Considering that hot-rodding is a visceral hobby defined by smoke, flames, and deafeningly loud sonic pulses, it's only natural that we gravitate toward the mechanical components that create these intoxicating sensations. In the quest for big compression, big cams, big rpm, big horsepower, big-stall converters, and big tires, rehabilitating the interior is often an afterthought. The irony is that the cockpit is where you'll be spending most of your time once that hot rod hits the road, and as such, getting poked and prodded by broken seat springs in a ratty interior gets real old, real fast. The good news is that interior restoration doesn't have to break the bank thanks to companies like TMI Products. It offers everything from seat covers to headliners to carpet to door panels to center consoles for your Bow Tie. If you have the chops to assemble a short-block from scratch, chances are you can tackle recovering the seats, too. In order to get a better handle on all the different available options when restoring a muscle car interior, we sat down with Tim King of TMI Products to get the details in addition to some helpful DIY tips.
Although TMI Products might not yet be a household name amongst Bow Tie enthusiasts, the company has been offering top-notch restoration components for decades. The company was founded in 1982 by four brothers, the Taccinardi's, who began building Volkswagen door panels in their parent's garage. More than 30 years later, TMI has expanded into the muscle car market, now offering seat covers, sun visors, headliners, consoles, and replacement carpet kits. Throughout its history, TMI has placed on emphasis on matching the fabrics, stitching, and overall quality of its interior restoration components to OEM manufacturing specifications. Today, the company designs and manufactures all of its products onsite at its 139,000 square-foot facility based in Corona, California. "Our Chevy products are our newest product line, and we are aggressively expanding our catalog to encompass more GM models. We currently offer a full range of interior restoration products for first-gen Camaros and 1964-72 Chevelles and El Caminos," TMI's Tim King explains.
Seat Restoration Kits
Aftermarket racing buckets offer the ultimate in lateral support for track-oriented applications, but aren't always the ideal solution for cruisers and street machines. As a cost-effective alternative, TMI offers seat restoration kits that allow replacing the worn-out factory seat covers and foam. "Since most aftermarket seats are universal and aren't designed specifically for a certain make and model of car, color matching can be a problem, and there are lots of headaches associated with sorting out the seat tracks and seating position," Tim explains. TMI's seat foam is manufactured from flexible polystyrene, injection-molded foam for comfort and durability, and attaches directly to the factory seat frame for easy installation. "Replacing only the foam and upholstery allows people to transform stock seats into a more performance-oriented seat that looks custom. Our seat restoration kits are available with additional bolstering as well."
DIY Cost Savings
Some enthusiasts think they need to take their seats to an upholstery shop for a set of custom covers. Since TMI's seat cover and foam replacement kits can be installed at home by any competent DIYer, they offer substantial cost savings over custom upholstery. "A full custom interior shop could charge anywhere from $3,000-$6,000 or even more to restore the front and rear seats, whereas our seat restoration kits can be purchased for about $800 for the front and rear," says Tim. "Since we are a large scale manufacturing facility, we have an assembly line that significantly reduces costs on our upholstery. This allows somebody to pick up a set of Sport-R seat covers which look custom, but for a fraction of the cost of a custom one-off interior."
Assessing the condition of seat upholstery is easy enough, but what about the springs? "Once you have removed the factory upholstery and stripped the seat down to a bare frame and spring assembly, you'll want to inspect them just like any other part on the car. The big thing to look for are broken springs," Tim explains. "After 40 years of use, it's common for them to break. You can either replace only the broken springs, proactively replace all the springs, or buy all new frames and springs. All three options are available through Ground Up (ss396.com). As an added bonus, they are also an authorized TMI dealer."