Page Revised: 10 May 2019
Inevitably your dash will likely crack. Whether you've split the dash top while trying to get the speaker grilles off, or if it's just had too much exposure to the sun over the years, there's just no way to get avoid the situation, short of vacuum sealing your car in a climate-controlled environment. Fortunately there are a few affordable solutions for you.
Now you could replace the dash top panel (1983-84) or even the entire dash (1985-88) but considering there are no more suppliers for them, that's an unlikely solution. Even if you're lucky enough to find what you need, replacing a whole dashboard is a very daunting task. You could scour salvage yards, but that can be frustrating especially with older vehicles being virtually all crushed by now. And finding the correct color can be tough to boot.
One solution is a dash carpet overlay. You've seen these in magazines and in stores; they sit on your dash top like...well, like a rug. You can even get your initials monogrammed in the corner if you like. They're relatively inexpensive at roughly $30-50 US. As far as looks, well, it's all a matter of taste. But if you don't have a lot of money to throw at fixing the dash, this gets the job done, that's for sure.
Another is using a vinyl repair kit, which is very inexpensive. It's a vinyl mixture to which you can add color to match your dash. You simply spread it on with a popsicle stick or equivalent spreader, press on a texture to match your dash's grain, and let it air dry. If you have just one or two small cracks, then this might be your best bet. The hardest part is getting a color that matches. You almost have to be an artist to match some of these interior colors. Still, you can practice and usually get it pretty close. Doing a whole bunch of cracks with this method is impractical, though. And to be honest, it's a test of your patience more than anything.
The most factory-looking, long term solution is a dash overlay. This is a preformed piece of plastic that is held onto the stock dash pad with adhesive. Companies such as DashTop.com and Accu-Form Plastics Inc. sell them. They also can pop up on eBay. You can usually order them in a color that's very close to your stock dash top color; however, it's sometimes difficult to tell what color is represented on the screen versus what it looks like on the product itself. The good news is that you can easily paint the cover yourself using color-matched interior paint from an auto paint store. There are usually options for pre-mixed spray paint with a decent range of colors (although you can always have custom colors mixed up if you wish).
The article below is written under the assumption that you've got some spray painting, sanding, prep, and application experience but even if you don't, this is a fairly simple and straightforward project that only takes an hour or two of your time. As always, follow procedures for safe working conditions and proper ventilation. If you don't feel that you can tackle this, you can always ask a body shop or repair shop if they can do it for you.
|This, unfortunately, is a familiar sight to many owners of Cougars and Thunderbirds. Simply trying to install speakers by removing the covers will sometimes be enough to crack a perfectly good dashboard. Time and the degradation of the plastics used in the dashboard construction are taking their toll.|
|This is a before shot. The rest of it is fine, but the dash has cracked around the speakers.|
|The new cover from DashTops. Minor trimming is needed to fit the dash in the car, and also around the speaker grille openings on the underside. The trimming will become obvious once you pre-fit the cover to the car.|
|The cover needs to be prepped to accept paint. Here the cover is scuffed up with a red Scotch-Brite pad, making sure that all surfaces are covered.|
|Before painting, make sure the cover is placed on a flat surface to catch the overspray. The box that the cover is shipped in works perfectly. Wipe the surface down with wax/grease remover (Prep-Sol), or rubbing alcohol, to make sure all fingerprints, oils and dirt are removed.|
|The cover has now been painted with three coats of SEM interior paint. It is definitely one of the best paints you'll ever use, and it covers amazingly well.|
|Close-up detail of the finished paint. Notice how the grain shows through beautifully.|
|While the paint is drying, you can remove your dash trim panels and speaker grilles to get ready for installation of the cover. You do not have to remove the side window demister covers. If you have the auto dim/delay feature then you should remove the cover in the center of the dash; otherwise you can leave it alone.|
|Apply the silicone to the underside of the dash cover as shown. Keep the silicone away from the edges. You'll only have about 10-15 minutes before the silicone starts to harden up, so be quick about this.|
|The dash cover has been applied. Tape and phone books are holding the cover down, as gravity alone won't be enough.|
|The SEM paint is so well made that you can apply good tape to it and it will not pull the paint from the surface. We highly recommend 3M tape as it is designed to pull cleanly from any surface. When applying the tape, be sure to pull the dash cover where needed.|
|Wedging match boxes between the dash and the cover helps tremendously.|
|After the silicone sets up (between 1 and 8 hours, depending on temperature and humidity) you can remove the tape and wedges. Then you can reinstall the dash trim pieces and button everything up.|
|Here is the fit and finish on the driver's side. Note how well the cover fits around the side window demister.|
|A view from the top, around the driver's side speaker grille. The minor trimming needed before painting now becomes obvious. If the trimming is not done, it will not be possible to remove the speaker grilles later on.|
|The same is true for the center dash cover. Note the fit and finish around the defroster vents.|
|The passenger side fitment.|
|The final product as seen from the passenger side. If nobody was ever told that there was a dash cover in the car, they'd probably never realize it.|