The sound of music – Radio install Part 3 – Preparing the front kick panels

After posting Radio install Part 2, I realized I forgot to include pictures showing the installation of the back-strap; the piece of metal that runs from the back of the radio to the dash and adds additional support for the unit.  Those of you following along in real time might want to check out the updated post; the pictures are at the end.

After spending some time sitting in the bus learning what this radio can do function-wise, I realized two things:  Radios are somewhat boring without speakers and the way I installed the ignition-on wire to continuous power always keeps the radio’s time/date display on, even when the unit is turned off.  To solve the latter issue, install a switch between the fuse and radio.  This will allow the radio to function when the bus is not running (without keeping the key in the battery-on position) and also let you turn it off when not needed.  I might do this later but for now I will pull the 15 amp fuse for that wire when the bus is parked.  A solution for the former issue was pretty clear – install some speakers!  But before I could do that, I took the opportunity to make an upgrade.

The first step when installing speakers is figuring out where they should go.  In previous buses I always stuck them in the doors, mostly because the door panels already had  holes cut in them for this purpose. Moby came with nearly perfect door panels and my spare set is also in great shape and my basic approach to these old cars is to keep them as original as possible and limit any alterations.  Consequently, while I have no problems using existing modifications, I did not want to cut the good door panels.  That left a few options:  I could use the speaker holes someone cut in Moby’s cockpit ceiling panel; use free standing, enclosed box speakers; buy door panels with holes already cut; or put them in the front kick panels.  The first option did not seem ideal because the speaker locations would be right above the driver and passenger seats, not great for sound quality.  I researched the second option but did not find enclosed speakers with which I was happy or a way to satisfactorily secure them when driving.  I also kept a lookout for used door panels but the ones I found with speaker holes were not in great shape.  That left the front kick panels.  At some point, a PO removed the vinyl covers and painted them an odd light-brown, grey-tinged color which reduced my reluctance to cutting holes in them.  I began to ponder refurbishing them before mounting the speakers but after looking at them closely found that, after more than 40 years, these pressed cardboard panels had become very stiff and warped.  I was also a little unsure of their structural integrity, ability to hold speakers, and my capacity in making them look like new.

In researching the success others had with kick panel speaker installations, I found a yet another option, new ABS (Acrylonitrile butadiene styrene) front kick panels.  Quite a few people used them in their projects (with or without speakers) and were very happy with the results.  These panels appealed to me because, while I could probably also find new door panels, I liked the originals already in use and felt it redundant to replace them.  However, I disliked the painted kick panels and figured new ones not only would look better but, because of ABS’s resistance to warping and its increased strength, would also support speakers more effectively.  Some people on various forums and threads complained about the plastic appearance and textured surface of ABS not matching the allure of originals but I figured that could be remedied by covering them with vinyl, such as found on the archetypes.  These kits are made (along with a slew of other panels) by a positively reviewed company,  Werksberg Products, and ship with two kick panels, four black sheet metal screws, and a small extra piece of ABS for testing glues, paints, cleaners, etc…

In the end, I decided to improve Moby’s interior not just with new curtains but kick panels too (this becomes a little more important in the grand scheme of things as I intend to do some more interior restoration work later this winter).  While these ABS panels are sold by quite a few VW parts vendors, I ordered mine straight from source and was quite happy with them when they arrived.  One discovery I made upon opening the box was that the textured surface is found only on one side, leaving the opposite side smooth.  If you plan on covering them with vinyl or other material, you may want to inquire if Werksberg could cut the panels so the smooth side faces the cockpit (reverse of how they are cut now); it will save you some minor sanding work down the road.

The first half of this project is outlined below and focuses on getting the panels ready for the speakers and vinyl covering.  For speakers installed in this spot, 6 1/2 inches seems to be about the maximum size with a mounting depth no more than 2 or 2 1/2 inches.  After looking at various manufacturers and models of speakers, I ended up with a pair of 6 1/2-inch diameter speakers with 2-inch mounting depth.  Overall this was a pretty quick and uncomplicated process easily finished in a day or maybe a quiet afternoon; especially after you read this and know what the heck you are doing.  I recommend double checking every measurement and the fit of the speakers as you progress through each step but then again, I can be a little bit OCD about such things. I will cover the rest of the work in part 4 of this series.

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OEM left front kick panel. Made of compressed cardboard and originally covered in black vinyl, these panels are prone to water damage and warping.  The vinyl covers shrink over time and are very often peeling from the cardboard.  Moby’s panels were denuded of their vinyl covers and painted. They look nice in the pictures but are fairly ugly in person.

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Right front kick panel with the windshield washer decal stuck on with packing tape. This one is significantly more warped than its companion and has water damage at the lower right corner.

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The replacements! Made from ABS plastic, they should be able to stand up to the test of time and and moisture. The holes for the sheet metal screws used to attach the panels to the heater vents are pre-drilled. The small rectangle on the right is a test panel included with the kit.

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OEM vs. replacement for comparison.

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Texture of the ABS plastic. This side faces the bus cockpit.

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Smooth backside which faces the front of the bus and is hidden when installed. I do not know if they will do it but you may inquire about getting these panels cut smooth side facing the cockpit (reverse of how these were cut).

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Roll of matte black vinyl to cover the panels. More on vinyl options in part 4.

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To start, I wanted to test the vinyl on the spare ABS piece for sticking quality and texture. This vinyl is supposed to conform to all surfaces; rivets, seams, bolts etc… but I did not want the ABS texture to come through.

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As expected, the ABS texture prevented a smooth finish for the vinyl. Using 80 grit sandpaper, I roughly sanded the texture off the right corner and applied another strip of vinyl.

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While not perfect, the sanded section (left) worked out well enough to indicate a good sanding would provide a smooth finished vinyl.

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The sanded ABS also provides a better sticking surface for the vinyl. The vinyl on the unsanded ABS (right) easily peeled off while the section on the sanded side (left) ripped when I tried to pull it off.

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Happy with the vinyl tests, I moved on to measuring the positions for the 6 1/2-inch speakers. There is only one space available for speakers mounted in the kick panel area (red arrow) but they can be mounted high or low in this space. Others who completed this project favored the higher position to help prevent accidental kicking of the speaker. I measured the center of the space (approximately where the arrow points) from the floor (8 inches) and side (4 1/4 inches). The black tape helped me keep track of the measuring points. In the end, I probably should have moved the the speakers toward the door a 1/4-inch and up about a 1/2-inch.  Try 8 1/2 inches from the floor and 4 inches from the side, it might work better. After measuring both driver and passenger sides, I installed the ABS panels and, measuring from the black tape, marked the center of the space on the panels with a piece of white chalk (pen, pencil, and black markers are useless on the ABS).

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After marking the center of where the speaker should go, I taped the speaker gasket in place to double check speaker fit.

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Since this was my first ever attempt at putting speakers in kick panels, I decided to do a dry run with cardboard. Using the ABS panel as a template, I traced and then cut the passenger panel out of a thin cardboard box.

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Using the same measurements from the earlier photos, I cut a speaker hole and installed the test panel (it actually did not look too bad!). Then I “installed” the speaker by holding it in place by hand to make sure the speaker cleared the headlight bucket, bottom frame, and right side pillar. Satisfied with the fit, I put this panel over the ABS one to double check my previously made marks.

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The piece of chalk was too big for the precise lines needed for cutting so Martha loaned me a white chalk pencil from her sewing box.  I then traced the inside circle of the speaker gasket.

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Hole ready to be cut!

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Repeat steps for the other panel.

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The dremel I used to cut the speaker holes worked very well but I had to keep the tool moving quickly along the chalk line. If left in place too long or if I tried to cut too sharp a curve, the ABS started to melt.

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Repeat for other side. At this point I stuck them in the bus and held the speaker in the hole by hand to make sure all was still good (it was).

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After the holes were cut, it was time to remove the textured surface. I used an electric sander with 80 grit sandpaper at first.  I kept the sander moving quickly over the panel and brushed away the dust to reduce any potential for melting. After the bulk of the texture was gone, I switched to hand sanding with 80 grit because I could focus on specific spots without too much heat build-up. The electric sander returned for the final sanding with 120 grit paper, again being careful not to generate too much heat.

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Test piece with sanded panels in the background. The results of sanding, though hard to see here, were fantastic!

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I washed the panels with a mild soap and water to get rid of all the dust and any chemical residues left over from the manufacturing process and let them dry thoroughly. While they dried, I contemplated how I was going to apply the vinyl without getting bubbles and wrinkles everywhere or vinyling myself in the process. But before I could apply the vinyl, I needed to drill some holes! Stay tuned….

Link to entire thread

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One thought on “The sound of music – Radio install Part 3 – Preparing the front kick panels

  1. Pingback: The sound of music – Radio install Part 4 (final)- Vinyl and Speakers | Zero to Sixty . . .Eventually

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