Interior restoration tends to be right up there with rebuilding an automatic transmission, watch repair, and nuclear fission. Most of us don’t understand how to do it correctly, nor do we even want to. However, if you’re building a classic Chevy, interior restoration tends to be a necessary evil.
We’re going to show you how the pros restore seats and how they overcome the hurdles encountered along the way. Restoring old, worn-out seating is a lot of work. You must first know what you’re going to need, and in our case, order upholstery and parts from Classic Industries, then get to work. If you’re doing this right you’re going to need everything attached to the seat frame, meaning pre-formed foam, upholstery-specific burlap, hog rings designed for upholstery work, 3M Trim Adhesive, upholstery, any trim pieces, and plenty of listing wire to hold it all together. You’re also going to need silicone spray to make both the upholstery and the foam slippery enough to make sliding the upholstery over the foam easier.
Before you get started, equip yourself with the tools necessary to perform a quality upholstery job. You have to weigh and balance the cost of tools versus hiring your upholstery work out. When you buy these tools they will be available again for your use should you decide to buy another project car. That makes them a good investment.
You may be inclined to ask why the need for a heat gun. Heat gently applied to the vinyl during installation makes it more pliable and easier to work with. Heat, coupled with silicone spray on the foam, makes light work of the installation.
Because reupholstering seats is a lot of work, it must be tackled with a lot of thought and undying patience. If you get in a hurry or lose control of your emotions while restoring your seats, expect to tear and damage the upholstery beyond repair. This is not easy work. However, it can be rewarding if you take your time and pay close attention to the details.
We’re not going to take this step-by-step, but instead show you the highlights of what you need to know about performing a complete seat restoration yourself. Glean what you can from this and apply it to your regimen, then feel good about what you’ve accomplished. CHP
Angled hog ring pliers (not cheap ones)
Staple and tack removers
Foam rubber cutters (an electric steak knife is just as effective)
Chalk and china markers
Adhesive/Spray guns (though a spray can of 3M Trim Adhesive works)
Heavy-duty gloves to protect your hands
1. We’re working with a 1968 Camaro at Hot Rods by Dean in Phoenix. After being exposed to the brutal Arizona sun and heat for a half-century, these seats look remarkably good. Hot Rods by Dean is going to make them look and feel better.
2. Before you can know what’s inside, you have to rattle the seat apart, beginning with the seatbacks. Restoration begins with the complete disassembly of each seat. Take lots of pictures during the disassembly for reference purposes, which will make assembly easier.
3. The seatback must be removed from the seat bottom. Remove these C-clips, pry the pivot arm out and away from the pin, and remove the seatback.
4. Take note of how the seat pivot pin washers are installed and keep them in a safe place.
5. Save all the seat hardware in a container, taking careful note of how it all came apart.
6. The seat track removal involves a 1/2-inch socket and four bolts. We have already removed the helper spring. Seat tracks should be cleaned with solvent and lubricated with white grease for ease of operation. Enthusiasts and restoration shops tend to paint seat tracks but they do not need to be painted. Give them a good phosphoric acid wash to etch the metal and prevent corrosion, lubricate, and put them on the shelf.
7. All seats should be stripped down to the frame. Remove all of the hog rings and upholstery, taking note of how it all comes apart.
8. Look at what the Arizona heat did to the foam and burlap beneath the original upholstery. Some foam can be saved, but that rarely happens. Make your seat restoration complete with new burlap and foam.
9. Always use upholstery listing wire designed for this purpose, which can be found at any upholstery supply house. If the existing listing wire is solid, keep it and reuse.
10. Reinforced burlap, which is what the factory used a half-century ago, is what you should use for your restoration effort. Enthusiasts use a lot of alternative materials, such as carpet. However, reinforced burlap is really what you want because it delivers the original factory feel in the seat of your pants.
11. Here’s the difference between burlap and reinforced burlap. Reinforced burlap has thin wire bands running through it for strength. You can use straight burlap, however, you won’t have the strength.
12. Hog ring pliers come two varieties: straight and angular. The best choice is angular for good mechanical advantage installing hog rings. It is suggested you wear gloves for hog ring installation or face blisters and pain.
13. Use 3M’s spray Super Trim Adhesive (PN 8090) when you’re installing burlap and foam. There are a lot of off-brands out there, but none with the security and durability of 3M Super Trim Adhesive. Spray on both contact surfaces and allow it to tack off (become sticky) before installation.
14. Wire-reinforced burlap is secured to the seat frame as shown with hog rings. The foam has been secured to the burlap with Super Trim Adhesive.
15. This is paper-wrapped listing wire, which is really what you should use if you can get it because it is easier to use. Otherwise, standard upholstery listing wire is acceptable and will work fine.
16. Check your measurements against the dimensions of your original upholstery and the dimensions of the seat frame. The objective is to get the upholstery centered on the seat frame and the foam. Plus, you want the seatback and seat bottom upholstery to align perfectly when the seatback is installed.
17. You face the same requirements with seat foam to getting it centered and cut properly for the upholstery. Not only must it be centered, but positioned correctly fore and aft.
18. Use either an electric steak knife or a razor knife to cut the foam for your application. It’s better to cut too little foam than too much. Don’t be afraid to add foam to bolster the seat back and bottom to improve your comfort. Sometimes you have to subtract foam in one area and add to another to get the bolstering just right.
19. Super Trim Adhesive is applied to the seat foam and burlap surfaces and allowed to tack off, which takes about 15 minutes. Then, mate the two surfaces.
20. Although replacement seat foam does an excellent job of making seats feel new again, there’s always room for improvement. Hot Rods by Dean adds a layer of foam to bolster up the upholstery for better support.
21. Not all upholstery shops do this, but it is suggested you hog ring the foam to the seat frame for stability and security.
22. When it’s time to hog ring the upholstery to the seat frame, use silicone spray on the foam surfaces to make light work of installation along with the application of heat as necessary. The silicone is super slippery (wear Latex gloves) and acts as a lubricant. Lay your seats out in the sun and allow solar energy to warm up the materials for better fit.
23. Pay close attention to the details. Emblems and like hardware need to be detailed or replaced depending upon their condition. You may have items like this repainted.
24. Take a model brush or hypodermic syringe and fill it with the paint color you want, then, gently allow paint to run into the recesses of your seat emblems.