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For the Seat of your Pants

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When my 1951 Ford 2-door Custom rolled off the assembly line sixty-four years ago, everything was shiny and new, and the upholstery was clean and crisp. Flash forward to today, the same car sat untouched by human hands for 20-plus years in a barn in nowhere Texas, only to be yanked out, sold on Ebay, twice, moved to Kansas, then Oklahoma, and finally, $500 bucks and one click on glorious Ebay, brought it home to me.

While the last 20 years had been reasonably kind to the exterior, the large family of rats that lived inside the car, were not. The trunk had literally 2 feet of nesting materials stored in the trunk. Most of it came from the seats, though at least one faction of the family made their home in the front seat as well. Obviously the entire interior now required replacement.

The trick of it is finding restoration-quality upholstery. After much searching on the internet, and talking with my friends at Redline Auto Sports in Wilson, OK, it became apparent that the LeBaron Bonney Company was the best choice. Founded in 1938, the LeBaron Bonney Company has been sewing up interior products for quite a while. They offer interiors for over 300 Ford and Mercury models through LeBaron Bonney and over 400 for GM models under their Hampton Coach brand, altogether over 700 models covering models from 1916 through 1955.

While they may be a touch on the expensive side (the front and rear seat kit cost $995) the quality is absolutely amazing. Each kit is stitched together per order, with perfect detail. The kit comes with absolutely everything needed to install the seat covers, even hog-rings and ring pliers (the kit pliers are ultra-cheap, buy a $30 set at an upholstery shop, your hands will thank you).

While every job is different, a seat is a seat. There are some tricks that make the job easier, though. First, strip the old seat to bare frame and disassemble it. Amazingly, the frame for my 51 seat was in near perfect condition, the only place it was rusted were a couple of exposed edges, even the springs and retainer clips were in good shape, definitely not normal. Since we had no damaged springs, there was no need to replace or repair any. Repairing broken springs is pretty simple though. All you need is some spring wire and a couple of metal banding strips to fix a busted spring. With the frame cleaned up, we painted the hinges in the center and each side with some flat-black rust-busting paint. This keeps everything neat and clean.

The kit comes with a special 2-ply cotton batting\foam that is placed over a layer of burlap on the springs. The burlap is there to protect the foam from the cutting the springs. While the kit calls for only one layer of batting\foam, it comes with enough for 2 layers. After testing the comfort of one layer, we decided to go for 2 as the foam hybrid is pretty thin compared to the original 1.5” foam pad. The extra layer made a big difference in comfort and was a wise choice. Adding the extra layer did not adversely effect the fit of the cover. There is another trick we didn’t use on these seats as it wasn’t warranted, but I am including here as it is helpful. When sliding the covers over the foam, it sometimes helps to first cover the foam with a plastic trash bag. This adds a buffer for the cover, allowing it to slip over the foam and not grab, which makes things difficult. This is especially helpful for later model cars that use poly-foam and vinyl or leather seat covers.

The seat backs on our Custom model had 2 buttons on each cushion. This poses a slight challenge as the buttons tie to the frame and they have to be installed after the cover is slipped on. The trick here is to attach the front section to the frame, leaving the back open. Then using the supplied long threading needle, thread the buttons in the correct positioning (notated in the instructions) and tie the threads to the frame from the backside. This has to be done blind, with your hands up cover, over the cardboard backing. The cardboard backing does have pre-punched holes though, making it a little easier. Make sure you have a buddy watching to tell you when the tension on each button matches. You don’t want a deep button and a shallow button.

With the buttons installed, the cover can be completed by attaching the 3 flaps to the frame. Then the seat is reassembled, and can be installed in the vehicle. All in all, the front seat took Redline Auto Sports about 4 hours to complete. The new seat looks just like it did when it rolled off the assembly line 63 years ago, AND no more rats!

1. The original upholstery had certainly seen better days. The rats made their home in the trunk with the stuffing from the seat. Not a pretty picture.

1. The original upholstery had certainly seen better days. The rats made their home in the trunk with the stuffing from the seat. Not a pretty picture.

2. Gary Lette of Redline Auto Sports began the disassembly of the seat buy stripping what was left of the upholstery from the seat backs.

2. Gary Lette of Redline Auto Sports began the disassembly of the seat buy stripping what was left of the upholstery from the seat backs.

3. The seat backs are held on by 2 cotter pins, 1 on each side. The center pins were the most difficult to get at.

3. The seat backs are held on by 2 cotter pins, 1 on each side. The center pins were the most difficult to get at.

4. With the back rests off, they are laid out for stripping.

4. With the back rests off, they are laid out for stripping.

5. The bottom of the seat originally had 1.5” foam covering the springs. 20 years of exposure obliterated the foam, the only thing holding it together is the cotton batting.

5. The bottom of the seat originally had 1.5” foam covering the springs. 20 years of exposure obliterated the foam, the only thing holding it together is the cotton batting.

6. There were a lot of loose hog rings that required cutting. With so much of the original upholstery gone, it was easy to miss one.

6. There were a lot of loose hog rings that required cutting. With so much of the original upholstery gone, it was easy to miss one.

7. Quite surprising, the frames were in excellent condition for any car, especially considering the level of upholstery damage. The only rusty spots were a couple of exposed sections on the tubing.

7. Quite surprising, the frames were in excellent condition for any car, especially considering the level of upholstery damage. The only rusty spots were a couple of exposed sections on the tubing.

8. The exposed bracketry was wire brushed and sprayed with some flat-black rust-prohibitive paint.

8. The exposed bracketry was wire brushed and sprayed with some flat-black rust-prohibitive paint.

9. The cleaned springs first received a layer of burlap. This protects the foam and batting from the springs. The burlap is hog-ringed every few inches.

9. The cleaned springs first received a layer of burlap. This protects the foam and batting from the springs. The burlap is hog-ringed every few inches.

10. The supplied foam is actually a 2-part hybrid. The foam is fused with a cotton batting layer. We used 2 layers for extra comfort, as a single layer didn’t quite do it. Each layer was hog-ringed every few inches as well.

10. The supplied foam is actually a 2-part hybrid. The foam is fused with a cotton batting layer. We used 2 layers for extra comfort, as a single layer didn’t quite do it. Each layer was hog-ringed every few inches as well.

11. The kit comes with pre-cut cardboard backing plates. These have holes cut for the buttons as well. The cardboard slides over the original locater tab. A little glue or tape around the edge of the board, to the metal seat frame, helps hold the board in place.

11. The kit comes with pre-cut cardboard backing plates. These have holes cut for the buttons as well. The cardboard slides over the original locater tab. A little glue or tape around the edge of the board, to the metal seat frame, helps hold the board in place.

12. The supplied jute padding was cut to fit the back of the seat.

12. The supplied jute padding was cut to fit the back of the seat.

13. Gary sprayed a little upholstery adhesive on the cardboard and the jute and let it sit for a few minutes. If a spray gun and upholstery glue is not available, you can use 3M Super 77 aerosol.

13. Gary sprayed a little upholstery adhesive on the cardboard and the jute and let it sit for a few minutes. If a spray gun and upholstery glue is not available, you can use 3M Super 77 aerosol.

14. Fred and Gary wrapped the Lebarron Bonney seat cover of the frame. We are dealing with fabric, so it stretches more than vinyl, which makes it easier to slide over the seat. If it were vinyl, we would use a small trash bag over the seat, which allows the vinyl to slide.

14. Fred and Gary wrapped the Lebarron Bonney seat cover of the frame. We are dealing with fabric, so it stretches more than vinyl, which makes it easier to slide over the seat. If it were vinyl, we would use a small trash bag over the seat, which allows the vinyl to slide.

15. The upholstery is attached to the frame using the original hooks. The new seat covers come with a vinyl rod sewn in place, the originals used a steel rod. There are several flaps; the shorter flap goes on first. The rest is completed after the buttons are installed.

15. The upholstery is attached to the frame using the original hooks. The new seat covers come with a vinyl rod sewn in place, the originals used a steel rod. There are several flaps; the shorter flap goes on first. The rest is completed after the buttons are installed.

16. With the cover adjusted and aligned to the frame, the button positions were measured out. This seat required the button to be placed 10.5” down and 8 3\4” from either side. A piece of fabric chalk was used to mark the location.

16. With the cover adjusted and aligned to the frame, the button positions were measured out. This seat required the button to be placed 10.5” down and 8 3\4” from either side. A piece of fabric chalk was used to mark the location.

17. The kit comes with a foot-long needle to thread the button through the seat. The string was tied to the button before threading it through the needle.

17. The kit comes with a foot-long needle to thread the button through the seat. The string was tied to the button before threading it through the needle.

18. With the string through the seat, the button was pulled into the seat and tied to the frame. Gary had to do this blind; luckily he has quite a bit of experience.

18. With the string through the seat, the button was pulled into the seat and tied to the frame. Gary had to do this blind; luckily he has quite a bit of experience.

19. The buttons come pre-upholstered. Gary chose each button according to how it lined up with the pattern. Extreme care was given to make sure each button had the same amount of tension, so they pulled in the same amount.

19. The buttons come pre-upholstered. Gary chose each button according to how it lined up with the pattern. Extreme care was given to make sure each button had the same amount of tension, so they pulled in the same amount.

20. The rear flap of fabric was stretched over the frame and hog ringed. Then the second front flap was pulled over, stretched and attached to the original tabs.

20. The rear flap of fabric was stretched over the frame and hog ringed. Then the second front flap was pulled over, stretched and attached to the original tabs.

21. Gary hog ringed the flaps together for a little extra security. The kit comes with a set of ultra-cheap hog-ring pliers, but they are really uncomfortable. This set cost around $30.

21. Gary hog ringed the flaps together for a little extra security. The kit comes with a set of ultra-cheap hog-ring pliers, but they are really uncomfortable. This set cost around $30.

22. The seats were reassembled and the pins were replaced.

22. The seats were reassembled and the pins were replaced.

23. All done, looks like brand new.

23. All done, looks like brand new.

 

Sources

LeBaron Bonney Company

http://lebaronbonney.com/

Red Line Auto Sports

http://www.redlineautosports.com/

 

 

 

 

 

About Jefferson Bryant (201 Articles)
<p>A life-long gearhead, Street Tech Magazine founder and editor Jefferson Bryant spends more time in the shop than anywhere else. His career began in the car audio industry as a shop manager, eventually working his way into a position at Rockford Fosgate as a product designer. In 2003, he began writing tech articles for magazines, and has been working as an automotive journalist ever since. His work has been featured in Car Craft, Hot Rod, Rod & Custom, Truckin’, Mopar Muscle, and many more. Jefferson has also written 5 books and produced countless videos. Jefferson operates Red Dirt Rodz, his personal garage studio, where all of his magazine articles and tech videos are produced. You can follow Jefferson on Facebook (Jefferson Bryant), Twitter (71Buickfreak), and YouTube (RedDirtRodz).</p>

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