Assembled vs Unassembled Door Panels

Differences, Challenges & Benefits Explained

1970 Door Panels

Figure 1: 1970 Chevelle Front Door Panel Shown

Door panels are a highly visible part of any American muscle car restoration. It’s the first thing you see when you look into a car’s interior. When you swing a door open it is fully visible from the outside and it’s the thing that you rest your arm on when you are cruising around town with your window down

When restoring a 1960’s or 70’s muscle car interior, you have a choice beyond colors and trim levels when it comes to the door panels you choose. Assembled or unassembled door panels for your project, that is the question! Read on to learn what the difference is and why it may be important to you.

Assembled Door Panels

Chevelle Door Panels

Figure 2:PUI's 1970 Chevelle Assembled Front Door Panel Shown

Assembled door panels are the most complete and easiest to install option in that they are ready to be installed and fit great right out of the box.

Assembled Door Panel Board

Figure 3: Assembled Door Panel Board, Upper Rail and Window Felt Shown

Depending on the vehicle, most 60’s-70’s muscles car door panels had an upper metal rail that gave form to the upper door panel, is where the inner window felt is attached and was secured to the cardboard like door panel board. The upper door panel rail goes over the top of the door and locates and secures the door panel to the door at the top of the panel.

A reproduction quality assembled door panel like the ones sold by First Place Auto Parts will include either a metal or plastic upper rail already installed on the door panel board. In addition to the upper rail being installed, assembled door panels will include.

  1. The upper door panel vinyl will be glued and secured to the upper rail
  2. The inner window felt will be attached to the upper rail using rivets or staples
  3. Door lock ferrules will be installed
  4. Depending on make and model, the upper and/or lower trim molding and buttons will be installed
  5. The Door panel board will have perforated cut outs markers for things like door handles, window cranks, mirror adjustment and mounting clips

At first glance, assembled door panels have a higher initial cost compared to unassembled door panels. Once you factor in components that you will need to purchase to assemble a set of unassembled door panels which do not include the upper rail (or your labor to install and installation can be challenging) and items like the window felts, glue, door lock ferrules and any door panel emblems, assembled door panels may be a bargain!

Unassembled Door Panels

Unassembled Door Panels

Figure 4: PUI 1970 Chevelle Unassembled Door Panels Shown

Unassembled door panels are a DIY project. They utilize the same high quality, factory correct reproduction vinyl and door panel boards with perforated cut outs just like assembled door panels which is where the similarity ends. They are a high-quality starting point that is left up to you and your skills to finish.

Should you decide to go with unassembled door panels, understand that you will need to do the following before installing them on your car or truck.

  1. Clean and prepare your original factory upper metal rail. OE factory rails were unfinished steel and were notorious for rusting. For the glue and vinyl to stick effectively, your upper rail will need to have a clean surface and be rust and grease free
  2. Re-crimp the old OE upper rail you took off your existing door panels to the top edge of the new door panel board securely. Because the door panels “hangs” on the door by the upper rail, if not installed correctly, this could cause installation of fitment issues if not done correctly.
  3. Stretch and glue the vinyl at the top of the unassembled door panel (seen at the top of the panels in figure 4) so that there are no wrinkles, to your old upper metal door panel rail
  4. Purchase a new inner window felt and either staple or rivet it to your upper rail
  5. If required (and it probably will be), purchase new door lock ferrules and any door panel emblems and attach them

Assembly of an unassembled door panel can be done but know that it can be a messy and time-consuming process. You could take your unassembled door panel to a professional upholstery shop and have them assemble the door panel for you but by that time you will have already spent more that the cost of assembled panels.

The decision on whether to purchase assembled or unassembled door panels is one of dollars, time and effort involved. One (assembled) is ready to go right out of the box, will cost a little more initially and is guaranteed to fit. The other (unassembled) requires more effort, parts and skill, will cost less initially and fitment will be dependent on proper assembly of the upper rail.

Either way you decide to go, First Place Auto Parts offers a wide array of factory correct door panels for popular GM and Mopar Muscle cars and trucks. If you need help when purchasing interior items for your muscle car project, give our interior experts a call at 1-877-797-1969. Our knowledgeable staff are enthusiast just like you and want to ensure you get what want and what your muscle car project needs correctly the first time!

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