Tom Wilson
December 1, 2008
From thrashed to thrilling, our restored seats are the highlight of our project '91 hatch's interior. Not only do the seats look great, they also offer all of the original support and comfort.

Horse Sense:
If you're into classic Volkswagens, then you already know Classic Automotive's interior parts. Its full line of Bug, bus, and beyond upholstery, carpet, headliners, and so on has long been a staple of VW restoration and upgrading.

Maybe you don't know it, but Ford offered leather upholstery in Fox Mustangs. Never as popular as the standard cloth and vinyl, the pricy leather option has been lightly addressed by the restoration aftermarket.

That is, until recently.

First-tier upholstery specialist Classic Automotive Interiors took scissors and hog rings to some hides and spooled up leather upholstery kits for Fox coupes, hatches, and convertibles. The new leather kits complement Classic's existing line of cloth and vinyl Fox upholstery.

Here's a representative Classic leather kit for a single front seat. Having the major sections prestitched saves hundreds of dollars and untold hours compared to a completely custom job.

And boy, are we happy Classic moved beyond cloth.

Our '91 LX hatch could once flaunt its luxo hide interior, but 17 years of corn-fed editors and Southern California sun made a moonscape of it. Dry, cracked leather had long given way to craters of exposed seat foam and the occasional wire structure, and the seat frames were feeling more like rocking horses than supportive. Dogs many have loved to curl up on it, but our wives were beginning to refuse, and we realized we had grown accustomed to slouching at an angle behind the wheel. It was time.

The seats are built from three major components: frame, foam, and upholstery. The frames are pressed-steel skeletons that provide the weight-bearing structure. The foam is molded, provides cushioning, and evens out the support provided by the frame. The upholstery looks good and keeps everything cleanly wrapped up.

Classic has the answer to every seating issue except the frame. You'll need to scrounge elsewhere for those should yours be horribly abused or missing in action-most are reusable. In our case, Joe Gosinski at Chicane Sport Tuning (www.chicane sport.com) smoke-wrenched our broken driver-seat frame back together while installing carpet ("Neat at Your Feet," July '07, p. 58), but a wrecking-yard seat would also work.

This cratered mess of a driver seat is what we dragged through Classic's door. Dried, cracked, and torn, our factory leather interior had clearly seen its best. Collapsed seats like this are Fox norms today. It will take new foam buns and upholstery to restore them.

Classic's upholstery offerings for Fox seats are the standard vinyl and optional leather, along with its own Pony and Mach 1 options. Classic's Pony upholstery has the look of the Pony package found in early '65-'66 Mustangs. The Mach 1 upholstery looks like the early Mach 1 seats, but the material has been cut to fit the Fox seats. Normally available in vinyl only, Classic can be talked into all sorts of specialty or customization work (monograms anyone?) and leather Machs aren't unheard of.

Each of these upholstery styles is sold as akit through Classic dealers; it doesn't sell direct to consumers, but there's a handy dealer locator with some familiar names on its website. The kits consist of precut and sewn upholstery pieces, so the new vinyl or leather is ready to slip over the seat structure.

The new leather interior follows Ford's lead, using leather only for the center of the seat cushion and backrest; the rest is vinyl. A full leather upholstery kit, including the front and back seats, is $799. The headrests are sold separately because there are three different versions from Ford, so you need to specify which one. They cost $39 for a pair, and they're all vinyl because that's what Ford used. Seat foam is $163 per front seat; rear-seat foam isn't available. The total for leather seats, headrests, and foam is $1,174, or you could use vinyl for far less.

Here's the same seat after Classic installed its foam and upholstery. We had to get used to sitting high up in our Mustang again; the new seat foam is noticeably thicker than the collapsed and cratered original padding.

By now you can count on front Fox seats requiring that new foam, as well as upholstery. The foam is molded into a specifically shaped bun, which Classic makes in-house for the various Fox seats. The bun gives the seat its shape; it's the part that collapses with age and rewards you with a backache, so replacing the front-seat buns is vital. Back seats, because they're rarely used as seats, rarely need buns, so Classic hasn't made them yet.

Classic makes buns for the three versions of the '79-'93 Fox front seats: the standard low-back seat, the high-back GT seat, and the GT seat with knee bolster. We have the GT with bolsters.

Several wire attachment points lurk in pockets sewn into the upholstery or are molded into the seat buns. The wire is reused, as are a few small clips. That's one reason why it's best to start with relatively decent, rebuildable seat cores.

The seat buns have lengths of wire molded inside and are attached to the frame using hog rings-gnarly wire loops that are bent around the frame and bun's wire framework. Special pliers make squeezing the hogs into closed loops relatively easy. The upholstery is then stretched over the frame/foam assembly and secured with more hog rings to the frame. How accurately the upholstery kit is cut and stitched together makes a huge difference in how it fits, and Classic prides itself on well-made kits.

That said, you can't whip on a Classic upholstery kit as you do an elastic-hemmed cloth seat cover and expect factory results. While upholstery work isn't inherently difficult and doesn't require much in the way of special tools, it demands judgment and acquired skills. Anyone can tell you to "stretch the leather over the foam and install three hog rings," but knowing how the foam bunches under the upholstery while the leather is pulled over the foam, how to massage out those foam bunches, and how tightly to pull the leather before tying it down, among other things, is the difference between a handsome new seat and a baggy collection of wrinkles, wavy seams, and tight spots. That's why we recommend you take your Classic upholstery kit to a pro for installation. We don't mean to discourage you from installing it yourself, but be aware that it's a job wanting craftsmanship. In other words, it's a great choice for those wanting to expand their skill set from simple bolt-on work.

It would take a small book to reasonably instruct a beginner in upholstery installation, so there's no way we can even begin to cover the how-to here. To give you an idea of what's involved, installation of the Classic kit beings by removing the seats from the car, then stripping off the old upholstery and foam. A pair of wire cutters is the fast way to handle the many hog rings; just cut them off. There's a surprising number of wire lengths, specialized clips, plastic nails, steel nails, staples, springs, plastic cuffs, and matching grooves throughout the seats, so if you're doing the job yourself, pay careful attention to where the various small parts attach. They're all necessary and need to return to their original spots, so take pictures, make drawings, or have a good memory.

Once stripped, inspect and repair the frames. The Fox seat frames crack where they bend downward to the floor. You may want to weld small cracks, but replacement is typically the best medicine and the wrecking yard your pharmacy.

Here are a couple of hidden hog rings; they're at the top of the metal blade that forms the adjustable side bolster. If a section of upholstery or foam bun seems attached, it likely is. Take your time poking around.

Installation is a series of fitting the presewn Classic upholstery pieces over the foam, then securing those assemblies to the frame. There's no need to follow any specific order: the cushions, backrests, headrests, and knee bolsters are all upholstered separately, then joined into the familiar seat assembly as the final step.

Classic installed its kit on our seats. This service isn't normally provided to the public; it was for us so we could show you the proper method.

We have to admit that even with our long-time bias toward big brakes, blowers, cams, and other things that roar, returning our Fox seats to among the living was a real thrill. For rekindling a love affair with an old flame, new leather upholstery is just the thing.