How to replace the Hardtop headliner

Words and pictures: Rob Bell


I really like my hardtop. I know that you can have a soft top with a glass rear screen these days - and yes, that means you can go roofless on fine winter's days, but I like the transformation of the car when the hardtop goes on. No longer a canvass-roof roadster, but now a snug two-door, two-seat coupe with a large heated rear glass screen: the rearward view is panoramic. Also, with a light-coloured head lining, the car's cockpit is a surprisingly light and airy place in which to spend time. That it is also quieter and somehow seems to stiffen the structure of the car when fitted are further advantages not often declared. And did I mention it transforms the look of the car? On the Mk1 MGF, with the gloss black windscreen frame, combined with a gloss black hardtop, the MG cuts a fine figure on the road.

The thing is, my hardtop has reached 17 years of age, and spends much of the year stored in a garage. When I came to fit the hard top to my car last winter I discovered that the headlining material had completely failed - the whole thing sagged down and I was effectively wearing it as a hat. This meant a sad MGF owner. The time had come to sort out a replacement.

This is not the first guide on how to replace the headlining material - but since there is inevitably more than one way to do anything, there is no harm there being another guide on headliner replacement so you can plan your own. What follows is how I did it...

Before progressing further, it is probably worth quickly noting how the hardtop is constructed (see parts figure on the left). Component #10 is the headliner assembly, which consists of a rigid, lightweight composite panel that forms the three-dimensional shape of the headlining material. To this is bonded the fabric covering, which is itself foam backed and is no more than 1-2mm thick.

When the headlining starts to sag, it isn't because the glue has given up the ghost (in fact it remains tacky to touch), but because that foam - which gives the lining its soft, quality feel as well absorbing noise - has oxidised and disintegrated.

At the time of writing, X-Part still has the headlining assembly still listed as available for standard hardtops (note that the "Heritage" style hard top may have a different liner assembly) - but at a cost of over 230 quid, probably a smidge too expensive for most. A DIY repair is simple enough and can be undertaken for considerably less cost...

The first step was to find a suitable replacement. I called upon the advice of BAS International - a company well known for supplying replacement soft tops for MGs and other marques. They did not have any headliner replacement kits, but they were kindly able to provide a suitable replacement material along with a contact adhesive that they had tried and tested to be ideal: the glue does not seep through and stain the material you plan to fit... You can of course source your own materials and classic car shows will usually have a vendor supplying head lining material at discount prices.

Tools Required   Materials Required   Time Required
  • Hexagonal/ Allen key
  • Pliers, trim clip removal tool or an old fork!
  • Stiff brush (not wire brush)
  • Scissors
  • Pen
  • Replacement headlining material
  • Contact Adhesive
  • PVA glue
  • x2 grey fir-tree trim fasteners for 8mm hole, 18mm head diameter (available from eBay)
  • Take your time: this is not a time trial; to get the best results take it slowly and carefully. I took half a day.

You'll need quite a large working space - I used our kitchen area...

01 Bring your hardtop into your workspace - I'll show you here what my hard top looked like: the lining was a mess! The foam backing of the material had turned to dust, and the lining was barely being held in place by the edges. Oh dear. Overdue replacement!
02 Open the retaining catches at the front so you can access the clamp retaining screws.

Note hole in the headliner near the catch: that had been annoying me for the last couple of years... the solution was at hand though!

03 Now you can remove the screws. You can see that on mine, they had rusted and looked extremely unsightly. You could replace with stainless steel replacements (from your favourite internet auction site again). I didn't: I wire-brushed them and repainted in satin-black Smoothrite.
04 Catch handles now removed. The sagginess of the head lining revealed even more clearly in this shot I think even though the hardtop was upside-down!
05 There are three Velcro tabs that need to be prised apart: one in the centre of the headlining, near the front rail between the catches and two either side, a couple of inches behind the catches (shown in picture here).
06 There are two trim retaining clips at the rear of the headlining - these are of the "fir tree" variety - so called because someone obviously thinks they look a bit like a fir tree. I'd like to know what drugs they were taking, but anyway... they're a push-fit into a hole and need prising out. I thought I could do this without damaging the retainers and re-use them. I was wrong: the plastic is over 17 years old and more fragile as a result. I'd recommended buying some replacements before starting!
07 When I bought my headlining material, I genuinely wasn't quite sure how much I needed - so here are few pictures that may prove of help. Essentially, you'll need approximately 1.5 x 1.0 metres - which should be ample.
08 Here's a picture of the overlap - typically between 10 to 25mm
09 Materials needed: roll of headlining material on right, contact adhesive and PVA glue on left.

The orange material is what remains of the foam backing of the old head headlining... yuk.
The colour match with the new headlining isn't bad - the new one is a bit darker. You might be able to find something better?

10 The old headlining material can been peeled from the rigid liner - sometimes also known as the "biscuit". If refer to this rigid headlining backing/shaper henceforth as the biscuit, so you know. Removal of the headlining material took no effort at all on my hardtop, as effectively it had detached itself already!

Take the material and lie it on top of the replacement material, lying it as flat as you can. Easier said than done: the material will have inevitably have stretched in places...

Fortunately the shape is pretty symmetrical, but I think it makes sense to try and make sure that you lie the material in the correct orientation - but not critical.

11 I used a permanent marker pen to trace an outline around the old headliner onto the back of the new material - also marking where the original had cuts to aid the material to be folded as a return lip tightly on the biscuit's reverse side.
12 Having traced around the edge of the old headlining, this can be discarded and the new material cut according to the template you've just drawn. I didn't take any pictures of this stage, I'll leave that to your imagination. Sharp scissors make light work of the task.

Were not quite ready to bond this to the biscuit yet. It will still be covered with the remnants of rotten foam which will make a poor surface to glue to. The next stage therefore is to remove this material. A stiff brush makes light work of this I found - note the use of a garden brush used to clear the paths of fallen autumnal leaves - perfect!

13 The hard brush method worked so well that I am not sure I really needed to do this next step, but I took the advice from the chaps at BAS and stabilised the surface with PVA glue. I mixed a 50:50 water/glue mix and brushed this onto the biscuit. Any loose material would now be bonded to the biscuit, and should make an ideal surface for the contact adhesive once dry.
14 Not much more to do now. I sprayed the contact adhesive in accordance to the manufacturer's instructions and allowed the glue to become touch dry (I also applied the adhesive to the reverse of the biscuit to take the return-lip of the material.

Next the material was carefully applied to the biscuit - the key landmarks being the circular holes for the hardtop catches. Working from the middle outward, and taking time around the 3-dimensional shapes and then getting the material to neatly go around the return lip of the biscuit's perimeter. I am delighted with the end result - but if I were to do the job again, I might make the material perhaps a smidge larger than the original to make things a bit easier for myself.

15 The final tasks are to re-fit the catches (I had to wait a while for repainted screw heads to dry first) and put back the rear trim clips, and the job's a good one! One beautiful, ripple-free head lining that is fresh and clean: it really makes a huge difference compared to the old, dirty, sagging and slightly torn original; certainly worth all the effort!