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1966-1967 Ford Thunderbird
Contoured Headliner Repair

How to remove and repair that sagging vinyl headliner

ABOUT THE MOLDED HEADLINER PANELS

Image: 1966 Ford Thunderbird Town model contoured headlinerThe 1966 Thunderbird Town Hardtop and Town Landau models, as well as the 1967 Thunderbird Tudor Hardtop and Tudor Landau used a contoured headliner and roof console overhead. The molded fiberboard panels were originally in two pieces, with foam glued to the underside of the panels and a Moon crater textured vinyl glued to the foam. When new, this gave Thunderbird interiors a very clean, spacious elegance that really stood out. After about 6-7 years, the vinyl on the panels began to shrink due to heat and the glue holding it to the foam separating, allowing the vinyl material to sag. The original vinyl material cannot be used again, even if it's in good condition as it has indeed shrunk and there was no extra material around the edges originally.

This material was used on most Ford Motor Company vehicles during the late sixties, so it is still available, and the colors used from one car line to another by Ford were the same, so you can find it in most of the original shades as well. When determining how much material you need, be sure to allow 4-5 inches extra on all sides, as the contoured shape of the panels requires more material than you might think. It's always better to have a little more than you need rather than not enough.

We recommend you read this entire article before you begin, and please allow plenty of time. This will likely take the better part of a day to do, plus the 24 hour curing time before installation.

MATERIALS NEEDED

- Moon crater vinyl to cover two panels (see 1966 Thunderbird Headliner or 1967 Thunderbird Headliner for correct colors for your interior)
- Flat sturdy work area large enough to accommodate the panels
- Phillips head screw driver
- Heavy duty scissors or very sharp straight edge blade to trim off excess vinyl
- Adhesive to bond new vinyl to repaired and prepped boards (to buy, see Shop Online below)
- Paint brush* to apply contact cement if that's the adhesive you choose for your repair
- Lacquer thinner* for brush if you choose to use contact cement to bond vinyl to panels
- Fiberglass resin or POR-15 to seal coat panels (to buy, see Shop Online below)
- Fiberglass cloth to repair broken panels and strengthen weak areas (to buy, see Shop Online below)
- Newspapers to protect work area
- A helper to provide assistance during removal, gluing, and installation

*Optional, depending on choice of adhesive

REMOVAL

To remove the headliner panels, see if you can locate a helper to make the job easier. These panels are quite fragile, and you really do need a couple of extra hands and arms for this job. Start by removing the metal interior trim moldings. Be careful, as the paint on them is easily scratched. Also, make sure to keep track of the length of the screws as you remove them. Ford used several different sizes on these moldings, and they will need to go back in where they were removed. The inside rear quarter trim panels will need to come out as well. Once the roof moldings are removed, the trim panels are held in place with clips. Peek behind them looking toward the rear of the car, and you'll see the clips. Remove them carefully, as the clips can be torn out of the backside of the trim panels instead of popping out of the metal roof structure if you are too rough with them.

On the '66 and '67 models with the overhead warning lights, the front section of the roof console is held in place with four screws. Two in the front where the sun visors attach to the roof console, and two near each rear corner. Remove the rear screws first, and support the console while removing the front screws. The wiring for the warning lights must be unplugged, and if you're not careful, the plastic piece on the back of the emergency flasher switch on '66s might come off (it's just snapped in place) as the wiring for the flashers is attached to this piece. The rear section has four screws, two in the front and two in the rear, then it slides forward about half an inch or so and once the tabs on the console clear the roof support it can be removed. (It will be easier to understand once you've seen how it's attached to the roof panel support.) You need to use caution when removing the rear section of the roof console, as you may damage the molded headliner panels on either side, or they could fall down when the rear section of the console is removed.

Since it's likely most of these cars have already had the headliner panels worked on at some point in their life, you can't be certain they were reinstalled properly. The molded headliner panels sit on tabs along the roof rail, and there were originally two clips holding each in place in the back. If the clips are still holding the panel in place, be very careful when you remove the panels as it's very easy to damage them at this point.

WORK AREA

Remove the panels from the car and place them on a clean, flat surface that's sturdy (no folding card tables, please.) If you have a couple of sawhorses, a thick piece of plywood can be placed on top of them to create a good solid work area, or place them on your garage floor if that's the best you can do. The area must be large enough to support the entire panel, you don't want a lot of overhang without any support. Remove any original vinyl that might still be in place. You may need to remove stitching, buttons, or any number of other things from a previous repair, as we've seen some very interesting modifications over the years.

MOLDED PANEL PREPARATION

The next thing you need to do is remove all traces of the original foam padding from the panels. This foam, even if it appears to be in good shape, WILL NOT WORK and must be removed. It is already saturated with the original glue from the factory, and has begun to decompose. We promise if you do not remove all of it, you will not be happy with the finished job. If the new vinyl does stick to the foam, it won't for long and you'll be pulling the panels out again. It will take you a while to get all the foam off the panels. Take your time, and make sure every bit of it is removed. Don't use anything metal or abrasive. Often you can start at one corner and rub it in one direction until you get to the opposite end. Be patient and do not rush this part of the repair. You will likely create some rough areas doing this, but they will be taken care of later.

Once all the old foam has been removed, the panels need to be sealed due to the fiberboard decaying and flaking off. Sealing it will stop this process. Any cracked or broken areas must be reinforced as well. There are two ways to go about this:

1. The first option is to coat all sides of the panel with fiberglass resin. Use fiberglass cloth to add strength and support in weak or broken areas. Depending on how bad the panel is, you may need to reinforce the back side of the panel as well (remove the outer paper layer in this area first). The panels will soak up the fiberglass resin, and when dry can be smoothed out using a power sander to achieve a smooth surface.

2. Another way is to use POR-15 (the rust repair paint) to coat the panels. The panels also soak this up, and will require several coats. Once the coating has had the chance to set up, you can use body filler to repair any severely damaged areas, as well as fiberglass cloth for strength and additional support in weak areas. Do this on the back side as well if necessary, making sure to remove the outer paper layer first. You can use a grinder or sander on the POR-15 once it's set up, and basically treat the headliner panels the same as you would an exterior body panel being prepped for paint.

Once you have a smooth surface on the interior side of the panels, you're ready for the next step. The surface doesn't need to be as smooth as if it were going to be painted, as the vinyl material will hide small imperfections, but the (We have found that panels in relatively good shape, which are completely intact and with no missing pieces or breaks do fine using step #1 above. It's the fastest of the two repairs, and provides a good finished surface for the new vinyl material. Step #2 is best for panels that are more severely damaged, or have been handled many times before. It takes longer to complete, but the end result should be satisfactory. The amount of time you spend prepping the panels to provide a smooth inner surface is directly related to the appearance of the finished installed product.)

CHOOSING THE RIGHT ADHESIVE

The next step is to decide what type of adhesive to use in adhere the new vinyl to the repaired panels. There are different opinions about what works best. Some insist contact cement is best. If you decide to use this, get a name brand product and make sure it's the strongest they offer, if there's a choice. You'll want to buy it in a can and you'll need an inexpensive paint brush to apply it with. Make sure to have some lacquer thinner available as well, along with a container large enough to accommodate the paint brush. (Contact cement begins to set up quickly, and the brush will need to be put in the lacquer thinner to prevent it from getting bonded as well!) Others insist automotive trim adhesives in a spray can are the way to go. 3M makes several different products. If you choose this route, be sure to get the "super" or "heavy duty" trim adhesive made for vinyl roof applications, and not the lightweight stuff intended for fabrics.

BONDING THE NEW VINYL TO THE PANELS

Now you're ready to begin bonding the vinyl to the panels. A second set of hands is STRONGLY RECOMMENDED at this point. Protect the surface you're working on with multiple layers of newspaper or something that can be thrown away when you're done. Secure it so it can't slip or slide around. Cut your new vinyl material, carefully allowing for extra on all sides. It's better to have extra that needs to be trimmed off the sides later, rather than cut it too short now. The directions on the adhesive you've chosen will likely advise you to coat both surfaces and allow a period of time for them to dry before applying a second coat. After the second coat, you may be advised to either wait again before assembling, or to do it immediately. Since you're working with a rather large section of vinyl, and it's important that it be positioned properly, YOU DO NOT WANT TO COAT THE ENTIRE PIECE OF VINYL MATERIAL AT ONE TIME. You must work in sections. We recommend tending to each panel separately, one at a time. After first coating one of the contoured panels and waiting the amount of time advised by the adhesive manufacturer between first and second coats, you'll want to start applying the adhesive to the vinyl material. Lay the vinyl face down next to the panel, and working from the end of the panel molded for the sun visors, coat about a foot or so of the vinyl with the adhesive. Again, follow the directions provided by the manufacturer as to wait time and number of coats applied.

When ready to bond, begin in the CENTER of the panel in the sun visor area. Allow the center of the vinyl to contact the center of the panel, and slowly work from the center out laying down the vinyl and smoothing it out. Firmly rub the vinyl in a circular motion to make sure the layers of adhesive on both surfaces are in good contact. If at any time, you feel there's an area that isn't bonding well, pull the material back, apply more adhesive to both surfaces, let it get tacky, and then rebond. Be certain the vinyl is straight, even though there isn't a defined pattern to this particular material, you still want it to be straight as it will make a difference once installed. Once this critical first positioning and bonding has been done, fold the vinyl back over itself and coat the next foot or so with adhesive, and repeat the process, always beginning in the center and working your way down the panel, making sure the material closest to the section that has already been bonded is smoothed out first. Continue working in sections until you've reached the bottom or rear edge of the panel. Try not to get any of the adhesive on the face of the vinyl material, as it can be very difficult to remove. Repeat this process on the second panel. Do not worry about cutting off any excess vinyl at this point. Allow both panels remain face up for a minimum of 24 hours before installation back into the car.

INSTALLATION

When ready to install the panels, carefully cut the material even with the edge of the molded panel. If your panels were still retained by the two four clips above the rear window, it's probably best to not try using them again. The rear section of the roof console and the rear window moldings will provide enough support. Other than that, two people are needed to do the installation, and just reverse the removal directives above to complete the process. Take your time, and realize that surfaces adjoining the panels may fit a bit tighter due to the increased thickness of the panels. Don't force anything and be patient, as it seems nothing ever goes back together exactly the way it came apart, and that certainly applies in this instance as well.

THE END RESULT

The finished panels will differ from the originals in that they will not have the slightly padded effect the originals had. It was that thin layer of foam padding between the vinyl and fiberboard that contributed greatly to the failure of the original adhesive. To date, Automotive Mileposts has not been completely satisfied with the longevity of repaired panels where a thin layer of foam has been used to replicate the original padded effect. Even with today's superior foam materials, they all seem somewhat susceptible to breaking down after being saturated with the various solvents in adhesives. This is not exactly a fun job, and since most are not interested in repeating it again, the best way to ensure a more permanent repair is to eliminate the troublesome foam layer.

Even today, people are amazed by the beauty overhead in the 1966 and 1967 Thunderbirds with contoured headliners. They really were quite the thing back in their day, and this distinctive touch is just one more reason why Thunderbird has always been unique in all the world.

SHOP ONLINE

Image: 3M Super Trim Adhesive
3M Yellow Super Trim Adhesive - 19 oz. Spray Can

This contact adhesive is designed for use in high heat areas and provides a strong bond.

Image: Fiberglass Repair Kit
Fiberglass Repair Kit (Small)

This kit contains polyester resin (8 ounces), methyl ethyl ketone hardner (.20 ounces), plastic spreader, and fiberglass mat (3 square feet)