Some Z owners are lucky enough to have the padded arm rest on their interior door panels, but most Z32’s did not come with them…but you can easily make your own if you have some handyman/hobbyist skills, and access to some hobbyist type tools. Here’s what we’re going to make:
1. 14″X14″X1/2″ plywood scrap split in half, preferably a quality 7+ wood core interior-quality piece.
2. 6″X14″ scrap of any 1/4″ plywood or MDF, for edge buildup.
3. Two 6″X12″ fabric pieces of the cloth you want the arm rests in- preferably a good match to your door panel insert material.
4. Jigsaw/bandsaw to cut your shapes.
5. Upholstery stapler and compressor, with 3/8″ staples. Regular staple gun MAY work with softer plywood or MDF, which I don’t recommend for weathering purposes.
6. Some foam padding of a suitable thickness you want. I recommend at least 1/2″ total thickness, I used five 1/8″ thick pieces myself. ALSO, you may choose to use a layer or two of neoprene (the stuff that soft mousepads are made of). Closed-cell foam is more durable and a little stiffer, which is good!
7. Spray can contact cement, heavy duty quality that “webs” when sprayed to work with cloth- NOT Spray 90 brand, or the type in a can for laminate work.
8. Four 1/4-20 bolts at least 1-1/2″ long with 8 larger (1″ or less) flat washers and 4 lock nuts, or use blue loctite.
9. 5/16″ drill bit and drill for bolt thru-holes, and a suitably-sized (1/8″ max larger) spade bit to “bury” the bolt heads.
10. Elmer’s yellow wood glue or similar woodworking glue.
11. Razor utility knife or sharp pocket knife.
12. Pencil and some flat cardboard or stiff paper…thin smooth cardboard works best.
You begin by making an over-sized stiff paper or cardboard template of the general shape of the armrest area of your DS door panel.
Lay the over-sized template piece in the area you want the arm rest- the stock Nissan rest starts at the end of the switch cover and stops before the seat belt slots, but I made mine go all the way to the back so you can do either way with this how-to.
Cut your template piece to a general shape to fit the door panel area, then using a pencil to ride along the upper door panel surface, trace the contour shape then cut template material until it fits in smoothly to the contours of the door panel.
Be sure to include the plastic cover piece on the door panel split if you are going the full distance style arm rest, along with tracing the position and size of the seat belt cutout from inside the door panel.
Then tracing from below on the outside with the pencil, mark the edge of the stock arm rest/panel on the template to mark the actual width to cover the arm rest, then mark the start/stop points for total length depending upon the style you are making, then remove and add curved outside corners.
You definitely want the curves for your elbows sake, and should be about a 1″ radius.
Flip the template over and add about 1/2″ width to your outer edge mark and then cut it out a little big, checking and cut/fitting until the entire template looks right but with 1/2″ extra width along the long side overhanging your original arm rest area and 1/4″ on the end if doing the full length style.
Start over if necessary, the template being correct is very important and took me three tries to get just right.
Mark the template “Top” and then flip the first template and trace onto a second template piece for the PS door panel, marking the second template “Top” immediately and then cut it out and fit it as well- it should be very close to the shape of the first side but may need tweaking.
Next you’ll want to figure and mark two holes for the mounting bolts that will fasten the armrest to your door panel. I biased the holes to the back edge of the arm rest towards the door panel (see picture below for hole layout) so the bolts would pull my arm rest evenly down and towards the door panel side, and not tilting down- I believe it was at about 1-1/8″ to 1-1/4″ from the inside panel edge, and about 1-1/2″ from the front edge and about 3/4″ from the seat belt slot.
Next, trace these two different templates onto your 1/2″ plywood and cut out the two pieces, marking them both with a “Top” mark before any further work, and sanding the edges until the shape is smooth and fits your door panel well. You may want to ease/angle the bottom edge of the panel side of the blank to help it fit tight.
You can see these details here:
Then you’ll want to hard-ease the three outside top edges and including the bottom edge of the buildup, I used a 1/4″ bullnose/roundover bit on a router but you can simply block/hand sand until the right shape…remember, your elbows will hit the edges!
Using the template mark the bolt thru-hole locations. TIP- You’ll want to use the spade bit FIRST, drilling JUST deep enough so bolt heads plus washer placed upside down in the hole are even or barely below the surface of the plywood, THEN use the 5/16″ drill bit to drill rest of the way through for the bolts to pass through.
You’ll then want to set the blank onto your door panel, and as carefully as possible re-trace the flush outside panel edge onto the bottom of your wood blank (you could also transfer it over from your template pieces).
You will then cut your 1/4″ plywood/MDF to the width of the distance from the line to the edge of your blank then align this 1/4″ piece with the mark you made (MAKE SURE this mark is slightly back from the door panel armrest area edge) and either staple them on with a little wood glue, or simply masking tape/glue them in place until dry.
The picture above shows how the buildup is placed.
Be sure to go the whole distance with your buildup and trim/sand the ends/edges to be neatly flush. If you do the full length arm rest like mine you may want to add small buildup pieces on the ends sanded to fit into the curve for best look/fit when all is done. It may also be necessary to bevel or rabbet out the back edge of the blank so your cloth doesn’t bunch up and hold the armrest up at the back edge.
Once everything is set you will remove the bolts and carefully place the blank where it will sit FOR SURE on your door panel, and then carefully drill holes through the blank holes and through your door panel arm rest! Then remove the blank and BE SURE to put the bolts/washers back permanently in place- a dab of epoxy to immobilize the bolt head and top washer ONLY wouldn’t hurt.
The blank on the left is what your “blank” should look like before moving on:
Next you need to lay out your padding and cloth, cutting both to leave PLENTY of extra size each direction to start.
Use spray contact cement to glue your padding on to the blank starting in the middle-outwards, trimming the padding flush along the door panel side. Everywhere else you will wrap the padding under and over the 1/4″ buildup, where you’ll then trim it flush. This is good practice for the cloth part coming up…note how things bunch up at the corners, and how you must cut the wrap pieces into “triangles” to make it all fit and sit down without a big messy pile.
You will also want to “cut in” the seatbelt slot if doing the full length version, and also fit your plastic piece at this point so it sits flush with the padding but not sinking in- once you put on the cloth layer this will allow the room for it to “seat” correctly.
You will want to use a pocket knife/utility blade to try and make slots in the seatbelt slot the for the “ears” on the plastic piece so it holds itself in, although you can also use electrical tape or duct tape to make it jam in if your slot is too large like my first one.
You can see the various stages on the blank on the right- note the basic shape, flushed bolts, and how the buildup, padding, and seatbelt slot is done:
Next you will spray contact all surfaces and place the cloth surface on centered, working from the center and being careful to work from the middle towards the ends, stapling lightly as you go.
This is the tricky part as you will be pulling a lot more to fit the corners, and may need to remove a few staples to reposition the cloth…bottom line is don’t over staple until you are done, and don’t cut away too much excess material until you are sure of your fit. A trick I found was to pull the fabric “triangle” tight and use one staple into the buildup, then pull further and staple to the bottom of the blank. Then if you wanted more pull you could staple into the back edge of the buildup, or release pull/move the fabric when fitting a corner by removing a staple or two with a small screwdriver.
If you have a more stretchy fabric you will be better off at the corners and overall.
Once you have both done to satisfaction you will attach them to your door panel as so.
As you tighten the bolts the arm rest should start to “level out” as it seats into the panel padding, tighten until you get the fit you want and use loctite if not using lock nuts:
Cost can be minimal if you have access to scraps and a few bolts and nuts/washers, but still not too high even at Home Depot retail. The skill level may well be moderate to slightly above moderate given the templating process, and potential difficulty of getting the fabric right as well as access to an upholstery stapler. I also added padding and same cloth to the console cover to even them out and add comfort for daily drives.
If you have questions or comments about this article, here’s the place to dicuss it: 300ZX Padded Arm Rest DIY