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Frame Off Restoration - Step 5 - Restoring the Interior (Soft Components)


This particular segment of the restoration process varies wildly from car to car. Before you do anything on this part of the restoration take a million pictures of the interior (providing that it's still intact). If the interior is not intact, then find a car that is, and get a ton of photos. Having a good idea of what the interior should look like will be imperative to doing things correctly.

Now, the interior of your car can be made up of carpet, rubber, fabric, leather, or vinyl and that's only the visible components. Then There's backing boards, foam, padding and other items. This may wind up being the most complex part of your restoration. I'll base my article on the assumption that everything will need to be removed and replaced in some fashion.

Disassembly and restoration


The seats you have depends on the car you're restoring. It may be bucket seats or bench seats or both. Evaluate the condition of the seat. In most cases you're going to be replacing the seat cover at a minimum and rebuilding the whole thing at a maximum. The seats will be removed by either unbolting them from the chassis, or from the seat rails. This all depends on what's most easily accessible. With bench seats it's normal to unbolt them from the chassis, with bucket seats you unbolt them from the seat adjuster (and then remove the seat adjuster).

Caveat time: Unless you know how to do uhpolstery then I recommend farming the seats out should they need any more than fresh seat covers. If the covers are sewn on, I still recommend taking them to someone.

Ok, caveat aside, once the seats have been removed from the car, give them a good going over. Check the condition of the covers, press into the seats to test the resilience of the padding/springs. Make notes on what you think will have to be replaced and start looking for a source for the replacement uholstery. Flip the seat over and carefully removing the mounting/adjusting hardware. Make note of any cables or springs that are specific to the mechanism (if you don't do this now, putting it back together will be difficult). Once you're removed the hardware put it through the sandblaster (or comparable) to clean it off. If the car was equipped with sliders they should come apart into the upper slider, lower slider and ball bearings. If it doesn't want to do it (as in the case of my Jensen Healey) you may need to apply some force with a BFH.

After the hardware has been cleaned up and painted it's time to tackle the seat itself. Get a seam ripper (It's a sewing item, so raid the wife's sewing basket or get one from a fabric store). Pick a good seam in the fabric and cut through the stiching. The goal of this is to remove the seat cover without destroying it as you may need it for a template later. With the cover removed you will be able to better assess the underlayment padding. Generally, these old foams seriously deteriorate over time. Before touching it too much, gauge the thickness and compression of the material. By compression I mean how much it appears to have squished over time. Frequently, these parts are not well documented so you'll either have to figure out for yourself, or find someone knowledgable that's already done it.

With the padding removed you will have a seat frame remaining. There's generally three distinct types of seat frames, and they vary based on the generation of the car and tye of seat. For example, my Studebaker is a spring set which looks much like the interior of a conventional mattress. Alternatively, the Porsche 944 I used to drive was a steel wire matrix with springs that held it to the seat frame (think along the lines of chainlink fence that's held to the post with a spring). Finally, my Austin Healey 3000 is simply a plate of sheetmetal on which the foam padding sits. Your car will have some variant of this. Regardless of how it was fabricated, you'll have to clean off the metal and give it a coat of paint to protect it. You will also see additional assembly parts at this point, like the frame adjuster on a bucket seat (that adjusts the angle of the rear section of the seat) or a headrest and adjuster. These need to be similarly treated. In addition, moving parts need to be lubricated.

With the seat being taken completely down to it's constituent components it's time for reassembly. It's really just the reverse of disassembly. Many interior kits come with good instructions on installation. Some even come with videos. Remember, if you get to this stage and feel a bit overwhelmed, you can still take it to a sho to finish for you. They may charge a slight remium for having to deal with a pile of parts, but that is generally offset by having dome most of the interior restoration yourself.

Since this is a frame-off restoration, it's going to be a while until the seats go back into the car. Wrap them tightly with garabage bags, saran wrap, or similar to protect them from getting stains, spills, greasemarks, etc. There's nothing worse than going to all the trouble to re-do the seats only to have them need to be recovered by the time you finish the project.

Hardboard Interior Parts

Hardboard interior parts are items such as your door panels. Rather than the soft interior fabric being directly attached to the car body, it's attached to a substrate (plastic, hardboard, etc) which is then clipped or screwed to the car body. Most frequently these are parts held to the vertical surfaces of the interior. Commonly they will be things like door panels, interior side panels and the like.

The first step in removing these is taking off anything that retains them to the car body. Using the example of the door panel (which is generally the most complex item) you have any clips or screws that hold the piece in place, the door handle, window handle (if equipped), speaker grille (if equipped) and the arm rests.

Once the piece is removed you'll want to take a good look at not only the upholstery on the facing side to see how it was put together but also flip it over to examine the condition of the hardboard on the reverse side. Sometimes that hardboard survives ok, in other cases water leaks and age cause the hardboard to warp and or disintegrate (For example the hardboard in my Jensen Healey was almost unreconizable as such).

Providing the hardboard is in good shape it can be reused. If it's not usable, but still retains it's form you can make a tracing of it to create a new hardboard. In a worst case scenario you'll either have to find a fellow enthusiast to supply the tracing or a parts supplier that stocks the part.

From here, acquire or restore the necessary parts for the hardboard restoration. In the case of door panels, or any other items where you have two of the part I recommend performing the restoration on the first part, using the second as a guide and vice-versa. Keep in mind that it may not just be hardboard and vinyl. Quite frequently you'll have small pieces of stainless/chrome trim, grommets, or other types of items. You will need to replace or restore those at the point where the hardboard panel is done.

As you finish each piece you will want to protect it as you did the seats. Wrap it up in plastic.

Glued interior parts

At this stage, with the hardboard and the seats removed the only soft interior items left in the car should be the carpets (and possibly the dash / center console, which are part of the hard interior items) nd the occasional piece of vinyl that may be glued into place. With all those other parts removed from the car, you have a very rare view of how all the carpet goes into place. In 99% of these types of restorations the entire carpet and underlayment will be removed and tossed. I'm going to work on the assumption that there's no point in saving yours either.

The first thing to do is take pictures of the entire interior. Take special note of any contoured or odd surfaces, any points that pieces of carpet meet, and any areas where the carpet underlies trim (like the base of the door opening). The better you document this, the easier it will make the replacement process.

Since we will be doing painting, sanding and body work, there's no point in thinking about immediate reinstallation of the carpet. You'll definitely want to ut it on your list of things to buy, and you may even want to buy it, but it will be a fair while before you're able to reinstall it into the car.

Start with the segments of carpet that are the highest in the vehicle. If at all possible, remove the carpet, but leave any underlayment in place. Once all of the carpet is removed, then photograph the underlayment. This will enable you to not only correctly note the position of the carpet, but also the position of the underlayment, heatshielding and such.

Finally, remove the underlayment. this will probably take a fair bit of scraping as it's traditionally glued down the the sheetmetal underneath.

Once it's out, take a moment to assess the sheetmetal you have just uncovered. You'll probably see a fair bit of surface rust and possibly much more serious rust damage. Floorboards are the most frequent segments of the body sheetmetal to be replaced!


The final piece I like to remove is the headliner (if your car has one). With everything else removed you have a goodly amount of space to move around inside the vehicle, which makes working overhead much easier.

The headliner traditionally is composed of a series of metal ribs that are screwed to the top of the vehicle. These ribs are fed through the headliner material either through eyelets sewn on the back of the headliner or through spaces in the headliner sandwich of material. Unscrew all of the headliner ribs, and untuck it from the edges where it's generally tucked behind a piece of trim (which you may have already removed). You can then lower the headliner.

Now, for a part of the vehicle that, in theory, is never touched, headliners don't seem to fare well. In many cases, aftermarket or relacement headliners are not available. If this is the case for your car, you can either take it to a shop, or sew your own. Use the existing headliner as a template. Once you have the replacement headliner, wrap it to protect it and pack it away with the ribs and screws.

On to Step 6: Brightwork

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Contents copyright 2008, 2009 - Jody F. Kerr

All references to They Might Be Giants are fan references only. John & John I hope you don't mind! And if you're ever in Phoenix stop by for a visit!

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