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CAR RESTORATION HOW TO

How to Install Linoleum Flooring in Classic Cars

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 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 to show the burlap mating that is include during the manufacturing process. It is the burlap that makes the adhesion to the material it is applied over.

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 demonstrates that linoleum does gracefully fade over time.

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.

Installing Linoleum Flooring to your Classic Car

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 linoleum be allowed to dry as flat and even as possible. Here two floor boards are drying. 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 floor board uses two water jugs which make convenient temporary weights.

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 assembly and handling. 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 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 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.

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 affixed 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). Note the masking tape with number and orientation arrow for each board.

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 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. Purpose of this material is to prevent squeaks if the body flexes.

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 – Side view of another floor board. Note the Tee trim is raised to accept the adjacent floor board which is at an angle.

Photo 11 – 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.

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).

Photo13 – Test fit of two boards that mount on top of each other. These two boards mount around the transmission tower. Again note the masking tape arrows showing direction and which order the boards is installed.

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).

Photo14 – Overall view of the five floor boards installed. Note the order they are installed. The bottom one is the last and it has trim on all four sides, the next one is next and so on. The board on top is the first one installed to mate to the trim around the pedals. Note that around the transmission tower, replacement felt was stapled on the boards inside edge to act as a gasket to minimize road noise, dirt/water, and cold air. Also note the use of oval head plated screws and special solid countersunk trim washers to hold the boards in place.

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.


Notes:

  1. Linoleum may be easily stained, scuffed or scratched during normal use. Be sure your shoes are clean when entering the vehicle.
  2. Linoleum is brittle when cold. It should be warmed slowly to room temperature before attempting to cut or form it.
  3. In this article, we used an oscillating tool to cut the excess material from the edges. It can also be cut using a sharp utility knife, cut from the back (burlap) side in multiple scores and folded forward towards itself.
  4. When buying linoleum for your project vehicle, purchase all is required at the same time and request the order come from the same roll. There can be slight color variations from roll to roll.
  5. Linoleum can be used for interior flooring of a closed or open vehicle, or the back area of a wagon, wherever the floor is flat. It is water resistant not water proof.

Sources:

L&L Antique Auto Trim, P.O. Box 177, 403 North Spruce Street, Pierce City, MO 65723 (417) 476-2871 Brad Landoll (blandoll@hotmail.com)
Battleship Linoleum, Tony Luria, 511 Church Hill Road, Landenberg, PA 19350 (610) 268-3441

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