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HOW TO

How to Upholster Your Classic Car -
Part 1

It started with a simple question at a car show. The guy asked us who did the interior of the '63 Falcon Sprint we were showing. "I did, of course," was the answer from Dr. Crankshaft, "I do 100% of the work on the cars."

After considerable compliments and much talking, the owner of this 1967 Jaguar XKE roadster, Charles Kraiger, asked if the Doctor would be interested in putting in a complete interior kit he had obtained for his car. The car, he explained, would shortly be coming out of the paint shop and the last thing left in the restoration was the interior. Mr. Kraiger felt he wasn't up to the task.

Much begging ensued, after which the Doctor agreed to do the job for a "modest" fee. After all, he reasoned, the entire project would make a great series of how-to articles for the website and there are lots of other owners out there who would love to tackle an interior re-do but are a bit hesitant.

Well, hesitate no more, dear readers, because here we go!

The "Raw" Canvas

If the car isn't stripped of its old interior, do it now. The only caveat here is to take out everything carefully enough that you can still use the pieces as templates or reference materials and, of course, take photos.

The old leather seats are still pretty intact.
The old leather seats are still pretty intact.

In the case of this Jag, all that was in the car when we got it were the seats and the dash (which was covered in black in all XKE's, no matter what the upholstery color.) The owner had purchased a new interior kit in "Bisquit," Jaguar's name for what we call "saddle or tan."

The bare interior of the car's body shows how sloppy production was.
The bare interior of the car's body shows how sloppy production was.

We removed the seats and center console and took everything to the workbench for recovering. We laid out most of the interior kit's components to get a feel for where they go and in which order. The plan would be to reupholster the seats first, then fit everything else.


Most of the kit pieces are recognizable...many aren't!
Most of the kit pieces are recognizable...many aren't!

These kits are fairly typical, in that they consist of pre-made seat covers, carpet, door panels, kick panels and vinyl or leather trim that is glued to the inner body parts. The worst thing about XKE's is the center console. It consists of seven separate components, each of which must be individually covered in material and between each must be placed a piece of welting. It's a 6-hour job, and more so if you make a mistake.

The center console - before.
The center console "before."

Doing The Console

We disassembled the console's components. Some are made of sheet metal, others in wood, and some are covered in vinyl and others in leather. We'll name the major pieces the cubby box, arm rest cover, handbrake piece, gear shift cowl and the main body.


A: Console body; B: Underside of the handbrake piece; and C: cubby box and its lid (arm rest cover).
A: Console body; B: Underside of the handbrake piece; and C: cubby box and its lid (arm rest cover)."

We then took out all the appropriate trim pieces and laid them over the parts they cover. It's always important to do this, since many pieces might look correct but, in fact, fit over something else.


Progress! We have matched the kit pieces up with the components they are meant to cover...
Progress! We have matched the kit pieces up with the components they are meant to cover...

Next, we had to create a new foam rubber filling for the arm rest cover of the cubby box. The old foam was collapsed, so we glued a new piece of 3-inch thick foam onto the wooden cover and ran it through the band saw (tip: if you don't have a band saw, use an electric carving knife)


Cutting the foam to the correct shape was easy on our band saw. Take care not to cut the plywood base.
Cutting the foam to the correct shape was easy on our band saw. Take care not to cut the plywood base.

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