Any time you exercise your Corvette, no matter which model, there are hundreds of parts that must work in harmony to produce the desired driving experience. Of course idling over to the cruise night or commuting to work won’t task the hardware, as these machines are designed for aggressive use. There are certain items, however, that you’ll notice every time you go for a drive. Considerations such as the steering wheel; the feel and effort of the clutch, brakes, and shifter; and the car’s seats and seatbelt/harness system all have a direct impact on both your safety and driving enjoyment.
As any C3 owner can attest—and especially those with early models like our ’71 coupe—the seats are placed low in the vehicle, giving the driver the sensation of “wearing” the car, rather than simply controlling it. And while we love the low position of the factory buckets, they just don’t offer the side bolstering, comfort, or support of a modern equivalent. Further, the stock seats greatly hinder the installation of a four- or five-point harness system, placing the belts in positions that are less than ideal for comfort and safety, and offering no good option for the fifth or “anti-submarine” belt. For all of these reasons, we knew early in this project that the factory seats had to go.
Although seats might not be the first item that comes to mind when considering performance upgrades for your Corvette, the proper seating can greatly enhance the driving experience in a car that was designed to take corners. Aftermarket seats can also be considerably lighter than factory seats, and saving weight nearly always equals better performance. Additionally, having secure seating and a good harness system keeps the driver held in place, so he or she is not grasping the steering wheel or shifter, imparting unintended control cues to the steering and transmission. Lastly, and most importantly, seats and harnesses are an important safety device for the driver and passenger, reducing fatigue and holding both occupants in place in the unfortunate event of an accident or “off-course” diversion.
Those of you who have followed this project closely may realize that the seats we’re installing this month are actually the second set we’ve bolted into the car. Deeming the factory seats unworthy at an early stage, we replaced them with an economical set of buckets from Summit Racing Equipment. And while those seats have performed satisfactorily thus far, offering a decent fit and ride position when compared with other aftermarket offerings, our Stingray has since evolved into a somewhat refined performance machine. Accordingly, we wanted buckets that offered more luxury in addition to performance, fit, and style. Knowing that most aftermarket seats place the driver too high in the vehicle when installed in a Corvette, we researched our options carefully before deciding on a seat and seat-track kit from Corbeau and Speed Direct.
Well known for their variety of modern automotive seats, Corbeau designs seats for all aspects of performance driving, including racing and even off-road use. They offer exceptional quality, are manufactured from the highest-grade materials, and are available with a variety of options such as inserts for harnesses, inflatable lumbar supports, and even heaters. The only problem we encountered was deciding which seat design would be best for our Corvette, since it features a very narrow driving compartment. Luckily, Speed Direct has narrowed down the Corbeau line down to two versions that fit our Stingray. (Conversion kits are available for other C3 vintages as well.) Even better, the Speed Direct bracket kit places the seat-track sliders high inside the lower seat cushion, resulting in a driving position more similar to the factory placement when compared with other aftermarket options.
Corbeau offers several covering options, including cloth, suede, and leather, as well as a variety of color choices. We decided to keep it simple, ordering A4 model seats in black leather to match the rest of the car’s interior. The A4s are fully reclining, accommodate up to a 36-inch waist (maybe a little more if you squeeze), feature injection-molded foam cushions, and are made from automotive-grade colorfast and UV-protected materials. In addition to the new seats, we ordered Speed Direct’s seat-track brackets to ensure everything would bolt directly into our car. We also chose a pair of retractable three-point harnesses with pads from Corbeau.
After checking out the seat options on Corbeau’s website, we also specified the optional inflatable lumbar support, which uses a bulb-style air pump and deflation valve similar to those used on blood-pressure cuffs. We also optioned our seats with the additional fifth slot installed in the seat base, allowing us to use an anti-submarine belt if we so desire. Living in Florida, we didn’t deem seat heaters necessary, though our readers up north or those with lower back pain may find this option desirable. If ordering from Corbeau, also be sure to specify seats with the optional one-inch shaved base; this will ensure proper seat height in your Stingray. Kits from Speed Direct come with this modification already performed.
Installing seats is not a technically difficult procedure, although the proximity of this particular combination to the floor of our C3 did present a slight challenge. Once we received our parts, we simply removed the seats and seatbelts from the car, installed the Corbeau harnesses using new hardware, and then bolted the Speed Direct seat brackets to the new A4 seats. The brackets installed easily with the hardware provided, allowing the seats to be bolted directly into the reinforced factory provisions. Working at a leisurely pace in the garage, we accomplished the installation in an afternoon and were out enjoying the car that evening. For our application, the retractable shoulder harnesses were able to securely hold us in place; they’re also lockable for serious driving. For lankier drivers (i.e., thinner than the author) who slide the seat back more, the retractable unit may need to be mounted further aft.
After putting some miles on C3 Triple-Ex while ensconced in our new Corbeau A4s, we can confidently state that these seats are dramatically better than factory buckets, especially circa-1971 jobs like our old ones. Comfort and function are improved due to the available adjustability, and the side bolstering is deep enough to keep the driver and passenger firmly planted without greatly hindering ingress or egress. The inflatable lumbar support is another nice addition, one not available on factory C3 seats.
The leather surfaces are attractive and comfortable, with enough grip to keep occupants from sliding around. The retractable harnesses are safer than factory seatbelts, yet the inertia reels allow forward movement, just like modern passenger cars. For a fairly simple modification, this one yielded dramatic results we can see and feel. Best of all, we’ll be safer, more comfortable, and stylish when driving or racing our Stingray.