Engines, paint, wheels, chrome, interiors--All are important to make a car ours; an extension of our personalities; vehicles that we enjoy owning and driving. When buying a car, I always check the mechanics first (it must run right) and then the interior.
Interiors surround us, so they should have our favorite materials, colors, sounds and gauges. They set the feel of the drive,part of that one-ness with the car. So what really makes a good interior? It's different for each of us. I have a friend with a rat rod that has a '52 Chevy steering wheel, '53 Chevy instruments and no headliner, so that he can see the wood bows of the Model A body. It reminds him of cars and parts from his childhood. Another friend has a street rod for which he bought several leather hides (when he only needed one) to get perfect, non-blemished leather for his seats. Then there are guys like me, who think there is nothing like original--Wood grained dashes with broadcloth seats, cotton thread stitching and Moss-tred carpet! It just doesn't get any better than that!
If you are lucky enough to find a car with an interior you like, protection is important. The first thing is to insure it. Does your insurance cover moth damage, mold, etc.? This is something I never really thought about until recently. I keep my cars in garages with mothballs in the cars that have wool interiors, and baking soda in the ones that have leather and vinyl, and I check on them regularly. This past summer, I had driven my '37 Packard Super 8 (a low-mileage original) and everything was fine. About three weeks later, we got it out to detail it for an upcoming show, and there were small gnat-like creatures all over the inside that had eaten my headliner, and had started snacking on everything else! We vacuumed them out, pulled the seats, opened the trunk and sprayed everything to eliminate them, but damage had already been done. The headliner was totaled! Sick and in disbelief, I called my friend and insurance agent, Alex LaRue at LaRue Insurance*. He asked me to email pictures of the damage. He filed my claim under sudden and accidental and I got an estimate of labor and materials to put it back as it once was. We agreed on a settlement and I had a check within the month. This is an instance where having a complete range of coverage, knowing how to file the claim, and having a good agent like Alex makes all the difference.
Now it was up to me to find the right shade of broadcloth, the right thread, and the right shop to do the job. The good news was, I could re-use some of the elementsthe edge welt, windlace and sun visors. This would make it less obvious that everything was not original. Now I had to find a broadcloth that would look like it had never been replaced. When I priced the broadcloth, I sent out samples cut from my headliner, one that was sun-exposed, and one taken from behind a window molding that had never seen the sun, which was about a shade darker. I sent the samples to LeBaron Bonney, Bill Hirsch, SMS, and Original Auto Interiors, and received about 60+ samples back. LeBaron Bonney offers a sample book for around $25.00. It is great, and has everything from wool to leather, as well as carpet and trim samples, with a price list.
Just to look at the '37's interior, you would just call it medium brownwith tone-on-tone brown seats. Easy, right? But when I received the samples, it was obvious that brown comes in many tints, tones, shades and values*! My car's interior was a medium brown with a greenish-gray tint. When I laid my samples down on the interior, some of the ones that had looked right off of the car, were completely wrong on the car. I quickly narrowed the samples down to three. The ones I had been sent were small 2"x 2" so I called and ordered larger 6"x 6" ones in my three color choices to get the full effect. I laid the new larger pieces on the cars trunk to check compatibility with the paint, then the interior. Now I was down to one sample choice. Color will change when checked in the garage, under florescent light (they add blue to the color), and under sunlight. When checked inside the car, my sample looked about two shades darker in the garage, and about one shade darker outside in the sun, but inside or outside, I knew my sample choice was right, and it was out of the same familyof color.
Before filing away the unused samples, I laid them out on a neutral surface, and it was easy to see the different shades: Greenish brown, next to a yellowish, next to reddish brown. If you are matching colors, you have to test them in the car. As a final test, I pinned the sample to the headliner. This actually changed the shade once again, making it appear a darker brown than when it was laid on the seats. Placement is important in choosing the material.
Now, with the right material, I called to make sure they had the yardage I needed in 60" width (some only come in 54" widths), and that it would all be out of the same dye lot. Buying the same product number at different times can result in a slight mismatch because the fabric might be from different rolls, manufactured at different times. So it is always better to order all that you need and might need for future repairs to ensure it will all match perfectly. Thread was also a concern. 1930's cars used cotton thread, and now most shops use polyester. I ordered a matching thread sample from my material supplier and some cotton thread over the internet and compared the two. I actually liked the polyester better, and it is stronger. Its best to order thread in a one-pound spool. I chose an upholsterer who had years of experience and knew the wooden roof construction of the 1930s cars. We discussed the stitching. The headliner had a close stitch that seemed to disappear into the fabric, while the wraparound side panels had a wide stitch on the self-piping at the bottom of the headliner where it meets the gusset (side panel). I finally relinquished the car, and about a month later it was ready. All of the work and research paid off--it looked great!
*LaRue Insurance, 800-303-3518, www.larueclassics.com
PROPERTIES OF COLOR:
Hue: Pure color, any primary, secondary or tertiary color that is unmixed with black or white.
Reflective Value: The degree of lightness or darkness of tint, shade or tone. White has highest reflective value and black the lowest.
Tint: Pure color with white added.
Shade: Pure color with black added.
Tone: Pure color with gray added. The new color is a softer version of the original.
Intensity: The brightness or dullness of color
With the car stripped to the metal, hood doors, trunk off and interior out, we are implementing our interior plan. The floor boards have been replaced, new body bushings installed, the dash and door moldings removed for wood graining (we will cover that in an upcoming issue). Our re-graining will be done with a brush and sea sponge, not the roller or Di-noc applications. We will leave the headliner in, letting the upholsterer remove it. That way, he can get his exact measurements. It has complex fore-to-aft seams, and if they are not straight, your eye would be drawn to the crooked seams instead of the front-to-back flowing lines that give you the impression of massive length and motion. This is never more evident than when you sit in the back seat and look down the headliner, on toward the hood, then over the cormorant that is leading the way. It must be experienced. It can only be described as a car giving its passengers a feeling of comfort and importance--the way you feel in your favorite restaurant when the restaurateur takes you to your favorite table and asks that you just let him know if you need anything.
When we have all of the interior out, we always put in insulation. We use the insulation for heat and sound deadening, and we insulate everything: Inside doors, floors, top, trunk. This will provide for a quiet cabin later on, free of rattles and squeaks. Its worth the time and money.
MATERIALS: 1948 Custom 8's featured shadow cloth on its seatsa 100% wool broadcloth with raised, tone-on-tone texture that was available in green, tan, blue and russet. Packard used a cream piping, framing the seats. The piping had a hollow center with wire running through it to keep a conforming line around the seat. The door panels matched the seats and were in a plain broadcloth. They also had straight-grain wood grained window frames with pear wood panels beneath and quilted leather trim at the bottom of the panel. The quilted pattern is in squares stitched in heavy cotton thread using a long running stitch, with small metal buttons on each intersection. This is where the thread type and stitch are important. Nylon thread just wont work! Anything other than the correct, heavy cotton thread and long stitching would not look right with the rest of the interior.
The kick pads have a nice art deco trim ring surrounding the air vents, and a stainless trim piece to hide the seam between the leather and broadcloth covering. We will re-cover these using spray adhesive to the backing board, and wrap and glue the material edges to the back of the board.
The original deck mat was cardboard, but we will re-cover ours in broadcloth to match the seats (plain cloth), spraying glue to the board, then folding over the edges of the fabric and gluing them to the back of the board. The coupes have a rope seat pull hanging from the back of the front seats. LeBaron Bonney has running lengths of this material in several colors, allowing you to sleeve them, of they can easily be made in leather by sewing a long tube which is then turned inside out.
The carpet was originally Moss-tred and is very hard to find in precut sets. We found ours at www.roadworksauto.com. They have a variety of colors in loop or cut pile with bound edges. They fit well and look nice. Original Moss-tred is still available from Bill Hirsch* in tan only, but it comes in raw yardage and must be cut and fitted into place. On our '48 Golden Green 4-door, we couldnt find any dark green carpet, so we ordered the carpet in the size we needed, supplied a material sample and had the carpet dyed to match the sample (it helps to have the Dalton Carpet Mills close by!). It took time to cut it and fit it, but we had kept the old carpet for a pattern. When it was done, it looked great!
The trunk will have carpet on the floor, and flockon the vertical panels. Flocking is a process of spray painting the surface with medium brown enamel (slow dry) and using a flour sifter or rotary cheese grater full of flocking powder, sifting it onto the wet paint. When the flock hits the paint, it swells and dries to look like velvet. This beautiful, rich process, is unfortunately not being used much any more.
The interior is such an important part of the driving experience. Whether you do it yourself or have an upholsterer do it, its important to make a sketch of what it will look like, know what materials are being used, how its being done, and what it will cost. One last note, and that is to make sure you test-fit, especially when using non-original components like new seats. I recently heard a story about a guy who re-designed his complete interior and used a seat from another vehicle. He measured across the seat and across the car, and everything checked out okay, so the upholsterer re-covered the seat in leather, then put it in the car. You guessed it--it didn't fit! The angle of the back seat cushion was wrong; tilting too much toward the front, putting the driver too close to the steering wheel and dash. The seat had to be removed, disassembled, the frame repositioned, welded and re-covered. When this happens, who pays? The customer, or the shop? Now we're getting into legalities. A simple test-fit before re-covering saves time, money and friends!
I hope this will help in getting your interior exactly the way you want it! See you next month. Keep 'em driving!