The design of the instrument panel has always been a key factor in the sales success of a car, and the Corvette has certainly never been an exception. From the earliest Corvette to the current one, the instrument panel design has almost al-ways been superior. The Corvette designers know this and they have always given this area its fair measure of attention. 

In 1958, the Corvette was re-designed in many ways, and the instrument panel was a big part of this new design. It was thought by some designers that the dash would make or break the car. It is clear they put time and effort into the end product. 

One of the most innovative design features was the cockpit style, a two-place arrangement.  In front of the driver was a very impressive array of instruments, which for the times was striking.  To balance the design they had to come up with something for the passenger side. The aluminum cove insert, with the Corvette name in the center, was the chosen item. It has a curved shape to match the curved cutout in front of the driver for the instrument cluster. It has a passenger assist grab bar for use by the passenger during hard cornering movements. Beginning in 1959 and running through 1962, a package tray was incorporated into the design providing a place to store small items like cameras, binoculars, or purses.

This was a smart design. It was an expensive design. It is a point of focus when looking at the car. But there was a problem. The instrument panel cove was beautiful to look at, but it couldn’t stand up to normal use. 

The aluminum cove insert is very thin metal.  It will dent easily. As a matter of fact, it will dent in normal use. If you were to put a camera into the package tray, and you bumped the aluminum insert as you lowered the camera down into the tray, you would put a permanent dent in the aluminum (see photo 1). 

This is because some firmer metal did not back up the insert. It has a backing device, but the device holds the aluminum along the edges only and the entire field of brushed aluminum is hanging in mid air. It would be al-right if no one ever used the package tray, but as you know the tray was very useful and it was al-most always full of things.

No problem you say, they make a replacement insert, and it isn’t even very expensive. 

That’s true. The only difficulty is the insert is difficult to install. I say it’s difficult to install be-cause I have ruined more of these pieces than I want to admit. 

Finally, I think I have figured out how to in-stall the new ones. You see, the new inserts don’t come complete and ready to install. You have to take the original insert apart and install the thin new aluminum piece into the backing with the two thin stainless steel strips running along the top and bottom, and fasten it all together so it won’t come apart. 

First, I recommend you scribe some realignment witness marks into the stainless strips where they meet with the backing. Do this on one end of the insert. I scribe two marks in the bottom strip, and one in the top strip. This will enable you to put it back together in exactly the same way as the factory did (see photo 2). 

The stainless strips are soldered to the backing in six or eight places. The solder is melted to form a bond between the two pieces, and must be ground out with a grinding wheel to remove it. It was never intended that anyone remove this solder. The cove insert was supplied as one piece if you were to buy one from GM. I use a very thin grinding wheel on an air grinder as shown in photo 3. This thin wheel will remove the solder without grinding too much of the stainless trim away. See photos 4 and 4A for an idea of what it will look like when you grind the solder away. 

After you have removed the solder, you will be able to pry carefully with a sharp screwdriver to remove the two stainless strips. At this time, you will have the device completely apart. If you are working on a 1958 or ‘59, you will have only four pieces. If, however, you are working on a 1960-62, you will have the red and blue bars with their attachment nuts together with the four major pieces. 

Note there is a raised ridge all along the upper and lower edges of the backing (see photo 5).        This raised ridge is important because the stain-less strips snap over it. I don’t mean to say they snap together easily — again, remember this was never designed to be repaired in the field. It is important to know you are going to have to assemble it with the stainless strips back over the ridges with the aluminum insert held under the stainless. 

Now that you are going to reassemble the parts, be aware that if you are working on a 1960-62, you are going to have to put the backing on right side up. That is, the holes on the back side will have to be on the lower half so you will be able to attach the red and blue bars. You will be reaching through the holes with a nut driver to attach the hollow nuts used to hold the bars to the aluminum cove piece. The red bar goes on the top, with the blue bar under the word “Corvette”. 

Usually, I have found the first stainless strip I put on goes easily. You should be able to hold it in your hands and assemble the three pieces; the backing, the aluminum cove, and the one stain-less strip. 

The big trick here is to trim off the excess aluminum so the other stainless strip will go on easily also. The aluminum insert is made large so you will always have to trim some off (see photo 6). We are looking at this from the backside. If you will look carefully, you can see the excess aluminum sticking up above the backing. I use aircraft-type tin snips, which are designed to cut either to the right, or to the left; I use the ones designed to cut left. The lower jaws will follow along the backing, while the upper jaw trims off just the excess aluminum (see photo 7).

After you have trimmed the excess metal, I recommend the use of a rat-tail mill file, like a chain saw sharpening file, to smooth out the rough edge. This is very important because if the edge has any rough places, the stainless trim strip will hang up on them and, as you are pushing, it will wrinkle the aluminum piece which will ruin it. I know, I have several here, which are almost good. I say almost good because they have wrinkles near the edges caused by the stainless catching as I was trying to force it over the raised edge of the backing and over the aluminum. 

As you proceed from one end, you may want to use some filament tape to hold the pieces together so you may move your hands without the danger of the finished part jumping off. Put the tape near, but not over, the places where you did the grinding (see photo 8).     

The real danger in ruining the aluminum cove is at this point in the assembly. As you slip and force the stainless strip over the aluminum and backing, be very careful not to catch the aluminum and cause it to winkle. It is very thin and flimsy, and it will be lost easily if you don’t use care at this point. Also, I don’t recommend using any kind of clamp to hold the device as you work on it. I have never found any kind of clamp which would hold it firmly without slipping off suddenly, causing a dent in the aluminum some-where. 

After the parts are fully assembled, and held with filament tape, I have been successful in fastening them together with epoxy. I have used solder, but I find it much easier to use epoxy. I usually place the mixture right over the places where I have done the grinding. It covers the rough appearance of the grinding, and I think the roughness may help hold the epoxy (see photo 9).

I don’t know of anyone who makes the stain-less strips, but I know that you can buy the aluminum cove and the red and blue bars from Corvette Central and other Corvette reproduction parts dealers. 

After finishing the work, be sure to wrap the cove assembly carefully so it doesn’t get damaged while it waits for you to reinstall it. 

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