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Interior Decorating

A Different Approach To A C5 Interior Makeover

Bob Wallace Feb 24, 2003

The cockpit of a Fifth-Gen Corvette is a very hospitable place, by far the most driver and occupant-friendly of all five decades of Vettes. Ingress and egress are simple and comfortable. There's plenty of leg, shoulder, and head room for almost anyone. The ergonomics are quite good and, overall, the quality of materials and workmanship is, at minimum, acceptable.

On the other hand, some C5 interiors, while tasteful, can be a little plain. This factor has led to a wealth of C5 interior accessories ranging from all sorts of pseudo wood and brushed alloy door, dash, and console overlays to both faux and genuine carbon fiber trim bits and pieces, to logo carpet mats, and items like white-face instrument cluster kits.

Custom upholstery is a different story. We've seen several types of slip-over seat "protectors" and that old standby from the '80s, sheepskin covers. But, we hadn't seen--outside of a couple complete reupholstery jobs--ready-made, tailored, "custom" seat upholstery. Then, recently, we were leafing through a new edition of the Mid America Designs catalog and spotted something described as "C5 Hot Seats!"--two-tone custom leather and vinyl, a la OEM, seat covers that replace the originals.

Interesting. There are three basic variations; two for Sport Seats and one for the standard seat, and five available color combinations in factory-correct hues (black with either Torch Red or Light Oak) or custom colors (black with Sebring Silver, Pewter Gray, or Millennium Yellow). To add a little extra sizzle to the steak, MAD offers matching Console Cushions, Wheelskins (steering wheel covers), Door Pulls, and Shift Boots in most of the color combos.

Some factory combos seem to be crying out for help, others (like our personal favorite, Magnetic Red outside with a Light Oak Sport Seat interior) need little or nothing done to look sharp. A black standard seat interior comes off as kinda dull, particularly when combined with an understated exterior color. Such was the case with our subject car, a Light Pewter Metallic '00 coupe with just 36,000 miles. The black base interior, which was in almost perfect condition, just seemed too dark and foreboding, and at times just blah. Instead of the usual dash overlays, pedal covers, sill plates, and/or white-face gauges, the decision was made to change the look of the seats themselves and to bedeck the rejuvenated cockpit with MAD's complimenting trim pieces. A set of "modified" leather seat covers (PN 636-050), black on the outside with Pewter Gray inserts and matching Pewter stitching was ordered, along with a black and Pewter Gray Embroidered (a C5 logo) Console Cushion (PN 636-500), a pair of Pewter Gray Door Handle Accents (PN 636-060), and a black and Pewter Gray Two-Tone Shift Boot (PN 636-071, for automatic transmission). To finish off this C5 interior decorating project, a "double emblem" (C5 logo and Corvette script) Lloyd Mats Floor Mats & Cargo Mat Kit (PN 612-311) was ordered in Pewter Gray with black emblems.

C5 seats are fairly modular compared to the ones in earlier generations. The backrest cover is zippered in place and the seat base cover is positioned with a few hog rings and what looks a lot like a giant shoelace. Re-covering a pair of C5 seats could probably be done by most reasonably skilled driveway mechanics, but since Team VETTE was going to document the procedure, we decided to go with the pros, in this instance Westminster Auto Upholstery, a shop that specializes in street rod, custom rod, and restoration interior work. Re-covering a pair of C5 seats should be a cinch for a crew that was, while we were there, crafting a new interior for a '32 Ford sedan delivery street rod and refurbishing the insides of a vintage mild custom '57 Olds 98 hardtop--cool stuff. Tony at TLC Auto Detailing offered to help out with the balance of the redecorating project which, due to time and space constraints, will appear next month.

Pete Engel, owner of Westminster Auto Upholstery, examined the custom seat covers before work commenced and told us that the materials and workmanship were equal to and, for the most part. better than the original seat coverings. The new covers are quite well tailored and fit very great.

The seat re-covering procedure took around four hours. To do it right at home, you'd need hog rings and hog ring pliers, an aerosol can of automotive upholstery adhesive, and a hot air gun or high-output hair drier, plus the usual assortment of hand tools--and allow a full day to do the job. Tasks like repairing the damaged foam cushion in the driver's seat outer backrest bolster or adding additional cushioning in the backrest bolsters are things that few, if any, home mechanics would be prepared to do. Said repairs and enhancements will contribute to the re-covered seat holding up better in the future, as well as its being more comfortable and looking better right away.

The newly re-covered seats in the '00 coupe give its interior an uncluttered and roomier feel that it did not have before, as well as a sophisticated custom look that sets it apart from the herd--something that certainly could not be said about the same C5 coupe with its plain black standard upholstery.

When you consider that at the end of the '02 model year production last summer the number of C5s built since early 1997 was approaching 180,000 units, it ain't a bad thing to do something truly distinctive with one's Corvette, especially when it makes the driving environment more pleasant and appealing. We're looking forward to seeing how it looks next month when this interior decorating project is concluded.




Out with the old... Westminster Auto Upholstery's Albert Barella takes a logical and mandatory first step by removing both seats from the '00 coupe.

The procedure is essentially identical for both seats, so we'll follow Albert along as he re-covers the driver's seat.

First he takes off the seat adjuster switch panel from the outside of the seat. The recliner handle must be detached (it's retained by a "C" spring clip) before the switch panel can come off.

Next Albert clips apart the hog rings that hold the internal listing (a skirt off the back, i.e. tail, of the seat cushion cover that wraps around and under the seat frame)...

...then unties the drawstring that ties the seat cushion to the lower seat frame.

More hog rings hold the side and rear listings together.

These also must be clipped apart.

And finally Albert lifts away the seat cushion, complete with its stock, black leather cover.

Albert unzips the seat back cover, using a small hook tool, then carefully pops off the bezel for the seat back release, high on the backside of the seat back.

Now he can peel off the stock seat back cover. The cover is held in position in the contours of the formed foam cushion with a heavy duty grade Velcro(R) (the black strip visible between the back cushion and inside bolster). We discovered a couple unsettling but minor problems--the outer bolster was damaged (arrows) and...

...the Velcro(TM) strips would rip off the foam very easily. The strips will be glued back onto the foam with contact cement.

Albert also elected to repair the damaged bolster. First he sprayed contact cement into the ripped area, all the way down to the cloth liner on the back side of the foam and, after allowing the cement to get slightly tacky, pressed the torn segments back together.

Considering how fragile this section (the outer seatback bolster) seems to be, Albert and shop owner Pete Engel decided that the bolster's repaired area should be reinforced. Albert began by spraying a light coating of contact cement onto the back side of a piece of 1/4-inch thick foam with liner, then onto the bolster.

Once the cement had begun to get tacky Albert carefully spread the lined foam reinforcement over the repair area, then trimmed it to fit around the edges.

At this point, and since this was no longer strictly a pull off the old covers and slap on the new ones, Albert suggested we build up the bolsters a little. After scrounging up some Dacron(TM) fill (similar to "batting" used in quilts) Albert sprayed some contact cement onto the bolsters and one side of the pieces of Dacron(TM) fill.

After fitting the pieces of Dacron (TM) fill to the bolsters, Albert rough-trimmed them to shape and test-fitted the back rest cover.

There was too much material on the bolsters so Albert peeled back the cover to trim and shape the bolster padding a little...

...and pulled the cover over once again.

The fit was perfect so Albert began working the cover into position. This includes pulling it tight in all directions and working the cover into the formed contours in the backrest foam cushion to affix the Velcro(R) strips on the foam to their corresponding strips sewn into the cover.

Satisfied with the fit, Albert zips up the cover and trims the foam ...

...padding from the seat back release control opening and refits the bezel.

The final step on the backrest was for Albert to fasten the plastic pinch track that holds the bottoms of the front and rear parts of the seatback cover together.

Albert then turns his attention to the seat base. Considering how easily the Velcros(R) on the backrest cushion ripped away from the foam, he takes extra care while removing the cover.

After lining up the Velcro(R) strips (arrows) on the seat "bun" and the cover, Albert carefully fits the cover over the bun. He pays special attention to forcing the cover Velcros(R) into the grooves in the foam and onto the corresponding Velcro(R) strips on the bun.

Then he fits the covered "bun" onto the seat frame and pulls the cover sides or listings over the sides of the seat bun.

With everything pulled up snug, Albert hog rings the side listings to the rear listing.

Then he ties the drawstring in the new cover tightly around the frame.

Now it's time to hog ring the seat tail flap to the frame, over (as well as covering and protecting) the drawstring.

Reassembly includes bolting the seatbelt receptacle back to the seat...

...and carefully cutting holes in the sides of the base for the recliner handle's splined shaft and for attaching the seat adjuster switch panel.

Here's a trick to remember if, and when you're working, with leather. One of the differences between a really nice looking upholstery job and a so-so one is how well the covers fit. To pull the leather surface taut, Albert first sprays them with distilled water...

...massages it into the leather and works the leather surfaces...

...then, after working the fit to his satisfaction, draws the leather tight by heating with a hi-temp hot-air gun. In case you didn't know, leather softens and stretches when wet and shrinks when dry--the wetting, massaging and shaping the wet leather, and heating it pulls the leather snugly onto the form it covers.

Is it worth the work? We'd say, "Yes!" The bolsters are slightly built up and the new covers fit over them beautifully. We can't wait to see the finished interior, which we'll highlight next month.


Westminster Auto Upholstery
Anaheim, CA 92806

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