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Installing a new vinyl headliner on a 1968-79 Bus
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howwil is offline 

PostPosted: Thu Jun 25, 2015 5:24 pm    Post subject: Installing a new vinyl headliner on a 1968-79 Bus Reply with quote

After trying and failing once at the task of installing a new headliner on a restored Bus, I succeeded nicely on the second try. Considering the days spent figuring out the details, sharing them seemed like the right thing to do. I have no photos or video to show, only instructions. There may be shortcuts that others can provide; I don't claim to be the last word on this. Feedback is welcome. I can speak only of the standard-issue perforated vinyl headliner, not the velour type. Finally, if you are planning to insulate the roof of your van, look ahead to step #18 in the directions FIRST, before you do anything else.

Items needed:
1 new headliner
putty knife
X-Acto knife with a curved 2" blade
10-12 metal 2" binder clips (available at a stationery store)
1 tube yellow weatherstrip cement
small 3"-4" block of wood

(1) Headliner installation is better done on a warm day when the material is more pliable. Installation is also best when the windshield has been removed, as the final step in the process involves tucking the last of the vinyl under the windshield rubber. It won't be easy to do this if the windshield is still in place.

(2) I will not endorse any particular provider of headliners, but when you buy one, pick it up in person if possible. TMI is the most common supplier. If you cannot pick it up in person, insist that the dealer send it rolled up, NOT folded. Why not? Folding headliners is like folding paper. It develops permanent creases. Can a flatiron or heat gun or hair dryer get rid of a crease in a piece of paper? No - it will always show, and the same holds for headliners. No matter how tightly you stretch the final product during installation, those creases will remain and be visible because the headliner has been pre-stretched at that point. True, vinyl has more of a "memory" than paper does, but when a headliner has been folded up tight and shipped X number of miles and the box has been banged around by the shipper, there are effects. The only flaws in my own project are exactly at those points where the vinyl was folded up tightly in the box.

(3) Make sure all the metal tabs around the inner roofline (back and sides) are bent slightly outward equally and that they are free of all traces of the old headliner. Use the putty knife to do the bending, if needed.

(4) Sit in the rearmost part of the Bus or pickup, facing the front. The end of the headliner (from now on, I'll call it the "HL") with the long hard plastic strip gets tucked into the tabs on the rear roofline. Spread the whole HL over your head and loosely toss it to the front of the bus. The HL will now be draped over your head like a sheet. Using both hands, center the plastic strip carefully and tuck it into the rear set of tabs. It should snap into place, more or less, leaving no plastic that is not enclosed by the tabs.

(5) Get out of the bus and prepare the metal bows. There should be 2" thin rubber sleeves to slip on their ends, but if you don't have these, you might make do with equivalent-sized thin-walled vacuum caps that fit tightly over the ends of the bows. Look at the bows, and line them up. You should find that one of the bows is shorter than the others by an inch or so. The shortest bow is the one that goes at the front. Don't mix these up. This is true for Buses as well as Pickups.

(6) Slide each bow through a pocket on the top side of the HL. The pockets are the looped lengths of fabric that cause the HL to hang. Remember that the shortest bow goes into the frontmost pocket.

(7) Starting from the back, you will now be inserting the ends of the bows into the channels on the right and left under the roof. Before you start inserting, place your fingers into these channels. You will feel two vertical levels of channel - the outer one is higher, the inner one is lower. The bow ends must be anchored in the INNER, LOWER channel, not the higher one, or you will find your HL hangs like a shower curtain. You don't want that. You may notice that this lower channel contains the part of the wiring harness that services the dome light and rear defroster. Don't let that fool you - you need to raise that part of the harness and get it out of the way to accommodate the HL bow ends. Using one hand on each bow end, pull the HL section forward and carefully insert both ends of the bow into the channel. This will require exerting slight tension on the bow. Then repeat for each bow further forward. Don't worry if the sections aren't fully stretched forward yet. Just get each section reasonably stretched so that the bows are approximately where they should be. If the forward bows buckle and pivot downward while you're working on a bow further back, don't worry there, either - you really only need to be concerned with the bow you are installing now.

(Cool Reaching under the HL with your fingers, grab hold of the ends of the rearmost bow and push it forward as far as you can, keeping all of it upright as much as possible. You should feel the center of the bow scraping slightly against the roof. This first section of HL should tighten up and though you may see some wrinkling at the sides, there should be no wrinkling in the center. Now, move forward to the next bow and repeat the process: grab bow ends and push bow forward, making sure the bow is upright and wedged against the roof. Keep repeating this process until you have reached the front of the bus. Then, get outside the bus (windshield is OUT), and grasp the front edge of the HL at center and pull it tight. (If any of the bows toward the front have pivoted downward, this should swing them upright again.) Take a binder clip and clip it to the lip (i.e., the pinch weld) on the windshield frame. Take another binder clip, pull the vinyl forward to tighten it a bit, and clip that next to the first clip. Keep pulling gently and attaching the clips alternately on the left and right until virtually all the headliner hangs successfully by itself and has no wrinkles or loose spots at the center (don't worry about the sides yet).

(9) Now you can check your work. Get to the back of the bus, raise your hands, and run your fingers laterally along the first HL seam, pushing upward as you do so. Do you feel the outline of the metal bow aligning with the seam? If not, carefully reach under the HL on the right and left, grab the bow ends with your thumbs or index fingers as levers, and push the upper part of the bow forward or backward till it lines up with the seam. Check once more that the bow ends are anchored in the inner channels of the roof weld.

(10) You now have an in-place HL with just the ragged sides hanging down. The next task is to trim the vinyl at the sides so that you can stuff about 1/2"-2/3" of vinyl under the remaining tabs, moving from back to front. However, you won't know how much to trim until you make sure that there are no wrinkles running from side to side. With the back of your hands, gently push the vinyl from the center outward, finally grabbing the loose ends and pulling on them on both sides to see if you can eliminate all wrinkles. If you can do this, fine - then take a scissors and carefully cut the vinyl, leaving that 1/2"-2/3" to stuff under the metal tabs. Cut less at first - you can always trim a bit more later. Using the putty knife (making sure it has no sharp edges), carefully stuff the vinyl ends under the tabs in the rearmost section of HL. As you stuff it, you will achieve a bit more tension on the HL. Then, move forward and repeat the process for the remaining sections.

(11) What if you can't get rid of the wrinkles even when you tighten the ends of the vinyl as much as you can? I was able to solve this problem using the X-Acto knife. The problem was that the pockets (loops) were slightly longer than they should have been. Pull on the edge of the vinyl at the seam and look underneath to where the bow exits from the pocket. Take the X-Acto knife, reach under the HL and cut JUST A LITTLE BIT - maybe only 1/4" at first - of the pocket where it meets the bow on the left side of the roof, then on the right side. This makes the pocket a bit shorter and enables more stretching of the HL. Now try pulling the vinyl laterally on both sides. Are the wrinkles gone, and is there a clean, rounded sweep from one side of the HL to the other? Good - then you can trim the edges with your scissors and stuff the edges under the tabs. If you still see wrinkling, and if the HL seems to square off slightly as it curves downward, you may need to cut a bit more from the pocket. When the wrinkling is gone, you can proceed to the next HL section.

(12) When you have stuffed all the vinyl into the tabs, you'll be just a few inches from the windshield. Standing outside the van with the scissors in hand and leaving the binder clips in place, cut all but 1" from the vinyl in front of the windshield frame. There should be a nice semi-permanent crease where the clips are now, so you can remove the clips one by one. The HL will sag a bit with them gone, but no matter. Lay a thin film of yellow weatherstrip cement along the crease created by the clips and about 1/4" in front of that. Don't worry about the left and right edges of the HL between the first metal tabs and the windshield where the sun visors clip in; you can secure those edges tomorrow. For now, re-attach the binder clips where they were before, and let the glue dry overnight. (Note that so far, this is the FIRST TIME we have used any glue at all. You could have glued under all the metal tabs, too, but you didn't need to.)

(13) When the glue is truly dry, you can remove the binder clips. Take the X-Acto knife and carefully slice the excess material from the windshield frame, leaving just enough to completely cover the pinch weld. If you have smeared weatherstrip onto the paint, you can remove it easily with a can of weatherstrip remover and a paper towel; it won't hurt the paint.

(14) There will still be a couple of loose edges between the windshield frame and the first metal tabs on the right and left. Dealing with them will require the most delicate artwork in the whole operation. Carefully trim the excess vinyl so that a single layer of vinyl comes out from under the windshield rubber and becomes doubled as it reaches the first metal tab on each side. When you've cut the vinyl and test your result, apply more yellow weatherstrip cement to the underside of the vinyl and push it into place.

(15) Check all your work for tightness and wrinkles. In general, the rearmost HL section tends to hang a little looser than the other sections. (I've noticed that to be true with original HLs on other Buses I've owned.) If you still see wrinkles, you can try doing a bit more trimming of the inner pockets till the wrinkles are gone, but you should not have to cut more than 1/2" to 3/4" on any pocket.

(16) Take the small wooden block and the hammer and gently go around the van, tapping against the metal tabs to make them tight and hold in the edges of the vinyl. Some people may tell you to pull the edges out and glue them into the tabs before tapping, but I see no evidence that gluing is really necessary.

(17) Now that your headliner looks great (hopefully!), you need to reinstall the sun visors and visor clips, the center mirror, and the dome light(s). Hopefully you have made a mental note of where the screw holes are, but if not, you can gently press against the HL with a small punch to locate the holes. You'll have to make an incision for the mirror. For the dome light, you make an incision and actually cut away a part of the HL while leaving a 1/2" margin to glue the remaining flaps and fold them into the dome light housing. Again, use binder clips to hold the flaps in place till the glue dries. Then you can hook up the wires and install the dome light.

(1Cool This last note is for those who want to install that wonderful sisel insulation that you purchased from the same dealer who sold you the headliner. The dealer probably did not tell you that the two items are incompatible when used as intended. If you plan to install sisel, you should first loosely install the HL up through step 8 above. Then, take a grease pencil, carefully pull back the edges of the vinyl, and make marks on the inner roof line, on both sides of the van, where the bow meets the roof. Remove the headliner entirely and put it somewhere else. Take a flexible yardstick and draw lines across the underside of the roof, creating a 2"-wide strip on either side of the bow marks. You will create as many strips as there are bows. Each 2" strip will be a no-man's land where you can't install any sisel. You can only install the insulation between the strips because the metal bows will not seat properly if they are pushing against the insulation. The 2" will allow enough space for you to push the bows upward when you're installing the HL after the sisel is installed.

Last edited by howwil on Fri Jul 17, 2015 7:41 pm; edited 4 times in total
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PostPosted: Fri Jun 26, 2015 4:36 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Wow, great contribution and first post and welcome to the Samba. Simple tips like buying headliner rolled and not folded are invaluable, obvious when you think about it, but I would not have considered it if ordering. I hope I don't have to, but if I ever attempt new headliner I will check back on this post. Thanks and Bookmarked.
1965 Type 1 Deluxe Sedan (1200cc)
1976 Type 2 T2b Microbus L (1800cc Type 4)
1972 T2 Camper (Devon), 1988 Golf, 1972 Type 1, 1984 Polo, 1972 T2 Camper (Danbury)
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PostPosted: Sat Jun 27, 2015 9:49 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Great timing. This is my next project.

In another thread,I asked, and was informed to use jute insulation on the roof.
The stuff I got is only about a 1/4" thick. No mention was made of leaving a space for the metal bows. And when took off the original stuff I didn't notice gaps for the bows. So to clarify you are saying that if the bows do not touch the ceiling they will not sit right?

You are using glue at all the window folds correct? And as I understand just at the crease? Are you using glue on both the metal and the headliner or just one?

Lastly you are just pushing the vinyl under the metal clips? I thought that when I pulled the headliner out there might have been a cardboard strip that the vinyl was wrapped around and under the metal clips.

Thanks again
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PostPosted: Sat Jun 27, 2015 3:23 pm    Post subject: Reply to dirtkeeper Reply with quote

So here come the disclaimers. The sisel insulation is certainly thicker than 1/4". I found it impossible to push the metal bow perfectly upright as long as the sisel was there in the way. When I tore down the old headliner before doing the resto, there was no insulation there at all, nor was there on a previous bus. I put two and two together. Jute insulation just may be thin enough, and there might just be enough tolerance in the bow, for the installation to work without having to leave blank strips in the insulation. The top center of each bow definitely sits flush against the underside of the roof, with no space even for a feeler gauge! As for your second issue, the cardboard strip you refer to may be the same as the long plastic strip that I referred to. The single strip on the headliners I've seen from TMI goes at the back of the van. If there have been other HLs that have also had side strips sewn into the vinyl, I haven't seen them. There certainly weren't any on the prior HL that I removed from this van before the resto. As for glue, I saw no reason to use it at all except along, and just forward of, the crease that you have created by clipping the vinyl onto the pinch weld in the windshield frame (yes, you could also spread the glue along the outside and the inside of the pinch weld rather than on the vinyl itself). As for the rest of the vinyl ends, the ones along the sides, I just stuffed them under the clips and then tapped down the clips with the hammer and wood. Nothing has slipped out yet! You can always go ahead and put glue the whole length of the HL sides, too - but you will probably have to clean up a lot of excess glue afterward.
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PostPosted: Wed Apr 25, 2018 6:39 am    Post subject: Re: Installing a new vinyl headliner on a 1968-79 Bus Reply with quote

Hello, almost all headliners are shipped folded. If you steam vinyl from the back it removes most of the crease. heating very hot and carefully from front while installing and stretching removes the rest. This also insures that on a hot day your headliner is stretched properly and wont sag!!!
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