Classic Car Upholstery How-To: One Scenario...
Here's an all-too-typical case with seats in cars that are low-mileage, but several decades old. The vinyl covers are in great shape but the foam inside has disintegrated and the seats are so uncomfortable that something must be done. You hate to spend the money for new covers (if you don't have to) and are worried that you might ruin them while attempting to replace the foam cores. Well hang on, because we're going to do that very thing on these Triumph TR6 seats.
These sad seats are as uncomfortable as they look.
It gets worse. Underneath the driver's seat we see that the bottom webbing consisted of stretched rubber bands, one of which is broken and another replaced by a knotted piece of nylon webbing. We'll have to replace the webbing with new rubber.
An earlier attempt at repair was pretty pitiful. The driver's rear probably sagged to the floor.
The seats in this TR6 don't have to be disassembled. That is, the back and bottom assemblies don't have to come apart to get the seat covers and cushions off. Since we're going to strip each seat to the bare frame, however, we want to leave one of the seats intact to serve as a template while taking the other apart. Starting with the hardware, we remove the components in [what we believe] reverse order of assembly. The seat lock mechanism is screwed to the frame, so off it comes to allow us to get the seat back's cover loose enough to get to the rest of the hardware.
We start by removing the four screws that hold locking mechanism in place.
The lock mechanism holds down the bottom back flap of the seat cover. With that folded out of the way we can get to the fasteners that hold the bottom cushion to the seat frame. We want to take off the bottom cushion first because close inspection of the construction tells us we will have better access to the seat back's cover with the bottom cover removed. The first things to remove are the half-circle shaped spring clips that hold the material to the bottom rail.
Just pry the clip with a screwdriver and it's off.
The clips are all removed and we can move on.
The cover is also held around the rim with U-shaped spring clips. We found the best tool to pry these off is a dental pick. All the clips came off easily, allowing us to peel the cover back and start removing it from the frame and foam cushion.
Dental pick easily slips in to pry off clips.
The cover was glued to the bolstered sides and top of the original foam core, so we could only peel the material easily to that point. A putty knife was then used to pry the fabric away from the foam to get it off without damage. If we were replacing the cover we'd have been far less gentle with the removal.
Cover peeled away and ready for removal.
The cover is peeled up to the glued area.
Gentle persuasion with the putty knife (the hammer is holding the cover for easy of viewing only.)
And Now For The Seat Back Cover...
There was another vinyl flap under the one that was held down by the lock mechanism. It was glued to the frame, on top of the flap from the front of the cover. That flap was held down by two spring clips, so once again the dental pick was employed.
The cover is off!
These seats employed an interesting system for holding the cover's sides taut. Instead of being folded and clipped to the frame the sides were sewn around a metal plate that has a u-shaped flange underneath. A mating flange was welded to the seat frame, so the assemblers simply had to pull the sides down far enough to lock the two together. Pretty neat idea, we think, and very easy to release.
The glued flap is peeled back to reveal the clips holding the front flap.
The seat back cover is a one-piece cover. That is, it has to be slipped over the seat like a pillowcase. To remove it we have to gently turn it inside out and peel it up over the top of the seat. Since everything is stretched pretty tightly, care must be used. We also noticed that an inside flap of vinyl was glued to the frame. This flap is used to tuck in the center portion of the seat back to give it shape. All we need do here is to loosen it to allow further peeling of the cover.
The flange is released and pulled away.
The flap is ready for removal.
The rest of the cover peeled away easily, chiefly due to the fact that the interior foam material had disintegrated. This is what was left of the seat's foam core after the covers were removed.
The back cover turned inside out.
Now For The Frame
The seat's back frame used stretched rubber bands for its "inner springs." These were similar to the bottom's gridwork of rubber bands, but were in much better shape. We decided to reuse these and to replace the bottoms. All the bands were held in with wire hooks, so we pulled everything out in order to strip the frame and make it ready for reassembly.
The bare back with its rubber bands still in place.
The bottom, with its hodgepodge of rubber and stamping, covered by what's left of the burlap liner.
The bare frame, ready for assembly, with the seat back in the foreground. Note the thin foam skirt around the bottom edge of the frame. This is in such good condition (and not in the way of any hardware) that it wasn't necessary to remove and reglue it.
We could now start putting things together. A new foam/bottom rubber kit was ordered, so we laid out some of the components and started the process of building up the seat in the reverse order of disassembly. We got ready to install the bottom rubber "inner spring" (a much beefier piece than the old components) and to do so we reused the metal hooks that came off the old rubber bands. The long rods pictured below weren't necessary because the new rubber sheet has metal fixtures imbedded. These fixtures are drilled to hold the hooks. It was a simple matter to install the rubber sheet, although stretching it to accommodate the last few hooks took a bit of muscle. We also reinstalled the back's rubber bands, doing a little "tightening up" in the process.
The new stuff.
New rubber bottom plus hardware.
Pulling the hooks into place.
All the new rubber is in place and nice and firm.
Notice the nice tight fit between the foam and frame.
We placed the new seat back cushion on the frame to make sure it fit properly, and then glued its outer edge and rear surface to the frame and rubber bands. We used contact cement, both in brush-on and spray form (when to use either depends entirely on how much time you have, or how neat you have to be.)
Slipping the cover down over the new cushion.
At this point we were ready to put the back cover on, so we mounted the seat frame on the bench with clamps. Starting with the top, we slowly started turning the cover outside-in, coaxing it over the foam cushion and pushing our hands inside to make sure it conformed to the shape (There's no set rule for doing this, just to remain patient. When it looks right, it is.) We worked our way down, pausing to replace the vinyl flap that pulls in at the center. Once we got the cover slipped on and straight, we started attaching the hold-down components at the bottom.
Looking better and better, and notice the clamps holding the frame.
Almost done, now all we have to do is glue and clamp.
With the cover in place, we started pulling everything tight. The first thing to affix was the center flap, shown here clamped after pulling so that glue could be applied. Once the glue was ready we adhered it in place.
Pulled, clamped and glued, ready for sticking
Next came the bottom flap of material. We made sure to route it under the rod that tensions the seat back, then pulled and glued it in place. Once everything was glued we were ready to tackle the bottom cover.
Routing the flap under the rod.
Pulling the material taut. It's nice to have wide upholstery pliers for this task, but fingers
All done, at least the back cover.
And, The Bottom Cover
When last we left the bottom cover, we hadn't removed all the old foam bolstering from the material. This was fairly easy. All we did was take our time and peel the pieces apart.
Peeling away the old orange foam. Screwdriver is holding it up for viewing.
We cleaned the inside of the cover and laid out the new foam. The trick here was to glue the new foam bolster onto the inside of the cover. This makes the seat keep its shape and also makes it easier to stretch the cover over the bottom frame.
Note the relative thickness of the new foam vs the old orange stuff.
New foam being glued to the fabric.
Spray glue works really well here.
The foam all glued in and ready for installation on the frame.
We had already glued the remaining foam seat core to the frame. We applied glue to the center sections of the inside cover and the foam seat core to facilitate placement and to hold everything together while we stretched the cover over everything.
Glue applied to the center sections.
Flipped over, and now we're ready for stretching.
Pulling the bottom cover over the frame was pretty easy. It's just a matter of slowly turning the cover inside out (or outside in, whatever...) and it rolls over the foam-filled frame. A little straightening out with the fingers and a little tugging here and there gets things properly tight. We use liberal amounts of spring clamps to hold things in place while the pulling goes on.
The cover is pulled into its proper orientation.
Hammering the clips in place.
Once the material was stretched enough (we kept looking at the top side to make sure there were no wrinkles) we could hammer on the attaching clamps. After that we simply glued the back flap of the cover and reinstalled the locking mechanism.
Almost tight enough and the clamps are holding it in place.
That was it! From start to finish took only about 4 hours and the newly-upholstered seat looks just fine. Take a look at the finished one and the unfinished seat and note the looseness and general "flatness" of the unfinished one. They may look pretty similar, but you should sit in them. The difference is dramatic!
The finished seat on the right looks much more comfortable than the saggy one on the left.
A thought about putting the rear "slipcover" back on the frame and foam: Placing the plastic from your latest run to the cleaners over the foam makes slipping the cover down a lot easier. Once the cover is down, the plastic can be pulled down to remove it.