Fix Your Saggy Headliner!!

My daily ride is a 1983 Pontiac Parisienne. I’m a sucker for B-Body GM cars. The Parisienne is my third, preceded by an ’82 LeSabre and an ’87 Electra Estate Wagon. They’re cheap to buy, cheap to run and cheap to fix. But if they have one Achilles heel, it’s the shell-type headliner that came in most cars from the era.

After years of the sun baking the football field-sized roof, the foam backing on the headliner material disintegrates, leaving the material itself drooping down on your bald pate like a 14 year old girl’s canopy bed.

An upholstery shop can fix it, but the cost runs between $300 and $500, roughly a quarter of what I paid for the whole car. Yeah, not happening.

Thankfully, my buddy Dan Strohl wrote a book called Muscle Car Interior Restoration Guide that explained the whole process.

I spent the evening last night taking off the trim and the dome light, which allowed access to four plastic clips that hold the headliner in place. .After removing those, the whole styrofoam shell drops down. The trickiest part is getting that big shell out of the car. You can bend it a little but just don’t try folding it in half or anything.

I spent an hour scrubbing the old foam off the shell with a stiff whitewall brush, then one of those medium grade foam sanding blocks for drywall. I also used duct tape to tape together any broken pieces of the shell. The area around where the visors mount was particularly fragile.

This is the remains of the foam underneath the headliner fabric.

I got the material and the adhesive from Five yards of material was about twice as much as I needed, but i figured that since this was the first time I was doing it, I was better safe than sorry. I bought two cans of special headliner adhesive, which was exactly enough, down to the last ounce.

I cut a piece large enough to cover the whole shell, then I folded half of it over on itself. I sprayed the shell first, up and down, side to side, then diagonally so I could be sure I covered it all. Then I did the same with the foam side of the headliner.

I overlapped the shell by at least two inches on either side.

The instructions on the can say to let the adhesive dry until it’s tacky which took about two minutes. Once tacky, I laid the headliner over the coated side of the shell and smoothed it out with my hand. It adhered instantly without a trace of bubbling. When I finished that side, I simply repeated the process on the other end of the headliner.

I sprayed a good coat of adhesive on both the shell and the headliner.

After I let the whole magilla set long enough to have a grilled cheese sandwich and a beer, I reinstalled the shell in the car, after I’d cut the holes for the visors, the dome light and the coathooks in the back.

The finished product, with the hole cut for the dome light.

The whole process took maybe three hours, and that includes taking photographs. My cost? $64.99 including shipping, and now I don’t feel like I’m sitting inside the tent Mohamar Quadafi built outside the UN last year.

Buttoned up. Now the visors look really shabby. I've got enough material to cover those, too.


Muscle Car Interior Restoration Guide


About Craig Fitzgerald

Craig Fitzgerald is an automotive writer, photographer and editor with credits in Hemmings Motor New, the Boston Globe, Forbes, the Washington Post, Esquire and
This entry was posted in DIY, Vintage Cars and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Fix Your Saggy Headliner!!

  1. Tony Cerulle says:

    I was just going to say to do the visors you hack….

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