Owning a classic piece of Americana has its perks; the smiles and thumbs-up at every stop light are a couple of those. They can also have their headaches; one such problem is ratty seats. To most enthusiasts, replacing a seat cover is more of a mystery than a ring job, but seat covers are much easier than you might think.
As with every project, there are a few tricks that make things go faster. Proper tools are very important; most seats require hog rings which are installed with special pliers. While it can be done with channel-locks, it is much simpler and convenient to use a set of $30 hog ring pliers. Another trick is using trash bags. Vinyl and leather can grab the seat foam when sliding on the cover; a simple plastic trash bag allows the cover to slide easily over the foam. Sometimes, the new cover is really tight and needs to stretch to cover the springs or frame, especially when using new foam. The careful application of heat can help loosen the material and gain that extra stretch. Most people use a heat gun, but if you are not extremely careful, the material will burn, not good when a cover can cost $300-400 or more, therefore a good quality hairdryer would be a great choice for a novice upholsterer.
The process itself is quite simple, when dealing with pre-sewn seat covers. Of course, having an experienced hand always makes things easier. That’s where Fred Murfin of Redline Auto Sports of Wilson, OK comes in. Having over 30 years of experience in automotive restoration, Fred and his son Corey took a set of 1979 10th anniversary Trans Am Pace Car seats from trashed to showroom-fresh in a matter of a few hours.
1. The original seat covers were pretty trashed, and in dire need of restoration. The seats were disassembled in preparation for the new covers.
2. The old hog rings were snipped off with a pair of cutters. Once all of the rings are off, the cover slips right off.
3. The foam was in excellent shape, so we reused it. The Classic Industries seat cover comes just as the originals, the upper horizontal rib was hog ringed to the foam.
4. The seat cover was wrapped around the foam. This is much easier to accomplish with the steel seat backs removed.
5. The steel seatback is also in great shape, so it was reused as well.
6. Fred pushed the frame back into the foam. The tabs at the top must go over the seat cover.
7. Using a spring clamp, the cover is held fast, on one side, while adjusting the positioning of the cover.
8. With the upper section adjusted, it was attached with hog rings.
9. With the sides trimmed out and lined up, each side was hog ringed, and then the clamps were removed.
10. The seat bottoms were wrapped with the new cover. Again, the foam was separate from the seat frame.
11. The foam was set onto the frame and the cover was wrapped around the edges. The perimeter of the seat cover has a plastic strip sewn to the edge. This strip must be flipped underneath the rolled channel shown here.
12. The cover was stretched until the top edge of the plastic strip could be rolled under the channel. This is a twisting motion that can take several tries to get is right.
13. The entire front and side perimeter are attached the same way. It is easier to start the next section before finishing the previous.
14. The rear portion of the bucket seat bottoms get hog ringed in place. Proper stretch is important for a good looking seat.
15. The seat was reassembled. The cover has to be slit so the attachment posts can come through the cover.
16. The back was flipped forward and the plastic cover was reinstalled.
17. Fred reinstalls the upper seat plastic. These parts are held on by small screws. Now would be a good time to refinish or replace the original screws.
18. The rear seats are assembled in the same manner. The foam and springs stay together here, so some finagling was needed to stuff the foam into the cover. A second hand is always helpful.
19. The corners are always the most difficult of any upholstery job. We didn’t need a heat gun here, but if the foam was new, it would have been necessary.
20. The hog ring pliers once again com into play. Over 100 hog rings were used in this project.
21. More hog rings attach the cover to the frame. On these covers, there was a solid rubber welt sewn into the cover. This is for the hog rings clamped to the frame so the vinyl or cloth doesn’t tear through. Older seats use a thin wire.
22. The new rear seats were installed in the vehicle. Note the correct embroidered bird in the center of the seat back.
23. The restored buckets will feel much better than the cracked and split originals. The 10th anniversary pace car used leather and vinyl, which is why there are some wrinkles. After a few days in the sun, the wrinkles will smooth out.
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).