Classic cars can evoke memories that are stronger than most of today's marriages. Unique looks made brands and models instantly recognizable as a Camaro, Chevelle, and Nova versus the cars of today, where standout styling is less amongst manufacturers. But classic cars weren't just about looks; they were about the plethora of options one could check off to truly build his dream ride. Multiple engine and transmission options were available, and the color pallets put a rainbow of rides on the road versus the generic silver, white, and tan that are today's norm. The wider array of colors also applied to classic interiors, a sharp contrast to the common modern choices of tan, gray, or black.
Modern cars do excel in multiple areas over the classics, and seat design is one of them. A product of better technology and listening to the market, today's seats offer comfort far beyond factory offerings of the '60s and '70s. But the problem of installing a modern seat in a classic car is that they can stand out from the rest of a factory interior instead of matching it, creating a potential eyesore. The classic marketplace is once again listening to its customers and responding with better choices—and TMI Products is one of the big players in that group. TMI has been manufacturing classic car interiors since 1982 and 10 years ago introduced its first Sport Seat for classic cars. By combining factory-correct patterns and colors with more aggressive side bolsters, the Sport Seat filled a big void.
"The idea came from customer feedback and thinking outside the box," said Dean Satterfield of TMI. "We had a customer come to us with a request for a more supportive seat, but didn't want to use a generic aftermarket seat that didn't match the rest of the interior." Costs are also kept in check since the original base of the seat is retained. "You're using existing frames and springs," said Satterfield, "but replacing the foam and upholstery with specially created items done by TMI in-house. The expense is greatly reduced versus buying an all-new seat."
Our test subject '70 Nova was due to have its bucket seats rebuilt, and after seeing one of TMI's Chevelle Sport Seat II models at a show, the wheels started turning. Because Nova and Chevelle bucket seats are very close in design, TMI accepted our challenge. We had a brand-new set of Nova bucket covers, and TMI reused the center sections from them to create a custom set of Sport Seat II covers. Even better, they installed them on our original seat frames, and showed us a way to increase head room by modifying the seat tracks.
01. This is what a '70 Nova bucket seat looks like with new foam, springs, and standard upholstery. The factory design doesn't have a lot of side support, and while it matched the mostly stock interior in the car, the lackluster seats made longer trips unpleasant.
02. To put this project in motion, our seats made the cross-country trek from Florida to California, where Emanuel at TMI Products was tasked with converting our seats from saggy to supportive. He started by removing the side shields and hog rings to reveal the bracket that holds the side shield in place.
03-04. There are specific right- and left-hand side brackets on each seat, and Emanuel marks each one for reference before removing it. The procedure is repeated on the opposite side, and once he removes the headrest lock piece, the seat can be split into halves for easier teardown.
05-06. Emanuel continues by removing the seat back rubber bumpers and then goes around the seat cover and foam to remove the hog rings holding everything in place. He eventually arrives at the burlap, which covers the spring assembly and signals the teardown is complete.
07-08. Emanuel then goes to work stripping the backrest part of the seat. After removing the headrest, he pops out the backrest release button by pushing in the clip from the side. The cover slides up toward the top, and after a few dozen hog rings are relieved of their duties, the backrest is ready for new parts.
09. Make sure to keep all the parts and fasteners specific to each seat grouped together. And with the seat now stripped to a bare frame, take some time to examine everything and replace any missing or damaged parts. In our case, the frame, springs, and burlap were in good shape.
10-11. TMI's Sport foam works in conjunction with a special set of Sport Seat upholstery. Keen eyes will notice the more aggressive side bolsters in the foam to create the seat shape we desire. The upholstery also sports bigger bolster areas but retains the original-style centers to match the rest of the factory interior.
12-13. Emanuel starts the assembly of the Sport Seat on the bottom cushion with the foam. He uses a wire clip to secure the foam's channel to the seat springs underneath, locking it in place. This is an important step, as new covers can require pulling and stretching to install, and you want a solid foundation.
14-15. Most classic seat covers will have sleeves to accept listing wires (14). The listing wires allow the upholstery to be securely hog-ringed to the foam while keeping a straight seam line. It's important to line up the cover on the foam correctly before pulling up the corners and performing this step.
16-17. Locating holes for attaching hardware can be difficult when installing new covers. A trick Emanuel used was to install the hardware first before the cover is completely hog-ringed in place. Then you can locate the bolt and screw heads and cut reliefs in the vinyl before finishing the assembly.
18. After getting the seams in both channels completed and hardware holes located and trimmed out, Emanuel starts working the cover into place around corners and smoothing out any wrinkles. The cover will then get hog-ringed around the bottom sides and on the rear center flap.
19. The same steps used on the bottom cushion are applied on installing the back-rest foam and upholstery. Three listing wires are used on the backrest cover, and the back bottom part of the cover employs the third wire, which Emanuel does as the final step before the trim and headrest are installed.
20-21. We couldn't have fresh foam and upholstery on a seat with cracked and scuffed trim. So we made a call to National Parts Depot for some new seat back panels (PN C-11358-169J) and side shields (PN C-11362-169J). Thanks to the company's huge in-stock inventory, we got them the very next day.
22. The fully assembled Sport Seat stands out against the factory offering from 1970. The bolsters are a welcome addition but don't scream
23. Although TMI made us a set of one-off covers, there are other options for Nova owners.
24-25. Some may think the new foam and bigger bolsters will create a higher seating position, but that's not the case.
26. For those wanting to take the Sport Seat to the next level, TMI now has a brand-new Pro Series seat line. Starting with a stronger frame, these seats add modern features, including a reclining backrest and more-aggressive bolsters.
There are several options on upholstery, including factory-style Camaro or Chevelle patterns to match existing interiors.
27. Novas aren't known for an abundance of headroom for passengers above the 6-foot-tall mark. But with new seat tracks available (NPD PN C-11561-119A for RH and C-11561-120A for LH), TMI showed us how you can modify the tracks and gain nearly an inch of additional space.
28. After making a template to locate the mounting holes and a correct alignment, a cutoff wheel made quick work of removing three quarters of an inch from the track height. Welding is necessary to rejoin the tracks, and careful measurements plus a little flat steel and a drill will help keep your mounting locations consistent.
29. The finished product still retains the proper slide and fitment, and there is a visual difference in height, but there's more to this modification.