COAL Repair: 1974 Pontiac Firebird–Repairing the Classic GM Saggy Headliner


Regular readers may recall that I recently bought a ’74 Firebird Esprit from that most dangerous of online rabbit holes, eBay.  It’s the second car I’ve bought sight unseen, the second car from eBay.  Luckily for me, the seller of the Firebird was fairly accurate in his description of the car, but he did leave one thing out.  The saggy headliner. It’s tough not to notice, but not as hard as one would expect to change.  I spent three and a half hours doing it.


To extract the headliner from the cocoon that is a second-generation Firebird, one must remove the visors, dome light, windshield trim, side window trim (which is largely held in by plastic clips), backlite trim, and seatbelt retractor covers.  I loosened the roached sail panel trim pieces, but did not remove them.  It is best to maneuver the headliner board from the passenger side of the car, because the steering wheel is like a great big headliner roadblock.


The headliner board will drop an unreal amount of foam into your hair, onto your clothes, and in the car.  It’s awful. Once it’s out of the car, however, it’s time for scraping, sanding, brushing, or whatever to remove the old foam and as much of the old glue as is possible.  Have a vacuum cleaner handy and try to avoid doing this job on a windy day.  Unfortunately for me, I did not heed that advice.


This picture shows why chemical strippers and cleaners are bad ideas–they could seep into the board and cause problems later.  I removed as much old glue as I could without damaging the board.  It’s important to have a clean, dry substrate for the glue to adhere to.


Tearing apart a car always makes for detective fun.  This board is almost certainly original to the car, as it was made just over a month prior to the car’s assembly.


This will be a good time to apologize for my fuzzy basement pictures; my camera is a cheap Fuji and it doesn’t take the best pictures in low light situations, and I have better things to do than to worry about it.  I bought my headliner material from National Parts Depot in Canton, MI, and it came in a large roll with plenty of material for later trimming.  It cost 94 dollars shipped (and with sales tax, because NPD has a warehouse in Michigan).  I unrolled it and lay it on the headliner board, centering it all the way around.


A helpful fellow Firebird owner on a Pontiac forum suggested using 3M “Super 77” spray adhesive, which I did.  I sprayed the material and board a little at a time, starting in the front.  After waiting 30 seconds for the glue to become tacky, I smoothed out the headliner and moved on to the next part.  This was probably the easiest part of the whole job.  This picture shows the section of glue that is just becoming tacky.


When the material was all glued down, I used scissors and a carpet knife to trim the edges, dome light hole, and visor holes.  The adhesive is ready to go when you are; there’s no need to let it cure before moving on.  The smell of the glue, however, is fairly overpowering in an enclosed area.  My house smelled like glue for the rest of the day.  Do this job outside if you can.


At this point, installation is the reverse of removal.  I called my dad down to help hold it up while I attached everything, but it is mostly a one-man job.  I went out to the garage at around 9:30 am and was done by 1:00, and that included vacuuming most of the foam from the interior.  Now, the interior just needs a good cleaning (it did anyway) and some trim paint.  A new headliner, especially for under 100 dollars, has to be one of the better investments one can make in a GM car of this vintage.  The car looks a thousand times better, and compared to completely replacing all brake hydraulics (which I also had to do), a headliner is a snap.