I thought that since we are working on our 1951 Packard Mayfairs interior, it would be a good idea to revisit the upholstery work that was done on our 1953 Buick Roadmaster. The materials and techniques are similar, and its always wise to remember the steps that were taken, and the problems encountered along the way!
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 wanted to preserve that period, so when it came to re-doing the '53 Roadmaster's interior, I knew what I wanted to do and I had an upholsterer friend Sylvia who could do an expert job.
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 convertiblesuse 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 stretch runs 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 seam 3channels 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 cars Vanilla color!
We chose to stay true to the original design on our door panels. On the Roadmaster, they are made up of three panels. The top is red leather with 1" channels; the middle is black leather with an extended arm rest and red leather piping, and the bottom is black carpet. We had the original panels to reference for design details. These were disassembled, the materials steamed to eliminate wrinkles, then laid flat to get exact measurements for making the new panels. We also duplicated the fawn thread that was used between each channel, copying the exact stitch length. New patterns were cut to match the original panels, all work being done by Sylvia. She made paper templates from the original pieces, then laid the paper down smoothly onto the new leather, securing it with painter's tape (this tape does not pull or distort the fabric), then she cut out the pattern, numbering each piece in the order of disassembly. Reassembly would then be done in reverse order.
When choosing the door panel boards, Sylvia measured the thickness of our original boards. The thickness must match, or it can cause problems when installing door handles and moldings later on. We chose a 1/4" thick board and cut it about 1/2" oversized all the way around. This gave us a lot of flexibility when we fit the board to the car door, marking the placement for handles, fasteners, etc. We drilled holes and installed our door board mounting clips, but saved the screw holes for later. It will be easier to push them out with an awl after installation. We then traced the panel on the car and cut it to the exact size.
With the new door boards set, Sylvia now sewed up the leather for the top panels, making channels 1" apart using the fawn thread in between. Then the new material was stretched, glued and stapled. The rear quarter panels are a continuation of the front door panels, and were made the same way. We were able to use the original arm rests, which are part of the middle door panels, but are made separately. They would have been difficult to fabricate! They were covered in black leather, using a French seam* around them. Red leather piping was used to frame the panel, then the material was stretched, glued and stapled to the door boards. The bottom sections were recovered in a medium-nap, black automotive carpet similar to the original, and glued to the door boards. Finally, all three sections were sewn together to make one panel, and stainless trim strips hide the seams.
The driver's side kick panel was missing on our car, so with a piece of artists cardboard, we made a rough cut out, using the other side as a pattern, then placed that into position on the drivers side, tracing the exact dimensions. The design for the pads was a continuation of the door panel, making the top of the kick pad black leather and the bottom, black carpet. Kick pads and deck mats usually require thinner, 1/16" backing boards, allowing them to be slid under trim channels, etc. The leather and carpet were sewn together, then glued to the backing board, the edges sewn all around to keep it all intact during installation.
The deck mat was done using the same board, covered in red leather to match the original headliner, stretching it and gluing down, wrapping the edges of the leather under. This left the seat surrounds and robe railings.
The seat surrounds being plastic, were faced and worn. We decided to cover them in our red leather. Sylvias husband Odell suggested rough-cutting an oversized piece of material, then removing the center piece of stainless, then applying spray adhesive to the surround and backside of the material, letting the glue become tacky before putting the two together ONLY where the stainless strip would go. With this done, we put the stainless strip back on, giving us a point from which we could pull the material. We pulled the material tight to the top of the surround, then the bottom, then side to side, continuing all the way around until all of the wrinkles had been smoothed out. Our efforts produced a smooth finish that matched the interior, and only needed our new Fisher Body tag to make it complete.
Our robe rails were last. They were made by cutting a piece of red leather to length, about 2 1/2wide, then folded wrong side out and stitched along the long edge and across one end. This was turned right side out and slipped over the original cord, which completed our interior!
See you next month. Keep em driving!