I have always felt that a car's interior is one of the most important parts of buying or restoring a car. It sets the mood of the car, and it has to be right for you. I remember passing on a '52 Chevy Bel Aire hardtop (one of my favorite cars) because it didn't have the original-style interior. It was nice and well done, but it just wasn't right for me.
Nostalgia is a big part of my love for old cars. I remember when my dad brought home our new '52 and let me steer it down the driveway! I was four years old--I'll never forget it! I want to preserve that period, so when it came to re-doing the '53 Roadmaster's interior, I knew what I wanted to do and who I wanted to do it. It was our good friend and car girl Sylvia Hancock of Sylvia's Upholstery I had seen her work when I visited her husband, longtime friend Odell, at his shop, "We Do It All Restoration."
We photographed all of the upholstery before removing it from the car, then scheduled a meeting to discuss what I wanted to do. I had studied the '53 brochures, and liked the Roadmaster convertibles use of all leather, but liked the hardtop's design pattern better, so I decided to combine the two, using the hardtops cloth and leather design pattern, but doing it in all leather like the convertible. I also decided to stay with the hardtop's monochromatic use of thread to match the material, except on the seat ends and accents, using a fawn-colored thread on dark red, soft hide leather, called Canyon Red. Our entire interior would have to be re-done, except for the headliner, which was in great shape in original dark red with perfect chrome ribs.
Once the interior was removed from the car, we took that opportunity to rebuild the hydraulic power windows and seat, and to treat the floor with rust inhibitor and add insulation (see our Archives pages at www.southernwheels.com). All interior trim pieces, including screws and fasteners, were removed and carefully stored. These pieces are becoming very hard to find, and can easily get lost.
The seats were first to be re-covered. They were carefully disassembled and all parts laid out for patterns. Once all measurements were taken, the material could be ordered, in Canyon Red and Black leather, medium grain (we ordered two extra yards of each). Sylvia likes to first lay the leather in the sun to remove any wrinkles, then she positions all her pattern pieces on the leather, making sure the stretchruns side-to-side, then draws out each piece and cuts them out. She also marks each piece with a number, indicating the order in which each piece would be sewn. The last piece to be removed is the first piece to go back on. (An example of this is the seat plate*, which was the last piece to be disassembled after removing all of the gussets*, but would be the first piece to re-assemble, then everything around it.)
Sylvia laid out the foam backing. We wanted to be as close to the original thickness as possible, so we used a 1" thick foam for the seats, which she cut to pattern size and sprayed with upholstery glue, then laid it on the leather, smoothing out all wrinkles. She let this dry at least three hours, although overnight is even better. The design called for channel* quilting, so she marked the channels with tailor's chalk, 3" apart like the original. Sylvia marked two or three channels, then sewed them carefully, then marked a few more, making sure the measurement always stayed uniform, since a misaligned seam really stands out on a finished seat! Her fastidious craftsmanship insured that the seat turned out great. She next sewed the piping around the seat plate, then the gussets around the bottom, which have a narrow hem into which a pulling wire was inserted for strength when fastening the upholstery with hog rings to the seat frame. The last step before installing the upholstery onto the frame was to once again heat the material before stretching, to ensure a good fit. This completed the seat bottom.
The seat backs were done in a similar way, except the design called for un-quilted leather with a channel-quilted insert in each seat back. Sylvia made the same 3" channels and surrounded the insert with piping. She sewed these channels, starting in the center, and worked toward one edge, then rotated the piece and sewed them outward to the other edge, to prevent bunching of the leather.
The seats look great! And the dark red material looks so nice next to the car's Vanilla color! Next month, we will finish with our door panels, kick pads, robe rails and seat surrounds. Enjoy your cars and keep 'em driving!
*Plate: Seat surface that supports the pelvis
*Gusset: Material which is sewn to seat plate, boxing in the seat frame
*Channel: Decorative parallel seams sewn through material and padding