The sound of music – Radio install Part 4 (final)- Vinyl and Speakers

At the end of the part 3, the panels were drying and I was ready to cover them in vinyl.  However, there were a few issues with mounting speakers in the kick panels which required repeated fittings of the panel. To prevent scuffing or putting errant holes in the vinyl, I decided to save this step for last.  The delay had an added benefit in creating the chance to sand smooth the drill holes and any knicks or scraps absorbed by the ABS.

The first problem that needed solving was that the speakers do not mate flat on the kick panels when both are installed in the bus.  The kick panels conform to the shape of the bus and are therefore curved surfaces while the speakers are, of course, flat.  This difference produced a little more than a 1/2-inch gap at the top and bottom of my speakers (gap may vary depending on speaker type/size and position in the panel).   Speakers need to be sealed for good sound so to resolve this issue, I wanted to create a gasket between the speaker and panel using 3/8-inch thick closed-cell foam.  I thought finding such a foam locally should be an easy task but, oddly enough, the only suitable foam I found was pipe insulation.  Produced in hollow tubes to easily fit around pipes, the insulation turned out to be too small when flattened to cut a speaker-sized gasket.  Martha eventually found some audio foam online that could be custom ordered but the shipping was three times the price of the foam.  Frankly, I am still a little disappointed that there is a dearth of car audio equipment suppliers around here as it made both installing the radio and speakers more time consuming and frustrating.  Thinking over my options, I remembered that camping sleeping pads are made from closed-cell foam and I successfully used one to seal the sink drain a while back.  However, the only sleeping pad I could find at that time was blue, not exactly a good match for the black panels and speakers.  After I ran around to some local stores and searched online, never dreaming a cheap non-blue sleeping pad would be so difficult to acquire, Martha went online and finally found a perfect 3/8-inch thick, black sleeping pad at a reasonable price, including shipping (I might use some of it to re-seal the sink drain and get rid of the blue stuff).

With the gap issue resolved, the next concern on the list was the position of the speaker mounting screws.  The space in the bus where I wanted the speakers to go is fairly narrow and the headlight buckets, depending on final speaker location, hold the potential of interfering with the mounting screws.  I initially thought my speakers were far enough away from the bucket but discovered the top left screw for the passenger side speaker hit the bucket when it was screwed in halfway.  This forced me to re-drill the screw holes (and made me happy I left the vinyl for last).

Now a word about vinyl.  Silly me for thinking this would be fairly straight forward.  To begin with, vinyl comes in two primary types, cast (high performance) and calendared (both have many different names but these two seem to be the most common).  Calendared vinyl is readily available at craft stores and is relatively inexpensive. Therefore it caught my tight-walleted attention first.)  The durability of this product ranges from 1-5 years depending on application and is rated as having fair conformability.  While not rated for outdoor use (such as applications on the a vehicle’s exterior), I thought it might do well inside the bus.  In my opinion, the most significant shortcoming of calendared vinyl is its lack of stability; it tends to shrink over time.  Cast vinyl, on the other hand, is not readily available locally nor economically friendly but lasts 7 or more years; comes in a wide variety of colors/finishes; has excellent conformability; is rated for outdoor (automotive grade) or indoor use; and, most importantly for me, has excellent stability.   The original vinyl (along with a number of other seals and moldings used by VW) also had issues with shrinking over time so I was somewhat reluctant to buy the calendared version, despite the fact I could probably re-vinyl the panels four times before I spent the cost equivalent of cast.  After a little deliberation, I decided to do this project correctly once and not chance the potential for re-vinyling later and ordered a roll of 2-mil thick, 24-inch wide by 10-yards long, matte black cast vinyl.  Needless to say, I now have a life time supply of cast vinyl since this project required less than two yards!  Links for the vinyl and some other major materials used in this project are listed at the end of the post.

I must say that I had a lot of fun with this project and think the panels should last quite some time. As much fun as it was to make the curtains, there is nothing as refreshing as crawling around, under, and in your bus!

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The speakers came with seals but they were not thick enough to fill the ~ 1/2-inch gap between the top and bottom of the speaker and kick panel. With an exact-o knife, I cut a thicker 3/8-inch gasket from a closed-cell foam sleeping pad using the original as a template.

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A leather hole-punch came in handy for making the indentations for the mounting screws.

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Before drilling holes in the panel for the mounting screws, I marked the headlight bucket location with chalk so the screws do not hit the bucket. My speakers are canted a bit to avoid the bucket but you might also be able to circumvent this problem by using a slightly different speaker location. I failed to account for the bucket on the passenger side and ended up re-drilling the holes.

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Speaker inserted to mark the mounting screw locations.  You can see the the sanded panel surface very well in this shot.

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Once satisfied with speaker position, I marked the mounting screw locations with the chalk pencil and then drilled the holes (9/64-inch; for the second speaker I cheated a bit and just drilled through the screw holes in the speaker).

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Panel and speaker installed to make sure it fits as intended.  The ABS was surprisingly sufficient material for the screw to grab.  Make sure your gasket fills any voids. I ended up using both the sleeping pad gasket and gasket supplied with the speakers.  If the mounting screws are tightened too much, they will pull the panel away from the bus and make them look warped.  Tighten the screws just enough to compress the gaskets and close any gaps.

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While holes for the sheet metal screws that fasten the panels under the heater vent are pre-drilled in the ABS panels, do not be surprised if they fail to line up with the holes in the bus (little square tab under the heater vent on the left side of the picture). These holes were drilled by hand at the factory and are not exactly the same for each bus. Luckily, the holes in my panels worked fine after a little finagling with the panel. The holes for the second mounting point (metal tab at end of red arrow in this picture) are not pre-drilled. I think this is because installers can get the heater vent screw lined up but it would be almost impossible to get the two sets of screw holes to do so. You have two options for drilling this second set of holes. You can install the panels and drill through the panel and metal tab creating a new hole in the tab.  Or you can mark the original screw hole location on the panel and just drill the panel.  Someone already re-drilled the mounting spots on Moby so I did not think a third hole necessary and used the second option.

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With the panel installed the metal tab is hidden, making it very difficult to mark the panel accurately with the chalk pencil. The easiest (and only) way I could think up for marking the screw location used one of the sheet metal screws installed backwards (from behind the metal tab). At this point I just inserted the screw until it was flush with the metal tab so the panel did not get scratched during installation.

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Now I installed the ABS panel along with the sheet metal mounting screw in the heater vent (the latter is extremely important) and made sure the panel was positioned precisely where I wanted. While gently pulling the panel away from the mounting tab and I reached in with the other hand and screwed the sheet metal screw out so the sharp point just protruded beyond the metal tab. I carefully put the panel back in place and then pushed the panel against the sharp screw tip and metal tab (you do not have to push very hard).

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I then removed the panel and looked for the mark made by the screw on the back of the panel (circled in chalk in this photo). Once found, I drilled the hole (9/64-inch) in the panel.  After reinstalling the panel and both mounting screws to check alignment, I repeated this process for the driver’s side.

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Now it was time for the vinyl treatment. I cut two rectangles from the vinyl roll, each measuring 16 1/2 inches wide by 30 1/2 inches long.  They were just long and wide enough to overlap the panel on all sides.

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You do not need the 10-yard roll I bought for two panels; a piece 24 inches wide by 65-70 inches long would be plenty if no mistakes are made.

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My vinyl came with an adhesive side (the website did not tell me that when I ordered it and have no idea how this adhesive will hold up over time). If you can get vinyl without adhesive, use a spray contact glue that is plastic friendly (an example is shown later). I thought applying the vinyl would be the trickiest part of this whole project but was surprised at how forgiving the vinyl was when getting trapped air out or even unsticking it to remove wrinkles. Of course I also had two others assisting me and that helped A LOT!! With the sheet upside-down, I partially peeled the backer away from one end. Then, while I held on to the peeled end and Martha the other end, we flipped the sheet over, moved it above the panel, aligned it with the length of the panel, and stuck the peeled edge to the table and panel edge.

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Martha was in charge of holding the high end of the vinyl while simultaneously peeling off the backer, I chased wrinkles and air pockets, and Shannon held on to the panel to keep it from slipping.  The lower the angle between the vinyl sheet and panel, the better (it is way too high in this posed shot).  The first panel took 20 minutes, maybe a bit longer, but after we all found our groove, the second took about five minutes.

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A soft towel works great when pursuing wrinkles and air pockets. Work from the center out to the edges in 1/2-inch increments. Do not press too firmly at this point because you may need to peel up the vinyl if a bad wrinkle appears. Just concentrate on getting the vinyl lightly stuck to the panel and, MOST importantly, on smoothly.

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Once the air pockets/wrinkles are gone, I went back over it all (avoid what is stuck to the table) with the towel, pressing firmly this time – make the vinyl stick!!

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I then carefully cut the pocket between the panel and table. My intention was not to perform an exact trim of the vinyl, just separate the panel from the extra.

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OK, I do NOT recommend doing this task on an important surface because you’ll get the vinyl stuck to it no matter how hard you try not to do so. Evidently our dining table is not very important to us because I heard no complaints from Martha (no damage was done either). As long as the vinyl was not pressed too firmly against the table, it came right off.

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To get a nice trimmed vinyl edge, I flipped the panel over (vinyled side down) on cardboard and carefully cut all the edges, including heater and speaker holes.

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I used an awl to punch out all the screw holes. Punch from the vinyl side to make a nice clean hole and avoid pulling the vinyl off the panel.

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Getting the speakers and associated parts ready for installation.

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Installed speaker.

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Although you can buy replacement windshield washer tank pressure decals, I managed to save the original from under its protective coating of packing tape.  In order to stick it to the panel, I decided to use a plastic friendly spray adhesive that is available at the local box store (see links at end of post).

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Not wanting to get glue all over the panels, I sprayed the back of the decal and then stuck it to a piece of leftover vinyl. Turns out this glue is not very messy at all and I should have just applied the decal directly to the panel.

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To remove the decal, I cut the vinyl around the decal on all sides with an exact-o knife. Then I peeled away the top and bottom vinyl strips making it easier to peel off the decal.

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Decal applied to the panel. I recommend doing this after the panel is installed. While it looks straight here, it became a bit crooked due to the way the panel sits in the bus.

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Install the speaker wires! Connecting them to the radio harness here.

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Finished product – driver side. It is a shame you cannot hear the tunes!

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Finished product – passenger side.

Links for primary materials used in this project:

ABS Panels, radio, speakers, vinyl, sleeping foam pad, fuse panel (wire, fuses, and inline fuse all came for same FLAPS), and spray adhesive.

Link to entire thread.

One thought on “The sound of music – Radio install Part 4 (final)- Vinyl and Speakers

  1. Pingback: Interior panels Part 6 – Installation – Driver side wall and spare tire panels | Zero to Sixty . . .Eventually

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