Killer Kong Project Update: Interior Need Not Cause Cabin Fever

There’s something depressing about loving a car with no motor. It’s like loving a dog with no legs. You’d love to take it out and play, but that’s just not going to happen anytime in the foreseeable future. OK, the analogy might be flawed, but you get the point. Until we can piece together the powerplant we truly long for, our trusty ’69 Dodge Charger R/T clone ain’t going anywhere fast.

So what does that leave us with? Everything else, apparently. After finishing up Kong’s traction bars, hooking up our emergency brake cable, and routing our brake lines, we figured we’d leap right ahead of schedule and finish up the Charger’s interior because if we weren’t going to be driving it any time soon, we figured we’d like somewhere nice to sit and make “vroom, vroom” sounds like we did when we were 10.

Before 'Kong ever got painted, we had to strip out all of the factory interior. Thankfully, there wasn't all that much to pull out. After covering up the floor with a little POR15 coating and a year in 'paint jail,' Kong's interior was ready to go back in.

Carpet is one of the easiest interior projects that you can do by yourself. Legendary's molded carpet kits are cut and patterned specifically after the factory floorpan and only require minimal trimming - if at all - to fit. Due to our 6-point cage, we gingerly slit the carpet (from the outside in) and trimmed around the down tubes until we had a nice, uniform fit. We used a clean soldering iron to burn the edges of our seatbelt holes so the loop carpet wouldn't continue unraveling.

Starting From Not-So-Scratch

Although we picked up our Charger for a paltry $1,200 back in 2003, it came surprisingly complete. The seat frames, door panels and dash were surprisingly complete for being relatively abandoned since the early 1990s in a boat and RV storage lot in Bakersfield, CA, so we had a surprisingly good foundation to start with.

Even our upper door panels were in rough shape. Legendary’s restoration service allows enthusiasts the ability to keep with original door panels and parts without being “stuck” with old vinyl or padding.

As to be expected, the headliner, carpet, seat foam and covers, dash pad and other “wearable” areas were in need of replacement. We picked up replacement seat covers and foam, carpet, a headliner, package tray and other soft items.

Unfortunately, our “restoration in a rattle can” door panel repair job just didn’t cut the mustard, so we needed to branch out.

Fatefully, the same company from which we purchased all of our aforementioned interior parts, Legendary Auto Interiors, also features a fantastic restoration service.

We shipped off our upper and lower door panels to their Newark, New York (not New Jersey) facility where their skilled craftsmen and women stripped off the factory vinyl covers and yellowed, spongy foam and rebuilt our panels from there up. Starting with the bare metal base, Legendary’s techs cleaned the surfaces and reapplied a new coat of glue before attaching the pre-molded replacement foam.

You don't really know what's inside of your classic's interior until you peel back the skin. Our upper door panels' foam was yellowed with age, oils and other stuff we'd rather not think about. Legendary's crew quickly scraped the panel clean in preparation for new goods.

Legendary already has replacement vinyl covers pre-molded to sculpted foam on hand. All that is necessary is aligning the replacement cover with the base plate, gluing the two surfaces and heating them until they bond. It sounds a lot more simple than it looks, but it takes a skilled hand to do it right. The vinyl is stretched drum-tight and smoothed of any wrinkles before the edges are trimmed and glued down.

The final touches to the upper door panels retain the deluxe interior options splendor, such as the chrome door lock furreles, replacement 'cat whiskers' window felts and center 'Charger' emblem, which was touched up with red paint.

Good Help Is Easy To Find These Days

About eight months ago, we finished up the seats and tracks thanks to Tito’s Upholstery, here in Temecula, California. When it came to hanging the headliner, door panels, package tray, and all that jazz, we needed to find a slightly more specialized shop thanks to the obstruction of our 6-point Competition Engineering cage.

Clockwise: An original HEMI-powered ’70 Super Bee is a big of a street/strip resto mod with plenty more power and road manners than Ma’ Mopar originally blessed it with, a ’66 Satellite that’ll receive a warmed-over 383, good ol’ Killer Kong, and a cool little ’62 Dart with another B-block 383.

We reached out to Motech Performance – one of the most talented Mopar-specialist shops we’ve encountered – who replied, “Yeah, we could do that.”

In fact, Motech’s “Yeah, we can do that” attitude goes for just about everything. Judging by the cars simply sitting in their shop, these guys can tackle just about anything.

When we rolled ‘Kong into their garage, we encountered a 100-point restoration ’70 Plymouth HEMI ‘Cuda in F6 Green with white interior and a floor shift automatic sitting beneath a resto-mod street/strip appropriately HEMI Orange ’70 HEMI-powered Super Bee, a customer’s four-door ’64 Continental and a turbo-454 ’69 C10 pickup waiting for paint. While they pride themselves on their Chrysler prowess, clearly they can do it all.

Before Motech's Chris Field could hang the headliner, he glued the factory-style insulation to the ceiling using 3M's spray adhesive.

Picked up from Legendary Auto Interiors a few years back when we had some spare cash, Chris laid out the folded-up headliner to let it relax in the sun for a couple of days. Once ready for installation, he threaded all the headliner hoops (which we numbered in sequence) and trimmed all the sleeves to fit.

Getting a Head(liner) Up

Owned and operated by partners Jason Muckala and Chris Fields, Motech knows their way around vintage Detroit iron, be it building engines or touching up the finer details, such as interior restoration. Chris explained that, “The nuts and bolts of restoring [your] interior is easy. But it takes somebody who really knows the car to make sure its right. There’s little details that interior shops can leave out, whereas we don’t.”

We had to make life difficult for Motech by having them work around our 6-point cage. Of course, there are far worse cabins to hang interior in, so we’ll keep our mouth shut.

Hanging a headliner in a Mopar is as easy as counting to six; a sequence of six metal bows stretch across the width of the ceiling helping the soft material keep its arced shape.

Two smaller bows do likewise for the massive C-pillars while serrated teeth at the windshield and screw-in retainers on each side keep the headliner taut. Chris used a series of rubberized clamps to position the headliner before finally fixing it permanently.

Due to the Charger’s long, rakish C-pillars, the headliner requires special triangular panels to either be glued directly to the headliner and clip into the inner roof liner, or do as both Motech and Legendary suggests and use prewrapped panels that attach to the inner liner over the headliner, both securing the headliner and looking great.

The C-pillar cardboard plates are available from Classic Industries in two ways: bare or covered to match the headliner. Unfortunately, neither come with the retaining clip provision, so Motech sacrificed a set of bare panels to create a stock-style retaining clip similar to what came from the factory.

Our replacement package tray required some customization as well to fit around our cage's rearward down bars. We mocked up a pattern using cardboard and cut it to fit around the tubes. We next marked and cut from the bottom of our package tray accordingly.

Chris first hung the headliner on all six bows before the tedious job of tightening it all down evenly. Before rushing in and cinching down everything all slapdash, he used a heat gun (set at low) to relax the headliner enough so that he could remove all the wrinkles. When taut, he carefully cut off all the excess and began tightening it down.

Motech’s Jason Muckala carefully pops out of the perforations for the new door panels. We had hoped to have our originals restored, but our factory cardboard panels were so aged, that Legendary suggested replacing them completely. New panels require popping open the holes for clips, and cutting the vinyl for window regulators and arm rests.

Legendary doesn’t punch out the cardboard backing for the retaining clips, arm rests or the window regulators, but the holes are perforated in the backing for easy removal with the small tool Legendary includes.

Paneled In

Originally, we had shipped our lower door panels to Legendary for the same treatment as our upper pads. Unfortunately, 50 years of moisture, use and misuse reduced our factory cardboard to misshapen pulp, so Legendary suggested we replace the panels completely, a wise choice. The replacement panels look just as good as the factory pieces and are made tough, so you won’t be replacing them again any time soon.

While our door panels lined up nicely in front, the rear quarters took some finagling to get aligned. Remember, these cars were built by hand, not computer-controlled machines, so if it doesn’t quite fit, it might just be the car.

Because of the number of orders asking for custom interiors, Legendary doesn’t automatically punch out the cardboard backing for the retaining clips, arm rests or the window regulators.

The holes for them are perforated in the backing for easy removal though, and Legendary even includes the small tool to pop them out easily. A skilled hand with an X-ACTO knife or razor blade can cut the holes in the vinyl from the backside with no problem.

From the assembly line, most Mopars came with a clear plastic covering that separated the exposed cardboard from moisture and the elements. We didn’t have the foresight to keep those and couldn’t manage to find reproduction replacements, so we went without.

We flipped through the Classic Industries' Mopar catalog and found everything we needed to finish up our Charger's interior. The remote mirror controller nut required a big of elbow grease to thread on thanks to our thick newly restored door pads. The repopped arm rest bases even made our old original arm rests look good.

Buttoned Up But Not Quite Finished

With our new door panels on, it was time to flesh out our interior. Although our arm rests were in pretty decent shape, our bases were junk. While there are companies rechroming plastic these days (can you believe it?), we opted to go the safe route, and go to Classic Industries yet again.

In this image the eagle-eyed reader will notice the missing seat belts, cross bar for the cage or that the arm rests are missing on the driver’s door. We’re installing factory-style seat belts for the back seat, while the front seats will get racing harnesses, with the shoulder belts being bolted to the removable cross bar. Our cage’s down tubes restricted the use of arm rests, but the new chrome bases looked good as is.

Classic Industries’ new Mopar catalog has been a smash success for both the company and for Mopar enthusiasts looking for another outlet for all their restorative needs. In fact, so much so, that Classic Industries’ own CEO, Jeff Leonard beamed, “We’re planning on expanding the catalog another 30-to-50 pages within the year.”

We picked up new arm rest bases, window regulator grommets, cat whiskers (window felts), some more door clips (they inevitably disappear), the rear window plastic trim, which needs to be trimmed and painted to match your particular car’s interior color, and sideview mirror remote.

It’s the details that make a car build special, and we’re pretty dang happy with our final product. While we’ve got our interior looking pretty dang nice, we’re still not quite done yet. We’re going to have one more segment on Killer Kong’s interior focusing on the dashboard, and how Just Dashes, Classic Industries, Legendary Auto Interiors, and DTM Racing got our wicked-cool Mopar looking and operating at its very best.

DTM Racing literally stands for “Dan the Man” Racing, and we have no problem with that. Hotchkis-racer Dan Weishaar piloted his ’68 Road Runner to stardom at nearly every southwestern autocross event during 2011, and came over to show how to rewire our street/strip and possibly eventual autocrossing ’69 Charger R/T for regular daily usage. Make sure to stay tuned for the next Killer Kong update.

About the author

Kevin Shaw

Kevin Shaw is a self-proclaimed "muscle car purist," preferring solid-lifter camshafts and mechanical double-pumpers over computer-controlled fuel injection and force-feeding power-adders. If you like dirt-under-your-fingernails tech and real street driven content, this is your guy.
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