In many ways, carpets and headliners perform many of the same functions. On the surface, it would seem their primary function is one of aesthetics—preventing cabin occupants from seeing the sheetmetal and structure of the ceiling or floor. But the manufacturers also intended them for a couple other purposes. They prevent damage to the sheetmetal above and underneath, which in many muscle cars was left unpainted or simply primed for cost savings. They also act as insulators against noise and heat and thus contribute to the comfort of a muscle car, which in turn contributes heavily to your appreciation of the driving experience of your muscle car.
This Tech Tip is From the Full Book, MUSCLE CAR INTERIOR RESTORATION GUIDE. For a comprehensive guide on this entire subject you can visit this link:
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But the installation procedures for carpets and headliners differ greatly, as do the abuses each suffers. A carpet is designed to incur some sort of crushing, while a headliner simply isn’t; but a headliner is made of less durable materials, has to block the heat from the roof, and constantly fights gravity.
The good news, however, is that a home restorer can easily replace both using simple tools. Also, you can easily upgrade them to provide a more comfortable driving experience without sacrificing the original aesthetics of your muscle car.
Carpet Types and Ordering
Actually installing the carpet is more a matter of preparation than anything. The carpet is basically held down by seat brackets, console (if so equipped), sill plates, and interior panels, so removing those components should come first. For that reason, you want to figure out an ideal point during your muscle car’s restoration to replace the carpet. If you’re planning on also re-covering your seats and replacing your door panels, consider replacing your carpet right around that time as well, just to save yourself the hassle and labor of removing the seats multiple times.
If your old carpet does not lift straight up and out after removing those interior components, it may have some adhesive or a few tacks holding it down around the edges, or at specific recesses and humps. The tacks should easily pull out with pliers, some twisting, and a little coercion. Feel free to plug the holes left behind—carpet adhesive or regular contact adhesive performs the same function and doesn’t create the potential for rust by perforating the sheetmetal.
If your carpet has survived the years in relatively decent condition and needs only a cleaning, it’s possible to do so with a non-chlorinebased carpet cleaning solution. If dirt has somehow become embedded deep in the carpet, but the carpet itself remains physically intact, try spraying the carpet with a pressure washer (once you’ve removed it from your muscle car, of course) and then letting it dry for a few days.
Even if your carpet has to go, don’t chuck it just yet. Try to remove it without shredding it to pieces, because you may have to use it later on as reference for the location of seat belt holes, for the shapes and dimensions of certain pieces of carpet, and for the actual carpet material. I’ve also found scrap carpet to make an excellent floor mat for lying on the cold concrete garage floor.
When ordering your replacement carpet, consider the type of carpet your muscle car originally came with and the type you want to use now. First off, take note that your muscle car’s floor isn’t completely flat, so you’ll need a carpet kit that will compensate for that. Before the mid-1950s, cars used a cut-and-sew method to shape the carpet to the contours of the floor. But by the muscle car era, Detroit had figured out how to mold carpet to the shapes of the floor, and several aftermarket companies, including Auto Custom Carpets, offer reproduction molded carpets nowadays.
So you’ll want a molded carpet, of course, and there are several carpet materials to choose from: 80/20 loop, cutpile, Essex, shag… Okay, maybe not shag. If you browse Auto Custom Carpets’ website, you’ll see about nine different types of carpet to choose from, most of which can be molded to the shape of your floor, so what’s the difference between them?
Well, if you’re restoring your muscle car to its original appearance, you’re rather fortunate and really only have one choice: the 80/20 loop. “About 98 percent of the 1960s muscle cars used 80/20,” said Roger Niehaus, the vice president of sales for ACC. “And it lasted until about 1975, when the catalytic converters became standard.”
He noted that 80/20 loop was a fairly inexpensive product for Detroit to produce. The 80 part of the equation was rayon, classified as a semi-synthetic fiber, but essentially wood pulp. The 20 part of the equation was nylon, still a fairly new petroleum-based synthetic that was used as a color stabilizer for the petroleum-based dyes. In the early 1970s, though, Detroit started to switch to a 100 percent nylon, which appeared slightly different from the 80/20 loop.
“The 80/20 had an indiscriminate twisted look, a real random look to it,” Niehaus said. “The pure nylon was more a set of rows—we call them cornrows.”
Nylon carpet also held its color better than 80/20, which often faded. Those of you going for complete accuracy in material selection are out of luck, however: ACC’s suppliers no longer produce rayon, so ACC has switched to 100 percent nylon for all of its loop-type carpets, which still look and feel the same as 80/20.
Starting in the mid-1970s, Detroit switched from loop-style carpet to cutpile, which essentially remains the choice of auto manufacturers today. Niehaus said it’s a popular upgrade from loop-style carpets because it doesn’t wear out as fast as loop-style carpets. “Every time you run your heel over all those loops, it catches on the loops and frays them just a little bit,” Niehaus said. “You obviously don’t have that problem with cutpile.” Essex, a version of cutpile carpet, uses a taller pile height for a plusher look and feel.
Along with those four types of carpet, ACC also offers tuxedo, a two-tone variant of 80/20 commonly used on full-size and luxury cars, and TruVette, a shorter version of cutpile used on Corvettes since the early 1990s.
In addition to all the carpet types, you have the choice of ordering your carpet with or without jute padding. Jute, which is really just shredded rags, is often blamed for rusting out floorboards because it soaks up water like a sponge should it ever become wet. But Niehaus argued that what really keeps the water in the jute is the fact that all molded carpet is, essentially, a watertight plastic sheet that does not allow for evaporation, and so it traps water in the jute and, thus, against the floorboards.
Some restorers recommend ordering carpet without jute padding for another reason: At 1/2 inch thick, it can bulk up the carpet, making it look overstuffed and not shaped to the floorboards. Ordering carpet sans padding allows it to fit better into the recesses of your floor and add definition to your carpet.
Of course, the factories didn’t install jute padding underneath the carpet for no reason at all. It helped soften the carpet and reduce road noise. Fortunately, a number of modern-day noise and heat barriers exist that perform the same functions without the bulk or waterabsorbing properties of jute padding.
Noise and Heat Barriers
By far, the most popular noise and heat barrier in the aftermarket today is Dynamat, one of several products that look and feel kind of like a thick, stiff tar paper, similar to the asphalt-based roof insulation you see at your local hardware store. Yet Dynamat, along with its competitors, has been fine-tuned for automotive applications, and specifically started with car audio enthusiasts looking to reduce the rattling in their trunks caused by big, thumping woofers. Soon after, the rest of the automotive world realized the potential of these foil-backed insulators in not only improving their sound systems, but also in reducing road noise—leading to less fatigue while driving, along with a more modern driving experience—and in reducing heat coming into the car’s cabin, a benefit probably of more importance to muscle car drivers, whose engines pump out way more BTUs than your garden-variety collector car’s engine.
Dynamat—or more accurately, DynamatXtreme—is rather thin, at a bit more than 1/16 inch thick (.067 inch, to be precise), which is good, because unless you’re putting it on the floor of a Corvair, you’re going to have a lot of contours that the Dynamat will have to mold around, and the thinner it is, the easier it molds to those shapes. Its major drawback, however, is that it’s expensive, at about $300 per Bulk Pack of nine sheets, which in total cover 36 square feet. Many competitors, including Insulshield, B-Quiet, Cascade Audio Engineering, Elemental Designs, Lizard Skin, FatMat, RAAMaudio, and SecondskinDamplifier, among others, have emerged in recent years to offer alternative sound deadeners and insulators. ACC even offers what they call mass backing, which is a heavy rubber backing molded directly to the carpet that acts as a sound deadener. The installation process for the different mat-style barriers is much the same no matter what brand you choose, so I went with Dynamat for this project muscle car.
As with many other procedures, preparation is the key to getting the Dynamat, which is self-adhesive, to stick to your floors. After all, you want it to stick to your floorboards and not to any detritus on your floorboards. First, remove the Dynamat from its box and lay it out flat to remove the fold marks from shipping. Putting some heat on it—either from the sun or from a good, hot lamp—will speed up the process. Then, turning to the car itself, once you’ve removed the old carpet and jute padding, thoroughly vacuum the floorboards and remove any loose seam sealer. Now is the time to attack any rust on your floorboards, including surface rust; it won’t be accessible once you’ve laid down the insulation.
If the factory happened to have glued down the jute padding to make it stick to vertical or nearly vertical surfaces, then you’re likely going to have a mess to clean up after you’ve ripped out as much of the jute padding as possible by hand. To remove the rest, start by rubbing a stiff wire brush over the padding. The bristles break up the bulk of the jute rather effectively, leaving just the old adhesive. Some time spent with Goof-Off or any other adhesive remover will then leave you with fresh sheetmetal. Just be careful not to apply too much adhesive remover on the seam sealer; doing so will create a sticky mess.
Did I mention how clean you need to have the floorboards? You should vacuum the interior again, then wipe down the floorboards with denatured alcohol. Even if the floorboards look clean, the dirt and grease still there will prevent full adhesion of the Dynamat to the sheetmetal, and the denatured alcohol will remove that dirt and grease. Denatured alcohol also does not leave behind a film like some other cleaning agents, nor does it attack the seam sealer.
The urge to just start cutting up sheets of Dynamat is strong at this point, but you’ll want to hold off for just a bit. Remember that this stuff is kinda expensive. That means you’ll want to make the most of each sheet and at the same time have as little overlap between sheets as possible. For many of the more-popular cars, Dynamat offers pre-cut kits that take the guesswork out of laying it down.
If you don’t have pre-cut kits to choose from, however, you’ll want to create patterns from a less expensive, more disposable material (if not from the car’s original carpet and padding) and then transfer those patterns to the Dynamat. Fortunately, craft paper is perfect for pattern making, and it’s available at just about any craft store or office supply store across the country. If possible, buy a roll of craft paper close in width to the 32-inch width of each sheet of Dynamat (doing so will save you a lot of cutting down the road, trust me).
Creating the patterns is then a matter of choosing the most logical shapes that encompass the flattest areas of your floorboards with the minimum number of bends. You’re essentially creating a big jigsaw puzzle, with pieces that fit into each other, but of dimensions and shapes of your choosing.
Start with the forward-most floorboards, those under the driver’s and front passenger’s feet on either side of the driveshaft tunnel. These are relatively flat, with one simple bend where the floor meets the firewall. Cut a piece of craft paper roughly the width of the floorboards here and mark the transition from the flat floorboard to the curve of the driveshaft tunnel. On most muscle cars, that transition is rather well defined and should be easy to mark. Don’t worry about smaller humps or contours in the floorboards; the Dynamat can easily conform to lesser shapes.
Noise and Heat Barriers
Step-1: Noise and Heat Barriers
After removing the seats and ratty carpet from this late 1970s AMX, we found a layer of jute and cotton padding. Underneath that, we found a factory sound deadener and heat insulation that had become cracked and torn. Fortunately, underneath it all, the floors remained solid. Were we to do this again, we’d seriously consider taking the dashboard out of the car to give us more room near the firewall. The fact that our AMX is a hatchback means we have better access to some of the floor sections, but it also means that the area is larger than in a typical sedan.
Step-2: Noise and Heat Barriers
When ripping up your old carpet, take care and don’t toss it all immediately in the trash. Assembly-line workers often left your muscle car’s build sheet under the carpet, which is where we found ours. A build sheet is one of the most valuable pieces of documentation for your car, especially if you’re restoring it to showroom stock condition. You wouldn’t want to accidentally throw it in the trash.
Step-3: Noise and Heat Barriers
On the wheel wells we encountered some jute padding that just wouldn’t rip away from the metal. Most factories tend not to glue down padding or carpet on horizontal surfaces because it’s not really needed; but on vertical surfaces, something had to hold up the padding. The plan worked; the jute was next to impossible to remove by hand.
Step-4: Noise and Heat Barriers
The first step in removing the remaining jute was to use a stiff wire brush to break up the bulk of the padding. Jute isn’t like normal fabric in that it separates and crumbles quite easily, so the wire brush was able to remove all but the jute directly glued to the metal. The wire brush loads up with jute quickly, but a flat-bladed screwdriver easily removes the jute crumbles from the brush’s wires.
Step-5: Noise and Heat Barriers
With the majority of the jute removed, we used some Goof-Off adhesive remover to lift the old glue. This stuff also liquefies seam sealer and makes a sticky mess, so it’s best to apply the Goof-Off to a rag or paper towel instead of directly to the metal, where it can drip into your seams.
Step-6: Noise and Heat Barriers
It takes some elbow grease and patience to rub off the old glue with the Goof-Off, but it does steadily come off, as evidenced by the bare spot on the wheel well. The Goof-Off leaves a residue, which is easily wiped off with denatured alcohol.
Step-7: Noise and Heat Barriers
Even if you’re not laying down Dynamat or a similar product, you’ll still want to thoroughly vacuum the floorboards to remove years of accumulated spider droppings, loose change, gum wrappers, and so on. Invest in a name-brand wet/dry shop-vac instead of using your household vacuum cleaner.
Step-8: Noise and Heat Barriers
After vacuuming and before laying the Dynamat into place, we wiped down the metal with denatured alcohol just to be certain that no dirt, grease, or other residues remained on the metal. A similar product is Eastwood’s PRE Painting Prep.
Step-9: Noise and Heat Barriers
We thoroughly vacuumed the sheetmetal after removing all traces of the old padding and carpet, and found a few blooms of surface rust that could flower into full-blown problems down the road. So we took the opportunity to spot blast the rust and paint over it before laying down the Dynamat.
Step-10: Noise and Heat Barriers
To maximize our usage of the Dynamat we first created, from craft paper, templates of the general shapes of the floorboards. To create a template, we laid out a section of craft paper, then marked all but the most gradual of shapes with a pen and cut the templates based on those markings.
Step-11: Noise and Heat Barriers
To keep our templates properly oriented as we removed them from the car, we marked the location and direction of the templates on the side facing up. It could be a costly mistake if we were to get these backward when transferring the templates to the Dynamat.
Step-12: Noise and Heat Barriers
We double-checked our templates after cutting them and laid out templates for entire sections of the floorboards all at once, to visualize how multiple pieces of Dynamat would fit together. As we progressed, we also made notes directly on the templates regarding obstructions and tight radii.
Step-13: Noise and Heat Barriers
When transferring the template’s shape to the pieces of Dynamat, use a Sharpie or other darkcolored felt-tip marker. Leave the backing paper on while cutting the Dynamat with a razor or a sharp pair of scissors.
Step-14: Noise and Heat Barriers
Be sure to save all your scraps from trimming the sheets of Dynamat. The scraps will come in handy later when filling small gaps between the sheets of Dynamat. The scraps can also be combined to cover irregularly contoured areas that a whole sheet wouldn’t easily cover.
Step-15: Noise and Heat Barriers
Test fitting the sheets also allowed us to measure and mark the seat belt and seatmounting post holes on the sheets beforehand, rather than fumble around afterward trying to locate the holes.
Step-16: Noise and Heat Barriers
We like having our foot to the floor, and even the thickness of the Dynamat can make a difference in how far the butterflies open, so we elected to leave the floor uninsulated directly under the throttle pedal. It probably won’t make a difference in the long run, but it’s easier to leave that section out now than to cut it out later.
Step-17: Noise and Heat Barriers
We wanted to test fit the cut sections of Dynamat in the car before removing the backing paper and applying the Dynamat to the floorboards. This allowed us to easily make any adjustments in the shapes or sizes of the sheets.
Step-18: Noise and Heat Barriers
It may be necessary to cut relief darts in the Dynamat before rolling it out. For example, this section has concave and convex shapes in close succession, and the relief darts help the Dynamat expand and bunch up over those shapes.
Step-19: Noise and Heat Barriers
With the sheet test fitted and trimmed, apply some heat to the sheet immediately before removing the backing paper. Applying heat makes the sheet more flexible and able to fit to the contours of the floorboards.It also helps the adhesive bond to the metal.
Step-20: Noise and Heat Barriers
After applying the heat and removing the backing paper, we laid down the section of Dynamat, careful not to overlap the edges with nearby sections. While the sheet remained hot, we used the Dynamat-supplied roller to press the Dynamat to the floorboards, starting from the middle of the sheet and working our way out toward the edges of the sheet.
Step-21: Noise and Heat Barriers
If you hear a crinkling in the Dynamat while rolling it smooth, you’ve probably trapped an air pocket between the sheet and the floorboard. If you’re unable to roll it out, slice the Dynamat with a razor in an X pattern and roll toward the slices to eliminate the air pocket.
Step-22: Noise and Heat Barriers
When you remove the backing paper, don’t throw it away. After all that trimming, the piece of backing paper is the exact shape you needed. By flipping it over, it becomes a reverse pattern and eliminates the need to make a second craft-paper pattern for the opposite side, thus saving you time and effort.
Step-23: Noise and Heat Barriers
Lay a section of aluminum tape at the seams between sheets of Dynamat and over sliced air pockets and relief darts. Any adhesive that pokes through the seams can make a sticky mess, so the aluminum tape not only contains the adhesive, but also aids in sealing the Dynamat against heat and noise.
Step-24: Noise and Heat Barriers
Note how the Dynamat clings tightly to the shapes of the floorboards, especially around the raised areas surrounding the seat mounting holes. The tighter the Dynamat conforms to these shapes, the better it will perform.
Step-25: Noise and Heat Barriers
With both sides of the floorboards covered in Dynamat, it looks as if we just finished building a satellite for NASA. And hey, we even managed to get the Dynamat logos facing the same direction on each side of the trans tunnel.
Step-26: Noise and Heat Barriers
Quite a bit of wind noise comes from the wind beating against your body panels like a big drum as you drive down the road. Adding the Dynamat against the back side of the body panels helps reduce that noise. Here it’s critical to heat the sheets of Dynamat to make them properly stick against the vertical surfaces.
Step-27: Noise and Heat Barriers
Dynaliner comes in three thicknesses with varying degrees of applicability, as this chart from Dynamic Controls shows. We used the thicker, 1/2- inch Dynaliner for the front half of the car, for a plusher feel where the driver’s and passengers’ feet rest. The 1/4-inch Dynaliner was used for the hatch area.
Step-28: Noise and Heat Barriers
The Dynaliner adds a second layer of noise insulation to your car. Using templates again helps maximize your investment. The Dynaliner, especially the thicker versions, does not roll as easily as the Dynamat, however, so it’s often easier to cut the Dynaliner into smaller sections to get it to conform to the shapes of the floorboards.
Step-29: Noise and Heat Barriers
For the areas in the car we couldn’t easily cover with Dynamat, such as behind the kick panels, it was simpler to just cover the back sides of the kick panels with Dynamat and Dynaliner. It will serve the same purpose when the kick panel is attached to the sheetmetal on final reassembly.
With the pattern in the car, you can make notes for where to extend the Dynamat beyond the borders of the craft paper or where the Dynamat should be notched or cut with relief darts for particularly tricky corners. If you’re planning to reuse the templates later on (or if you might loan them to friends with the same car), make notes indicating which side is up, the location of the pattern in the car, and the direction of the firewall or other reference points.
On your workbench, lay out a sheet of Dynamat, foil side up. Lay the cut pattern over it and transfer the pattern with a pen or felt-tip marker, then trim the Dynamat to that shape. Don’t remove the backing just yet, though; you’ll want to confirm the shape, so set it in its place in the car and trim if necessary
Once you’re happy with the shape, wipe down the area again with denatured alcohol. While waiting for any excess alcohol to evaporate, apply some heat directly to the sheet of Dynamat with a heat gun to make it pliable. The more heat you apply, the more pliable the Dynamat will become, but at the same time, though, the more heat you apply, the more heat it will retain, so use gloves if you’re applying a lot of heat. If the area has a very irregular surface, or some sort of undercoating that you don’t want to remove, crank up the heat.
Peel off the backing paper and set the sheet of Dynamat into place. It’s a good idea to set down one edge of the sheet first, to make sure it’s properly located, then gradually roll the rest of the sheet onto the floorboard. This approach also helps reduce air pockets underneath the Dynamat, another huge deterrent to the Dynamat adhering to the floorboards.
If you made a mistake in dropping the sheet onto the wrong spot, it’s still possible to lift it and try again.
Now comes the fun part. Using a small, hard, rubber roller (sold by Dynamic Control, the company that markets Dynamat, should you not be able to find a roller at the hardware store), start rolling the sheet from the center out, trying to work out any air pockets trapped between the sheet and the floorboard. Remember that the hotter the Dynamat is, the more pliable it becomes, so work the Dynamat around the contours in the floorboard with the roller while it’s still warm. The purpose of the roller is to push the Dynamat into those contours, where it’ll be the most effective at blocking noise and heat. If you find that you need more heat, keep applying it with a heat gun while rolling out the air pockets and around the irregular areas.
When you’re done, the Dynamat sheet should look less like a blanket tossed over the floors and more like a sprayed-on insulation, through which you can pick out the floor’s shapes. Heck, you should be able to pick out the holes for the seat brackets and plunge a razor through them to open them up.
Should you create an air pocket under the sheet (and you’ll hear it while rolling if you do), you should be able to close it with additional heat. If you can’t eliminate it that way, simply slice the pocket down its length with a razor blade, then add short relief slices perpendicular to the main slice. Roll the sheet toward the slice to flatten out the air pocket.
Installing Dynamat is a timeconsuming task, especially when creating templates for each sheet. The symmetry of your car should alleviate some of your pattern making, however, especially beyond the front footwells; in that case, the backing paper from one side, which has already been perfectly trimmed to your car, can be used as the template for the opposite side—just make sure to flip the template to avoid creating a duplicate of the piece you just laid down. In areas with a bracket or some other protrusion from the floorboard, cut the template to fit over that protrusion, then use the protrusion as a reference point for cutting the sheet of Dynamat.
Remember, you want little-to-no overlap between the sheets of Dynamat; besides wasting the material, overlapping creates unnecessary bulges. Should you find gaps between the sheets, or should you create gaps by cutting reliefs in a sheet, use your trimmings from the sheets to fill in those gaps. Much like how a container can’t easily hold water with gaps in it, the Dynamat loses effectiveness with gaps between or among its sheets. Finally, apply strips of aluminum tape over every seam and every slice, including the slices made to remove air pockets.This not only reinforces the insulating properties along those seams and slices, but it covers the sticky and sometimes sharp edges of the Dynamat that are exposed at those seams.
You’ll find that once you’ve finished covering your floors with Dynamat you’ll be left with extra material. Instead of chucking the excess or the trimmings, consider covering your roof pillars, kick panels, inner door skins, rear bulkhead, and trunk with the stuff. The more exposed metal surfaces you cover, the more solid your muscle car will sound and feel.
Dynamic Control also offers Dynaliner, a lighter, more foam-like material that comes in several thicknesses: 1/2, 1/4, and 1/8 inch. It is recommended, but not necessary, as an additional sound and heat barrier atop the Dynamat on the floor, which is probably not a bad idea if you’ve ordered your carpet sans jute padding.
Like the Dynamat, the Dynaliner is self-adhesive, so trim it to shape before removing the backing paper. Unlike the Dynamat, however, the thicker 1/2-inch Dynaliner, recommended for floors, does not easily conform to irregular shapes, nor does it easily roll out, when laying it down. You need to be very intentional and push it hard into those irregular shapes while working from one end to the other. The thinner 1/8-inch Dynaliner more easily conforms to irregular shapes, but is only really recommended for roofs and behind door panels. The 1/4-inch Dynaliner is recommended for use in the same places as 1/2-inch Dynaliner.
Before laying down the carpet or installing the headliner, consider how best to route any wiring that will connect to devices (lamps, speakers, switches, etc.) in the center of the car. Wiring should be easily accessed for repairs, so lay it above the Dynamat and Dynaliner and secure it with short sections of aluminum tape.
With the Dynamat installed, roll out the carpet to smooth out the folds and creases from its time spent in its package. You may want to lay it out in the sun for 1/2 hour or so to help it lay flat.
For the restoration of our 1968 Camaro project car, I ordered a loopstyle reproduction carpet kit from Classic Industries. The kit came in two pieces: One section lays across the width of the car and extends from just behind the leading edge of the rear seat cushion to just behind the leading edge of the front seat cushions. The second section, which also lays across the width of the car, overlaps the other strip and extends to the firewall.
We began with the rearmost section, first centering the carpet, then sliding it forward as far as possible while leaving the rear edge of the carpet underneath the rear seat cushion so it won’t show with the seat installed. We had to notch the rear edge of the carpet with a razor blade (a carpet knife will work just as well) so it would clear the brackets for the seat cushion. And on this Camaro, the interior panels held down the rear corners of the carpet strip.
Moving forward, we located the four mounting holes for the bucket seat brackets. Around the forward holes, we could simply notch the carpet again, but around the rearward holes, we cut flaps in the shape of three sides of a square to allow the seat brackets to slip under the carpet and become somewhat hidden. You may want to mount the seat brackets on top of the carpet; in that case, rather than cutting flaps, you’ll want to cut smaller holes through the carpet.
When installing loop carpet, however, do not drill through or even near the carpet. A spinning drill bit can easily catch a loop of the carpet and yank out an entire strand, tuft by tuft, causing more damage in just a few seconds than you’d think possible. Instead, poke a hole through the carpet with an awl, use a razor blade to cut an X pattern over the mounting hole. Or you could even use an old soldering iron to melt away the carpet fibers from the mounting hole and effectively cauterize the hole, preventing the loops from catching on the screws. Another slick trick is to install all the screws that go through the carpet before actually laying down the carpet. Then, once the carpet is in position, feel out those screws and cut the carpet around the heads of the screws.
With the rear section of carpet laid, we then centered the forward section of carpet, temporarily draping it over the shifter assembly, still installed in the car. Knowing that a console will mount over the shifter assembly, we conservatively cut away the carpet around the shifter assembly. While it would seem to be simpler to just cut the forward section of carpet in half and fit each side of the carpet individually, the carpet would then become loose and shift around. Instead, we left the carpet section intact forward of the shifter assembly.
We made sure the molded section of the carpet fell to place in the driver’s footwell under the pedals. With the stomp switch for the brights still in place, we cut out a hole just large enough for the switch and installed the switch grommet, included with the carpet kit. On either side, the kick panels held down the corners of the carpet strip. At the trailing edge of the strip, as long as the strip had been positioned correctly, we didn’t need to notch the edge or cut any flaps; the seat brackets slipped under the strip just far enough to reach their mounting holes.
Step-1: Carpet Installation
Carpet installation starts by centering the rearmost carpet segment in the car. Preferably, you should let the carpet sit out in the sun for a little while after unpackaging it, to remove any creases or folds. Note that the carpet section in this first-generation Camaro ends just behind the leading edge of the rear seat. The rear seat will cover the floor behind that point.
Step-2: Carpet Installation
We notched the trailing edge of the rearmost carpet segment to clear the mounting latch for the rear seat. A sharp, new razor blade makes quicker work of carpet notching than an older, duller blade.
Step-3: Carpet Installation
On this Camaro, the carpet is held down at the rear corners by the interior panels, so we tucked it in. Other cars may use contact adhesive or tiny pins that are hammered through the floor to secure the carpet.
Step-4: Carpet Installation
For the bucket seat’s rear bracket mounts, we cut three-sided flaps, about 1-1/2 inches to a side, under which the mounts will slide, thus hiding them from view when installed. You may also consider slicing holes through the carpet directly above the mounting holes if you don’t mind leaving the seat brackets exposed.
Step-5: Carpet Installation
Placing the forward section of carpet is a bit trickier, due to the floormounted shifter and the tight spaces near the firewall. Again, it should be centered first, then adjusted fore or aft.
Step-6: Carpet Installation
Once the forward section of carpet has been properly located, it can be trimmed up the center for the floor-mounted shifter. We didn’t entirely split it in half, however, and left the section uncut forward of the shifter.
Step-7: Carpet Installation
Nearly every carpet set of the muscle car era had the heel section molded in a tough-wearing plastic to reduce wear on the carpet in that area. Any good reproduction carpet set should have this section molded in as well.
Step-8: Carpet Installation
The hole for the stomp switch for the high beams doesn’t come cut from the factory, so once we located the carpet section, we cut the hole, then trimmed it with the rubber grommet-like piece included in the carpet set.
Step-9: Carpet Installation
Finally, the reproduction sill plate covers the sides of both front and rear carpet sections. Misaligned doors, stray seat belts, and carelessness combine to beat up the thin aluminum sill plates on almost every muscle car. Fortunately for restorers, they’re widely available and easy to replace.
If any excess carpet exists on either side at the door sills, it should be in equal amounts. We trimmed the excess at this point, then installed the sill plates, supplied with the kit from Original Equipment Restoration (OER). We were again careful to punch any holes in the carpet for the screws with an awl so the screws didn’t catch a thread in the carpet.
Note that we did not use any adhesive or tacks to secure the carpet, mainly because the Camaro didn’t require anything more than the interior panels, seats, and console to secure the carpet. If you want additional methods of securing the carpet, I recommend adhesive. To glue your carpet to the floor, follow the above installation directions: center the carpet sections, then adjust the sections forward or backward, trimming for shifters, brackets, or other obstructions, Once you’ve placed the carpet exactly where you want it, fold it over on itself, spray both the underside of the carpet and the floor that the carpet will lay over with adhesive, then fold that section of carpet back into position and start to smooth it out, working from the center outward. Repeat the process for the other half, then trim as necessary. You should only have to glue the flat floor sections, which then keep the carpet in position and prevent it from sliding around; it’s not necessary to glue the carpet to the transmission tunnel.
If possible, order a set of floor mats to match the style and color of the carpet. Floor mats will obviously take the brunt of the damage inflicted by foot traffic and are much easier to replace than an entire carpet. If your carpet supplier cannot make a matching set of floor mats, order a couple yards of extra carpet material and have a local seamstress or upholsterer trim and bind the floor mats for you.
One last tip on carpet: Consider ordering enough extra material to cover your trunk floor. You don’t have to permanently install it; you can have it trimmed and bound like the floor mats for a removable alternative to a bare steel trunk floor.
If you’ve cruised the product aisles at your local big-box-type auto parts store, you’ve no doubt seen the magic aerosol sprays that claim to fix all droopy headliners. Don’t buy them expecting to follow the directions and magically restore your headliner back to new. Spray adhesive is really only a Band-Aid fix and should be considered neither a permanent nor a proper solution.
My 1971 Plymouth ’Cuda required a new black headliner to match its new black carpet. Mice had chewed holes through the liner and made a few nests between it and the roof skin, so I had no choice but to remove the headliner, sail panels, sun visors, and trim, and start nearly from scratch. The trim pieces and sun visors thatcould be saved were thoroughly cleaned and set aside. The old sail panels and headliner were carefully removed and kept for reference during reinstallation. As I removed each bow from the headliner, I marked its order, front to rear, with a small piece of masking tape and a marker. I also noted the bow’s position in one of three mounting holes in the body as the bow came out of that hole.
Approximately from the 1930s through the 1970s, American car manufacturers used a couple variations on the same bow-type headliner. A series of four, five, or more bows inserted through loops in the top of the headliner and then hooked into holes or pockets in the body’s substructure to keep the headliner up against the roof skin. Teeth built into the body substructure around the perimeter of the roof skin then gripped the edges of the headliner, assisted by an adhesive that bonds the fabric to the sheetmetal.
The main difference between Ford, Chrysler, and GM bow-type headliners was the method of anchoring the headliner, which provided the starting process for the actual headliner installation. Some muscle cars used teeth at the midpoint of the roof structure— crossing the car from right to left— to anchor the headliner. While that method works well for the first couple headliner installations, the teeth tended to break off from the car’s substructure after repeated bending from multiple headliner installations, forcing an alternative or custom headliner installation method.
Almost every Chrysler product, however—including this ’Cuda— used hooks on the end of rods attached to the back of the body substructure to anchor the headliner. After attaching the headliner to the hooks, the installation of the headliner consists of pulling the headliner forward until each bow hooks into its proper place.
Sufficient preparation work at this point made the rest of the headliner installation proceed smoothly. The windshield and back window were removed from this ’Cuda shortly before this headliner installation, for another aspect of the car’s restoration. This is not necessary to do for a typical headliner installation, though it certainly helped us position our hands around the edges of the headliner. We did, however, remove the trim around the windows, both interior and exterior, to provide clear access to the sheetmetal where the edges of the headliner would be glued. We also removed the seats, then laid down heavy blankets over the carpet and package tray to act both as cushions, and to prevent glue overspray on the already finished parts of the interior.
If necessary, any teeth that grip the headliner should be straightened and pointing in the same direction. Loose or broken teeth should be fixed, and dull teeth should be sharpened.
I like to use a little trick now that saves an incredible amount of time and energy in the long run. Rather than set all the screws aside in a container when removing trim, sun visors, and dome lamps, I thread the screws back in their mounting holes. Not only does this prevent misplaced fasteners, this also helps positively locate the screw holes during the headliner installation.
Step-1: Headliner Installation
Mold, mice, and general lack of care can individually or all together destroy a headliner. Unfortunately, replacing a headliner is often viewed as a complicated and laborious process. However, now that the restoration aftermarket offers reproduction headliners, with a little bit of instruction and a few hours, it’s possible to replace your headliner yourself in your own garage.
Step-2: Headliner Installation
After removing the headliner from the car— hopefully intact and as a complete assembly—mark the position of the bows from front to back using a small piece of masking tape. The bows differ slightly in size and shape depending on their position and, for that reason, should not be mixed up. Remove the marked bows from the headliner and set them aside.
Step-3: Headliner Installation
When removing the headliner from the car, use a piece of chalk to mark the exact hole that each bow fit into. The factory may drill a few holes in the general area for a variety of purposes, including adjustment of the headliner’s slack and optional equipment that may affect the headliner’s fitment.
Step-4: Headliner Installation
On our ’Cuda, as with many Chrysler products from the 1960s and early 1970s, a hook protruding from the rear roof structure anchors the headliner to the rear of the car. Other cars may use teeth attached to the center roof structure to anchor the headliner. Pay attention to exactly how your car’s headliner is mounted when removing the headliner from the car.
Step-5: Headliner Installation
Turning our attention to the new headliner, we marked the headliner’s centerline with a piece of chalk and a straightedge. Note that the new headliner is a simple rectangular shape; it will be trimmed to fit the ’Cuda later in the installation process.
Headliner Installation (CONTINUED)
Step-6: Headliner Installation
We also marked the rear of the headliner to avoid confusion later. This is necessary because of slight differences in bow spacing and in the seams of the headliner material. Those differences help the headliner to conform to the compound curves of the roof
Step-7: Headliner Installation
Next, we inserted the bows in their proper order through the loops already stitched into the seams of the headliner material. Removing the rust from the bows before this step helped the bows slide easier through their loops.
Step-8: Headliner Installation
Because the bows tend to bow, their loops require relief cuts at either end. We figured 4 inches is enough; any less and the headliner material won’t easily slide over the curvature of the bows; any more and the headliner material will droop excessively
Step-9: Headliner Installation
After preparing the headliner material, we took it into the ’Cuda and hooked the rearmost bow into the holes we’d previously marked on either side of the roof structure. By rotating the rearmost bow in its holes, we can then hook the bow with the anchoring hooks, which slip over the bow through tiny slits cut into the loops.
Step-10: Headliner Installation
Next, we hooked each bow into its marked holes to check the fitment. Placing the bows in different holes can adjust the headliner’s slackness to a certain extent.
Step-11: Headliner Installation
As we hooked each bow, we checked to make sure the centerlines we marked earlier continued to match up. Keeping the centerlines matched now will prevent headaches down the road when we stretch the headliner side to side.
Step-12: Headliner Installation
The bows only secure the headliner to the roof structure through the middle of the headliner. The edges, on the other hand, are secured to the roof structure with adhesive—simple contact cement, really—and we first sprayed a film of adhesive on the header.
Step-13: Headliner Installation
The mating surfaces of the headliner material also received a film of adhesive. We sprayed the metal surfaces before the cloth surfaces, only because the adhesive takes slightly longer to set up on the metal surfaces.
Step-14: Headliner Installation
Once the adhesive set up, we stretched the headliner material forward to mate against the header. We pulled the material tight, but not taut; the opportunity to pull the material tighter will come momentarily.
Step-15: Headliner Installation
The rearmost roof brace, behind the anchor hooks and just above the rear window, also got a shot of adhesive. The spikes along the edge of that brace, along with similar spikes along the edge of the header, only serve to hold the headliner material in place while the adhesive cures; the adhesive is what actually secures the headliner to the roof braces.
Step-16: Headliner Installation
Stretching the headliner material takes patience and multiple passes over the material. It also takes a gentle, but firm touch. Stretching the material too far will either damage it or cause it to droop. At the same time, not stretching it enough won’t rid the material of wrinkles, and can cause it to hang unevenly.
Step-17: Headliner Installation
With the front and rear edges secured, we glued the sides around the sheetmetal lip at the top of the door opening. The door opening trim will hide the edge of the material.
Step-18: Headliner Installation
We used a two-stage stretching process to eliminate wrinkles from the headliner and to get it to hang smoothly and evenly. First, we stretched the headliner in a plus-sign pattern: toward the front and rear and toward the sides. We used heat from a heat gun to make the headliner material more pliable for stretching.
Step-19: Headliner Installation
The second part of our stretching process pulls the headliner in a multiplication-sign pattern: toward the corners. While stretching, we took care not to pull the headliner fabric too far to one side or another, checking opposite corners for signs that the headliner fabric had shifted too far to one side.
Step-20: Headliner Installation
This ’Cuda uses a toothed panel riveted to the inside of the C-pillars to grab the headliner at the rear corners. Without the toothed panel, the headliner would have no anchor point in those corners and would thus have to be glued arbitrarily to the inside of the C-pillar.
Step-21: Headliner Installation
At anything more than a gradual bend, we cut darts that allowed the headliner material to conform to the curves of the body. This way, the headliner material doesn’t bunch up or stretch too much when folded over the sheetmetal lips that anchor the headliner in certain places.
Step-22: Headliner Installation
Note that the darts don’t cut all the way to the point where the material folds over the lip, only most of the way. Cutting too far would reveal the snip outside of the trim that will later conceal the darts. With the darted material folded over the lip, you can see how easily it conforms to the curve. Darting, of course, is not necessary on straight edges.
Step-23: Headliner Installation
With the headliner glued into place and stretched to utter smoothness, we trimmed the excess headliner material from the edges of the headliner. Always make sure to use a fresh razor blade; razor blades that have been used even just a handful of times can become dull and start to tear at the fabric rather than cut it.
Step-24: Headliner Installation
Keep in mind that we left the screws for the dome lamp, sun visors, and trim in their holes, now covered by the headliner. We meant to do that. By feeling around through the headliner, we were able to mark the screw heads with a piece of chalk.
Step-25: Headliner Installation
Through the headliner material we used a Phillips-head screwdriver to back the screws out of their holes. Once we backed them out far enough, we pushed the headliner down around the screw heads, creating a perfectly sized hole for the screws.
Step-26: Headliner Installation
Unfortunately, the method doesn’t work well for large bolt heads or for holes that simply need to remain open, such as the holes at the center of the sun visor mounts. For those holes, we use a standard pair of shears or a razor blade.
Step-27: Headliner Installation
Keeping the old headliner material on hand makes finding mounting pads for certain pieces of trim and accessories simple. Just find the right holes in the old headliner material, measure their distances from the edges, and use those measurements as a general guide to find the existing holes under the headliner material.
Step-28: Headliner Installation
Rather than jump right in to cutting open the holes for the trim, we instead marked the holes with chalk first and checked to make sure the trim would line up with the holes. Chalk marks can easily be cleaned up afterward.
Were this a car with little aftermarket support, we would have had to sew a custom headliner, using the old headliner as a pattern. Were we to do that, we’d have to cut the headliner down the middle, using one half for the pattern and the other half for reference for the number of stitches, placement of features, and directionality of the fabric. But in the case of this ’Cuda, we were able to order a replacement headliner, already stitched together with the loops for the bows, from Legendary Interiors.
Most resto shops tell you that not all reproduction headliners are made to the exact specifications of the originals. and that some headliners, especially on a concours car, may not fit as desired. With this in mind, we closely compared the reproduction with the original to make sure it would fit properly. In this case, it would, so we saw no need to rework the ’Cuda’s headliner.
Unfortunately, shipping reproduction headliners often results in folds and wrinkles in the headliner material. As with the carpet set, we usually unfold the headliner when we first receive it and then put it in the sun to let it warm up. After enough time in the sun, the wrinkles and fold marks naturally dissipate.
We next measured the center of the headliner and marked it on the underside (or the topside, if you consider it as it will be installed in the car) of the headliner, then drew a chalk line through the marks with the aid of a straightedge. We drew a corresponding chalk line along the centerline of the underside of the roof. The chalk can later come off with a damp paper towel.
We also noted with the chalk which end of the headliner went toward the rear of the car. This allowed us to insert the bows in the order in which we numbered them as we removed them from the old headliner. As the headliner came from Legendary, though, the loops for the bows extended too far out toward the edges, which didn’t allow enough room to maneuver the bows into their positions and didn’t allow the headliner to hang properly. So after we inserted the bows, we measured and marked 4 inches in from the end of each loop, then cut away that portion of the loop.
At this point, we were able to put the headliner assembly—complete with all the bows—into the ’Cuda. With the headliner oriented according to our chalk marks, we first attached the rearmost bow to its mounting holes, then hooked the anchors (which sprout from the structural brace over the rear window) to the rearmost bow. We then pulled the second bow forward, placed it in its mounting holes, and repeated the procedure for the third and fourth bows. After each bow placement we checked to make sure our chalk centerline matched up to the centerline on the underside of the roof. We also checked to make sure the new headliner didn’t stretch or sag too much between each bow.
Satisfied that the headliner fit alright so far, we sprayed both the forward brace of the underside of the roof (also called the header) and the mating surface of the headliner with a liberal and even layer of contact cement, starting with the metal surfaces, only because the cement takes longer to dry on metal than it does on fabric.
After giving the contact cement a couple minutes to set up, we doublechecked the alignment of our chalk centerlines, then began to pull the center of the headliner—gently, but firmly—forward, grasping the material at the leading edge of the headliner. Once we felt the headliner was taut enough, we brought the leading edge of the headliner around the header, then pierced it on the teeth at the forward edge of the panel.
We only brought the center front section of the headliner forward, however. To attach the edges of the headliner, we used a two-stage approach: First, we secured the center of the front edge, center of the rear edge, and the center of each side in a cross or addition-sign pattern. Then, we secured the corners in an X or multiplication-sign pattern. This approach essentially divided the headliner into quadrants, each of which we could stretch and smooth out relatively independent of the other quadrants.
Although the header panel and its counterpart at the rear of the roof have teeth to secure the headliner while the contact cement dries, most of the sides do not. The headliner material thus glues directly to the body of the car at the door opening. Chrysler did, however, provide a strip of teeth on the inside of the sail panel to anchor the rear two quadrants of the headliner. Using a tuck tool will help the material wrap around those teeth.
Stretching the headliner should only be done along the seams, where the material is the strongest and least likely to droop later on. Stretching between the seams runs the risk of overstretching the material, causing droop or damage. For this step, you don’t need to start yanking like a madman and overpulling the headliner; instead, you need finesse, and you pull the headliner only enough to smooth it out.
The application of heat from a heat gun while stretching the headliner speeds up the process by loosening the headliner material. We continued to stretch the material until all the wrinkles smoothed out and the headliner appeared fairly even, side to side and front to back. While stretching, we constantly checked the alignment of the headliner side to side to make sure it hadn’t shifted off center from the stretching process. If it had, we simply shifted the headliner back toward the center
As we stretched the material to the sides, we encountered a few curves around which the material wouldn’t fold neatly—especially around the radiused corners of the doors. In these areas, we cut relief darts from the edge of the material to the corner of the curve. These darts allowed us to fold the material over the edges of those corners without the material stretching (which can then lead to damage of the surrounding headliner material) or bunching up (which could cause both poor adhesion of the headliner to the metal and poor fit of the trim later on).
Unlike the original headliner, which was cut to a certain shape at the factory, Legendary’s reproduction headliner came in a rectangular shape, not trimmed to the same shape as the original headliner. Thus, when we secured the headliner to the edges of the roof, a lot of excess material hung loose beyond the edges. Satisfied with the installation of the headliner so far, we cut away that excess material with a razor blade or with shears, using the edge of the roof as a guide for where to cut and exercising caution not to trim too far in from the edge of the roof.
Recall that we left the screws for the trim installed on the car before we covered them with the headliner. With the original headliner laid out nearby, we looked for the original screw holes in the headliner to gauge where we could find the screws underneath the headliner. After feeling for the installed screws with our hands, we poked a screwdriver through the headliner to start backing the screw out of its hole. With the screw partway backed out, we then pushed the headliner material down around the screw head, creating a neat little screw hole in the headliner.
We repeated the process for the rest of the screws and installed the trim, sun visors, and dome lamp. Any screws that happen to fall behind the headliner can easily be retrieved with a magnet and brought back up to the hole for that screw.
The upper seat belt mount, however, used a bolt of significantly larger diameter than simple screws, so we had to leave it out when installing the headliner. Pushing the headliner material around the bolt head would have caused too much damage to the headliner material. Instead, we used the original headliner as a guide once more, felt for the bolt hole under the headliner, and used a razor to cut a small X in the headliner material above the bolt hole. We then threaded the bolt into the hole without damaging the headliner.
So what do you do if you have a post-1970s muscle car, or one of the few types of muscle cars—mostly AMC products—that used shell-type headliners? These headliners insulate the noise and heat from the roof with a somewhat different method. They eliminated the complex bows and integrated some insulation in their construction, thus making a shell-type headliner simpler to install and more comfortable than a bow-type headliner.
A shell-type headliner consists of two basic parts: the molded fiber backing board, called the shell, and the headliner material, which glues to the shell and incorporates an insulating foam layer. Is it as simple as that? Yes and no. It’s much simpler than a bow-type headliner in that the shell-type headliner doesn’t require as much pulling and stretching. Also, a shell-type headliner’s restoration can be done outside the car on a bench, without crawling around the interior of the car. However, a shell-type headliner requires a great deal more preparation.
First, make sure you remove the shell in one piece, without cracking it or folding it over on itself. It must retain its basic shape throughout this process, otherwise the headliner material may not adhere properly to the shell. Double-check to make sure that all the interior trim holding the headliner in place has been removed, and try not to rip the existing headliner material from the shell just yet; doing so may inadvertently damage the shell.
With the shell extracted from the car, flip it over and set it on a workbench. Note whether the headliner material wraps over the edges of the shell or if it’s trimmed flush with the edges of the shell. Also note the alignment of the fabric on the headliner shell.
Very carefully, start removing the headliner material and foam backing, peeling away everything but the molded shell. Pay particular attention to the edges and the mounting holes for the sun visors—constant pressure over the decades makes those areas particularly difficult to remove without tearing or cracking the shell underneath. You’ll notice a fine dust lifting off the headliner material and shell. This is what’s left of the foam layer originally bonded to the headliner material; time and heat disintegrated it, eventually causing the headliner material to sag.
The most important part of the process now involves removing all trace of old adhesive and old foam from the shell. Using some sort of light abrasive—perhaps a whitewall tire brush, a Scotch-Brite pad, or fine-grade sandpaper—go over the entire shell until you reach the actual shell surface. Similar to how you need to strip sheetmetal down to bare metal to repaint it properly, you need to strip a shell down to the bare surface to restore it properly. Make sure, however, not to remove any material from the shell itself—you’ll want to perform this step by hand rather than with any power tools.
Shell-Type Headliner Installation
Step-1: Shell-Type Headliner Installation
Perhaps the most important step in restoring a shell-type headliner comes right at the beginning, when removing it from the vehicle, and when the potential for damage is high. Here, our headliner material has already come loose from the backing shell, leaving behind a crumbly foam residue.
Step-2: Shell-Type Headliner Installation
The foam residue will easily rub off under our fingers and will need to be entirely removed for the new headliner material to adhere to the backing shell. Note also that a thin layer of old adhesive under the foam residue is already starting to peel from the shell; this also needs to be removed.
Step-3: Shell-Type Headliner Installation
We weren’t as careful as we should have been when removing the shell from the car and we ended up with this crack going in from the edge of the shell. Survey the shell now for any similar damage. This crack is easily repairable, but shells with extensive damage should be replaced.
Step-4: Shell-Type Headliner Installation
On the top side of the shell, a thin woven material had been bonded to the shell, but had started to peel off. We removed the loose pieces of it. Note how excessive heat radiating from the roof had scorched parts of the woven material. Insulating the roof should prevent this in the future.
Step-5: Shell-Type Headliner Installation
While inspecting the edges of the shell, take note of holes stamped in the shell that allow access to mounting points behind the shell. For instance, this hole permits access to the screw hole for a piece of trim.
Step-6: Shell-Type Headliner Installation
Fortunately, the thin layer of old adhesive peeled straight off the shell, taking the foam residue with it. To avoid damage when peeling adhesives or tapes, and to get as much of the adhesive or tape as possible in one swipe, always hold it 90 degrees to the surface from which you’re peeling it, and pull evenly and without stopping.
Step-7: Shell-Type Headliner Installation
Removing the old adhesive exposes the bare shell. Only the areas around the edges did not easily peel away from the shell, likely due to a combination of heavy amounts of adhesives applied at the factory and constant pressure from the trim that held the headliner in place for decades.
Step-8: Shell-Type Headliner Installation
For those areas that did not peel away, we had to scrub them off the shell with a Scotch-Brite pad. A tire brush or coarse sandpaper also works here, just make sure not to scrub any harder than necessary to avoid damaging the shell underneath.
Step-9: Shell-Type Headliner Installation
Everywhere that we earlier identified some damage around the edges, we used simple tape to reinforce the structural integrity of the shell. We used blue masking tape, but a tape with a stronger adhesive element, such as duct tape, cloth tape, or aluminum-backed tape, would have worked better. The tape in the middle of the shell covers slight gouges that may show through the headliner material.
Step-10: Shell-Type Headliner Installation
The shell underneath one of the sun visors had taken a beating over the years, and a section of it likely ripped off when a previous owner removed the sun visors. We could have left it as it was, but we weren’t sure how the headliner material would fill in the divot left behind.
Step-11: Shell-Type Headliner Installation
To thicken the divot area before we applied the headliner, we cut a piece of corrugated cardboard to fit. We cut out the remaining part of the shell, and traced the hole onto the cardboard.
Step-12: Shell-Type Headliner Installation
With a hole for the center of the sun visor cut, along with Xs cut for the screws, we taped it into place. Sure, it looks a bit rough here, but it’ll all be covered up momentarily.
Step-13: Shell-Type Headliner Installation
The headliner material has about the same fabric as the original headliner material, backed with about 1/4 inch of foam. It is this foam that degrades over time and causes the headliner material to droop away from the backing shell, so order the highest-quality headliner material possible. For most muscle cars 2 yards should be enough.
Step-14: Shell-Type Headliner Installation
We unrolled the headliner material and draped it over the underside of the shell (the side that we’ll see with the headliner in the car). We made sure the headliner material was oriented square to the shell, then folded it in half, back over itself to expose the shell and the foam side of the headliner material.
Step-15: Shell-Type Headliner Installation
Using 3M’s Super Trim Adhesive, we evenly coated both the exposed side of the shell and the exposed foam side of the material. Following the directions on the can (a 19-ounce aerosol can was just enough for this headliner), we sprayed the adhesive back and forth horizontally, then back and forth vertically, before letting it set up for a couple minutes.
Step-16: Shell-Type Headliner Installation
After the adhesive set up, we flipped the material onto the shell, careful to maintain the correct orientation of the material to the shell. We then began pressing the material firmly to the shell with our hands, starting from the center and working our way outward. At the edges, we made sure that the material followed all the contours of the shell.
Step-17: Shell-Type Headliner Installation
With the first half glued down, flip over the other, unglued half of the material and repeat the process. Take care not to crease the centerline on which you’re folding the material; otherwise, the crease will appear in the material and will need to be smoothed out.
Step-18: Shell-Type Headliner Installation
Spend some extra time going around the edges to ensure the headliner flows into the contours and takes on the defined shape of the shell. If necessary, peel back any edges that aren’t as well defined, apply some extra adhesive, and go over those edges again.
Step-19: Shell-Type Headliner Installation
The method by which the factory secured the headliner to the roof determines exactly how you trim the excess material from the headliner. If the edges of the headliner still show when the headliner is installed in the car, leave about 1 inch of material around the edges. If interior trim pieces cover all edges of the headliner, you can trim the material flush with the edges of the shell.
Step-20: Shell-Type Headliner Installation
If you leave material around the edges of the shell, make sure to dart the corners so the material can fold over the edges of the shell.
Step-21: Shell-Type Headliner Installation
Any openings in the headliner, such as the dome lamp opening shown here, should be cut out from the topside of the shell to make sure you don’t cut away too much material. Use a sharp razor blade for clean cuts.
Step-22: Shell-Type Headliner Installation
We ultimately trimmed our material flush with the shell and the dome lamp opening. In the end, the cost of materials totaled no more than $30, and we were able to take this headliner from ugly shell to ready-to-install in about 4 hours. It sure beats pushpins holding up the material, doesn’t it?
Step-23: Shell-Type Headliner Installation
We popped in our finished headliner, which was simply a matter of tucking it into the metal hooks on either side above the door. The dome lamp assists in anchoring the headliner to the roof, as does the trim. The trim also hides the bare edges of the headliner and completes the professional appearance of our newly restored headliner.
Examine the shell for any minor tears, cracks, or gouges. Surface imperfections may cause the new headliner fabric to detach from the shell and prematurely sag. Fortunately, minor surface imperfections are easily repaired with fabric tape or duct tape.
New headliner material should be available at most upholstery supply stores, or even at the fabric stores your wife visits. I ordered this material from Hancock Fabrics, which described it as Alpine style.
Once you’ve finished preparing the shell, spread the material out over the shell in the correct orientation and with the foam backing down, against the shell. Fold the material in half, back over itself, exposing half of the shell and half of the foam backing. Next liberally spray both the shell and the foam backing with trim adhesive or contact cement. For this step, we used 3M’s Super Trim Adhesive.
After letting the adhesive set up, slowly fold the headliner material back over on to the shell, starting from the center and working your way toward the edges, constantly and evenly applying pressure to the material. Working your way outward prevents bubbles from forming between the shell and the foam backing. No tools are necessary for this step, and probably aren’t even desired; using your hands will allow you to press the material into all of the shell’s contours better than any tool.
At the edges of the shell, pay particular attention to any reliefs for the trim and try to make the material conform to those reliefs. Keep smoothing the headliner material until the material both conforms to and remains conformed to the shapes of the shell. If necessary, put your other hand behind the shell to hold it steady as you press from the front.
Once the first half is adequately smoothed, repeat the process for the other half, folding it back over on itself, gluing it, then smoothing it, from the center outward. When both sides have been glued and smoothed and the glue has fully dried, you can start to trim the edges. If the original headliner material folded over the edges, trim the material on the new headliner down to about 1 inch from the shell’s edges, and cut darts at every corner to allow the material to fold over evenly.
At this point you can flip the shell. If folding over the edges, spray both the perimeter of the shell and the headliner material with adhesive, then proceed with folding over. You’ll notice that the material has covered the prepunched holes in the shell for the dome light, the sun visors, and other accessories, so now you’ll have to cut holes in the headliner material from the back side to once again mount those accessories.
Use a sharp razor blade; most of those holes only require a few small radial slits to permit the mounting screws for the accessories to pass through the headliner material. Larger holes—such as for the dome lamp—may require you to cut out sections of headliner material. Just don’t cut away too much.
By the time you’ve trimmed the headliner, it should be ready to go back in to your car. If you take care with your mounting screws, you shouldn’t spot a difference from how the headliner looked when the car was new.
All told, restoring this shell-type headliner (minus the time spent removing and reinstalling it) took about 4 hours, not a bad task for one Saturday afternoon.
Some muscle car guys decide to switch from a bow-type headliner to a shell-type headliner. Doing so certainly offers several advantages— as long as you’re not worried about authenticity, of course—but it also requires a bit of custom work. You first have to come up with a shell, which is the hardest part of the switch. If you can find a modern junkyard shell that can be trimmed to fit in your muscle car, then simply follow the directions above to re-skin the shell in a fabric matching your existing interior and somehow figure out how to secure it to the roof (don’t rely on just the dome lamp and the sun visors to hold it up—try to have your trim involved too).
If you can’t find a suitable junkyard shell, you may just have to create a shell of your own out of fiberglass, taking a mold off the roof skin and adjusting its dimensions to fit inside the car. Flatter, less contoured shells could be made out of simple 1/8-inch luaun. But with a shell-type headliner, you’ll find it easier to add an overhead console, sunroof, or custom designs to your interior.
Most muscle cars are like our 1971 ’Cuda and will have sail panels that cover the inner structure of the C-pillar. The headliner would normally serve this function, except to do so would require the headliner to make several compound curves. Instead, a separate piece is used. Some cars may use molded plastic panels, and for those restorations, see Chapter 2. The rest, however, use thin, molded backing boards covered in the same material used for the headliner. Sound familiar? It should; the process of restoring sail panels is very similar to the process of restoring a shell-type headliner. The same company that provided the headliner material for the ’Cuda, Legendary Interiors, also provided the sail panel material.
The old sail panel material should easily pull away from the backing boards, and all of it should be removed. If the boards are damaged, find a replacement or reproduction board. We removed all traces of the old adhesive from the backing boards with light sanding and cut enough headliner material to overlap the edges of the backing boards by several inches.
We then laid the material on the side of the board that faces the interior, aligned the material so the pattern faced the right direction, then folded it in half to expose half of the backing board and half of the back side of the material. As with the edges of the headliner, we sprayed a liberal amount of contact cement on the board and the material, then gave it about a minute to set up.
Snail Panel Installation
Step-1: Snail Panel Installation
Sail panel restoration is a lot like the shell-type headliner process. We laid reproduction sail panel material out on the ’Cuda’s original sail panel backing boards, folded half of the material over, and sprayed down both sides with adhesive.
Step-2: Snail Panel Installation
With one half glued, we flipped it over and glued the second half. To ensure that the material lays smooth on the backing board, we went over the sail panels again with a roller tool.
Step-3: Snail Panel Installation
We flipped over the sail panel to check it against the other panel and noticed the notch on one edge, which we took into consideration when trimming the panel. As with the original panel, we trimmed the new panel with about 1 inch of overhanging material.
Step-4: Snail Panel Installation
At any curve or corner, we made sure to cut darts. We then sprayed the edges of the back side of the panels with adhesive and folded over the edges. However, we didn’t fold over the leading and trailing edges of the material just yet.
Step-5: Snail Panel Installation
Using the sail panel’s clip as a reference, we located the hole that the clip fits into, then removed the headliner material from around that hole. If the clip or the clip holder in the sail panel is damaged, the sail panel should not be used.
Step-6: Snail Panel Installation
After lining up the clip with its hole, we popped it in with a quick slap from the heel of the palm. Note the body structure component that necessitated the notch we had to cut earlier.
Step-7: Snail Panel Installation
Earlier, we left the leading and trailing edges of the sail panels unglued—for a reason. The panels need more than just that one clip to hold them to the body, so the leading and trailing edges of the material wrap around the quarter-window and rear window channels, respectively.
Step-8: Snail Panel Installation
With those edges glued down, we trimmed any excess material from the window channels.
Once the contact cement set up, we flipped the headliner material back onto the backing board and began to gently press the material against the board, starting from the center and working toward the edges, smoothing any wrinkles or bubbles in the material. Once we removed all the wrinkles, we went over the glued area with a small roller. Once that half was dry, we pulled back the unglued half and repeated the process.
With both sides glued and smoothed, we flipped the sail panel over, trimmed the excess material down to a couple inches, and sprayed both the edges of the backing board and the excess material with more contact cement. While letting the contact cement set up, we cut darts into the loose material around the corners, then folded the loose material over the top and bottom edges of the backing board, leaving loose material hanging over the the front and rear edges.
Once the contact cement had all dried, we were then able to pop the sail panel into place, where it bridged the gap between the ’Cuda’s headliner and the rear side panel. The overhanging material at the front and rear edges of the sail panel were hit with a spray of glue, then darted and folded over the edges of the quarter-window and rear window openings.
You’ll notice a world of difference in your interior after addressing your carpet, headliner, and sail panels. Sure, they’re ambitious projects, particularly the bow-type headliner, so don’t expect to do them all in one day, especially on your first attempt.
If you find yourself handing the whole job over to a professional, they do advise that you can save them time and thus yourself money by at least prepping the interior: removing and cleaning the trim, ordering the correct headliner, and cleaning out mouse nests and other debris. But unlike recalibrating gauges or building a thermo-vacuum chamber, these tasks can be accomplished by any home restorer with a bit of time and effort.
Written by Daniel Strohl and Posted with Permission of CarTechBooks