Gary's Upholstery in Florida. Their website has quite a bit of information on what to look for when ordering your own leather. They can also send you samples so you can see what color and texture of leather will work best. After deciding what you want, you'll need to decide just how many hides to order. A good upholstery shop can help with that. We ended up ordering nine full hides. It's best to order enough to have all the hides from the same dye lot.

Seats And Seat Belts
We covered the installation of C5 seats in a previous article in the June '07 issue, so we won't go into detail here. While there are a number of aftermarket seats available, many folks prefer to use as many Corvette components as possible when updating their seats. Installing C5 seats is becoming a popular way to upgrade. We found our C5 seats on eBay. The ones we've seen there have ranged from near new to those that require re-upholstering. The ones we found were a little worn but; since we planned to re-upholster them anyway, there was no need to pay the price for perfect seats. (See photo 01: installed seats)

We chose to eliminate the power seat motors in order to lower the seats, which also eliminated about 40 pounds of weight, and simplified the installation. The main installation issues that need to be addressed are seat height, seat rake, mounting, adjustability, and upholstery. The June '07 article went into detail on all those aspects. If you don't have the June '07 issue, you can find it online in the Corvette Fever Tech Articles at:

Another change we wanted to make was to convert to a three-point seatbelt system. We chose a set from Juliano's Hot Rod Shop in Connecticut. The installation followed their directions for the mounting points. Basically, that involved welding in the lower mounts for the belt retractors and the upper mount for the shoulder harness in the B pillar and bolting the seatbelt clasp to the seat frame. You can find a good location for the shoulder belt mount in a depression already present in the B pillar as it's at just the right height. You'll have to drill through the halo panel and notch the molding around the door openings slightly to clear the mounting bolt. We've become accustomed to three point belts in modern cars, and this proved to be a worthwhile change. (See photo 02: installed seat/shoulder belts)

Dash-Area Gauges, Underdash Panels, Pedals, And Glove Box
The dash was changed in several respects. The main changes involved filling in the original speaker hole, installing new defrost vents, reconfiguring the center of the dash to house two additional gauges and the A/C outlets, along with the audio control unit and Vintage Air control panel. The dash "eyebrows" were also covered in medium grey leather, and the center of the dash was covered in lighter grey leather. The gauge cluster was changed to install custom gauges from Classic Instruments, and both the gauge panel and restored glovebox were painted grey to match the leather.

The gauges were made to our design by Classic Instruments who did a great job. They will work with you to make exactly what you want. We chose to have a spun aluminum background, stainless bezels, domed lenses, and they even painted the needles in our special red. We also sent them our Pro-Classic logo which they silk-screened onto the gauge background. The usual type of gauges were used for the gauge cluster, and two additional gauges (fuel pressure and exhaust temperature) were placed in the center dash area. The speedometer reads to 200 mph and the tachometer to 10,000 rpm-just wishful thinking on our part. (See photos 03: gauge cluster; and 04: center dash area.)

We made several new panels, including the kick, radio, and underdash panels. The new radio panels are the location for two additional A/C outlets and speakers. We also wanted to cover the underside of the steering column area and the A/C evaporator. New kick panels were also made. All of the panels were made using aluminum, which helps to retain their shape, and they were covered in leather. We also mounted courtesy lights in the underdash panels on both the driver and passenger sides which match the billet dome-light design.

To get as smooth an area as possible under the dash, several components were moved to new locations. For example, the fuse panel was moved inside the driver-side vent recess, the high/low beam switch was moved to the turn signal stalk, and the area of the floor forward of the pedals was filled with dense foam. This allowed for a clean and flat area for the new panels and carpeting. (See photo 05: fuse-box location; photo 06: kick panel; photo 07: radio panel; and photos 08 and 09: underdash panels)

New billet-aluminum pedals were made by Lokar to fit the stock pedal arms. A matching throttle pedal was also sourced from Lokar. We also smoothed the pedal arms, polished the leading edges, and painted the sides to match the upholstery for a more custom look. The throttle pedal is a fly-by-wire unit from a C6 Corvette which works great and prevented the need to run a cable in the engine compartment. (See photo 10: billet clutch, brake, and throttle pedals)

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This shows the arrangement we made for the center dash area. It houses two of the four A/C outlets, two new gauges (fuel pressure and exhaust temperature), the audio control, and the Vintage Air control panel.

The glovebox door is from a '64, as our original fiberglass unit was damaged beyond repair. We had to restore the door, including the aluminum panel. We followed the approach we had seen on the Corvette Forums where the original panel is cut out and the new panel is slid underneath. That approach worked well and prevented having to drill out the original door rivets. We're not sure who came up with that idea, but it saved some time. We had to use a shallower glovebox liner in order to clear the A/C vent lines, and we obtained that from Hot Rod Air. We covered the inside of the glovebox with the grey leather. Both the glovebox and the gauge cluster were painted in grey, matching the leather.

Steering Column And Steering Wheel
We thought a tilt column would be a useful modern addition and chose the '63-'66 Corvette unit from Flaming River. We covered the engine compartment side of the installation in our last project installment (Part 7). The upper portion of the column was painted to match the interior color, and the lower column was polished. The steering wheel is a Woody's III three-spoke from Flaming River in a 14-inch diameter, which has a similar spoke design to the original wheel. It was covered in two-tone grey leather by Ron Magnus Upholstery. For the center emblem on the horn button, we used the stock '63 center piece, which was machined to the right diameter and glued in place. (See photo 11: steering wheel and column)

Door Panels And Power Windows
We retained the original design of the '63 door panels; however, new backing panels were custom made which were covered in the two-tone grey leather. The panels use push-style pins to hold them in place in lieu of the stock screws. The door pulls were also covered in contrasting grey leather. As with the original door panels, carpeting was used at the bottom of the panels. (See photo 12: door panel)

We decided to convert to power windows and used units from Nu-Relic which installed easily and work well. We mounted the window switches in the center console. We also had to come up with a means to route the wiring through the door and doorjamb and used conduits from Electric-Life as a starting point. This was another "more involved than we thought" aspect, as the door hinges of the Corvette are unique. A good choice would have been just to use the stock '63 power window metal conduits, but we wanted something a little different. One of the conduits Electric-Life offers uses a braided hose and a swivel collar at one end. We found that we had to use a swivel collar at both ends to get it to work right. In retrospect, while this setup looks and works well, we recommend using either the stock Vette metal conduit or possibly the EZContact doorjamb contacts. While the latter won't allow the windows to operate while the door is open, they sure would have made this aspect much easier. (See photo 13: P/W conduit)

A custom center console was fabricated beginning with a stock automatic midyear console as a base. It incorporates a combination storage area and armrest and was covered in two-tone leather. The console also houses the power window switches and uses a Lokar billet shift boot ring and custom leather boot. The shift handle is a midyear-style from Keisler Engineering and connects to a Pro-Shifter for the Tremec six-speed transmission, also from Keisler Engineering. (See photo 14: center console)

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New kick panels were made for each side. This is a picture of the driver-side panel, which is easily removable to reach the fuse panel.

Rear Compartment And Ceiling
One particular area we wanted to change was the rear compartment. The most involved change was in making new side compartment panels to fit around the wheelwells and under the rear windows. Interior Motives in Manchester, Connecticut, made the new panels from fiberglass. They mount by fitting over the lips on the rear edge of the door openings. In the areas behind the panels, room was then available to mount the rear speakers and subwoofer. To give us a separation point for the two-tone leather, we used stock '63 door panel moldings which were reversed and bent to shape to fit the contour of the panels. A new rear panel was also made and covered in two-tone grey. We needed a straight molding to match the '63 door moldings and found that a door molding from a '69 Camaro was the exact same profile. Our Split Personality emblem (made by Austin Barnett Designs from Vetteorama) was added for a finishing touch. (See photo 15: rear compartment)

The floor of the rear compartment was also changed. The major change was to eliminate two storage compartments which was necessary to clear the structure of the tube frame. A new flat panel was installed which levels the floor. We wanted to strengthen the floor so we glued in two 1/2-inch-diameter steel rods in each rib in the floor. A new floor panel was made which was padded and then covered in grey leather. The ceiling and halo panel were covered in the light grey leather, and we used a billet dome light from Phipps Hot Rod Billet. (See photo 16: ceiling and halo panel)

We searched for insulation material and found several choices. We decided to use Lizard Skin spray-on ceramic insulation material for its complete coverage, ease of installation, and reduction of both heat and noise. It's applied with a special spray gun and required four gallons of material to achieve the recommended thickness of 0.040 inch. We coated the inner firewall, ceiling, rear compartment, floors, and inner doors. (See photo 17: Lizard Skin insulation)

We had to search for a grey carpeting material to closely match the light grey leather, and found one used in a Porsche that matched well. Custom floor mats were also made on which our Pro-Classic logo was sewn. (See photo 18: carpet and floor mats)

Interior Moldings
As with the exterior moldings, we also had to obtain all the interior windshield, door, and rear window moldings. Several sources were used to find originals as these aren't reproduced. A custom-mix grey paint was mixed to match the leather and was applied to all the moldings.

Rear View Mirror/Monitor
In Installment 6 we addressed the rearview camera system we installed to improve visibility and showed how we mounted the camera. The monitor for the system (from Rostra Precision Controls) is incorporated into the rear view mirror. To make it appear as original as possible, the mount on the new mirror was modified to fit the stock '63 chrome mirror bracket. Since the mirror/monitor is wider than the stock mirror, the visors also had to be reshaped to clear. (See photo 19: rearview mirror/monitor)

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Rear compartment panels were made to smooth the area around the inner wheelwells and also provide space behind them for the eight speakers and subwoofer. Stock 63 door moldings were reversed, reshaped, and cut to length to provide a point of separation between the two-tone grey leather. A matching profile molding was found for use on the back panel.

A/C System
We chose the air conditioning, heat, and defrost system from Vintage Air and used their Gen II "Mini" system. Custom brackets were made to hang the evaporator system, and custom hoses and fittings were made which connect with a bulkhead mounted in the firewall. We ran the A/C, heater, and drain hoses through the passenger-side vent opening. It was a tight fit but worked well to hide the hoses. (See photo 20: heater and A/C lines) We used the Gen II control panel (PN 48102-SVQ) to control the air, heat, and defrost as well as a bi-level operation. This particular system uses no vacuum lines, but rather electrically operated controls including the heater valve. (See photo 04: center dash area) The outlets include two for the defrost and four for the A/C. We located two of the A/C outlets in the center of the dash and one on each side in the radio panels. The outlets open and close much like a throttle butterfly and are available from Vintage Air (PN 49215-VUQ). (See photos 04: center dash area; and photo 06: radio panel)

Audio System
Honestly, we don't often listen to the audio system while driving, but we thought it was an area that could be improved and needed to be included in our project. After looking at the systems available, we decided on the Secret Audio system from Custom Autosound. The control panel is a very small unit which fits well in the center dash area, and it also comes with a remote control. A custom billet frame was made for the control unit. The main power unit is mounted under the driver seat. A subwoofer is mounted, along with eight speakers behind the rear compartment side panels, and two front speakers are mounted behind the radio panels. We didn't have room for a separate CD unit, so we obtained a converter harness from Custom Autosound which connects an iPod to store the tunes we want. (See photos 04: center dash area; and 21: audio control unit)

Of all the aspects of our project, we really like how the interior came out. We know we've achieved our objective if everything complements the original styling of the car and is more functional and comfortable.

Lessons Learned
No matter how many projects you've done, there's always something you'll learn, whether it's a new skill, discovering helpful tools to use, or how to do something easier for future projects. We've certainly picked up a few lessons during this project, and we thought it might be helpful to mention a few.

New Skills
Molding restoration: One useful learning experience was restoring the unique '63 moldings, as the ones we found all needed work to remove scratches and dents. You can do it yourself with a little patience, practice, and the right tools. We wrote an article on that subject which appeared in the June '05 issue of Corvette Fever. If you don't keep your back issues, you can find it at this link on the CF website:

Polishing: This is one of those jobs that can save you some money but also comes at the price of making a huge mess of your shop and yourself. Often a polished piece can look better than chrome in some areas, but you also need a means to keep it looking that way and to prevent having to repolish it later. We found Zoops Seal to be a good choice to retain the appearance longer.

New Tools
Chassis Rotisserie: When working on a chassis, it can be difficult to get into the right position, particularly when it comes to painting a tube frame. Getting an even coat of paint on tubes was made much easier using a rotisserie we found from Accessible Systems.

Body Tilter: The extent of work we planned for the underside of the body meant many hours, which would have to be spent lying on our back. But we made a framework to mount to the body dolly, which allowed the body to be tilted onto its side, making it much easier. A picture of what our body dolly and tilter looks like appeared in Parts 6 and 7.

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The ceiling and halo panels were padded and covered in light grey leather. The dome light is billet, which matches the courtesy lights. You can also see our logo which was sewn into the headrests.

Buffers: Both stationary and handheld buffers were essential in restoring the stainless moldings and polishing many other parts. We use a Baldor stationary buffer with pads and compounds from Eastwood. The stainless restoration article mentions many safety tips when using this type of buffer. We can't stress enough how careful you have to be using them. We also found the Porta-Cable random orbit buffer to be a great help, not only for polishing the paint, but also for the final polishing of billet aluminum and stainless pieces which were too large to use on a stationary buffer. We used a foam pad covered with a microfiber cover and Mother's Billet Aluminum polish for those jobs.

Belt Sander: We found the Dynafile II handheld belt sander to be invaluable in preparing parts for polishing, and that 3M Trizact belts worked the best to provide a smooth finish. We also found the Multi-Tool bench belt sander to come in handy for work on metal parts. Again, Trizact belts worked the best for fine finishing work.

Short Handle Wrenches: We love these short handle metric and SAE ratchet type wrenches. They sure helped in many tight areas.

Engine Hoist and Engine Stand: Borrowed or bought, but necessary, for the heavy lifting and engine assembly.

Hydraulic Lift Cart: This is one of those carts on wheels you've probably seen that have a hydraulic lift table. We found this great to use when lining up the transmission for installation as well as making a moveable and adjustable-height work table. It also helped when loading or unloading heavy objects from the bed of the truck.

Chassis Lift: We've had a mid-rise lift for many years, and it's served us well to make it much easier to work on and assemble the chassis, suspension, and drivetrain as well as detail the finished car.

Scanning Tool: For electronically controlled engines, the scan tool comes in handy to diagnose problem codes. We have one from AutoXRay which has worked well for reading and clearing codes. Sometimes the "Tech II" scanner/programmer is needed for OBD-II systems to do more, but that's an expensive unit and probably more than you can justify for the home shop.

One-Purpose-Only Tools: If you've done a few projects, no doubt you've needed a tool that isn't available and have had to make your own. We have quite a few sockets, wrenches, and so on that had to be modified to fit a particular area. It's a good idea to label these so you'll remember what that odd-looking thing is in your toolbox.

Computer: Sometimes referred to as "that large electronic paperweight on your desk." How did we ever get along without one? From laying out project plans, researching sources, and ordering parts, to communicating with your friends in the hobby, it's become an essential tool for car projects.

Project Planning Theorems (new theories and a few old ones vividly reconfirmed):
A project plan is subject to change, especially for longer-term projects. True! You'll likely change your objectives along the way or come across different ways to do some things, which is to be expected. The longer the project, the more often you can expect this to occur.

The difference between something unforeseen and something unforeseeable is about a month. True! Something unforeseen is usually due to not doing enough research or planning. Then there are those things which you just can't foresee. It's guaranteed there will be some, but by definition, you don't know what they'll be. All you can do is allow for them in your project plan timeline.

Any major project will always cost more and take longer than you thought. True! Doubling your initial time estimate and adding 35-50 percent more to your initial stab at a budget is likely closer to the mark. This is one of the major variables that can be best controlled and contained by how much of the work you can do yourself.

The best project car is the most complete car you can find. True! If you start with a more complete car, you can save time, aggravation, and most likely, expense in the long run.

Piece-of-cake jobs can often turn into a week-long effort. True! The five-minute job to install one simple door switch turned into an hour of scratching our heads to figure why it wouldn't fit and another hour to finish the job. Count on there being many of these.

Chroming cast aluminum is easy. False! See our second installment (March '07 issue) for details on that.

Powdercoating is your friend. True! See above.

Punch lists are a helpful tool. True, sometimes. Tackling a few easy jobs can make your punch list seem smaller and give you a sense of accomplishment as they are checked off. Conversely, every time you remove one item, you think of two more to add. Also true! (By the way, we found out how a punch list got its name. It's likely that you want to punch out the next person who asks if the project is done yet.)

Gobs of determination will overcome a lack of patience. True! Always keeping a focus on your end goal helps. Any large project will have its ups and downs, but it's to be expected and not a reason to become discouraged. The longer the project timeframe, the more you can expect this to happen.

Your parts will be in Tuesday. False! You knew the answer to that one!

You will become well acquainted with UPS. True! We've gone through four different delivery people, but there's no truth to the rumor that we had anything to do with their taking early retirement.

Polishing parts can make your garage look like a bomb has gone off in there. True!

The devil lies in the details. True! The level you decide for your project has a huge impact on both the timeframe and amount of labor involved.

Friends will come through in the clutches. True! We have many to thank for their help.

Having a patient and supportive spouse. Priceless! Any spouse who's willing to help during the wee hours of the night is someone special.

Long Journey
It's been a project of four years, and we're glad we were able to share the details with you. This has been by far the longest and most involved project we've undertaken, but we've enjoyed it-most of the time, anyway-and we're extremely happy with how the car turned out. One way to know if you've succeeded is if the car comes out as you had pictured it in your mind. We're happy to be able to feel that it has. We were surprised and pleased at the number of folks we've met at recent shows who've been following the project series along. Speaking with folks at these shows is always something Barb and I enjoy, so if you see us at a show, please stop by to chat.

Many folks have already been asking what our next project will be and if we plan to build another car of this type. The answer from both Barb and me has been the same: Before even thinking of another car project, we plan a long rest so we can do some things we've had to put off. Frankly, after building three cars of this type, we're enjoying the hobby now more than ever, and that's one of the major factors that have kept us enthused about the Corvette hobby. The most enjoyable aspect about this hobby, though, has been the great people we've met and the friends we've made along the way.

We hope you've enjoyed following our project, and that it's been of help to those contemplating a similar project. As always, we're glad to help anyone who may have questions on their own projects. More information and pictures are on our website:


Chicago, IL 60631
Vintage Air
San Antonio, TX 78266
Classic Instruments
Boyne City, MI 49712
Custom Autosound
Fullerton, CA 92833
Nu-Relics Power Windows
East Bend, NC 27018
Lokar Performance Products
Knoxville, TN 37932



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