Once upon a time, when a classic Chevrolet’s original, stock interior bit the dust it meant game over for keeping an authentic, original-style interior in place. The next stage in the car’s life (depending on whether it belonged to a family-type dude or a single guy) was stodgy seat covers or a custom tuck ’n’ roll job. Either way, good or bad, the original upholstery was in for a stripping and the seats modified to suit the whims of whoever was reupholstering the car. For the restoration-minded folks at that time, the odds of finding an upholstery shop with the right diameter of silver or gold Mylar piping, model-specific cloud cloth, or molded ribbed vinyl yardage in its inventory were just about zilch.
Sure, one might have gotten lucky and tracked down a bolt (roll) of N.O.S. material, but unfortunately it would have been as many years old as what was being taken out, and probably brittle, too. Fortunately for classic Chevy owners living in the 21st century, the folks at Cars Inc. stock even the rarest of color and material combinations for almost every classic Chevrolet made, including early Nomad and Corvette waffle patterns. And just like how the factory used to do it, Cars’ upholstery kits come in completed form, eliminating the need to cut patterns and then sew it all together.
Of course, one must bear in mind the upholstery kits installed at the factory were pulled over brand-new foam, springs, and seat frames. Restoring an interior must be thought of in the same terms as restoring a car’s paint, in that there’s a lot of stripping and prep work to be done before pulling on a new set of seat covers. Much like removing paint from an old car’s body and finding a bunch of rust holes packed with filler, the interior of an old Bow Tie can hold as many surprises.
Typically, the interior of anything short of an unmolested survivor has been reupholstered several times and will be sans original details. In the case of this ’57 Bel Air, the complete interior was treated to a Tijuana tuck ’n’ roll job, with the original foam seat cushions replaced with a foam topper and cotton stuffing. No matter whether one’s upholstery has never been redone or many times due to age, it’s probable the seat foam will need replacement. There’s two ways to go, one can order new replacement seat foam from Cars Inc. or, as shown, trim sheets of topper foam to fit.
Redoing upholstery is considered by many to be amongst tasks such as rebuilding an automatic transmission or spraying a complete paintjob, as something to leave to a professional. Opting for Cars Inc. authentic reproduction upholstery kits eases the skill level needed to complete the job and ensures totally period-correct results. We’ve included how the pros do it with professional tools and then offer economical alternative ways for the DIYer.
There’s a good chance any DIY guy with a natural inclination for upholstery work could tackle this job and be satisfied with the results. To provide Super Chevy readers with some professional tricks of the trade, we looked to our friends at California Auto Upholstery in Garden Grove, California.
01. Evaluating what we had to work with was the first step. Notice the passenger-side seatback leans crooked and back too far. Installing and adjusting OE-style seatback stops was the fix.
02. The fastest and most effective way to remove the seat covers was to use a pair of dikes (diagonal pliers or side cutters) to cut the hog rings away from the seat frame and springs.
03. For cutting aged, petrified seat covers that wouldn’t fold, a single-edge razor blade sped up the removal process.
04. Removing the seat covers is a multi-step discovery process that should be done with care in case some materials can (or need to) be reused.
05. Peeling back the seat cover and throwing away the cotton stuffing revealed a layer of rotted and totally unusable foam. A blanket of rotted burlap covered with Visqueen was also discarded.
06. The driver side of the front seat should receive a close inspection to ensure there are no broken springs. Do not weld broken springs; instead, wrap (bind) with wire to repair.
07. A fitted piece of burlap was attached with hog rings to protect the new foam from being cut by the springs. Notice how the burlap is wrapped over the spring edges.
08. Next, a topper (sheet of high-density foam) was glued to the burlap; first one half and then the other.
09. A second layer of high-density foam was added for comfort and to ensure the Cars Inc. seat cover would fit snugly.
10. This is a foam saw, but in a pinch an electric kitchen knife will work to cut and shape the foam. Notice that the angle of the blade shapes the foam.
11. In addition to glue, hog rings were used to wrap and hold the foam tightly around the seat frame.
12. The seat cover was placed squarely over the foam to align its position and then the seat cover was rolled over one corner and then the next.
13. Hog rings were attached to the front of the seat springs (frame) first and then the seat cover was pulled rearward to fit.
14. Here’s a pro tip to ensure a snug fit: Using a steamer compresses the foam and allows the vinyl upholstery material to stretch. In lieu of steam, laying the seat covers out in the hot sun approximates steaming.
15. Not included in the CARS Inc. kit is a long wire encased in cardboard to eliminate snags and tears. It is fed into the envelope sewn at the front and rear bottom of the seat cover.
16. While pulling and slapping the seat cover forward to fit into place, the rear seat cover envelope was hooked with hog rings to the seat springs.
17. Next, the front envelope was pulled down over the seat frame and attached with hog rings through the cardboard wrapped wire onto the lower seat frame and springs.
18. The last step to fitting the seat cover was to attach the left and right sides with hog rings to the seat frame and springs.