By Chris Wantuck
Given much thought to flooring for your restoration project car yet? Most cars of the 1940's and newer have metal floors and come with layers of padding with fitted carpet over that. Cars earlier than that — especially ones that were exposed to the weather like touring models — used a durable covering: Linoleum. It's not the same linoleum used in a kitchen, laundry, or utility room. Auto Linoleum is thicker: 3/32 inch to almost 1/8 inch thick (Photos 1, 2, & 3). It is sometimes called Battleship Linoleum; the name used to convince buyers of its durable qualities and, in certain instances, it was used on map boards on old war ships.
Photo 1 — Scrap pieces of linoleum. It is manufactured in large rolls and some suppliers cut it down to sizes requested by the customer to minimize waste.
Photo 2 — Back side of a scrap piece shows the burlap mating that is included during the manufacturing process. It is the burlap that allows for adhesion to the material it is mounted on.
Photo 3 — Side-by-side comparison of two linoleum pieces. Both are grey when purchased. The piece on the left was purchased in 2016 and the piece on the right was purchased in 1998. This shows that linoleum does gracefully fade over time.
Linoleum was first invented in 1855 by an English inventor. He observed a curing reaction used to solidify linseed oil. Linoleulm started to appear in 1865 on horse drawn coaches and trains and later on, in cars. By the 1950's, it was no longer being used in the auto industry.
A nice alternative to rubber, wood or other floor covering solutions, linoleum does have a few drawbacks: 1) it can be scratched and dirt can get embedded into the surface, 2) it can fade, and 3) it can be brittle when cold, possibly leading to cracking. Despite these shortcomings, restorers seeking authentic floor coverings, can find linoleum readily available from select vendors. Because of the drawbacks listed, restorers must remember that for best results they must keep it clean, both during application and afterward . For maintaining the authentic appearance of your classic car, linoleum is like no other. Presently, it is available in some basic colors: grey, dark green, brown and black. This linoleum is only handled by a limited number of suppliers and pricing may vary. Whether your project vehicle is a "bone-e-fide" classic or a street rod, you may want to consider linoleum for its flooring.
Step 1 Applying linoleum begins with unwrapping your material from the vendor and allowing it to gradually warm up (or cool down) to room temperature. It will likely arrive in a roll or several pieces rolled together. Don't attempt to install it until it is absolutely flat. To flatten it, put it under several boards with weights on top. Allow one or two days for it to flatten. Be careful of the surface used for this flattening process is clean and free of any debris. You don't want any impressions on the surface.
Step 2 Prepare your surface of your floor boards thoroughly. In this project, individual floor boards were stripped of the old linoleum and planed flat. Be sure you have enough space where boards can be clamped until thoroughly dry (Photo 4).
Photo 4 — After the linoleum has warmed and flattened, make the necessary jigs and set up a work space to glue the linoleum to the floor boards. An important point is that glue be allowed to dry while keeping the linoleum as flat and even as possible. In the fore ground is one board clamped with a piece of pine wood to keep equal pressure on the linoleum and in the back. The two water jugs make convenient temporary weights.
Step 3 Glue down your linoleum using mastic cement or other adhesive made for vinyl tile. Do not use liquid cement or contact cement. Spread the glue evenly using a notched trowel. Voids in adhesive or too much adhesive will give you an unsightly irregular surface. Press the linoleum into the glue to ensure the good adhesion with the burlap base.
Step 4 Remove any excess material from the edges of the boards. A sharp utility knife will work for this, but we found that using an oscillating tool with the fine tooth round blade, cuts the linoleum like "a hot knife through butter". The oscillating tool can also be used for any sanding that maybe required to give you a smooth finish on the edges of the board (Photos 5, 6, & 7).
Photo 5 — After the linoleum has dried, the excess is cut off. Linoleum can scratch easily so cushion padding is used to protect the finish during handling and assembly. Here an oscillating tool with a fine circular shaped blade cuts the excess flush to the edge of the board. Other types of tools like a utility knife could have been used, requiring several passes, but the oscillating tool cuts it well and efficiently.
Photo 6 — Orientation of the oscillating tool blade places an important role. Here with the tool flipped with the blade facing the board's edge, the blade points mostly downward. Note that trimming the excess linoleum involves cutting into the indentations where the brake and clutch pedals protrude through the floor boards. This is a perfect job for your rotary tool assortment (See our Tips section for rotary tool organization).
Photo 7 — Here the floor board is clamped to the bench while the oscillating tool with sanding attachment is used to clean up the cut edges.
Step 5 In our project, the surfaces and edges of the floor boards have aluminum trim. Trim appears on the board surface around areas like clutch and brake pedals and the transmission tower. Thin trim is used around the edges to cover the gaps between the car body and the floor boards. Floor boards on these older cars were designed this way because part of routine maintenance of things like transmissions and clutches, etc. on these cars required that they be removed. Plan how your trim is applied (photos 8- 11).
Photo 8 — These floor boards originally included custom cast aluminum trim hardware. These trim pieces are cleaned and polished in advance and screwed on using polished stainless wood screws. Since this linoleum recovering project uses original floor boards, finding and using the original holes is easy using the hardware as a template. These floor boards include the use of aluminum Tee molding that is screwed onto the outside edges using #4 flat head screws into countersunk holes. In fact, the cast aluminum trim has notches over the tee trim (shown on left side). Earlier we had used masking tape to indicate the number and orientation of each floor board. We didn't want to be cutting on the wrong edge of the board.
Photo 9 — Overall view of the floor board with trim screwed in place. Note that the trim on the bottom is intentionally omitted as the adjacent floor board includes that piece of trim. The oval escutcheon near the middle is where the gas pedal protrudes through the board.
Photo 10 — Side view of the same board in photo 6. The aluminum Tee trim is carefully oriented and screwed into the side of the floor board. The flat head screws and countersunk holes make a nice flat surface. Afterwards, a heavy material cloth such as duck cloth or felt is glued onto the side of the Tee trim. This is used to prevent squeaks if the body flexes.
Photo 11 â€“ Side view of another floor board. Note the Tee trim is raised to accept the adjacent floor board which will be installed at an angle.
Step 6 To reduce squeaking, these floor boards have a durable utility cloth applied to the edge (photo 12) where it meets the car body. Its an important detail because these car flex when going over bumps in the road and if the floor boards aren't treated this way, they will squeak.
Photo 12 — Close up side view of a floor board with the anti squeak material in place.
Step 7 Test fit your floor boards. In this instance the cast aluminum trim pieces have notches to guide their fitting together (Photo 13).
Photo 13 — Test fit of two boards that mount on top of each other. These two boards mount around the transmission tower. Again, notice the masking tape arrows show the direction and order in which the boards are to be installed.
Step 8 The completed floor board project. The sequence of installing the boards is important as some of the edge trim is mounted over adjacent boards. The top board being the first followed by the other lower boards. Boards are fastened using solid counter sunk washers and oval head plated screws. Use solid washers; avoid the cheap stamped finish washers — they can cut into the linoleum. As shown the vehicle body floor also has linoleum covering the small areas next to the floor boards. (Photo 14).
Photo 14 — Here's a view of the installed floor boards. The order of installation is determined by the trim. All boards, except for the last one to be installed, have trim only on three sides, missing trim on the bottom. As each succeeding board is installed, the top trim of the mating board becomes the missing bottom trim on the board above it. We started with the board on top because it has the additional requirement of mating the pedal trim. We installed the second board, and its top trim became the bottom trim of the first board. We continued this process until the last board with trim on all sides is installed. Around the transmission tower, replacement felt was stapled on the boards inside edge, creating a gasket to minimize road noise, dirt/water, and cold air. You can see oval head plated screws and special solid countersunk trim washers used to hold the boards in place.
L&L Antique Auto Trim, P.O. Box 177, 403 North Spruce Street, Pierce City, MO 65723 (417) 476-2871 Brad Landoll (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Battleship Linoleum, Tony Luria, 511 Church Hill Road, Landenberg, PA 19350 (610) 268-3441
Listen to Old Time Mountain Music at