Headliner Replacement

by Dyer Lytle

I installed a new headliner in my '66 standard microbus. It was a lot of work but the results look good and I am pleased.

In the beginning I took the bus to an upholstery shop and got a quote of $550 to replace the headliner. That seemed a little steep so I ordered a headliner from Wolfsberg West where I do most of my mail-order business. (about $150, this includes a few yards of extra headliner material for recovering the rear panels, doing the window surrounds, etc.)

There were a number of peripheral projects associated with the headliner replacement. These were included because in order to replace the headliner I had to remove most of the interior panels as well as all the (6) pop-out windows. (I didn't replace the headliner material over the windshields because it still looks good, but if I had, I would have had to take the windshields out too.) These associated projects were:

1. Replace the rubber seals around the pop-out windows.
2. Repair one of the mounts for one of the pop-out window's latch.
3. Install sound deadening material in various places behind panels.
4. Insulate the roof (under the headliner) and the walls.
5. Repair the original interior panels as much as possible.

I also had to replace the headliner material around the pop-out windows as well as recover the upper panels on the sides of the rear cargo area but I consider this part of the headliner installation.

I started by pulling the pop-out windows out of the cargo doors and replacing the headliner material that surrounds those windows (on the inside). I found that the best way to apply the headliner material to the upper part of the inside of these doors was to cut a rectangular piece of headliner material larger then I thought I needed and glue this flat against the metal inside the door, covering the window. I let the glue dry before I continued. Then I cut a hole in the middle leaving enough material around the edges to come to the edge of the window hole when glued. (I used something called "Automotive GOOP" for this, I don't think it is the best possible glue but it worked and the contact cement I tried sort of melted the perforated vinyl.) Then very carefully working with a razor blade and glue I fit the edges around the window and the outside edges that wrap around to the edges of the door, some of which tuck under the door rubber and some of which have special metal hold-down flanges.

While waiting for glue to dry I did things like clean out the old window rubber from the pop out frames and install new rubber. I only replaced the seal around the outside of the window frame and the seal around the body hole, I didn't replace the seal between the window frame and glass because mine didn't look too bad. The seals that fit in the groove around the outside edge of the window frames were hard as rock and had to be dug out with a small screwdriver little by little. Putting in the new seals took all of 60 seconds.

Once I had the material around the windows of the cargo doors finished, I reinstalled the windows, added sound deadening and insulating material and put the door panels back on.

Next it was time to do the main headliner. I followed the instructions in the Bentley manual for removing the headliner carefully observing how the various parts of the edge of the headliner were installed. The only part that I didn't disassemble was the rear part of the headliner which I had torn out previously when I removed the air-conditioner that was installed on the roof over then engine and welded up the holes in the roof. This part of the installation was, fortunately, fairly obvious.

Under the old headliner there had been some insulation mats glued to the steel roof of the vehicle. They had all fallen off and were sitting on top of the old headliner when I disassembled it. I decided it would be good to install some good insulation up there before I installed the new headliner. (The stock insulation pads were thin and insubstantial.) I found some insulation at the local auto supply store that was about 3/4 inch thick mat with a layer of silver mylar (space blanket type stuff) on one side. Two rolls of this, each about 4 feet by 6 feet, was about right to cover the roof between the roof reinforcement rails. I used 3M contact cement, about a half gallon of it, to cement this insulation, mylar side facing down, into the vehicle, onto the underside of the roof.

Before I installed the new headliner, I had to replace the window surround material for the pop-out window behind the cargo doors as well as for the three pop-out windows on the driver's side of the cargo area. The most difficult part about this was applying the large piece of headliner material that goes around all three driver's side windows and wraps around the post behind the driver's door. I put this large piece of material up by first using clothes-pins to pin it up at the top hanging from the roof ledge and then starting in the middle and gluing out toward the edges. Once the material was glued flat to the wall of the bus I worked on each window individually, doing the procedure outlined above for the cargo door. (I found it very handy to have some spring clamps and clothes-pins for this project.)

Some time during all of the above, I recovered the panels that go on the sides of the rear cargo area (behind the spare tire and above the fuel filler area). The old material peeled off the panels easily and I then sprayed the bare panels with 3M spray adhesive and rolled new pieces of headliner material onto the panels. Finally I cut around the edges and glued them around and to the back of the panels. (You also need to locate the various screw holes and poke holes for the screws, I did this by just screwing a screw into the hole.)

Cutting the listings. The folds in the new headliner where the metal rods go through are called listings or lists in an auto upholstery book I have and these must be cut near both ends to allow the metal rods to go through. The position of the cut affects the way the headliner is supported. Too close to the edge and the headliner is pulled up too much near that edge. Too far from the edge and the headliner will sag near that edge. What I did was look carefully at where the lists had been cut on the old headliner and cut the new ones in the same positions, this worked out quite well although I did have to adjust the lists on the front (short) rods a little.

Next I inserted the metal rods and hung the headliner in the car. It turned out that it was fairly self supporting even before I began installing the edges. The sequence I used for installing the edges of the headliner was the following:

1. Install the headliner edges on both sides of the cargo area. This involves inserting the plastic strips sewn into the edges of the headliner into the grooves above the windows and cargo doors and then stuffing the plastic pipeing material back in between the top of the wall and the headliner.

2. Attach the back end of the headliner. This involves inserting the one medium length metal rod into its listing and hooking the rod over the hooks along the bottom of the rear-most roof beam and then inserting the cardboard strip into the slot above the back cargo door and bending that slot down tight. This took a bit of stretching and it would be better to have two people do it but I was able to do it by myself.

3. Install the cardboard strips along both sides of the front of the headliner and the cardboard strips along both sides of the fresh air vent behind the appropriate metal tabs and bend the tabs down tight. This also involved some stretching.

About this time I began heating the headliner to remove wrinkles and to allow the headliner to begin assuming its final shape. I think a hair dryer or heat gun would be best for this but I didn't have one so I used my white-gas-fueled Coleman heater. It is a convection heater with a dome shaped top and I just held it up under the headliner until the headliner got warm enough to get soft and stretch out. This was fun and it looked like magic as the headliner sort of "flowed" into shape. Next I did the following:

4. Glue the headliner into position on the sides of the rear cargo area. This part of the headliner edge doesn't have plastic or cardboard strips and it just glues to the metal tabs on each side in front of the rear door hinges. Here is where the spring clamps and clothes-pins come in very handy, I used the "Automotive GOOP" and just clamped the material into position until the glue dried.

5. Glue the front of the headliner to the roof behind where the sun visors go. There are two small panels here that had to be removed when I removed the old headliner. I glued the new headliner into position and then screwed these panels back into position to hold the headliner while the glue dried. Then you have to cover these panels with headliner material and re-install them. (Then reinstall the sun visors.)

6. Glue the headliner into the back of the fresh air vent and then reinstall the fresh air vent grill.

7. Reinstall the rear passenger dome light. I found it quite easy to feel where the wire and bolt holes were through the headliner and to cut small x's over them with a razor blade and then hook things back up.

That was about it, I heated parts of the headliner a little more to got it all settled down and smooth. Then I reinstalled some of the interior panels after adding sound deadening and insulation materials. Looks good!

Tools used.
I found that a nice new brake tool that I bought at Sears and that doesn't even fit through the brake adjusting hole on my bus to be great for bending out the little metal tabs when removing the headliner and for stuffing cardboard strips and material into various slots when installing the new headliner.
Utility knife, box cutter (razor blade), scissors, for cutting material.
Contact cement, spray glue, GOOP
Spring clamps, clothes-pins
A rubber hammer and short piece of wood (1" x 1") for tapping metal tabs closed.
Various screwdrivers and wrenches for removing and installing panels and hardware.

Heat source: I used a Coleman space heater.

With the old headliner the front half of the headliner was made of solid vinyl with dots drawn on it to make it look like perforated vinyl. The rear half of the old headliner was made of real perforated vinyl. The new headliner I got from Wolfsberg West uses perforated vinyl throughout.

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