Although retaining the factory seat frame vastly simplifies the restoration process and reduces costs, it's still possible to design seats in a wide range of styles to suit a variety of tastes. "TMI has a wide variety of materials we use to make seats out of depending on how the original equipment manufacturer produced them. We have factory-matched vinyls, cloths, suedes, and even leather," says Tim. "Our foam is higher quality than factory, offering greater comfort and feel. Our Sport seats have better lumbar support over a factory seat, along with bolsters to hold you in the seat. This allows you to sit in the seat, not on the seat. The increased bolstering not only offers functional performance benefits, but it also gives you a much better-looking seat. TMI's Sport seats offer increased bolsters but original patterns, grains, colors, and pleating. When stepping up to something more custom, such as our Sport-R upholstery, we use a combination of vinyl and suede. The Sport-R series is a step above the Sport seats, offering suede inserts with contrasting French seams on the side. These are a much more modern looking and feeling seat."
Think seat cover manufacturing, and the first image that comes to mind might be a bunch of little old ladies feverishly stitching away by hand. In truth, TMI's modern production techniques rely heavily on automated machinery to ensure quality and precision. "Quality control is taken into every single aspect of the manufacturing process. From the very start, all of our patterns are digitized into a computer," Tim explains. "We have computer-controlled cutting tables that use these digital patterns to cut every piece of material to within a 1/16-inch. This means that every time material is cut, it is perfect. We follow these same strict standards on down the line. Similarly, our foam is run through a machine that checks density, so we have an exact scientific measurement to determine how hard or soft the foam is instead of merely squeezing the foam by hand."
Chances are the interior and seats will be one of the last areas of your project car to receive restoration love. There may be some apprehension involved with tearing into the factory seats for the first time, but patience and careful documentation go a long way in ensuring a successful seat restoration. "When disassembling your factory seats pay attention to how things attach. Look at how the upholstery is attached to the frames, and where those attachment points are," Tim advises. "Take note of any sort of padding or reinforcements, side moldings, and emblems. This is all standard procedure when restoring a car, and it also applies to the seats. Since you'll probably have a smart phone in your pocket as you're disassembling the seat, go ahead and take some photos along the way that will provide a good reference point during the re-assembly process."
Tools of the Trade
One of the most common excuses for paying someone else to work on your car is claiming that you don't have the right tools to get the job done. Fortunately, common hand tools are all that's need to restore the seats in your muscle car. "All you need are basic wrenches, screwdrivers and pliers," says Tim. "The only real specialized tool you would need is a set of hog-ring pliers to attach the covers securely to the seat frame. TMI and Ground Up sell a hog ring plier kit that includes the correct pliers and hog rings. A hair dryer might come in handy to help warm up and massage the upholstery as well."
Going the extra mile during the muscle car restoration process goes a long way in ensuring parts longevity, and the seats are no different. Lining the seat springs with batting material or burlap is a common upholstery shop technique that pays dividends. "While this is not necessary, it is always a good idea. You can reuse the burlap that is on top of the springs from the factory," Tim explains. "This helps prevent chaffing between the foam and springs, which would eventually cause deterioration with the foam. You can use just about any material in place of the burlap as well, such as towels, extra vinyl, and any sort of fabric. Doing this only takes a few extra minutes, and the payoff is eliminating one more variable that can create wear."