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!
LeBaron Bonney Company
Red Line Auto Sports