Build your own headrest in 7 easy steps

We love building things that are easy and inexpensive. With a little fab work and some scrap, you can easily make a period-looking headrest for your classic. Can’t weld? You can still cut the pieces before taking them to a pro for final assembly. 

1. Safety First

If this is a race car, first check the rule book. Most sanctioning bodies have minimum requirements for headrest size and even construction techniques. Many groups default to the SCCA specs: If the headrest isn’t part of the seat, then it needs to have a minimum area of 36 square inches and be capable of withstanding a 200-pound force.

You also need to correctly position the headrest, as you want it behind your head, not your neck, and not up the air above your head. Sit in the car and have an assistant mock it up.

2. Pick the Right Pieces

On our car, we wanted a single vertical mounting point that came up from our roll cage’s harness bar. The cool, custom-looking mounting arm we came up with has some rather humble origins: It’s an old trunk hinge. The wrecking yards are full of them, and we tend to favor the ones from the E12- and E28-chassis BMW 5 Series sedans. They look great and are plenty strong. For the flat part of the headrest–the business end, if you will–we used a 1/8-inch-thick piece of steel plate.

3. Drill Holes

To shed some weight–and, we admit, increase the cool factor–we decided to drill a series of holes through the trunk hinge.

4. Cut Out the Backing

We simply used a reciprocating saw to cut the sheet metal to size: 7 inches tall and 6 inches wide. To remove any sharp edges and increase aesthetic appeal, we also rounded the edges. Then we were ready to weld this plate to our hood hinge. As Carl Heideman always says, you can’t weld air or dirt, so neatness counts extra here.

5. Test and Assemble

Next we put the driver back in the car and tested the fit. We then cut the hood hinge and ground it to fit snugly on the roll cage. After that we welded the headrest to the cage.

6. Add the Padding

For obvious reasons, you want to pad the headrest. This also improves the appearance of your project. The SCCA recommends SFI 45.2-rated foam wrapped with flame-resistant material. We had an upholstery shop cover it in a bit of scrap leftover from the interior.

7. Put it All Together

To attach the upholstered pad, we drilled four holes through it and the steel plate and bolted them together. For next to nothing, we now have a cool-looking, period-correct headrest for our vintage race and rally car.

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JustinSchroder New Reader
5/5/24 7:36 p.m.

It would be great to learn how to make seats like this car and other '50s and '60s racercars.

rstarkweather New Reader
5/6/24 3:18 p.m.

Would like to do something similar for a 1949 MG TC I am buying.  Can you better explain step 7?

I was wondering what the machine screws were attached to in the foam padding.  I made something similar for a Formula Ford I had, but simply wrapped the SFI padding in vinyl and glued everything to the bodywork befind the seat.

Is there a piece of metal or something solid (plywood) behind the SFI padding that the screws attach to?

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