Rubber Car Parts: Not Glamorous but Important
Matt Agosta of Steele Rubber Products says that the phase of restoration that he knows best is one that protects the work and money lavished on a collector car. After a car builder has invested heavily in a beautiful interior, an eye-popping coat of paint and many other upgrades, he or she wants to keep water sealed out of the car. "You don't want rain getting into your vehicle and destroying all your hard work," Agosta advised dozens of restorers during his seminar at the 2011 Hot Rod & Restoration Show. "The rubber seals and gaskets we make aren't glamorous, but they are important."
This rotted and repaired '67 Camaro windshield channel is an extreme example of what rain leaks can do to a car.
Steele makes rubber parts for GM and Mopar cars. Dennis Carpenter makes them for Fords. And various suppliers like Year One, Classic Industries, Auto Krafters and Long Motor Company, sell similar parts that are made by domestic and foreign manufacturers. One product that Steele has developed recently for restorers is a Basic Kit that includes new door gaskets, roof rail rubber and trunk lid seals These are available for 130 GM models and 29 Mopars. The Basic Kits are priced at a 10 percent discount over individual parts.
Steele recently developed Basic Kits of all rubber parts restorers need, like this '69 Camaro trunk seal.
Part of the Steele seminar focused on little off-the-beaten-path tools that come in handy when installing rubber parts on a Resto-Mod. One of the handiest is a small plastic tuck tool that is very useful when installing windshield gaskets or roof rail rubbers. The plastic material is firm enough to push and prod the rubber into position, but is soft so that it doesn't scratch up the car's new paint.
Eastwood seals a handy set of glass bead filled plastic pry and tuck tools that come in handy for rubber product installs.
Masking tape is another item that rubber installers will use over an over as a tool. When putting in something like a rubber trunk seal, it's wise to mask the entire area so none of the new paint is scratched. Masking tape can also be used to carefully lay out a straight line where you want to apply a piece of weather stripping. It also comes in handy for marking the center of the windshield opening when installing the glass. You can then mark the center of the top of the windshield glass with a Sharpie. When you match up the marks, you'll be starting your install from the center and that means there will be less chance of breaking the glass as you set it into the rubber molding and pull the rubber over the glass.
When you are putting a windshield in, you can use a cord to pull the rubber over the pinch and set the glass in place. If the windshield has nice round corners, use a 1/4-inch cotton clothes line because it's the easiest to grab and pull on. However, if the windshield has sharp corners, you should use a smaller-diameter cord. Try something along the lines of a 1/16- or 1/8-inch cord. What will happen as you get into tighter corners is that the cord itself is going to get in the way of pulling the rubber over the pinch. So, you have to think: smaller cord with sharp corners and larger cord with nice round corners.
Steele Rubber's Matt Agosta holds up easy-to-get kids' Silly Putty like the type he uses to gauge door gap clearances.
Agosta also keeps a package of Silly Putty in his toolbox because you can get this "toy" almost anywhere, while modeling clay is a bit harder to find. You can use the Silly Putty to find important dimensions. For example, if you need to know how thick of a piece of rubber you need to use in a door opening, take the Silly Putty and wrap it in Saran Wrap. Then put this combination into any area of the door gap you want to measure. Clothes the door on the wrapped putty and it will take the form of the door gap. Measure the thickness and look for a piece of rubber with a profile that's just slightly taller than your measurement.
Use wire-on tags to tag everything. That way you'll know exactly how to put things back together again. Write all important information right on the tag: where things came out, how they came out and how they go back on again. Small string tags can be used, but these tend to get dirty very fast and sometimes they tear off the strings. Larger tags made of heavier tan "oaktag" paper are better and also give you more room to write your notes out on them.
Sharpie marker pens are also handy to have in a toolbox. If you're removing a windshield and its got dozens of shiny reveal moldings on it, chances are you might forget where each piece goes and its exact orientation. You'll get the windshield nice and clean and ready to go back on the car and then you'll realize that you don't remember if the side piece came from the left or right side and which direction its upright is supposed to point in. If you use a Sharpie, you can mark each piece "R" or "L" and draw arrows towards the direction the upright should point in. You'll know how to do the install and won't have to do it twice.
Steele Rubber products like these 1964-1965 Lincoln Continental Sedan and Convertible front door weatherstips have correct clearances as well as the molded in white nylon pins needed to install them.
In addition to tool tips, Agosta had some technical advice for builders who are having new glass made for their cars. He said that if the glass is cut 3/32- to 1/4-inch short, it's going to fit too loose when installed. But, you do have to leave the correct clearance around the glass or you'll either not get it installed or you'll break it when trying to install it. The clearance you want to have for a perfect fit and easy install is 1/32- to 1/16-inch.
A doctor's tongue depressor can be used to apply just the right amount of adhesive to the 1971-1976 Lincoln MK IV and T-Bird weartherstripping that Steele recently introduced.
If you're installing your rubber using a weatherstrip cement, apply the adhesive with a doctor's tongue depressor or a Popsicle stick. You should first apply a really thin layer of cement on the rubber and on the car body. Let it get tacky. Then put one more thin layer on just one side this time. Push the rubber carefully in place and it will adhere just like its contact cement and set up quickly.
Using thicker layers of cement will create a big mess and will not provide better adhesion. Another thing to avoid is putting the tacky piece down, pulling it back off and putting it down again. If you do this you might as well throw the rubber out as you've killed any chance of it staying in place for a long time.
Steele has a new line of adhesive backed peel-and-stick rubber parts. Only 3M adhesive is used. It actually costs more than the rubber and raises the price of the parts, but it works the best. The painted surface that the rubber is going on must be clean, smooth and flat. It works really good on fiberglass cars.
Agosta said rubber parts just a 15th bigger than spec have the power to bend trunk hinges or warp a trunk lid. Steele has brought out a new light-density sponge rubber that helps achieve a good fit without excess pressure.
New products like dual coil spring rubbers are constantly being developed for restorers at Steele headquarters in Denver, N.C.