Creating classic door panels

Crafting replacement panels involves armrests, too.

Door panels were a distant memory by the time a bright red 1959 Dodge Town Wagon arrived at Long Beach Auto Trim & Upholstery in Signal Hill, Calif. To expert upholsterer Raul Najera fell the job of updating the vehicle’s existing seating and interior trim, and recreating missing components so that they, too, could be upholstered.

Najera began by fashioning sections of 1/8-inch plywood to match the depressions in the two front doors where door panels used to reside. Next, he marked the wood where it would be drilled to accommodate openings for door handles and power window switches.

He then removed the plywood in order to sketch on it the position of stylized flames. Enduratex™ white vinyl from C.G.P.C. America Corp. was chosen for the covering. Next, using a universal street rod door panel template from RodDoors, Chico, Calif., Najera scored the template’s flame pattern onto the vinyl.

Then, Najera placed the panels on the doors to double-check the fit and to finalize the location of the armrest planned for each door panel. Once satisfied with the plywood forms, he then bonded together 1/8- and 1/2-inch foam, glued it to the plywood, and covered it with the flame-embossed vinyl to create an upholstered door panel.

The plastic armrest forms that the customer provided were too long. No problem. Najera shortened each form by cutting it on either side of its center, removing the center section and connecting the two remaining sections by screwing a wooden bridge to their undersides. The armrests were then covered in red Enduratex vinyl to match the body color of the vehicle and provide a striking contrast to the white door panels.

The end result? A pair of handsome door panels for the front doors. Najera followed the same steps to create panels (not shown) for the vehicle’s rear “barn” doors, so-called because they open in the middle, with one door swinging open to the left, the other to the right.

Creating classic door panels: Start to finish

Image 1Upholsterer Raul Niajera, Long Beach Auto Trim & Upholstery, begins creating door panels by fashioning panel forms out of one eighth-inch plywood.

Image 2With plywood forms clipped in place, Raul marks the wood where it will be drilled to accommodate openings for door handles and power window switches.

Image 3Flames are sketched in chalk onto plywood forms.

Image 4The flame pattern is transferred onto vinyl by pressing the pattern from the universal street rod door panel into the vinyl, and scoring the flames.

Image 5The vinyl cover for each door panel is trimmed.

Image 6With foam padding and vinyl cover in place, the plywood form is almost ready for installation.

Image 7Raul installs the completed door panel.

Marshall Spiegel is a freelance writer in Signal Hill, Calif.


Comments are the opinion of individual posters and do not reflect the views of Upholstery Journal or Industrial Fabrics Association International.

  • David Criswell


    you said you laid the vinyl on the template and scored the vinyl, then it shows you laying the vinyl on the door panel and it has the flames showing. Somewhere we left out a bunch of stuff also would be nice to see how you wrapped the door panel and got all the wrinkles at the corners out which can be a problem for us beginners and the word score what does it mean,trace or or push into a mold ? need some more info here. but it looks really good,also any ideas on how to make a custom armrest here instead of using one off an original panel? thanks so much. Dave from Ohio

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