5 tips for installing new carpet in your vintage car

1965 Corvair Corsa carpet install

Installing the carpet in your classic car seems like a simple task: just lay the woven material on the floor pans and then move on with your day. It's not, however, quite that easy. I know this because I recently tackled this project on my 1965 Chevy Corvair. Here are a few tips to make your carpet install less of a headache than what I experienced.

1. Organize your parts—outside of the car

This one seems obvious at first glance, but I promise you will fall into the trap of “I’ll just lay these screws out in order of how I removed them, then I’ll know where they go and how to put them back.” I promise you are wrong. Also, you probably lined those screws up in a place that’s ultimately in the way of something else you’re working on, so you’ll have to move them. Grab a sandwich bag and a notecard to tag and bag fasteners and other parts as they come off, then place them in a safe place. You’ll thank yourself later.

2. Buy the fitted carpet

If there is an option between molded carpet and standard flat carpet, buy the molded. It’s really tempting to be budget conscious and get the standard carpet, and then try to massage it to fit. It sounds good on the surface, but the fitted carpet will require significantly less work to make it fit correctly, and it often looks better once you’re finished.

3. Be sharp

Sharp tools are the best to work with. It sounds counterintuitive, but putting effort into forcing a dull blade to cut is dangerous. If the blade cuts easily you can focus more on controlling the cut rather than hoping it cuts where you want. Grab a new pair of shears or at least a pack of fresh razor blades. It’s cheap, and accurate cuts make for a better fit.

4. Start with small cuts

Using those sharp tools will allow small and more accurate cuts, so put them to work. If making a cut for a shifter or pedal, start with a small “X” cut. This will allow you to stick a finger or tool through and make sure the cut is properly located. If incorrect, a small crosscut can be patched on the backside with carpet seam tape. To locate some cuts, the old carpet can be used as a template, use painters tape (or another tape with low adhesion) to outline the placement on the new carpet before placing in the car, then confirm their location is correct once the new carpet is situated.

5. Don’t be afraid of heat

This one is scary the first time you try it, but done correctly it can make a real difference in final finish. There will inevitably be places where fasteners or other hardware will need to pass through the carpet. You could make a small cut and hope the bolt won’t create a pull on the woven material, or you can use a soldering iron or hot punch to melt an appropriately sized hole. With the edges melted, the woven fabric won’t pull or interfere with a fastener. Practice on a piece of scrap material first to know how the material reacts.

There are plenty of other tips, but these are the ones I wish I knew before this last project. If you have others, be sure to leave them in a comment below so other can learn from your experience.