Even in relatively stock form, older Corvettes can be quite capable cars—capable enough that it can be tough to stay in place in the driver seat during hard cornering. While not a major problem on a strictly street car—after all, you probably shouldn’t be pushing hard enough on public roads that it matters—it’s hardly confidence inspiring, and even if you prefer to simply cruise long distances in your Vette, the seats make a world of difference in how pleasant that experience is.
The good news is that seat design has come a long way since the days of the Nixon administration, when our ’72 project coupe, aka “Scarlett,” was built. Since we began this project, we’ve performed a complete suspension rebuild, including a rear coilover conversion from Van Steel, 17-inch wheels from Summit (with 275/40 tires front and rear), and Wilwood brakes. All of this has dramatically increased the car’s road-holding ability, and we still haven’t installed the built LS3 stroker (see “Building the Beast,” Parts 1-3) that will more than double Scarlett’s current 300 horsepower. With this much added performance, it’s even more important to stay firmly planted behind the wheel at all times.
With this in mind, we turned to Corbeau for a set of the company’s highly regarded A4 reclining seats, along with five-point harnesses. In this article we’ll cover the basic seat installation, for those who simply want the extra comfort and support of modern performance buckets. Next month we’ll look at what it takes to add the harnesses.
Corbeau has been in business for more than 50 years, and the firm prides itself both on the broad array of seats and mounting systems it offers—including everything from street-car buckets to those designed for Baja racing—as well as its customer service. (Reps make a point of responding to every email received during business hours within one hour.)
While Corbeau offers many seating options for racing vehicles, including HANS–compatible models with shells made of Kevlar or carbon fiber, the A4 seats offer the added benefit of reclining, which makes them a good choice for a car that’ll be street driven. The reclining feature is controlled by a lever located near the pivot point of the seatback. The lever is mounted on the left side for the driver seat, and the right side for the passenger seat, something you’ll want to keep in mind during installation. The Corbeaus also let you adjust the angle of the seatback, which the C3’s factory latch mechanism didn’t allow (when it worked at all, which was rare).
To ensure the best fit for your application, begin by selecting your seats, then choose the proper mounting brackets for the car into which you’ll be installing them. Brackets are available in a choice of fixed or sliding configurations, with either one or two latches on the slider. We chose the sliding brackets with two latches, in order to better resist the sort of load we anticipate putting on them on the track. Both of the latches are attached to a bar that runs across the front of the seat.
The A4 comes in a variety of covering materials, including leather, cloth, and microseude, and it can be custom ordered in other materials as well. Other options include an inflatable lumbar support with a manually operated air pump, seat heaters in both the lower and upper cushions (also available separately for installation in other manufacturers’ seats), and a “fifth slot,” which is a plastic-reinforced slot in the lower cushion through which the anti-submarine belt in a five-point harness fits.
With track use in mind, we selected the fifth-slot option, and ordered the seats in microseude. While many people think of leather as the default material for Corvette seats, there’s a reason many high-end sports cars currently use synthetics like Alcantara. Specifically, the rougher surface of the suede-like material helps keep you in place in the seat better than slick, finished leather. In a nod to durability, our microseude Corbeaus came with leather patches to ward off wear on the higher-traffic portions of the seat.
While the factory buckets feature a small bulge on either side of the seat cushion, they can’t compare to the amount of support offered by a true performance seat. The sides of the A4’s lower cushions are raised to secure the sides of the upper thighs and buttocks, and the upper portion of the seat wraps closely around the waist—so much so that Corbeau recommends the standard A4 for those with waist sizes of up to 36 inches, and the A4 Wide for those broader in the beam. Note that if you tend to wear bulky items on your waist—a large cellular phone or, for those with CCW permits, a holstered pistol—you may want to find another place to put those things while driving, lest they become pressed uncomfortably into your side.
The top of the backrest wraps around your shoulders—a bit closely for me, I found, though I got used to it—and extends well above where the factory seats stop, which gives added support to the head. Whether or not you order your A4s with the fifth slot, both sides of the headrest portion have a slot to accommodate the shoulder straps of a five-point harness. Weight-wise, the A4, with bracket, came in at a little less than 40 pounds, the same as a factory seat and about 4 pounds lighter than a leather C5 Sport bucket, which is a popular retrofit for older Corvettes.
To install the seats, we first assembled the A4s to their brackets by following the recommended practice of sliding the upper part of the welded bracket all the way forward and installing the two front bolts (without fully tightening them), then bringing the bracket all the way backwards and installing the rear bolts. The bracket mounted quickly and easily to the driver-side seat. I found the passenger-side bracket needed a little more encouragement, but it still bolted into place without modification. Be careful not to put too much pressure on the bar that controls the seat latches during assembly, as it can pivot out of its mounting points if you apply too much pressure to one side while the seat track isn’t assembled. Once the brackets were all in place, I tightened down all four bolts, and the seats were ready to be bolted into the car.
We then removed the factory seats, which were held in place by a mishmash of bolts, washers, lock washers, and nuts. Once everything was unbolted, I lifted out the seats—a process I found easier with the T-tops removed—and vacuumed and shampooed the carpet underneath it.
Fortunately, I had laid one of the brackets on the floor of the car before installing it on the seat. It became apparent at this point that the factory seatbelt retractor kept the bracket from sitting flush, something that’s easier to see when you’re not wrestling 40 pounds of seat. Out came the factory belts, replaced by the lap-belt portion of the five-point harnesses, which I bolted to the factory mounting points.
Once the seatbelt reel no longer interfered with the seat positioning, I used Grade 8 hardware from the local O’Reilly to bolt the new seats back into place. All in all, the project could be done in a Saturday afternoon.
From behind the wheel, I discovered that even though the A4 has the lowest profile of the Corbeau seats, it’s still fairly high. It raised the seating position noticeably, making it difficult to fold the buckets all the way forward without popping the T-top latches to allow extra headroom. For what they offer though, it’s a trade I’ll gladly make.
Ken Coopman, a former Corvette road racer (and one of Scarlett’s previous owners) once told me that few things make as big a difference in a car’s handling as the seats. Having taken the car for a quick run through some twisties up in the mountains, I now know why. With the seat keeping you firmly in place, you have a much greater feel for what the car is doing, whether it’s the initial “bite” on turn-in, or the exact moment of weight transfer toward the outside as the suspension loads up. It’s a night-and-day difference compared with the factory seats. I even found the Corbeaus to be much more comfortable than the mushy factory buckets when I took Scarlett on a few-hour drive through a combination of two-lanes and interstate.
Next month, we’ll look at staying even more firmly planted in the A4s by installing five-point harnesses and the crossbar to which they mount.