Friday, October 9, 2020

HVAC Control Panel and Shifter Console Refurbishment

Not long after I bought my 1976 Corvette Stringray, I purchased an HVAC panel kit to replace the original part which, after 40 years, looked awful.

The clear plastic had seen better days, but there was no way for me to safely clean it without removing the flexography-printed settings from the reverse side while trying to polish dirt and scratches away, and the control thumb-wheels were worn, dirty, and faded to the point of looking a dull shade of gray.

I made a blog post at the time but I didn't include all the photos of the HVAC panel, which helps understand what each component looks like, and how it fits within the HVAC control assembly. 

During this process, I took the opportunity to restore the whole shifter console since every single component was dirty, faded, and just plain tired as clearly shown in the next two pictures. This included replacing the 4-speed shifting diagram plate and the engine data plate, among a few other things.

I even made my own console overlay since I didn't care for the fake woodgrain-look for my car.

I chose a contemporary brushed-aluminum-look vinyl that can be easily replaced if so desired.

The shifter boot had a hole in it, most likely from an old cigarette burn from the looks of it so that part was also replaced.

Fortunately, you can find almost every single component for a C3 Corvette, and one of the many Corvette parts vendors offered an aftermarket HVAC control replacement panel that looked identical to the original. Please visit the Resources page for a list of some of the Corvette Parts Vendors.

The replacement kit I purchased included the control thumb-wheels that allow you to switch between HVAC modes (a/c, heater, vents, etc.), as well as make temperature setting adjustments. The kit also included installation instructions which were photocopies of an article printed in the May 1990 issue of the no-longer-published, Corvette Fever magazine.

Another good article on the subject is available online from Corvette Magazine.

I paid almost $90 for the kit back in early 2015.

If you go this route, make sure whatever kit you purchase will also include detailed installation instructions as they are essential to guarantee the successful rebuild of the HVAC control panel.

The two pictures below show the new components.

I started by removing the shifter console trim plate to gain access to the HVAC control panel which is held in place by a couple of small screws. The HVAC panel is attached to a steel frame that you can also remove and clean.

Removing the center console assembly completely, allows you to easily take out additional components for replacement or restoration.

For example, my car's ashtray was in desperate need of a good cleaning and refurbishment. The ashtray door plastic channels were worn, so it slowly opened—with an annoying rattle—when the car was running.

I repainted the lid and made provisions for it to fit better within the plastic channels so it would work properly.

I also cleaned the lighter/ashtray inner plate (photo above, left) which, unfortunately, was pitted. Nevertheless, it cleaned up fairly well.

The two photos below show the reverse side of the shifter trim plate, as well as a closeup of the ashtray opening. The small rubber piece in the photos is what applies resistance to the ashtray lid's opening-and-closing movement. I installed a new piece from leftover window weatherstripping which worked fine since it was a tad thicker.

The lighter/ashtray inner trim is secured in place by the four screws shown in the photos.

The HVAC control panel is secured to the steel frame shown below by two small screws. The frame itself will be free once the shifter trim panel is removed.

However, the HVAC panel has several electrical and vacuum connections that must be carefully disconnected before it can be removed.

Once the HVAC panel has been separated from the frame, you can remove the steel frame to gain better access to all the HVAC connectors.

And, as the photo below shows, you might as well remove the center console to make your life easier and avoid potential damage.

The next photographs show some of the items that will have to be removed and/or disconnected to free up the HVAC panel so it can be disassembled to replace the plastic trim and the control thumb-wheels.

I am sure the process looks quite intimidating, but if you take lots of pictures and take your time, you can do this job in less than an hour.

Just keep track of all screws, nuts, washers, etc., and where they go, to make reassembly easier and ensure the HVAC control panel will operate properly.

With the HVAC control panel on the workbench, you can continue disassembly to remove and replace the control thumb-wheels and plastic trim piece.

A small flathead screwdriver and needle-nose pliers are necessary for safely removing the thumb-wheel push nuts and washers, especially if you intend to restore the thumb-wheels and reuse them.

The photo below shows the HVAC control panel almost completely disassembled. Again, keep track of all the pieces and the nuts and bolts, so you can put it back together properly.

Having the whole HVAC panel assembly apart allows you to clean and then lubricate all moving parts to ensure proper and smooth function of the controls once the unit is back in the car.

And this is the finished HVAC control panel (photo below), completely rebuilt and ready to be reinstalled in the console.

I also took the opportunity to clean and respray the console trim panel. I used truck bedliner spray to add a little bit of texture so it would match the center instrument cluster which was also painted with the same spray.

After the bedliner paint had cured, I sprayed a couple of coats of SEM Landau Black interior paint.

The photo below shows the original console data plate with the (pitiful) L-48 engine specs and the console shifting indicator plate. Both were in pretty bad condition and ready to be replaced.

And here are BEFORE and AFTER console photos.

I am not going to lie to you; refurbishing the HVAC control panel and the console shifter trim plate to this extent, is an involved and complicated process. But it can be done by the average do-it-yourselfer with a good selection of tools at his or her disposal.

Paying someone to do this job is an option. If they know what they're doing, the job will be done right but it will not be cheap. If they don't, it will take forever and after everything is said and done, it will end up costing you a whole lot more.

You, on the other hand, have the time to devote to such a project and that portion will cost you nothing. Plus, you will know it was done right.

Alternatively, you have the option of just tackling one component at a time, such as the HVAC control panel, for example. This will certainly take far less time than restoring the whole console and it will cost less. So you have options.

I hope you find this article helpful if you decide to restore your Corvette's HVAC control panel and the shifter console trim plate.

Thank you for following my 76 Vette Blog!



  1. That is quite a bit more than I think I'm comfortable God mine is pretty much new and looks that way! Wow....very nice though. Everytime I see you make an improvement on your vette, I secretly hope someday you'll sell it to'll be 99% loved and sorted out and I can just drive the $%&@ out of it! Plus regular maintenance like oil changes and tune ups though of course! :)

    Came out great! Keep up the great work. I'm almost positive your vette is functioning better today than it did when it came out of the factory!

    1. Thanks for the kind words, Ken.

      By now I am pretty sure I've cleaned, fixed, replaced, or at least touched every single component of my 76 Vette. That, of course, makes it hard to part with it.

      I almost sold it a couple of years ago. A couple really wanted my car and offered me $24K for it. So glad I didn't go thru with it. I don't think that amount would allow me to recreate the Corvette parked in my garage, not to mention the thousands of hours invested to bring it to this point. I don't think I would have the energy, lol.

      As far as the HVAC control panel goes, I dug thru boxes in the garage and found the original part, which I completely restored because it looked like an interesting challenge (and I need my head examined). It turned out super nice so stay tuned for that article sometime in the future.

    2. During my C3 search this year, knowing what I know now, I think I would have parted with 30k+ for yours......anyone that's owned one would understand why. I had a 10k 77 that would take more than 20k to get it close to yours and I had a 20k 77 that would take more than 10k to get it close to where yours is today. I'm sure you are, but if you're not, you should be incredibly proud to have owned and sorted out and still sorting out one of the nicest C3s I've ever seen. Makes me look forward to every article you write!

    3. Well, you get it. And happy to hear you enjoy my C3 Corvette articles. Actually, they are a ton of work but, luckily, I enjoy chronicling my restoration endeavors.

      If it's worth restoring, it's worth writing about it.

      I always tell people who are looking to buy a C3 Corvette to buy the best one they can afford as restoring one takes time and money. Lots of both, actually. And as you know, these cars are never 100% done.

      As the saying goes, mine is perfect from afar, but far from perfect, but that does not stop me from trying to make it better. And that road is long. But at least I have fun working on it. Well, most of the time. lol.

      My 1976 Corvette may not be the fastest out there, but I think it probably is one of the cleanest.

    4. Your car is just so perfect! I love it! Mine is quite original and doesn't sparkle nearly as much. Keep up the great work!

    5. Thank you! It's perfect from afar, but far from perfect. lol. I just keep it clean and wax it a lot, and that helps quite a bit.


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