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Upholstering trunk panel kits

Alien Enclosures offers un-upholstered trunk panels for a few reasons. One is that while we design our kits to be as precise as possible, we always suggest a test fit to ensure everything fits perfectly. Vintage vehicle dimensions will vary slightly due to 40+-year-old assembly methods, collision repair, and panel replacement, also, including aftermarket panel and aftermarket body discrepancies. Second is that while we offer unique designs and cut-outs on our panels, we encourage customers to personalize their panels by modifying and improving. Some customers have preferred upholstery shops they use or the materials they prefer. Finally, we know many customers just like to do things themselves. There is a different kind of satisfaction when “do-it-yourselfer” car owners complete these types of projects.

finished-trunk-kit

You will need to collect the following tools and materials:

  • 2 Yards of Main Panel Material (often black)
  • 1.5 Yards of Backer Panel Material (same as main panels or in contrasting color)
  • 3 yards of foam headliner material (if desired)
  • Razor blades
  • Sandpaper
  • Heat gun/hairdryer
  • Spray adhesive
  • Staple gun (Type 71, C-Series Suggested)
  • 3/16” upholstery staples (depends on material thickness and air pressure
1

First, you will want to determine if you will be upholstering directly to the panel, or using a foam backing. If you prefer the look of a padded panel, we will go over some steps to help with this style first. Whether you are using foam or not, you want to prep your panels with a light sanding and blow off any contaminants or dust. We also do not cover the backing panels with foam in either scenario, but you can use your creativity to make it how you like.

close up of black upholstery used to finish trunk panel kits
2

The thickness of the foam is personal preference, but we like to use thinner headliner material. The first thing you will want to do is lay your pieces out on the yardage of material that you bought. At this point, we suggest cutting out all of the pieces. The amount of material left around the pieces can be minimal since when you add the foam, you will want to use a “trim-to-edge” method.

layout of individual trunk panels not yet installed

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Choosing the spray adhesive is another decision you will need to make. Read our rundown on the most common adhesives that upholstery shops may use. In short, we suggest using either 3M Super 90 Contact Adhesive or Weldwood Landau Top & Trim Contact Adhesive in an inexpensive siphon feed spray gun. Whichever you choose, follow the application instructions of that brand. Most contact adhesives require both sides to be sprayed and then allowed to dry to tack before attaching them.

glue
4

You will need to apply glue to each side of the materials to be attached. To help with spray guidance, we place the panel on top of the cloth side of the headliner material (it will be glued fabric side down). Spray an even layer of adhesive on the panel and move to a location to tack up, leaving the material behind.

top of adhesive glue about to be sprayed on naked wooden trunk panel
5

After removing the panel, the overspray will reveal an outline of which to apply the glue to the material. Spray the adhesive onto the material and allow to dry to tack.

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After all of the pieces have been sprayed, you will want to carefully place the material on top of the panel. If it is a large panel, you may ask for assistance, lowering the panel over the panel or folding the material in half (non-glued sides touching.

man's hands placing upholstery material on panel
*Vinyl shown in pic, not headliner material
7

Once the pieces are adhered. We trim the edge with a new razor blade. It may be necessary to replace several blades when doing all of the pieces, as the edge dulls. In the shop, we like to lightly sand the edge of the foam and wood edge with a angel grinder equipped with a light grit sanding disc. While this is not necessary, it produces a consistent edge, which makes wrapping the panels later much easier. Sand the edge with the downward rotation of the disc for the cleanest edge. It is also possible to use a block with sandpaper for similar results.

sanding edge pieces of upholstery with sander
*If you are not familiar sanding with an angle grinder, we urge caution as this method can be dangerous and damaging to the panels if not handled properly
8

Once all of the panels have a layer of foam on them, you can now prepare for wrapping both the main panels and the backing panel. Again, in our shop we do not apply foam to the backing panels.

close up of smooth edges on trunk panel after upholstery was sanded
9

Our preferred method of application is actually not using a foam backing. There are however a few reasons to use foam. Foam tends to allow the vinyl to be stretched easily and hides some of the potential creases. It hides discrepancies in the surface of the panels and potentially hides the tips of the staples should the length be a little to long, or pressure is up too high. When wrapping panels without foam, be careful to fill any holes from nails or screws as well as making sure any dust or splinters are removed because they will show through the vinyl once wrapped.

close up of dimpled vinyl material
10

To begin vinyl application, we are going to start with the backing panels. The process is similar to the foam application. You first must lay out the material and then trim to size. We then spray both sides and allow them to dry to tack.

using spray gun on back of upholstery for trunk panels
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After adhering the glued backing panels, they will need to be trimmed to edge with a fresh razor blade.

trimming edges of upholstery glued to trunk panels
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Now the backing panels are complete and time to for the main panels to be wrapped.

holding single trunk panel with finished upholstery
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The first step in wrapping the panels is to lay out the pieces on the vinyl. Unlike the foam and backing panel vinyl, you need to leave about 1.5” around the outside perimeter to allow a pull for stretching and stapling. If the glue is used properly, it is not always necessary to staple. However, it does create extra strength in the bond inside and outside the corners. Once you have cut the vinyl, always confirm that you have both a left and right (if doing side panels).

back of single trunk panel with upholstery glued underneath before wrapped
14

Like in previous steps, you will lay the panel on top of the vinyl for spraying glue. If you glue left and right panels, spray the left panel on the right vinyl and the right panel on the left vinyl. Be sure to spray the top side of the panel that does not have Velcro markings on it.

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You will then spray the vinyl in the outline left by the panel. After both sides have dried to the tack, place the panel on the vinyl and flip it to smooth out bubbles, if any. After the panel and vinyl have been attached, flip it back over and spray the outside edge of the panel. Allow the newly applied glue to dry to the tack.

spraying adhesive to upholstery without panel
16

In this photo, you can see the outside edge of the panel that has been glued. Next, you will prepare the outside corners for folding. We usually cut some initial wedges out as there will be overlap in the corners. You may need to cut additional pieces out if you determine it is necessary as you wrap. DO NOT CUT TO THE PANEL, LEAVE APPROXIMATELY 1/4”-5/16” FROM THE EDGE OF THE PANEL.

back corner of trunk panel with upholstery cut into slivers to allow overlapping corners
17

Next, begin to fold in the sides, making sure you have a nice clean edge. It may help to warm the vinyl with the heat gun or hair dryer. You have some ability to reposition it, but try to do so only once.

folding and wrapping first side of upholstery on trunk panel
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When wrapping the corners, heat is absolutely necessary, especially with thicker vinyls. Be careful not to overheat the vinyl as it can tear or loose its embossed finish. Not to mention it can burn your fingers. You may want to test the heat on a scrap piece to determine what’s necessary.

man folding back upholstery on trunk panel with heat gun
19

We like to staple the edges for additional strength. We staple fairly close to the edge, approximately 1/4″. You will want to make sure you have the pressure regulated based on the materials you use as well as the staple length. We suggest you test your set-up before using the staple gun on your actual panels.

stapling edges of upholstery to back of trunk panel
20

Once all of the edges have been stapled, we trim the excess vinyl to about 3/8” from the edge.

trimming excess fabric on back of trunk panel
21

Now, we wrap the opening in the panels. We first spray the inside edge of the wood and the edge adjacent vinyl in one step and allow them to try to tack.

spraying glue on inside of trunk panel
22

Inside corners are a little different than outside corners. We again cut tabs which can be pulled into the corner once heated. DO NOT CUT TO THE PANEL, LEAVE APPROXIMATELY 1/4”-5/16” FROM THE EDGE OF THE PANEL.

Cutting tabs on inside corners of upholstery to wrap
23-1

Again, heat is necessary to get your corners to wrap tightly. You may determine as you go that additional cuts are necessary.

wrapping inside corners to back of trunk panel with heat gun
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Like the outside edge, we staple them approximately 1/4” from the inside edge.

stapling inside newly glued corners to back of trunk panel
25

Also like the outside edge, we trim back the excess vinyl approximately 3/8” from the inside edge.

trimming excess vinyl
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This is an image of a completed panel that is ready for application of the backing panels.

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While all cautions were adhered to, occasionally there are still a few staples that might show through. We use the rounded end of a screwdriver to push them back through. If they are really bad, they can be removed from the back. The vinyl will often heal with time and normal summer heat. Another trick is to hide tiny holes or imperfections with black shoe polish.

using rounded back of screwdriver to push unwanted staples showing through vinyl on trunk panel
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On another set of panels, we have some tips to help attach the backing panels. The panel photos show the velcro attached. It can be applied anytime after the main panel has been wrapped. We also add a few staples to the velcro for additional strength

back of finished trunk panel with velcro installed
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You will want to center the backing panel on the back of the panel. You will want to make sure the panel does not cover the Velcro areas. Some of our panels have alignment marks in the corners to help align. We then trace the panel to help guide the application of the glue in a later step.

using pencil to center backing panel on front panel for best alignment
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We then flip place the backing panel underneath the panel. It won’t be exact, but center the backing panel as much as possible. Then trace the design onto the backing panel. This will help serve as a guide for placing the screws in a later step.

use pencil to track underneath of the backing panel
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We like to use Gorilla Glue for the next step. If you have never used this glue, make sure you read the directions and experiment with it on a test piece. It does expand, so minimal use is suggested. We place a small bead just inside the line that was traced in an earlier step. If your panels has a split opening like shown, place a small bead in the center of this area (not the edges).

using gorilla glue to attach panels
32

Our kits include small pan head screws to attach the backing panels to the main panel. Which work great. We like to use a staple for speed. We use a Senco SJS gun with a 1/4” staple.

using stable gun to stable back panel to front
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