Installing new seat covers is a lot harder than you might think, especially if you want to do it right. There are many little procedures required to get the new covers to fit properly and look right. A professional often produces a better result, but I show some of the main aspects to consider if you try to tackle this job yourself.
Although I only show a front seat as an example, the same basic steps apply to most seat types and variations. The key is to be very attentive as you take the original seat apart so you see where everything goes and how the cover is supported and positioned. Taking the old cover off will be a whole lot easier than putting the new one on, especially if the foam bun pad is not in good shape and a new one is needed. Installing even the highest quality covers requires considerable pulling, pushing, and stretching to get the correct fit/look.
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I show some of the tips an experienced installer uses to get the best result. I also show some of the things to watch out for, plus a few precautions to take when putting the seat back together, to ensure many years of trouble-free use.
Disassembly and Detailed Inspection of Original Seats
When removing the original seat covers, take extra care to bag and tag the many clips, washers, rods, and other small parts that will be reused with the new covers. As the seats are disassembled, the location and orientation of each part should be carefully noted for subsequent reassembly. Many of these small parts are no longer readily available.
Assembly of Lower Seat Frame and Cushion
Generally, it’s advisable to use new burlap because this is one of the things that tend to deteriorate over time. When maximum authenticity is desired, however, the old burlap may be reused if it is in good enough shape. The original burlap has metal support rods, which plain burlap cloth lacks. Notice that additional batting was glued in place in the photos. This is not like the original, but it helps to give the finished seat a better shape.
Front Seat Refurbishment Step by Step
MUSTANG RESTORATION: FRONT SEAT REFURBISHMENT- STEP #1
The original passenger seat looked pretty good; we could have kept the original seat cover if we’d wanted to. The driver’s seat, however, had several tears in it. You pretty much have to change all of the seat covers so the materials match and the interior looks clean. Even with high-quality reproductions that closely match the OEM fabric, you still have to deal with the difference between what new fabric looks like versus faded/worn fabric. No manufacturer can accurately compensate for aging.
After removing all of the various levers, plastic covers, and retaining clips, separate the top seat back from the lower seat cushion. Use a strategically placed pry bar, as shown. Bench and rear seats will require another approach. I only show the generic process for removing and installing seat covers. We used the upper and lower sections of a 1968 front bucket seat. The basic procedure is common for most early- Mustang seats, though there will naturally be some differences for each different model.
MUSTANG RESTORATION: FRONT SEAT REFURBISHMENT- STEP #2
First we started with the lower cushion and then removed the various springs and other related parts underneath it. This is also a good time to remove the two circular bumpers on the rear of the lower cushion.
MUSTANG RESTORATION: FRONT SEAT REFURBISHMENT- STEP #3
You can easily remove the seat tracks by taking out the two mounting bolts on each track. You’ll need to slide the tracks as needed to gain access to the bolts. Be sure to note the use of any spacers, washers, etc., that may have been used to raise and/or tilt the seat. Keep these together and labeled.
MUSTANG RESTORATION: FRONT SEAT REFURBISHMENT- STEP #4
To remove the original seat cover, you need to remove the outermost retaining rings on each side. These go around the seat frame and a wire rod that’s in a sleeve on the seat cover. There’s one per side. These are simply twisted until they are spread apart enough to come off.
MUSTANG RESTORATION: FRONT SEAT REFURBISHMENT- STEP #5
With the seat cover moved out of the way for access to the fasteners, remove these brackets after noting their position. You’ll need to apply a reasonable amount of pressure to prevent the bit from skipping and/or stripping the fastener. Set these aside as they’ll be reused.
MUSTANG RESTORATION: FRONT SEAT REFURBISHMENT- STEP #6
Next, remove the smaller rings on the inner surface of the seat. These go around another wire rod in the seat cover (longer, but also in a sleeve), through foam and around the seat frame. These are much easier to take out than to put in. Note how they look as you take them out.
MUSTANG RESTORATION: FRONT SEAT REFURBISHMENT- STEP #7
After the cover has finally been taken off of the lower cushion, you need take out the three wire rods in the cover. There is a fairly long, U-shaped one in the center of the cushion (on the top side), and two shorter, straight-yet-wavy pieces that are in the sleeves on the underside of the seat.
MUSTANG RESTORATION: FRONT SEAT REFURBISHMENT- STEP #8
Inspect the seat “bun” (foam) for any damage, such as crumbling, tears, etc. If it looks good, as this one does, it can and should be reused. The original buns will generally give the best fit if they are in good shape. Some reproduction buns are not very close to the original’s size, density, and feel. The buns for 1968 cars like ours tend to be higher than other years for some reason, so the repros can be off even more.
MUSTANG RESTORATION: FRONT SEAT REFURBISHMENT- STEP #9
Carefully inspect the metal seat frames for any excessive rust or broken welds. The high-stress areas, like that shown, are common sites for failure. If the frame is broken, it can usually be welded to be as good as new as long as there isn’t too much metal lost to rust. If there is a lot of rust and broken springs, replace the frame.
MUSTANG RESTORATION: FRONT SEAT REFURBISHMENT- STEP #10
The original burlap had metal reinforcing bars in it as shown here. The edges of the burlap on three sides were also covered with a felt-like material as you can see. These materials are no longer readily available in most cases and they don’t perform as well as what we used. If, however, you need to retain maximum authenticity, you should save the original materials or find suitable replacements. In our case we only need to keep the paper-wrapped curved wire for later reuse. Make a note of how the wire is secured to the frame (how many rings, etc.).
MUSTANG RESTORATION: FRONT SEAT REFURBISHMENT- STEP #11
The seat can be reconditioned after the seat frame has been stripped of all other items and has been repaired and/or verified as being sound. Basically, remove any rust with a wire brush and then spray paint the frame to make it look better and prevent future rust.
MUSTANG RESTORATION: FRONT SEAT REFURBISHMENT- STEP #12
The process for the upper seat back is essentially the same as for the lower with a few minor differences. First, remove the back cover from the seat back by prying it off as shown to gain access to the inside. Just go around the seat back and pry at the location of the retaining clips.
MUSTANG RESTORATION: FRONT SEAT REFURBISHMENT- STEP #13
The upper seat back is a bit easier to do than the lower seat cushion because it doesn’t use the system of rods in sleeves on the back side of the frame. The retaining rings alone hold the cover in place; the U-shaped wire in a sleeve is still used on the front side. Remove the old rings and note how many were used and where they were located. Note the folds also.
MUSTANG RESTORATION: FRONT SEAT REFURBISHMENT- STEP #14
The metal frame should at least be painted whether or not repairs are needed. Take extra time/care to make sure the paint doesn’t get into the release mechanism or into any other unwanted areas, but a little overspray won’t hurt. Make sure the foam pads are properly adhering to the frame; apply some adhesive if they are not.
MUSTANG RESTORATION: FRONT SEAT REFURBISHMENT- STEP #15
Cut new burlap for the lower seat frame and begin installing it using the paper-covered, curved wire as your guide. Try to duplicate the location and number of rings used based on what you saw when you took it out. Make sure you press down hard enough for the rings to grab the metal frame. You need special pliers for doing this, plus a little practice to get it right.
MUSTANG RESTORATION: FRONT SEAT REFURBISHMENT- STEP #16
After the burlap has been secured at the front frame and sides spray some adhesive around the round bar at the back. Then gently stretch the burlap and roll it around the bar while pressing down, so the adhesive holds it in place. Trim any excess burlap and let the adhesive dry for a few minutes.
MUSTANG RESTORATION: FRONT SEAT REFURBISHMENT- STEP #17
To prevent the rings from being visible and making the seat bumpy and uncomfortable, they must be covered with padding. The factory used a thin felt-like material that didn’t work as well as the thicker material we used. This material is made from fabric scraps and is very inexpensive but still soft and easy to work with. Simply cut it into strips long enough to wrap around the seat frame and wide enough to overlap both sides by an inch or so. Spray the padding and the burlap with adhesive before pressing it on and molding it to match the frame contours.
MUSTANG RESTORATION: FRONT SEAT REFURBISHMENT- STEP #18
The finished seat frame should look like this prior to being assembled with the seat bun. Note the padding extends all the way around the frame, all the way to the rear where the seat back will pivot. There is no need to cover the inner rings; the thickness of the bun will be enough to do so.
MUSTANG RESTORATION: FRONT SEAT REFURBISHMENT- STEP #19
Liberally spray adhesive along the surface of the padding and where it makes contact with the bun and then assemble the finished seat frame and the bun together. There is no need to spray the center of the bun or the burlap in general. This can actually prevent proper movement of the various parts and would make future disassembly difficult.
MUSTANG RESTORATION: FRONT SEAT REFURBISHMENT- STEP #20
After the bun and frame have been assembled together, allow time for the adhesive to dry. Then take the U-shaped wire rod you saved from the original seat cover and place it in the groove in the bun. Use the bun as a guide to bend the rod back to the proper shape before inserting it into the designated sleeve in the new seat cover. Feeding the rod into the sleeve takes a fair amount of patience but it eventually goes in.
MUSTANG RESTORATION: FRONT SEAT REFURBISHMENT- STEP #21
Place the cover with the rod in it over the bun and begin installing the rings in the groove. Make sure the ring grabs both the wire rod and the underlying metal of the seat frame. It’s necessary to compress the foam to reach the seat frame. Put the rings where you found them when you took the old cover off. Too many rings are better than not enough.
MUSTANG RESTORATION: FRONT SEAT REFURBISHMENT- STEP #22
To help make the seat a bit more comfortable and look better, it is a good idea to add a thin layer of extra foam along the top edge of the lower seat cushion. As with the padding used on the frame, cut a strip to size—long enough to wrap around the seat and wide enough to cover the outer cushion. Then spray the bun and the foam with adhesive before pressing the foam on the bun and molding it to shape. Excess foam can be squeezed together at the corners and trimmed as shown to remain even.
MUSTANG RESTORATION: FRONT SEAT REFURBISHMENT- STEP #23
The first part of the new cover to be secured to the frame is the front edge. Place the cover (with the wire rods installed in the special sleeves) over the foam/bun after the adhesive has had a bit of time to dry. Then clamp the rings on at the proper locations so they grip the seat frame and the wire rods in the sleeves.
MUSTANG RESTORATION: FRONT SEAT REFURBISHMENT- STEP #24
Stretch the new seat cover over the rest of the foam/bun and around the sides. This may take some effort and patience. A heat gun can be used to soften the cover enough to help pull it over the foam/bun easily. Be careful not to overheat any areas by holding the gun too still or too close for too long. The idea is to stretch and remove wrinkles, not to melt anything.
MUSTANG RESTORATION: FRONT SEAT REFURBISHMENT- STEP #25
To locate the holes for the installation of the circular bumpers, use an awl to poke a hole in the seat cover after dragging the point to find the right spot. Then use a razor blade or knife to make the hole large enough to clear the mounting bolts. As you can see, we’ve already installed the side brackets.
MUSTANG RESTORATION: FRONT SEAT REFURBISHMENT- STEP #26
The hinge pin must be exposed, so cut the seat lower cover enough to allow it to poke through. Trim away all excess material such that the cover is even around the pin. A washer slides over the pin and sits on the cover to protect it from wear when the seat back/hinge is moved.
MUSTANG RESTORATION: FRONT SEAT REFURBISHMENT- STEP #27
The painted seat back/frame is assembled in much the same manner as the lower seat with a few differences, which are shown in the next few photos. The foam collar that surrounds shaft for the seat back release lever is held in place with a small amount of spray adhesive. The mechanism for the seat back release should also be lubricated with a small amount of spray-on lithium grease at the pressure points of movement.
MUSTANG RESTORATION: FRONT SEAT REFURBISHMENT- STEP #28
The seat back has a main bun like the lower seat frame and an upper foam piece on the back. After spraying adhesive on the bun and the frame, place the bun on the steel frame. Take care to ensure the foam is properly placed and the adhesive has had enough time to dry before proceeding.
MUSTANG RESTORATION: FRONT SEAT REFURBISHMENT- STEP #29
As with the lower seat cushion, add a thin layer of additional foam to provide extra comfort and a better look. Cut a strip to size and apply it with spray-on adhesive along with mild pressure to mold it into its final shape. The extra foam should wrap completely around the upper bun and overlap slightly onto the rear foam cap such that it helps hide the parting line.
MUSTANG RESTORATION: FRONT SEAT REFURBISHMENT- STEP #30
Glue a piece of thinner foam to the rear foam cap, so the other extra foam is less obvious. Cut this piece to size and trim it in the same manner as the extra foam on the lower seat cushion. Give the adhesive time to dry here as well.
MUSTANG RESTORATION: FRONT SEAT REFURBISHMENT- STEP #31
Pull the cover over the upper seat frame bun/foam; carefully use a heat gun to help if necessary. Install the rings in the original locations and verify the seams are overlapped as necessary. Then use the awl to find where to cut the holes for the seat back cover clips and cut the holes.
MUSTANG RESTORATION: FRONT SEAT REFURBISHMENT- STEP #32
Install the new clips into the new seat back. Make sure the clips are pushed far enough forward and grab the cover tightly. The clips can be closed or spread as needed to get the right amount of grip—too tight, however, damages the cover. Special clips with plastic discs are also available. These spread the load and minimize damage to the cover.
MUSTANG RESTORATION: FRONT SEAT REFURBISHMENT- STEP #33
Line the clips up with their respective holes and simply press the new rear cover onto the seat back. All that should be needed is a gentle push over each clip. The replacement seat cover and rear panel match perfectly with each other and integrate well with the original factory items.
MUSTANG RESTORATION: FRONT SEAT REFURBISHMENT- STEP #34
The miscellaneous hardware from under the seat needs to be freshened up (repainted) a bit. Do it before reassembly, but make sure the paint dries well enough to handle the parts. Simply remove any rust with a wire brush and then paint.
MUSTANG RESTORATION: FRONT SEAT REFURBISHMENT- STEP #35
The tracks can be reassembled onto the seat bottom after holes have been cut for the mounting bolts. The tracks need to be moved from one side to the other to gain access to each bolt. When the tracks are back on, lubricate them with some white grease at the contact points.
MUSTANG RESTORATION: FRONT SEAT REFURBISHMENT- STEP #36
After the paint on the miscellaneous hardware has dried, reassemble these items onto the bottom of the seat. Use each of the various mechanisms several times to ensure they’re working properly. Also, spread the grease over the full sliding surface of each track. Check for loose rings. Then return the seat-back assembly onto the lower seat frame in basically the reverse order in which it came off. Place the hinge arm over the support pin and washer with the clip and cover following.
MUSTANG RESTORATION: FRONT SEAT REFURBISHMENT- STEP #37
Reinstall the seatback release lever and any other items removed from the upper seat back to their original locations. Verify their proper function. The seat back should easily tilt forward without the cushions rubbing too much on the hinges. Verify the seat cover does not stretch with movement.
The finished seat looks just like the original did, only better. The pattern and texture of the seat cover is virtually indistinguishable from the original. The extra foam padding gives the seat a smooth, wrinkle-free look that also is a bit more plush and comfortable than the originals were. Each different seat type requires somewhat different procedures and processes, but the basic elements remain the same: the seat must be disassembled; the parts that need it must be reconditioned or replaced; and the new seat covers must be installed. Regardless of the type of restoration project you choose to undertake, these remain common.
Installation of New Lower Seat Cover
There is much more to installing the new seat cover than simply stretching it into place. As you see, we used additional foam, a heat gun, and lots of elbow grease to make sure the hog rings were tight and properly placed. I’ve also shown a few tips relative to finding/cutting holes and so forth.
Assembly of Upper Seat Frame and Cushion
The seat back required using two different types of additional foam as well as cutting holes for the seat-back retention clips. The extra foam helps minimize sags and wrinkles, and ensures a more proper shape.
Final Assembly of Seat
Final assembly involves not only putting all the parts back together but also protecting them beforehand. Applying paint prevents rust and improves appearance. The tracks and other moving parts must also be lubricated.
Written by Frank Bohanan and Republished with Permission of CarTech Inc