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Upgrading Your Tired C3 Corvette Seats

Recovery Is Possible: Yes, You Can Make Your Interior New Again

Gerry Burger Jan 2, 2018
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Barn finds. Today they are all the rage in the world of collector cars. And sure, it’s great to roll a vintage Corvette out into the daylight covered in 25 years of dust and gaze upon all that originality. Some barn finds can actually be cleaned up and brought back to life, others will require a lot more than soap and water. Our seats fall squarely in the second category, they were well beyond cleaning or repair.

Our recent barn find, which was really a garage find, was in excellent condition considering it had just awoke from a 15-year nap, but even after cleaning the interior it was apparent that the decaying foam, carpet and sound deadener were going to be generating an aroma that did not exactly qualify as a vintage bouquet to be enjoyed. Rather it was a fine aromatic blend of decaying materials, assorted rodent feces and dust. The decision to completely refurbish the entire interior was so easy we didn’t even feel the need to consult our better half.

Like all things automotive, anything worth doing is worth overdoing, so we instantly decided to upgrade to a full leather interior. While the vinyl is durable, handsome and correct for the car, there is just something really nice about sliding into a leather seat. It simply takes the Corvette to the next level. In 1971, there was an optional leather package, but only in black (RPO 403) or saddle (RPO 420). The brown, dark blue, dark green and red were only available in vinyl. Having said that, unless you are going for a 100-point NCRS match-the-buildsheet restoration, Corvette America will gladly supply leather seat covers in all the factory colors, and some non-factory colors, too.

While re-covered seats and new carpet will go a long way to freshening the interior of our Corvette we have learned through experience that when you renew one piece the neighboring piece tends to looks old. To that end, we decided to upgrade with all-new seatbelts, console trim, shifter boot and shifter bezel, also from Corvette America. Since we were converting the car from automatic to four-speed a new shifter console and bezel was required so we simply ordered all-new console parts. The addition of these new parts will give our Corvette a truly new-car look and feel, not to mention the fine fragrance of fresh leather.

The good news is this is a project that can be accomplished at home. Like any project, work slowly and carefully, following the detailed Corvette America instructions and you can come away with a professional looking interior. You will need a clean, padded workbench (lay a shipping blanket or beach towels down to protect the seats) and it will help if you have a friend to assist you as there is plenty of pulling and tugging to fit the covers perfectly.

We had our good friends at Hot Rod Interiors by Glenn in Phoenix re-cover our seats while we worked the camera so you could get a feel for how a professional handles the job.

In the end we couldn’t be happier with our new Corvette America seats and interior appointments. Everything looks fresh and new and the new foam ensures we will be comfortable while driving. After all, isn’t that what Corvettes were built for, driving. Vette

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1. Our seats look factory-fresh with all-new foam and upgraded leather covers. The good news is thanks to kits available from Corvette America, C3 Corvette seats can be re-covered in your home shop.

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2. It doesn’t take a keen eye to realize the seats in our 1971 project car are well beyond repair. The only solution is a complete reupholster job, including new foam. For the record, the seats smell as bad as they look.

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Removing the seat is very straightforward; simply remove the four bolts holding the seat tracks to the floor. Moving the seat forward and back will help you access those bolts.

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4. We began disassembly by removing the fiberglass cover on the back of the seat to expose the seat latch mechanism. Our back panels were saved with a fresh coat of satin black. If the panels are damaged, reproductions are available.

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5. The seat latch is operated by the pushbutton at the top of the seatback that releases a latch on the seat bottom.

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6. Two bolts secure the latch to the seat bottom, remove these two bolts and then clean and paint the hardware black.

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7. The metal retainer holding the release pushbutton is removed next. After removing the screws that hold the chrome bezel in place, remove the bolts that hold the mechanism in place. The release linkage can now be removed from the seat.

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8. Next we will remove the actual side hinges by removing the screws into the seat frame. If these pieces are rusted you can either have them re-plated or paint them to match the seat color. While ours looked a bit rough they actually cleaned up quite nicely.

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9. The seat top and the seat bottom rest on bumpers. Time, heat and use had pretty much destroyed our bumpers. We removed them from both the top and the bottom seat frames. They must be removed to remove the old cover.

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10. The chrome ball on the seat adjuster was removed, and then the slider tracks were removed from the seat frames. Reproduction knobs are available, but once again our chrome knob cleaned up nicely.

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11. A little time with a wire brush and some cleaning solvents had our tracks ready for a couple of coats of satin black.

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12. Using pliers, all of the hog rings holding the original vinyl covers to the seat frame were removed.

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13. The old seat cover was then slipped off of the seat frame. We also removed the hog rings and what remained of the original seat cover from the seat bottom.

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14. Next we removed the original foam from the seat frame. It is imperative that you replace the foam during the restoration process. Our foam was flattened, smelly and worn.

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15. We cleaned and closely examined the seat frame for any damaged springs. Happily, the springs and frames were in excellent condition. Once again, a quick spray of satin black will freshen and protect the spring frames.

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16. Our original seat ID tags were still on the seats, telling us they were manufactured in 1970 along with the standard GM part number for the seat frame.

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17. We opted to use all-new seat release linkage rods and bezel plates sourced through Corvette America.

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18. We upgraded our upholstery from the original vinyl to leather and, of course, we ordered new foam pads all from Corvette America. They offer leather covers in all factory colors and some custom colors.

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19. There are rods that slip into the seat covers that provide a structural attaching point for the hog rings, and two other rods are used to pull the covers into shape on the top and bottom. The rods slide into sleeves on the covers.

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20. Notice the sleeve sewn into the recessed line on the cover and the corresponding recess in the foam. The sleeve and the recess in the foam must align perfectly.

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21. Three wires are slipped over and through the fabric sleeve and then pushed down through the foam. Here we are installing the first of the three wires.

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22. This piece of rod fits into the recess on the back side of the foam and the twisted wires pull the cover into the foam recess on the front of the foam pad. The result is a clean recessed line on the finished upholstery.

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23. Stretching the seat cover over the new foam and seat frame is a two man job, one to hold the seat frame and the other to pull the cover into place. Work slowly and hog-ring the cover in place working carefully to minimize any wrinkles in the cover. Note the shipping blanket covering the workbench to protect the new seat cover.

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24. Here we can see the completely refurbished seat bottom with the cover attached over the new foam.

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25. Even the professionals at Hot Rod Interiors by Glenn can have a small wrinkle or two in the covers. To remove the wrinkles first wet the leather (or vinyl) and then carefully use a heat gun. The water helps steam out the wrinkle and also works as a guide to prevent overheating of the material. Be very careful not to damage the seat cover with excessive heat.

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26. And here is our finished seat bottom looking factory fresh and upgraded to high-quality leather. Few projects are more rewarding than freshening the interior on a vintage Corvette. You’ll enjoy the fresh seats every time your drive.

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27. We attached the seat cover to the seatbacks with hog rings, pulled the recess line in with wires and a rod much like the bottoms. Then the new Corvette America seat latch parts and bezels were installed before our refurbished fiberglass panels were installed.

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28. The new release button and chrome bezel from Corvette America go a long way to giving the seat that “brand-new” look.

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29. The three point belt was reinstalled after the team at Hot Rod Interiors by Glenn refurbished the small bezel on the seatback. Attention to detail makes a big difference on the finished product.

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30. We reused the original lower seat latch and connected the new Corvette America linkage rod to that latch. Note the new upper and lower seat bumpers. Replacing these items ensure the seatback will rest squarely on the lower seat frame.

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31. Hot Rod Interiors by Glenn installed our brand-new seatbelts through the seat. Replacing 48-year-old seatbelts is a safety feature and a cosmetic improvement. Aged seatbelts are not safe in a collision.

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32. The team at Hot Rod Interiors by Glenn marked the seatbelts for driver and passenger side as well as the proper orientation at the top of the belt. This may seem simple but it is easy to confuse the two belts.

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33. The three-point shoulder belt protrudes through the front of the seat and they now retract completely and smoothly thanks to the new Corvette America seatbelt retractors.

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34. With the seat tracks bolted back onto the seat bottoms the chrome adjuster knob is replaced along with the seatbelt retainer clip.

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35. The guys at Hot Rod Interiors by Glenn freshened the adjust track, adjuster linkage and the adjuster bezel with satin black paint; once again, details make the difference.

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36. The chrome hinges cleaned up nicely and were reinstalled. The arms were installed on the seatback prior to final fitting of the covers and then attached to the lower seat frame.

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37. Along with the new seatbelts passing through the seats all new floor mount belts will be installed after the new carpet to complete our all-new seatbelt set.

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38. Ralph Schirmer does the final cleaning with leather cleaner and conditioner to complete the project. The quality and fit of the leather covers is outstanding.

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39. Notice how perfectly the upholstery pleats line up in the seat. While this seat was done by the professionals at Hot Rod Interiors by Glenn, the same results are possible at home by following the incredibly detailed instructions supplied with every set of Corvette America seat covers.

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40. Meanwhile, Editor Brennan seemingly didn’t notice there were no seats in the car while he amused himself dismantling the instrument panel. Fresh gauges will be another story for another day.

Now For The Console-ation Round
As we mentioned earlier we are converting this 1971 Corvette from an automatic to a TREMEC five-speed that has been modified by American Powertrain to fit the Corvette perfectly. We opted for this tranny because we prefer three pedals and stirring our own gears. To that end the console also required changing from the automatic to the standard shift console. Happily, the good folks at Corvette America had every piece required for the conversion and we now have a brand-new console to match the seats and carpet. We are also happy to report the American Powertrain tranny placed the shifter in the original console perfectly, but more on that later. For now, here are the parts required for the console conversion.

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41. We ordered a complete console set for our automatic to stick shift conversion. The new parts will be right at home next to our freshly covered leather seats.

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42. Corvette America even offers new wood inlay to match the dashboard in our 1971 interior.

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43. The horsepower and torque ratings were on display for all to see in 1971 and the new plate makes the power ratings easy to read.

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44. By using both the inner and outer shifter boots, heat migration is kept to a minimum. We are pleased to say our American Powertrain modified TREMEC five-speed; overdrive tranny places the shifter in the stock location.

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45. These plastic panels are often scratched and bent in a vintage Corvette. These new panels give the car a factory fresh look.

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46. A close look at the main body of the reproduction console shows all the screw holes, attaching points and plastic is in perfect condition. Most 48-year-old consoles have seen serious wear.

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47. This is the complete, precut carpet set from Corvette America. We will install that over modern sound-deadener and insulation for a quiet, cooler Corvette.

Photos by Brian Brennan

Sources

American Powertrain
Cookeville, TN 38506
931-646-4836
www.americanpowertrain.com
Corvette America
Reedsville, PA
800-458-3475
www.corvetteamerica.com
Hot Rod Interiors by Glenn
623-872-2242
www.hotrodinteriorsbyglenn.com

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