Restoring an Austin-Healey 3000 Series BJ8 interior to pristine condition will often include replacing or refurbishing the wooden fascia (or dashboard, as it is more commonly called in North America). Some restorers choose to purchase a complete new reproduction fascia rather than attempt a difficult refinish of the original item. Reproduction units are currently manufactured of various types of solid or veneer wood finishes, and one can choose either a finish that approximates the original or an unusual, exotic, non-original finish, depending on preferences.
Generally, in comparison to the price of refinishing, reproduction fascias can be expensive, costing in the neighbourhood of $200 upward, depending on wood used, hardware included, etc. If the original fascia is still in fairly presentable shape (no holes drilled in it, large splinters gouged out, or other deplorable damage), then an alternative to purchasing a new unit is a careful restoration of the old one. Besides being inexpensive, it has the added attraction of being original to the car.
The first step in the restoration process requires removing the fascia from the car (naturally). It is comprised of two pieces (three counting the glove box door) and, once dismantled, does not actually encompass much area. The glove box itself must be detached as well as the glove box door. The door should be refinished as a separate unit. All chrome trim and hardware must be removed. This also includes removing the small chrome directional indicators very carefully, as any heavy-handedness can dent or break these items completely. Carefully store the numerous tiny wood screws that hold the chrome trim and glove box door hinges and lock to the fascia for future re-use.
Removing the old finish is the next step. Unfortunately, the factory used a hard plastic type of coating that seems to be impervious to most varnish and paint strippers. The various types of varnish and paint removers (including extra-powerful auto paint removers) that I've tried have had little effect. I finally found that chipping the old finish off by hand using the dull blade of an old knife will bring results, albeit rather time consuming. The finish is quite brittle and chips away readily when pressure is applied. However, it must be done with care and patience so as not to mar the wood veneer surface underneath.
Once the old plastic coating has been completely chipped off, the wood veneer can be lightly sanded with a fine sandpaper to get rid of any scratches or abrasions that may have developed in the chipping process. The veneer used on the fascia is extremely thin, about 1/32" thick, and can easily be damaged by too heavy scraping or sanding. I've found that small damage spots can be covered up by applying some dark wood stain to blend in with the grain of the veneer.
Application of a hard durable clear finish is the final step. A finish that I have used in the past and one which has given excellent results is called Envirotex. This is a high gloss polymer coating consisting of a liquid plastic and a hardening agent, which must be mixed together in equal quantities. Envirotex is commonly used in producing high lustre, clear, resistant finishes on burl-wood table tops and coatings on plaques and decoupage items, but I've found it also produces an excellent finish on Healey dashes.
The product is quite simple to apply since it requires no brushing or spraying and is self-leveling. The fascia only needs to be made level and placed slightly above a flat surface by resting it on pieces of wood or other objects that have been placed underneath as spacers. The liquid coating is then poured on and allowed to run off the edges. Newspapers placed underneath will catch the run-off nicely. The coating will completely cover the surface evenly and leave a perfect clear finish. It is a good idea to strive for a dust-free environment when applying the liquid, but once mixed and applied, the finish dries very rapidly.
Envirotex is sold in various sizes, depending on coverage area required. The 236 ml. kit covers 2 - 3 sq. ft., which is sufficient for the job. The kit costs about $10.00 and can be purchased from any Plastics Shop outlet in the Vancouver area. Once the finish is dry, the chrome trim can be re-affixed and glove box re-attached. Your BJ8 will now have a fascia that looks as good as when it left the factory!
Restoration of a Wood Dash
by Dan Doucette