By John Gunnell
We have installed a few precut upholstery kits in our day, but we don't cut and sew upholstery ourselves. That's a specialty and more or less a lost art. On top of the special skills required to custom make seat covers, you need special equipment like a walking foot sewing machine that can handle heavy-duty automotive fabrics, as well as vinyl and leather.
The Triumph TR8 we were working on had a bad driver's seat. From what we've learned, this is a typical problem in these cars. You can find good used passenger seats for sale at swap meets or for sale on eBay once in awhile, but the driver seats are "unobtainium." The driver seats took a beating.
The broken Triumph TR8 seat frame had caused the vinyl seat covers to stretch and tear on the seams.
Our customer car's seat frame had a bad crack and an even worse previous repair of the crack. Because of the kink in the seat frame caused by the crack, the vinyl upholstery was all stretched out of shape and had a couple of tears at the seams. It didn't look terrible and we thought that maybe the seam tears could be fixed. We contacted a vinyl repair service and they said the tears could not be fixed. A trim shop told us they could not fix the seam tears either.
New seat covers for the TR8 were available from Victoria's British in Lenexa, Kansas. The price of a set was in the $600 range with shipping. We figured that it would take around 10 hours to carefully strip the old seats down and install new foam pads, insulation and seat covers. At our regular labor rate of $45 that would be at least $450 plus tax. The trim shop said they could fix our seat with new custom made upholstery for $500, less than half the cost.
We proceeded to carefully strip the old seat down, taking pictures of all the important steps and all the parts and pieces involved. We stuck the parts into pieces of cardboard and labeled them. We unhooked the seat diaphragm, which was torn in several places. It would also have to be replaced and it was hard to get. We discovered that The Wedge Shop in Massachusetts sold seat diaphragms sourced from England. This added a bit to repair costs.
Seats actually have a lot of small parts. New ones are available from Victoria British Ltd. Saving the old ones can save money.
The shifting of the broken frame had also torn the diaphragm in several places. Note torn off corner at bottom right in photo.