Updated: Dec 27, 2019
Front and Rear Armrests
As it is with most restorations, at times you will find yourself covering the details. The work on the armrests for both the front doors and the rear panels/seat is no exception. Ford made these units to be very simple for the Club Sedan and models below the Fairlane line. Passenger cars such as the Victoria and other hardtops or the convertible came from the factory with much nicer, swept designs for the armrests. Most of those models even included a different panel for the walls on either side of the rear seat that made the rear armrests a part of the panel itself. The armrests in the 1955 Ford Fairlane Club Sedan had plastic frames, were molded in the color of the interior, and also included a cushion that was supported by a smaller metal frame. The cushion was then secured to the armrest with screws that went through the plastic and into the metal frame. Two sheet metal screws secured the assembly to the door or body wall. The front armrests did double duty as a door handle pull, and the rear armrests each included a chrome ash tray.
Back in the early 90's, an upholstery shop had painted the plastic armrest frames on this 55 Ford a deep red color (originally Sea Sprite Green), and they had also recovered the cushions with vinyl just a few months before I bought the car. The rear armrests were never re-installed by the previous owner, and I had never taken the time as a teenager to work on them myself. Someone had actually put vinyl on the rear cushions but had never got around to trimming and installing.
So, to begin the work I focused my attention first on disassembling the front armrests.
The pieces were a mess as you can see, but nothing was too far gone in my opinion. The vinyl was very discolored although there were not any rips or tears, so to make things look they way they needed to I decided to remove the vinyl covers from the cushions. What a nightmare! I had to go extremely slow so as not to damage the cushions because the vinyl had been glued directly to the material instead of the metal frame itself. I basically took a razor blade and "skinned" the vinyl away.
The rear cushions were much easier to remove - not sure if that was because they were never used or because the glue had not set well to the vinyl.
The front cushions were roughed up so much, but still intact, that I chose to cover them with a 1/8" thick rubber like material. Each section was glued down to the cushion surface with contact cement and trimmed just up to the edges.
Next I went down to my wife's favorite store, errrr the best place to get a deal on material (Hobby Lobby) with a 40% coupon, and purchased a yard of white vinyl for $6.99. Nice.
Then a length of vinyl was cut for each cushion piece, with a final trim to come after only the METAL surfaces of the cushion frame were brushed with contact cement.
This was a little bit tricky as I did not want too much material on the bottom ends of each cushion frame, but I did want the vinyl to be as tight as possible against the cushion material itself. Each cushion took about 15 minutes to do, especially since I trimmed, applied conservative amounts of contact cement here and there, and did a good job on keeping any contaminants off of the finished surface of the vinyl.
For instance, the pictures above and below show how you can get too much material on the bottom end and how much you need to check your cushion surface for wrinkles, etc. This one here needed a little more work.
Next it was on to the plastic frames. All four needed a thorough cleaning, so into a bucket of water/degreaser solution with a 3M scuff pad to rough up the surfaces so that I could apply a light coat of primer-surfacer.
Before I could paint the primer though, I did have to fix one small area on a rear armrest. How it got this way I have no idea, but a heat gun was employed to work with the plastic to bend it back to a 90 degree angle for better fitment of the ash tray/cushion assemblies.
I hung the plastic frames on the paint rack (Ok, an outdated, modified, clothing store rack on wheels) and shot a thin coat of primer. After a day of curing, the armrests were sanded and shot with the same single stage urethane paint I used on the body and wheels of the car.
The cushions went back together with the plastic frames pretty easily. There are four screws that keep the cushion frames for each door arm rest, and only two for each one in the rear. I did make a quick video to show some of the materials I used and how I went about getting this job accomplished.
Up next in the process was to locate the rear ash trays and fit them again. These are units that basically just drop into the plastic frame and are not secured. I would imagine that was for the purpose of dumping the ashes out back in the day.
I do like the end result. Hopefully I can complete the door panels soon and mount the armrests up front.
Until then, check out this video of the car in the driveway just after I washed it and a storm came up!