Nothing can drag down a cool Chevy faster than a shoddy interior. Ripped seats, sagging foam, and a vibe more like a dumpster than a muscle car's interior can completely kill the fun of cruising a classic car. The interiors of our beloved Chevys are simply victims of time and use. This is especially true of seats, where decades of "seat time" have taken its toll.
The good news is that the aftermarket makes it easy to restore your interior back to "better than new" status. While just about every interior restoration widget can already be found in some catalog, some companies are also ramping up their line of "better than stock" Chevy parts. One of these is TMI Classic Automotive Interiors. They've been churning out high-quality interior restoration parts and are now delving into soft parts with a custom touch.
Rather than just making exact replicas of the parts that originally came in our cars, TMI also focuses on making parts that fit the OEM seat frames, but have a more updated look. TMI's Tim King says, "We wanted give the stock seats a more modern look, but keep them true to the car." Their new Sport-R seats have aggressive race seat-inspired side and thigh bolsters, French seams, and suede side inserts. Since they utilize the original factory seat frames, the overall cost of having killer seats in your Chevy are kept down. As for costs, the front seat foam retails for $142 per seat and the covers pencil out at $367 for the pair. If you want to have a matching back seat TMI sells the front and rear covers as a set for $511. Also in a time where it seems that more and more replacement parts are coming in from overseas, all of TMI's products are produced at their factory in Corona, California.
1. These seats are from a 1971 Chevy Chevelle and have obviously seen better days. Besides the faded vinyl they also suffer from collapsed foam.
2. It turned out that they had been re-covered at some point. Pulling off the old covers revealed someone’s attempt to fix the sagging seat with some foam. We then stripped the front and back seats of their covers and ditched the worn-out front soft parts.
3. Here’s the resulting frame for the front seat. Overall they were in great shape, but the driver seat had one broken spring, which we repaired.
3a. The driver seat had one broken spring, which we repaired.
4. The replacement foam is made in-house at TMI. The foam itself is an exact match for the OEM unit, but the materials used are state-of-the-art polyurethane formulations that will resist breaking down with use.
5. After painting all the frames black we were ready to start rebuilding the seats. Before installing the new TMI foam we glued on heavy-duty felt. Back in the day they used burlap, which you can still do, but the felt is a bit nicer.
6. Here’s a pro tip. Get heavy wire (you can use metal coat hangers in a pinch) and cut them to the lengths needed to slide into the areas where the seat cover will attach (using hog rings) to the frame. This will make for a much more secure attachment and a better end product.
7. Metal rods were then slid into the seat covers at all the points where the covers would be tucked into the foam. The ends of the rods needed to be bent in a loop, or ground smooth, to prevent tearing the new covers. Here you can see the four rods needed for the bottom seat cover.
8. The TMI foam has metal anchors, called listing wires, built into sections. As Dean Satterfield of TMI told us, “This eases installation by allowing the upholstery to be hog-ringed to the listing wires in the foam rather than fight through the foam to find a spring on the underside. This alone can save up to an hour per seat as well as hand and wrist pain from pushing so hard.”
9. The TMI foam has metal anchors, called listing wires, built into sections. As Dean Satterfield of TMI told us, “This eases installation by allowing the upholstery to be hog-ringed to the listing wires in the foam rather than fight through the foam to find a spring on the underside. This alone can save up to an hour per seat as well as hand and wrist pain from pushing so hard.”
10. Once the seat cover was in place it was secured to the seat frame. The trick was to get the new cover on straight so that it had a uniform appearance. We took our time and made sure it was right the first time.
11. The front seat can be somewhat tricky to recover, so we would recommend having a skilled upholstery shop do the deed. Nonetheless, it can be done if you take your time. One trick TMI showed us to help get the new covers over the foam was to use a thin plastic trash bag in between the two. This helped the new covers slide in place over the backs.
12. More metal rods were slid into the perimeter of the seat cover. Again, this is much stronger than just hog ringing the material to the seat frame. With the wire in place we then went around the edge and secured the new cover of the foam.
13. And with that the bottom half of the seat was done. In our case we went with a two-tone black vinyl and suede combination with a red accent stitch. The increased bolstering really updated the look of the old Chevelle seat.
14. After painting the seat back frame we glued on a large piece of heavy black felt. You can get this at any fabric store for just a few bucks.
15. Just like the seat bottom, metal rods were inserted in the lower front seat cover and hog ringed in place. Once secured the cover was pulled over the seat foam. The covers feature durable polyester cross-linked backing. TMI says that polyester performs far better than the cotton used in the original and in some aftermarket covers. It costs a little more, but allows TMI to offer a limited lifetime warranty on their covers.
16. The new foam seat bottom then was then glued to that seat frame. With the foam in place we pulled the new cover into place.
17. It took two attempts to get the cover on straight and even, but it wasn’t rocket science. Once on we pulled it taut and hog ringed it to the frame.
18. It was then time to bolt the covered seat back to the seat bottom.
19.The assembled seat was then flipped over and extra flaps were pulled around and secured to the frame.
20. More hog rings were used to secure the new cover to the seat frame. In this case the sides were anchored to the frame.
21. We then put the plastic lower edges and seat backs in place. With new material the black plastic looked even worse so we called up Original Parts Group (OPG) and ordered replacement parts. Another option would have been to have the backs covered in matching black vinyl.
22. And here’s the newly renovated and modernized Chevelle bucket seat next to a stocker. The TMI cover has the look of a big-buck custom upholstery job and the bolsters, besides looking great, will actually help keep us in place when hitting the curves. TMI offers a host of color choices and combinations as well as various stitching options.