When it comes to upholstery, there are lots of options. If you are just building a car to cruise and enjoy, it does not have to be 100% correct, you have some leeway. You can alter the original design all you want and it doesn’t matter, such is not the case with concourse-level restorations. For a 100-point resto, everything has to be perfect, as it rolled off the assembly line. A full-on resto requires specific knowledge and expertise in restoration upholstery, not something most local upholstery shops specialize in. For this, we must search out a specialist.
Our 1951 Ford Tudor Custom project is in full swing, and door panels are next on our list. We did a lot of research and found that the LeBaron Bonney Company offers the most complete interior kits for the ’49-51 Ford. These kits are built off of the original patterns, using 100% correct materials and each piece is built the way they were 50 years ago. LeBaron Bonney offers products for Ford and Mercury vehicles from 1928 through 1962, while their Hampton Coach division covers over 400 GM vehicles. We sourced all the upholstery from LeBaron Bonney for the ’51 project.
Building door panels has always been something of a mystery to novice builders. The main issue with door panel upholstery is the sewing. Stitching vinyl, foam and fabrics on a standard sewing machine is not easy, upholstery materials are thicker and more difficult to sew and require a heavy-duty machine. For this reason, LeBaron Bonney offers their door panels fully assembled and ready to install. While this certainly makes it easy, opening a box and pulling out finished door panels doesn’t exactly make for good reading. To that end, we purchased our kit in the unassembled form, so we could show you how it goes together.
For the stitching, we went to Redline Auto Sports in Wilson, OK, where Gary Lette sewed up the vinyl and pattern fabric and assembled the panels. The entire process took less than a day for both door panels and the rear panels. The Lebaron Bonney kit came with most everything we needed- die-cut backing panels, vinyl, wool and pattern fabric. What the kit does not come with is the welting foam (which has to be sewn into the vinyl to create the welt strip) and 1\4” open-cell backing foam, which is required for the center of the door panels. We picked up these supplies from the local upholstery supply shop. All said, the process is simple, though the stitching does require a little practice (which is why we chose to use a professional!) and the results are a beautiful set of interior panels that look right out of 1951.
1. Using the panels we sourced off the internet, we had the hard parts we needed. The stainless trim strips are held on with metal tabs, which are fragile. We straightened them up with a pair of pliers. You might break a few, and that is ok, it happens. We got lucky, and all of them lasted.
2. The new panels from LeBaron Bonney come exactly as the originals, marked for the trim and secondary boards in pencil. The marks for the trim pegs even lined up.
3. The panels call for 3 secondary panels to be glued in place on the main board. We used a quality spray glue and a paint gun. An aerosol glue would work here, but gun-sprayed glue is always better.
4. We drilled the cardboard for the trim pegs. A hole punch would have been better, but we left them at the shop.
5. The center section (the pattern fabric) needed a liner of foam to be correct. We sprayed both the panel and the fabric with glue.
6. After the glue sets up for 1 minute, the foam was laid down and the upper edge was traced out with a sharpie and the excess trimmed.
7. The pattern fabric was also laid on the foam, traced out (use chalk), and cut. This piece needs to be sewn to the vinyl, so no glue.
8. The vinyl was rolled out and a straight edge used to mark a line on the vinyl with chalk. Do not use a sharpie here; the line needs to be removable.
9. The next step is why we used an upholsterer. The vinyl and pattern fabric must be sewn together, with a piece of welting in the center. Here Gary Lette of Redline Auto Sports sewed the welt cord (round foam cord) into a 1.5” wide strip of vinyl folded over.
10. Next, the pattern fabric, welt cord, and vinyl were sewn together as shown. This stacking is important, so we have a hidden seam.
11. The sewn pieces were laid onto the door panel and stapled using 1\4” staples. The staples are placed under the flap, in the center of the secondary panels.
12. The vinyl flap was then folded over.
13. The fabric panel was stapled to the panel, keeping the lines straight and vertical. It is really easy to get in a hurry and let the lines get crooked, which does not look good.
14. The remaining material was stretched over the edges and carefully stapled in place. Yes, it is possible to press too hard and go through the other side, BE CAREFUL!
15. On the backside, the staples that went through were bent down using the back of a screwdriver. This makes sure they come out.
16. The wool material was cut out, laid on the top section, and then stapled in the center. Make sure you don’t staple over the trim holes.
17. The stainless trim was then reinstalled.
18. The wool poses a problem with the staples. Even though we are using short staples, the material is really thin. We shot the staples into the board at an angle, to prevent them from coming out of the other side. It worked.
19. All done, the 2 panels look nice. All that is needed now is the trim pieces.
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).