Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Central AC Vent Refinishing Project

Sunday night I removed the center AC vent in an effort to get the leather dash, which was pulling up slightly around the top of the vent, to fit better. This project is a nice size for me. It’s also one of those projects you and pick up work on for an hour or two, then put down without inconveniencing anyone. Bigger projects, replacing our deck, remodeling our house, doing a bunch of yard work; I tend to need to work up a head of steam before starting. Big projects require planning, schedules, but most of all a commitment of time that makes me nervous.
I decided on a three step project for sprucing up the dash around the vent. First, remove the vent. Second, peak under the leather, determine what was causing the little dent in the leather above the vent and treat the leather. Third, replace the vent, changing its angle slightly so it sets evenly from top to bottom.

The first part of the plan went well. If you like to take things apart Ferraris are great cars. I bet you could disassemble the entire car with only a few tools, most of which you would find in your kitchen junk drawer. The vent came out with only a few minutes work. Once out I realized the gooey finish on the vent was pretty bad at the top and would not look good when I had the leather nicely tucked behind it. The goo has to go.

I checked Ricambi to see how much a new vent would cost. Took a while to find it, $433 for a new vent. Ouch. I did buy two interior trim pieces which were getting too sticky for my liking. As for the vent I decided to try refinishing it. I figured if I screw it up I can buy a new one or have someone with more talent refinish this one. At first I tried Goof Off. It did not do such a good job. It did make the finish gooeyer. Next I tried Acetone. That did the trick. Now my garage is full of rags covered with black goo. I know why Ferrari covered the plastic pieces with the gooey finish they did. The raw plastic is very cheap looking. Shiny black, looks like something out of a 80s Ford. I can imagine the conversation at Ferrari. “OK for the 348 were going to do something special. I know, a stealth bomber matte black finish on the interior pieces.” The supplier translates this to “It’s Ferrari, use the shiniest stuff possible” Ferrari folks get it back and say “Uhh that’s awful, spray it with some of the coating we put on the underside of the car.” There we have it.

When it’s not scratched up or sticky the finish is actually very pleasant. It has a rich, smooth satin look to it and does not reflect much light. I bought three cans of paint to see if I could get close. First try, a rubberized paint had the right texture but was too shiny. Second try, too gray. Third try, a pretty close match. I used the old ash tray housing I had to test paint samples. The third, a flat black model paint made by Testor was the best match. With a bit of sanding I don’t think anyone will notice.

The diversion with the vent has kept me from tackling the leather on the dash. I have two goals. First to attach the leather to the dash behind the vent, second to remove a ridge in the leather which runs in a gentle curve from the one side of the vent opening to the other. Many 355s have a similar ridge. I had thought it was a dent in the dash. Turns out it is the backing for the leather. It has shrunk or never reached all the way to the vent. I think I can fix it with a piece of backing cut to fill the space where the backing is missing. It helps to have a modicum of mechanical skills, some tools, a wife with sewing stuff when you have a Ferrari.

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