How To Remove & Reinstall Your Imperial's Door Panels

Imperial Home Page -> Repair -> Interior -> Door Panel

Tips from Donald:

Are you frustrated with trying to refasten panels (door, or in my case the front seat back panels on my '67 convertible) that have broken around the wireform fasteners that are a pain in the best of circumstances? Let me share with you a good fix. At Auto Zone I picked up the more updated "Christmas tree" type plastic push on fasteners and fender washers. If you get a fastener package with assorted sizes you can determine the best interference fit for the mating hole. Assemble with the fastener on the inside of the panel and sandwiching the panel with a fender washer on the outside of the panel. Glue and clamp the washer to the panel which will fix/reinforce the panel and give you a solid surface to pry against the next time you need to remove the panel.

Follow-up question from Chris:

Can someone tell me this: I intend to replace the original door panel material with masonite. When putting the original vinyl skin on the new panel, should I glue it down or staple it? If I staple it, will I need an electric stapler with a really short staple, say 3/8? Are there cons to glueing it down?

Reply from Teresa:

I have made some custom door panels for various cars in the past. You can use masonite, or you can simply buy thin fiberboard at your local home improvement store...which is what I do. While you are at the home improvement store, buy a product made by 3M called Super 77. It is a spray adhesive. You need to apply the product to the back of your vinyl, and to your new door panel, and then give them about 15 minutes to get tacky. Then you can put the vinyl on the panel, and make sure you have it where you want it, cause moving it at this point requires an act of God. I lay the vinyl down on one side and work it down towards the other side with a smoothing tool that I have left over from when I used to tint and stripe cars, but you can use a wallpaper smoother cut in half to a manageable size. Make sure you work all of the air out. Also, I would recommend that you put an 1/8" layer of closed cell foam over your door panel before you cover it with the vinyl so that it has a "softer look." Otherwise, you might end up with a very product that you aren't happy with the look of. You can purchase closed cell foam by the foot at most upholstery shops. Don't buy anything over 1/8" thick, or your door panels will be much too thick. You have to buy closed cell foam because the adhesive will adhere to it well, it will not adhere to other very porous foams. Really, if you make a practice door panel with some scrap or cheap purchased vinyl, you will find that door panels are pretty easy to do. I couldn't ever understand why upholstery shops charge $150.00 or more per panel. If you need to stretch the vinyl to smooth out your corners, you can use a heat gun, very carefully, to slightly heat the vinyl and make it pliable enough to achieve the desired amount of stretch. Then, you just pull it around the back side of the board about an inch and use some contact cement, or spray adhesive again (if you can keep from over-spraying your project), and it will hold.

Question from Kerry (1954):

I'm having trouble removing the door panel on the drivers door of my 54. I got all the screws out and removed the door handle. It has a pin that you have to drive through. Different from the later 57 and up models which have the weird square hole spring thingies...

Anyway, all the door clips (similar to later models) are loose but SOMETHING obviously has the arm rest held in place. I assume it must slide into a slot or something but since it's the original fabric, I'm hesitant to experiment. Anyone ever done this?

Reply from Dick:

With the plain grab handle type of arm rest, the arm rest is secured very firmly to the door structure somehow. You may have to pry off a cover panel, or you may be able to see a screw head hidden under the armrest if you poke around.

If neither of these things is the case, it may have a pair of slotted Tee shaped holes in the door structure which pegs on the back of the armrest slide down into. The way to remove these is to lift up strongly on the door panel and armrest as a unit. This method or a variant of this was used by Packard for many years, at least from 41 through 56. By the way, the pin through the door handle is also a Packard trick, from about the same era. Since both Packard and Mopar bought their bodies from Briggs in that period, I wouldn't be at all surprised if much of the hardware is the same.

Follow-up from Kerry:

Figured it out. The arm rest pulls BACKWARD and slides off two screw "standoffs". Once they are removed, the panel comes off. Still haven't gotten my motor to work though. I seem to be going backward. The motor doesn't run when I jump it and the switch no longer seems to work either. 

Addition from Roger:

The final step in your door panel removal will be the armrest. Slide it rearward about an inch to release it from the screw heads holding it in place. The two holes on the back of the armrest are keyhole shaped. And voila free door panel.

Question from David (1960):

I have replaced the door panels but the upholsterer did not have an idea of how to put the metal panels above the arm rest back in to place. How can they be reaffixed?

Reply from Henry:

An alternative to the gray metal panels is to use a material that looks very much like the metal. When I had my 60 done. Wahl and Eade's upholstery in Fresno did an excellent job with all of it including making the gray part of the door panel look very much like the original. don't believe you can exactly duplicate the gray part. Try SMS but they don't do metal, as far as I know.

Try Fryer's at 370-574-8070 advertising Auto Upholstery Kits for any car

Question from John (1961):

Have a '61 Imperial and door refuses to open. Started to take off panel and am puzzled how to remove handle so door pannel will slip off. I'm not very handy to begin with. Also does chrome inset with handle in the slit come out some way?

Reply from John:

While pulling back on the handle, look down into the slot where its attached & you'll see a phillips head bolt holding it in place. Loosen that bolt & the handle will slide off of the shaft.

Question from Bob (1963):

I am trying to get my seats upholster and door panel done for my 1963 Imperial conv. I saw an ad in hemming for SMS auto fabrics in Portland, OR. They sent me a sample and it looks right on . they quoted me a price on the two front dr panel and two rear side panel at $750 and the two rear arm rest and tower cover at $100 ea. Has any one had dealing with this company.

Reply from Henry:

You might notice that Just Dashes advertises that they do door panels. No, they don't. They send them to SMS. I know this is true, the owner of SMS told me that. The special heat treating that puts the pattern into the vinyl is done by SMS. Just Dashes may do some assembly, but SMS remains the specialist that can duplicate your door panel. You may get them faster dealing with an intermediary, but you will pay more.

SMS does excellent work, but the time between making the order and receiving the finished goods can be looooooooooooooooooong.

It took 13 months for them to complete my '61 door panels. Went to their office and met the owner, had a long visit, didn't speed up getting my door panels at all. They are the only game in town. I still do business with them, but be prepared for a long wait.

Question from Bill (1964):

Can anyone tell us where we can find the thin press/fiberboard material that is  used to manufacture inside door panels? After removing a panel to troubleshoot  the power door locks, we've found ours to be pretty shot (no surprise). Looks like a pretty straight forward job to remake them, just need the "wood". 


From Bob:

If you can find a material called "beaverboard" which is a brown, dense, hard material, that would be the best replacement. It's about 1/8" thick and smooth on one side and textured (like little diamond shaped squares grooved on the other), it might be the closest thing. I haven't seen it for years and possibly it isn't made any longer.

From Dick:

The upholstery supply house I use stocks the board, or at least did the last time I checked. I use Keyston Brothers, it's a nationwide chain of  upholstery supply warehouses.  Lowe's hardware (and probably Home Depot) stocks Masonite in about the right  thickness also, although that has a better finish and higher strength than you need for a door panel.

From Bob:

It's not a bad idea to varnish or otherwise waterproof whatever you use, but I seem to remember this stuff soaks up varnish like cardboard!

One replacement panel I made for a non-Imperial was out of a spare piece of acrylic plastic. You can't staple it, of course, but it sure won't disintegrate if it gets wet.

Question from David (1966):

I took a good look at my door panel, preparing to remove the wood for refinishing. The chrome trim around the wood appears to be fastened to the fiberboard support by pressing brads on the back of the trim through the fiberboard and bending them at a 90 degree angle to keep the trim in place.

Some of those brads are rusty, and I fear they may not survive being straightened and bent a second time upon reinstallation.

Should I leave well enough alone and restore the wood and chrome in place?


From John:

I would most definitely leave them be. No reason you can't refinish just as well on the car. I'd put some tape around them to protect the trim while you work.

From Paul:

If you're taking a poll, I say leave it in place. Make it look as good as you can without taking everything apart.

From Chris:

I would definitely remove them. You will not be able to sand and finish the panels as well if you leave them on.

I am sure you will be able to have enough prongs left to secure the wood trim back onto the door panel. If not, there is always adhesive.

Question from Loyal (1966):

How do you remove the rear quarter door panels in a '66 Crown Coupe to access the window mechanisms? I have removed the rear seat bottom & the few screws I could see, but its still attached. Are these panels put on with clips, like those found on the door panels? I didn't want to pull on them & break them.

Reply from David:

The side panels to the rear seats are screwed on and the " sail panels" are held in with door type clips as is or should be the covered panel around the rear window E me if this is not clear.

Tips from Dave (1973):

One thing about removing the fuselage Imperial door panels is remembering the many attachment points the panels have and making sure those attachments are all loose when you are ready to pry off the panel. Another thing is protecting the various surfaces when you work on the panel. Here's what I've learned:

1. Remove the door lock plunger by unscrewing it.

2. With a thinly bladed screwdriver and a protective piece of cloth or thin cardboard to press against, pry off the chrome cover plates of the accessory door pull. Be careful, the door pull's mounting is fragile, the vinyl easily torn and the chrome easily scratched.

3. Unscrew the Phillips screws you have just revealed in step 2.

4. Using a deep 7/16 inch socket, or a normal socket with an extender, and small ratchet wrench, remove the square door-pull from the console. Two bolts hold the handle and should leave small indentations that will help you re-align the handles when you re-install. Before removing the handle, place a piece of protective material, like a tea towel or wash cloth, between the wrench and the door panel. You can accidentally scratch the matte black finish of the console or damage the power window buttons without something for protection.

5. Unscrew the chrome Phillips screw holding down the power window switch plate. Removing the door handle first makes it possible to remove this screw.

6. Remove the ashtray then carefully pull the power window switch plate rewards then towards you. Do not let the plate scratch. You may want to use the cloth again to shove between the plate and the matte black.

7. Using a small screwdriver for leverage, remove the electrical connections from the switch plate taking care not to break the plastic tabs holding the connectors to the plate. Disconnect the wire from the cigar lighter.

8. With the switch plate gone, unscrew the Phillips screw at the front of the switch plate housing. There might be a second screw at the back of the housing.

9. Open the glove box and remove all screws. A longer screwdriver is helpful here.

10. Unbolt the courtesy light lens and frame.

11. Making sure you have unbolted, unscrewed, and unattached everything, begin to pry the door panel from the door using a wide, thin screwdriver. Start at the bottom of the door using gentle pressure. You will discover spring clips holding the panel to the door. Try to pry as closely to those as you can. Try to pry the clips out half way all around the door. When the panel is loose but still attached, use your hands and do your best to free the panel without twisting the console up or down or left or right. This is hard, but you have to be careful or you can break plastic parts holding the console to the panel.

12. With the bottom of the panel free, disconnect the wires to the courtesy light.

13. With the whole panel free, insert a screw driver at the top of the door and pry the panel up. Work one side then the other. You are trying to release two large clips at the top of the panel holding it to the door. These may release suddenly.

14. Double check that there are no wires still attached, ease the console's electrical connections through the hole where the switch plate was, then carry the panel away and store it with nothing leaning against the padded vinyl parts. Doing so will cause unsightly marks.

15. Remove the plastic water barrier and save it.

16. Get ready to cut your hands getting the window motor out. :)

17. You're done!

Door Panel Installation

How to get the panel back on will be obvious to you after having endured the above. The one tip here is to attach a stiff piece of wire to the door lock plunger stick. Holding the door panel with one hand, thread the wire through the plunger hole in the panel. You can then lay the panel on the door without "losing" the plunger. It will follow the wire and pop up through the hole where it belongs.

This page last updated November 12, 2004.  Send us your feedback, and come join the Imperial Mailing List - Online Car Club.