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Thread: Installing headliners in 47-52 cars

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    Installing headliners in 47-52 cars

    Major Steps

    1. History and Discussion
    2. Tools Required
    3. Marking and Prepping the Bows
    4. Marking and Prepping the Alligator Teeth
    5. Prepping the Headliner
    6. Initial Headliner Install
    7. Rear Window Technique
    8. Windshield Technique
    9. Windlace and Alligator Teeth Technique
    10. Completion of Installation
    11. Thoughts for Improving the Technique

    History and Discussion
    There has been a widespread belief for years that the windows must be removed before the headliner can be installed in 1947-1952 Starlight coupes. This belief probably came about because that’s the way the factory did it. But anyone who has removed and reinstalled the rear windows in a Starlight coupe knows that it is not a job for the faint of heart. In my opinion, if the rubber is usable and the windows are not cracked, there is no good reason to remove and reinstall them. Back in the late 70s, I installed two headliners. One was in a 1950 Commander Regal and the other in a 1951 Champion Custom. Not wishing to remove the rear windows, I developed this technique, so I know it works. The 1950 Commander is long gone but the 1951 Champion is still in my stable and the headliner is still intact and solid. There may be some slight gaps in my memory, given this almost 40-year lapse, but this is what I recall.

    Tools Required
    - Caulking gun
    - Two caulking cartridges of clear silicone seal (AKA RTV) NOT silicone II
    - Staple gun
    - Screw drivers
    - Grease pencil
    - Headliner installation tool – a short stiff putty knife with all of the sharp edges rounded off and the corners rounded off and everything smoothed, no burrs. You can also use a large butter knife if it is perfectly smooth. There may even be such a tool as a headliner installation tool in the specialty parts catalog, but there was no such dedicated tool back in the 70s when I did mine.

    Marking and Prepping the Bows
    The bows must be smooth and rust free. The barnacles of rust will tear the headliner and rust itself will stain the headliner eventually so the bows must be smooth. They can be sanded, they can wire brushed, or they can be chemically stripped. Then they must be coated with rust preventative compounds such of POR-15 or other similar rust preventative paints.

    The bows must be marked before they are removed from the car because each bow is unique and must be reinstalled in its correct position.

    Marking and Prepping the Alligator Teeth
    Remove the alligator teeth from around the door opening. Wire brush or chemically strip to remove all rust. Using a screwdriver or a pair of pliers, move the teeth a little outward so they have a slightly more aggressive bite. Coat the teeth with the same POR-15 or other rust containment compound that you used on the bows.

    Prepping the Headliner
    Find a large, clean space to lay out the headliner. Now would be a good time to iron the headliner if you wish, but do NOT steam it. Lay the headliner out folded in the long direction so that your left side of the headliner is the front of the car and your right side of the headliner is the rear of the car, as you view it. Fold it exactly in half so that the side edges exactly match each other. On the fold, take a scissors and put a small snip in the very ends of the fold on the front and the rear of the headliner such that when you open the headliner up there is a tiny, little V shape cut that locates the exact center of the headliner.

    Initial Headliner Install
    Install the windlace on the tacking strips using a staple gun. Install the alligator teeth.
    Hang the headliner on the bows and install the bows in the car.

    Rear Window Technique
    Using the notch that you cut in the headliner, center the headliner from side to side. Note how much excess headliner material there is and do NOT cut off the excess headliner material. Roll the excess headliner material downward and towards you until the roll matches the edge of the window rubber. Using the headliner installation tool, shove that roll into the space between the rubber and the car body. Do it all the way around the rear window, keeping it as wrinkle free as possible. Load the caulking gun with the caulking cartridge and cut the tip of the cartridge off so that the opening is about the diameter of a pencil.

    What you are going to do is start at the very bottom edge of the rear window. I like to go from my right to my left, but you can go either direction, depending on your preference. Put the cartridge tip in between the rubber and the headliner. Moving from the right to left, move the tip of the gun while you are squeezing it all the way around the rear window. If you run the cartridge empty before you have gone all the round the window, mark that spot on the window with a grease pencil. And do NOT pull the cartridge out at that point. Continue running the cartridge all the way round the window to the bottom other side, before you pull the cartridge out.

    The danger is if you pull the cartridge out somewhere in the middle of the run you can trail some RTV onto the headliner where it will be very difficult to remove and it will show. If you ran out, insert the new cartridge where you marked the window and begin squeezing the trigger again, moving the cartridge in the same direction to finish the job around the window.

    Now comes the most difficult part. The RTV will take from two days to a week to cure and harden. During that time, you MUST leave the headliner alone. Do NOT touch it. Do NOT try to remove wrinkles. Do NOT steam it. Just leave it alone until it dries. For those of us with OCD this will be a very painful period, but you MUST let the RTV cure before continuing.

    Windshield Technique
    My memory may be faulty, but I think that the windshield part of the headliner goes between the rubber and the metal window frames.

    Windlace and Alligator Teeth Technique
    The windlace should already be installed. The alligator teeth should already be attached to the door frame opening. After the RTV on the rear window and the windshield have both been completely cured, trim the headliner sides to about an inch overlap over the alligator teeth and push the headliner between the alligator teeth and the windlace with the headliner installation tool.

    Completion of Installation
    After this is finished, you can get any wrinkles out of the headliner by steaming it.

    The 1951 Champion did not have a dome light so there was no concern there. The 1950 Commander did have a dome light and my recollection is that after the RTV had cured I cut an x-shaped opening for the dome light and glued the headliner to the dome light socket with contact adhesive. But my memory may be faulty.

    Thoughts for Improving the Technique
    While writing this instruction, a few ideas came to mind for improving the ease of this technique. Essentially, the RTV forms a seal between the rolled up headliner and the window rubber, keeping the headliner from loosening or slipping out. The difficulties of this technique are that spilled or misplaced RTV can stain the headliner, judging how much RTV to put into that space is difficult, the whole process requires a very steady hand and there is a long waiting time for the RTV to cure before the job can be completed. It may be possible to substitute some other substance for the RTV. If one were to use the naked foam core from the windlace center and press that into the space between the headliner and the window rubber, could that work? Is it possible that medical grade silicon tubing can be found in the right size and could that be place between the headliner and the window rubber? The characteristics of the alternate materials are that they have the right amount of elasticity, that they will maintain their elasticity/compressibility, and that they are not slippery. The advantages of an alternate material are quicker installation, no possibility of staining the headliner, and if a mistake is made, the material can be removed and reworked in real time. The disadvantages of this new material are that it must not be so stiff that it deforms the window rubber, it must be stiff enough that it holds the headliner in place and it must maintain its characteristics through the various heat and cold cycles to which automotive parts are subjected.
    Last edited by RadioRoy; Today at 08:02 PM.
    RadioRoy, specializing in AM/FM conversions with auxiliary inputs for iPod/satellite/CD player. In the old car radio business since 1985.

    17A-S2 - 50 Commander convertible
    10G-C1 - 51 Champion starlight coupe
    10G-Q4 - 51 Champion business coupe
    4H-K5 - 53 Commander starliner hardtop
    5H-D5 - 54 Commander Conestoga wagon
    56B-D4 - 56 Commander station wagon
    60V-L6 - 60 Lark convertible

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