When it comes to restoring a classic car’s upholstery, there is one common denominator- it soesn't matter it is a luxury limousine or a compact saloon.
They will all most likely need to have their springs and fillings refurbished before re-upholstery can get underway.
Unless they have in-depth knowledge in upholstery, the chances of any restorer will get involved in choosing which springs and fillings will best suit their job- although it does no harm to know a little before placing the job in the hands of a professional.
An important part that the restorer should play in the re-upholstery process is making sure that the frames to be recovered are in top condition, rust and dent free and with a fresh coat of paint.
The first issue to be addressed will be which springs to use. Until the mid-Fifties, long before the days of mass production, the large family saloons where the upholstery was very reminiscent of an English drawing-room, the covers were either hide or velour, sitting on pocket springs.
Pocket springs were considered the height of luxury, with individual springs were sewn into fabric pockets and then mounted on a wooden frame or metal seat pan.
Upholstery in the mid to entry-level cars of the day was spring with cylindrical springs, known as serpentines.
The serpentines were wound together and mounted on wooden, metal or tubular frames.
The small loops at the end of each spring were hooked together.
During the Sixties, continuous coil springs were widely used in the upholstery of almost every class of vehicle. They were inexpensive, durable, compact, and provided the maximum of comfort.Using specially designed and constructed machines, continuous coil springs were produced in tremendous quantities, with car manufacturers specifying double springs for larger, more expensive vehicles and single springs for the medium-range market. Over the years, car manufacturers perfected using springs of different thicknesses so that the springing of car seats could be tailored to each model, allowing drivers and passengers to cover long distances in comfort, irrespective of the price tag of any vehicle.
Stretching and fitting coil springs onto a seat frame is a job best left to the professionals.
Not only are specialist tools required but also a lot of experience for the job- which looks relatively easy at the outset but carries a fair level of risk, involving working with springs that have been stretched to the limit.
Most middle to upmarket vehicles produced before the war and up to the early Fifties had upholstery filled with horsehair as it was about the only option available.
Entry-level saloons and other vehicles in that category used all kinds of raw materials to supplement the horsehair, but mostly with disappointing results.
The best of the bunch was natural latex foam, produced from rubber grown mainly in Southeast Asia. Latex foam was in everyday use for a number of years till shortage of supply and rising prices made it increasingly less attractive.
Polyurethane is a synthetic material derived from plastic, making for flexible or rigid foam – ideal for car upholstery.
The attractions of polyurethane are as follows:
- Lightweight: offering the lowest densities of any plastic used
- Sound-absorbing: qualities that significantly reduce noise levels for passengers:
- Durable: Corrosion-free even under the severest of conditions.
- Versatile: The design and development of car upholstery has evolved dramatically, thanks to an increased understanding of ergonomics. Polyurethane provides the unsurpassed ability to create a comprehensive range of advanced shapes and forms.
- Easy to Use: Cutting and shaping polyurethane is very user friendly, with little experience required to cut it into perfect shape with minimal wastage.
- Flexible: Polyurethane can be easily manipulated to overcome any challenge when creating custom fillings.
Heavy density foam can be used on the base of a seat and lighter weight on the back, making for ease of shaping when installing seat covers.
The costs involved in providing the best in springs and fillings for a re-upholstery will be relatively small in relation to the total restoration cost- and will always represent a very worthwhile investment both in appearance and comfort.
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A guide to acquiring, restoring and maintaining UK or European Classic Cars of the Fifties and Sixties- as well as a recollection of the iconic cars of the era and the visionaries that produced them.