Grill Restoration and Fiberglass Headliner

Summer somehow always winds up delaying things. Usually it's because of vacations, honeydews or other unforeseen interruptions, and this year is no exception. Since the last update I have been working on restoring the grill, preparing the grill shell for paint and making a fiberglass headliner.

To refresh your memory, here is a pic of the original grill before restoration.

A couple grill bars were repaired and then paint stripper was used to remove 78 years of paint. This particular grill sported at least 4 different colors over the years. It had been a medium pastel green, bright red, gray, and black. After stripping the bars were primed with an etching primer and finally sprayed with JD Blitz black. When they were dry the stainless steel trim was polished. Here is the finished product. Not bad for a grill that's been out in the elements for almost 80 years.

With the grill finished I turned my attention to the grill shell. This was a simple process of sanding the mold lines out and just getting it ready for paint. There was a little filler needed here and there but for a glass product it was pretty good right out of the mold. It was primed with the same etching primer I used on the wheels, gas tank, firewall and grill and was then sanded with 400 and 600 grit wet. Now that it's smoother than a baby's behind its ready for paint. That will happen later when I'm ready to jam the doors and trunk lid.

The next job, before preparing for bodywork is to make a fiberglass headliner. This was done using the top as a mold. When the headliner is removed from the top it will be cut down and fitted to the inside. There is actually a lot of work involved in this process but the finished product will look professional and a lot better than most "hot rod" headliners I've seen.

I got this idea from Project 33 ( which if your not familiar with it is a pretty well known Internet build of a very high dollar 33 Ford. In his build the body was turned upside down and the mold was made and the part pulled from the inside of the roof. In my case this isn't possible so the outside will serve as the mold and the part will be cut down the center front to back and fitted inside and then glassed back together. A little more work but the finished product will be just as nice.

To begin this process the top was sanded to remove any mold lines and then a layer of waxed paper was taped in place as a very inexpensive release agent. There are better things to use for this but for under $3.00 waxed paper was the best bang for the buck, and the wax will be easier to clean off the roof when this is done than some of the other alternatives.

This is an experiment as a spray on release agent would be the proper thing to use, however I have used waxed paper in the past with success. I used blue painter's tape with a little masking tape here and there to seal things together. The ripples will flatten out with the weight of the glass and resin and any that don't will be dealt with when the inside of the headliner is finished.

I used polyester resin and very heavy chopped mat glass cloth for this process. In retrospect a layer of woven cloth might have been better for the first layer since it shapes better but it would have required a second layer of chopped mat for strength. Since this is a budget sensitive project I chose to forgo the woven cloth in favor of one layer of heavy chopped mat along with a few strategic reinforcements in critical areas. Here is the headliner after the first layer of chopped mat.

It's a large area and the heavy mat took almost two quarts of resin. This first layer was allowed to cure for four days before being loosened. The last thing you want to do is spend a lot of time working on a part and then find out you've glassed it in place accidentally. Once it was loosened and removable it was reinstalled and completely sanded with 80 grit. This is an important step since glass resin won't stick to itself after its cured unless it's sanded, just like paint.

Because heavy chopped mat was used one layer is heavy enough to hold its shape. However, it is always prudent to add some reinforcement to places where the part will be mounted and also just as insurance against any areas that might be a little thin. A headliner doesn't need to be all that strong, it just needs to be able to support itself and maintain its shape so extraordinary strength is not needed here.

First 4" wide reinforcement strips were laid side to side. One at the front, one in the middle, and one at the rear. Reinforcement strips were also added to each side and a strip down the middle. Then 2" wide strips were added in an "X" pattern to reinforce the areas that might need a little help maintaining shape over time. In this picture you can see pretty much all of these strips.

Additional reinforcement strips were added in the rear window area and the rear quarter curves to strengthen the mounting areas and help these curves hold their shape.

With all this done the headliner will be allowed to sit for another three or four days to cure before being removed from the top and set aside. It will be finished after the bodywork and paint is done on the rest of the body. Its summer time here and the paint work needs to be done before the weather starts getting to cold to successfully paint in the garage.

Once the glass had a few days to cure I removed it from the top and then made a buck, which will help it maintain its shape while I finish working on it. Here it has been sanded and is waiting a layer of woven glass and resin which will add a little strength but more importantly will smooth the entire inside surface and make it easier to prepare for finishing.

Here is the same shot after the woven glass had been applied. Total thickness at this point is right about 1/8" which is just about right for a headliner. Any more and it would be too heavy and any less and it wouldn't have enough strength to support itself. From here it will be set aside to cure for a few weeks while I start block sanding the body. Once the bodywork is done and I'm ready the headliner will be cut down the center (front to back) and each side will be separately fitted to the inside of the roof. Because the outside was used as the mold surface material will need to be removed both from the center and front in order for it to fit properly inside. This will be a trial and error procedure and will require a little more glasswork around the edges for proper fitment.

The headliner was then cut in half (front to back) and each side was separately fitted to the body. Don't let anyone fool you on this. This took quite a while and it was a lot of work.

Once both sides were fitted the two sides were glassed together while they were mounted. This was a messy job considering I was glassing together two pieces from the bottom but if you take your time it can be done. Once the glass had a chance to set I removed the headliner which was now in one piece and glassed the other side so the two halves were now one solid piece. It was then sanded on both sides to smooth things out and remove any splinter causing small glass strands. Trust me if you've ever worked with fiberglass you know what a pain these little strands of glass can be. So here you have a shot of the finished fiberglass headliner. All it needs now is upholstery but that will come later.

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