First off, if you don't know by now, I'm not an expert just someone who dives in feet first and hopes the water is deep enough. This is how I upholstered the door and side panels on my 54 Pontiac.
First step was choosing the material and the color scheme. This is when the KISS (keep it simple stupid) method works best! I finally decided on a matching color scheme to the outside of the car for the panels: blue and white. The next step was to find a source for automotive vinyl.
You can't just run out to the local upholstery shop like Fanny's Fabric and purchase their vinyl if you live in a cold climate. The vinyl used for furniture is not temperature rated for cold weather - it'll crack. You need vinyl specified for automotive applications.
And we're off!
You need a big place to work. I made a 4' x 6' work area out of the unused masonite I had, some saw horses and 2"x6"x8" lumber. You need a clean area to work and lots of newspaper. You also need a very good pair of large sharp scissors that you can cut vinyl with and can cut using the tip!
I used 1/8" thick masonite, sometimes called hardboard, for my panels. You can purchase masonite at any building supply store. You can also purchase the orginal style material and I've heard of using a plastic poster board that is used for making signs - it looks like a plastic cardboard. It's twice the price of masonite so I chose the cheaper route. Supposedly the advantages are is that it doesn't warp from moisture.
I used the old door panels as a template and double checked the fit to the car. This is the rear passenger side panel with all the holes cut out including stainless trim holes and mounting holes.
Back of passenger panel to show the material used
The next stage is to glue on 1/4" thick foam to the panel. This will give the panel a professional soft feel to it. I picked up the foam at the local upholstery store in a 4'x8' role for about $10. The glue I used was Permatex Heavy Duty Spray Adhesive which worked very well and costs about $13.00 a can. Expect to use 1 can per panel! They are big cans but I ended up using 3 1/2 cans by the time I was finished. You don't want to run out of glue in the middle of upholstering! The preferred choice is 3M Clear Super Duty Adhesive but its almost twice the price.
Permatex Heavy Duty Spray Adhesive
Cut the foam to the rough shape of the panel - you will be trimming after because its much easier. Lay the two pieces on newspaper to catch the glue overspray. You don't want your work table to get covered in glue! You spray both the uncut foam and the panel board with a good coat of glue. Wait 5 minutes for the glue to become tacky and then the trick is to lay the panel board on top of the foam. It's easier to position the solid board then fight with the flimsy foam. Once the two glue sides touch - they're stuck! Throw away the newspapers then you trim the foam to fit
Foam glued and trimmed on panel board
Next mark the backside of your vinyl about 2" bigger than the panel. You mark the backside cause you don't want the marking to show - you never know when you might want a piece and it would be a shame to damage it. The dark blue vinyl I used has a white cloth backing which is easy to mark on. Cover the table with a new layer of newspaper and place the rough cut vinyl and the panel on it. Spray an even coat of glue on both pieces.
Backside of vinyl and panel with foam glued on it
After waiting 5 minutes for the glue to tack, lay the panel, foam side down on to the center of the vinyl. Again it is much easier to do it this way - laying the panel on the vinyl. Immediately turn over the panel and start smoothing out the vinyl, you have a couple of minutes that you can move the air bubbles and any creases out from the center to the sides. If you are very lucky, you may be able to lift the vinyl off the foam to fix something but I wouldn't count on it! You are only working with the foam side. You worry about the edges in the next step.
Vinyl smoothed, panel flipped over, vinyl trimmed and glue around the edges
Once you are happy that the vinyl is smooth, flip the panel over (new layer of newspaper). You are now going to work on the edges. Now's the time to mark any mounting holes for the panels or for the trim that will be covered. I've indicated lines and arrows. The arrows tell me which direction to place the panel mounting tabs.
First, trim the vinyl so that it will fold around any curved pieces. Once all the cuts are made, spray glue on both the panel board back and the vinyl again - wait 5 minutes and start folding the edges over. If you've made the correct cuts, it'll go real fast, if you haven't then you're trying to cut while the glue is drying - it's not too bad as the vinyl will feel dry to the touch.
Here's a corner with a concave curve to it - see how the vinyl is trimmed
Here's the same edge with the vinyl folder over - see how the vinyl folds over
This shows an outside corner, notice that there is little to do for the straight part - just fold it over
Same corner - vinyl folded over and a few cuts for the concave part. Notice the marks to indicate the mounting holes that are now covered!
My color scheme is for a blue panel with a white horizontal stripe to match the paint on the car. If I were a professional, I would have an industrial sewing machine and sew the white vinyl to the blue vinyl but I don't have an industrial sewing machine so my plan is to glue the white vinyl onto the blue vinyl. The stainless trim will hide the joint.
At this point, I used a sharp awl to poke holes through the blue vinyl where the stainless trim tabs were. I had previously drilled the mounting tab holes in the panel board at the beginning. This made a guideline of holes for me to follow when I lay the white vinyl down.
Oversized white vinyl ready for rough trimming
White vinyl rough trimmed and ready to be glued
Masked off the blue vinyl according to the awl holes so that only where the white vinyl would go would be glued
Once the white vinyl was glued in place, I removed the masking tape and removed any excessive glue - you can rub it off with your fingers - its not dry yet. I then used the awl to poke through the stainless trim mounting holes and mounted the trim.
Here's the finished side panel - the bottom trim runs into the rear seat so its a short piece
This is what the driver's side looks like installed (seat is not in place)
Here's the matching door panel
I've upholstered the arm rests and they were a bitch! All curves and no place to work.
Looking pretty darn good!
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