For most classic car enthusiasts, a trip to the upholstery shop is about as welcome as a trip to the dentist. However, with a little planning and preparation, the experience can certainly be smoother and more rewarding than you might expect.
“It’s going to cost how much?” and “You can’t take my car in for how long?” are probably the two most commonly asked questions the first time any enthusiast visits an upholstery shop. The simple fact is, custom upholstery can be expensive, and if the upholsterer is worth his salt, be prepared to wait for it, in some cases up to two years before they even have room in their schedule for your car.
Proper planning is the key. Select an upholsterer you feel comfortable with and that can perform the style of work you’re looking for, inspect the quality of their work from fit to finish, and then make an appointment. This will get you on the list. Some shops require a non-refundable deposit just to secure your spot, so be prepared to tell them exactly when your car will be ready. A good rule of thumb is to add 3-6 months to your expected completion date, to deal with all of those unexpected items you know will come up. Keep in touch with your upholsterer as your project progresses and let them know as early as possible of any unexpected delays. If you must ultimately cancel your appointment, most shops will try to work with you to squeeze you in later.
The style of your interior and the materials you select will greatly influence the price of a completed job. Take photos of upholstery styles you like, tear them from magazines, or print them off from the internet. This will give your upholsterer an excellent idea of what your expectation is and will allow them to give you a more accurate estimate. Pricing for foam and other materials can change often, so keep in mind that it’s only an estimate. The extras can add up quickly, things like custom-built seats, trick consoles, exotic leathers, and custom-made stainless trim can send the bottom line soaring.
There are several steps you can take to ensure your trip to the upholstery shop goes smoothly with results that are better than you expected. We’ll explore some great money saving ideas.
OOH, OOH THAT SMELL
Let’s face it, old cars have a smell that uniquely reminds us of old cars…you know the smell. The last thing we want our new upholstery to smell like is an old car; to that end, it’s important to remove all materials that are capable of retaining odor. For our ’35, this meant stripping away the factory hardboard that was tarred to the floors, and sanding and refinishing the entire floor. The doors, side panels, and roof had similar materials that were removed and repainted earlier. Gary insisted, “It’s best to start with a clean slate, using only new materials. That way your new interior will smell as good as it looks, and the sound deadener and padding will remain where they’re supposed to.”
HOT AND COLD
All heater hoses and A/C lines should be in place, working, and tested before upholstery. The last thing you want is antifreeze leaking on your new carpet. Don’t forget to plumb the water drain tube on your in-dash A/C unit either. Most enthusiasts prefer a clean looking firewall and run their heat and A/C lines parallel to the dash and down the kick panels into the inner fender wells. Because these tight bends can often cause the heater hose to kink, consider sliding a spring in the hose to keep it from collapsing. All heat and A/C ductwork should be fastened to the main unit and pulled to the location the vents will be placed. If your vents are in the dash, they should be attached and working.
FROM THE FLOOR UP
Many early cars and trucks had the battery located below the floorboard. To keep the interior appearance clean and to avoid the need of an unsightly trap door in the middle of your floor, relocate the battery elsewhere in the car. Don’t forget to add a battery disconnect and remote charging posts. Likewise, many enthusiasts choose to locate their master cylinder below the floorboard as well. Use a remote fill master cylinder or convert the existing one to a remote fill style.
SEAL OUT THE WEATHER
Doors, hoods, and trunk lids all fit a little differently once the weather seals and bumpers are installed. Have them all in place and everything opening and closing properly before the car goes to the upholsterer. This will reduce the risk of unexpected delays and expense.
All of your electrical connections should be made and working, prior to bringing your car to the shop. Most shops will not complete a car’s interior until everything is working properly. If they must resolve electrical problems you should expect upwards of $1,000 in additional expense. Save yourself real money here and make sure items like door poppers, door locks, power windows, wipers, third brake lights, dome lights, interior lights, radio, speakers, and the heater are all working before you take your car in. It’s important to keep some slack in the wiring. Fitting door panels with no slack in the wiring for power window switches can be next to impossible. If your upholsterer is to build a custom console with gauges, lights, and controls in it, secure a small box to the floor and run your wires to components in the box. And, don’t forget to leave plenty of slack in the wires.
KEEP THE BOARDS AT HOME
Most cars from the ’20s through ’40s are equipped with running boards, which the majority of shops prefer to have removed prior to arriving and definitely before work begins. The upholsterer will need to enter and exit your vehicle hundreds of times to complete your interior, so the risk of scratching them is greatly increased. Check with your upholsterer before bringing your car to the shop.
CUT OUT THE NOISE
The use of sound deadeners and heat shield materials is always a wise investment. Installation is as easy as cut, peel, stick, and roll. There is really no need to pay an upholstery shop hundreds of dollars to install what you could easily do yourself. The key to success is combining quality materials with good surface preparation. On our project ’35 Chevy, we previously installed an inexpensive brand of sound deadener in the doors, but later replaced the material in one of the doors with Dynamat Xtreme. The difference between the two doors was night and day, soon we found ourselves scraping out the old stuff throughout the car (see sidebar), and the difference was immediately evident, providing a cooler and quieter interior.
GLASS AND GARNISH
All side, wing, and quarter windows should be installed and operational with all felting in place. On some cars, the front and rear window seals/garnish moldings also secure the headliner material. On these vehicles, the shop will want you to leave them out until the headliner is in place. Check all garnish moldings for proper fit, especially on cars that have been chopped, as it’s common to have some gaps. They should be fixed to ensure a tight fit. All moldings should be painted before taking them to the shop, however if the plan is to have the upholsterer match the molding color to the interior materials, these should be primed and ready for paint.
Unless your upholsterer requests otherwise, it’s best to have all interior door handles, window handles, and vent window cranks purchased before you take your car in. Otherwise, you can expect several hundred dollars more added to your bill.
SETTLING ON SEATS
When mounting the seats in the car, it’s best to mount them lower than you believe they should be. Once the car returns from the shop with new foam and materials, you’ll likely find the fit “just right.” Check with your upholsterer. Many prefer that the owner test fit the seats before the upholstery is completed. Don’t forget to make sure your seats and seat tracks are square (both side-to-side and across the back, in relation to each other and the car), as it’s common for salvaged seats to be twisted. There should be at least two inches of space between the seats and the doors and some space between each seat. Seatbelt and three-point harness attachment points need to be added to the car during the initial build.
ARE YOU LEAKING?
Upholstery shops are clean; they have to be considering all of the expensive materials used in them. Take the time to eliminate any fluid leaks your car may have before taking it in; the upholstery you save may be your own! If your car has a leak, be certain to tell your shop so they can take the proper precautions.
PUT ON SOME MILES
Consider driving your car a few hundred miles before it is upholstered. Many newly constructed cars will have a few bugs that need to be worked out in the first few hundred miles. Wiring issues, solenoid problems, faulty gauges, and a host of other problems are all easier to resolve before the upholstery is in place. Our project car was driven for years before considering upholstery and with all the changes we made along the way we’re glad we waited.
Custom automotive interior design is as much an art as it is a process. As the old adage goes, “The better things in life are worth waiting for.” It’s never a good idea to push your upholstery shop to make a car show deadline. After all, the car show will be over in just a couple days, but the results of a hastened job will likely be around as long as you own the car.
These are just some of the steps you can take to save a few dollars and make your next project first rate. Most shops can assist you in making sound decisions early in your next car build. Consulting them as your car progresses will help prevent costly upholstery pitfalls.
I live in Argentina and drive since 30 years a Ford Monterey 61 convertible. The original upholstery is getting bad. Where can a get in the USA a replacement including the original dashboard ? Thank you for assistance
verry nice ,have done all this before and learned from my mistakes too
Im looking for upholstery material for an 89 chevy s10 blazer. I can reply with pictures if needed. Thank you
thanks for posting. You would have to find someone in your local area to find that.
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I’m getting ready to do the interior on my ’69 Mustang Fastback. The car had been sitting for years in a couple of different garages as we have moved around. Unfortunately, mice took up residence in the car for quite some time and the small is terrible. What is the best method and materials (cleaners) to use to prep the metal to help eliminate the smell. Should I also paint or treat the metal before installing the sound/heat barrier in the car?
Thank you for contacting us.
If you’re down to a bare metal interior a simple cleaning should eliminate the smell.
BUT… Take the time to explore all the nooks and crannies as mice are notorious for filling the voids with nesting materials that holds that smell.
We recently replaced the torque boxes on a ’69 Mustang that had sat for a number of years and discovered they were filled with nesting materials when it caught fire while using the Plasma torch to remove the rusted metal.
I like to Clean and epoxy prime the metal in the interior anyway to have a good surface to attach my sound deadeners to and of course paint any metal areas that will show.
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Need help with a 1966 Ford T-Bird town hardtop interior. Please contact me 478 318 3897
Hello Denny. The ‘Ask an Expert’ section is currently for members of our online community. By becoming a member, you will have access to our expert’s knowledge in Classic Car Restoration. With your membership you will also receive discounts on products and hours of Premium video content.
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I have a 51 Chevy pickup, I have completely restored it over the last 5 years, but now l’m ready to redone the interior. I would like to switch out the bench seat with one from a later model Chevy truck. Can someone tell me what Chevy turch seat would be the best fit? By the way, good article, brought up things I never thought of, especially the running boards, good idea!
Great question! The ‘Ask an Expert’ section is currently for members of our online community. By becoming a member, you will have access to our expert’s knowledge. With your membership you will also receive discounts on products and hours of Premium video content.
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Thanks–some sound advice here-
.Great information. I had Custom Interiors by Stitch in Rustburg, Va. do my 1933 CHEVY last year. BIG mistake. They not only did not know what they were doing, they stole items off my car. I have filed a police report and hope to get some sanctification soon. I did find out (too late) that some of their 5 star ratings were made up. Anyway, I wish that I had this seen this publication before I hired Custom Interiors by Stitch
This is my first visit to your blog. I like your post about preparing YOUR CLASSIC CAR FOR UPHOLSTERY. It is a great article with sharing beautiful pics and with great information. I want to read more about your blog.
Thanks for sharing the wonderful post.
Have a great weekend.
I am restoring my 1972 Pontiac LeMans GT Sport that I purchased new back in Dec 1971. Your write up on the upholstery info is excellent. If anyone has any other ideas, please let me know.
Wow, guys, you did a good job and you are fully skilled in classic car restoration. You share a good article and I enjoy reading it, thanks.
Amazing blog! The right pointers! Once I helped my friend with upholstery, we had to run multiple errands to come up with the right fabric and pattern! I know how tiring it is when it comes down to customization!
Thanks for sharing the great information on what you should do before updating the upholstery in your car. Always a great help. Have a great day.
My 61 GMC bench seat is too soft. I want a firm support on the bottom and back, along with a tucked and pleated style. Also want a good quality leather that is smooth. My problem is I cannot seem to convey my ideas to upholster. My interest in hot rods goes back to early nineteen sixties so I am not familiar with the latest terminology.
This is one of the most helpful articles I have ever read on the possible pitfalls related to getting upholstery installed. I heave acouple of hundred hours of work left before I take my 37 Ford pickup to the upholstery shop. I was hopping to have it ready for The Shades of the Past show this year, but I am just going to drive it this summmer once I get it running. Work out all the bugs and have the interior work done over the 2019/20 winter
Restoring a 1931 Ford closed cab pickup [ just a driver] and looking for seat upholstery patterns.
Any good coupon or promotion for a 75 Oxblood seat cover ?
Just finished restoring a 67 VW Type 3. Lizard Skin Ceramic Sound deadner is a great alternative. It is easily sprayed into all those hard to reach places and you can get 100% interior coverage.
I have a 1976 corvette and bought the original seatbelt for it, don’t know how to put them in, I bought the car without them, can you help me with this, like maybe a video or something, Thanks
We haven’t done a video on this yet, but we don’t want you to wait for us to finish shooting one.
Here is a link that may help you: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uHNduNpTV1k
Hope this helps,
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great article more on newer 50 60 70 vetts
Need help finding a upholsterer in Brooklyn, NY
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Upholstery is an art! Never mastered it myself, but sure do love to see it well done!
Great read! What is your opinion on adding a touch screen radio to a classic as long as you don’t have to cut or drill?
Very nice & informative article. Keep up good work!
Informative. Are there any places to learn this craft ?? I live in Mi. Thanks ET.
There are a few courses that can be taken. McPherson College in McPherson, Kansas, has a four-year restoration program; they have a few summer courses that can be taken that give a crash-course in trim & upholstery restoration if you don’t want to take a full class load for a couple semesters.
Thank you for that great info!
Nice ! Thanks for sharing.
The upholstery was the final step in my truck restoration, and I was able to coordinate with the upholstery guys to salvage as much of the original upholstery & foam as possible. They were able to unbelievably match perfectly the new materials with the original and cut my costs down big time without sacrificing long-term use. And, I also had them use Diamond Dan’s magnetic protective panels on the exterior of the truck while working on the interior so as to not scratch my gorgeous new respray! These panels attach to any metal surface so the shop was able to place them around the doors and fenders, basically anywhere they might scratch while installing or working on the interior! Check em out: https://www.diamonddans.com
Like the article but have a minor question I have a carpet to install (have had it for quite a while) what is the best way to remove wrinkles from storage prior to install Is using a steamer my best bet??
For most carpets, I’ve found that just laying them out for a week or so, they will relax.
But this isn’t always the case. If they remain folded for a long time the ‘NEW’ natural state may include the wrinkles.
To remove the wrinkles a good quality steamer (they can be rented too) will relax the material.
Although for molded carpets, it’s best to do this in the car, so it relaxes to the shape of the floorboards.
Don’t rush it… Most pro shops will spend an entire day getting the carpet to fit on show cars.
A steamer is also a great tool for removing wrinkles and puckers in vinyl upholstery and headliners.
NOTE: Never use a dry heat gun! It’s the fastest way to ruin a carpet or upholstery.
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I have a really nice 1981 Sl and I am storing it in an unheated garage on the humid West Coast. Should I store it with soft top up or is it better stored inside storage area and hard top on? Thanks
Hi Ray. I always store convertibles with the top up.
It prevents the top from any long-tern wrinkles and is much less attractive to any stray mice that may discover it.
Whenever possible your car should be stored inside, away from rain, snow, wind or sun damage.
I have a 1977 Toyota celica gt , my driver side car seat back reclines back too far and I can’t adjust it I’m looking for someone who repairs car seats in the inland empire area of California
I’m in the process of restoring the interior of my 1962 Chevrolet Impala SS. Article couldn’t be more timely or tcomplete. Really beneficial .Thanks, Rick.
I wish this article had been published about 3 months ago when I decided to re-upholster my “57 TBird by myself. My Dad was an upholsterer and I watched him do an old Pontiac when I was a kid. I clearly forgot how difficult that job can be. For one thing, the TBird seat frame was constructed of steel and weighs at least 200 lbs making it exceedingly difficult for a one-man job. Also, pulling and stretching the seat cover so that lines are straight and there are no wrinkles or sags requires lots of upper body strength, bruised knuckles and finger tips and patience. At 70, it was really hard work. Having said all that, when I was done I was really gratified with the result and knowing I did it. By the way, one of the collateral benefits was that I found papers that somehow adhered themselves to the underside of the seat that helped identify the original owner of my car, its first set of new tires and a church function that my car was displayed at a few decades ago. With that and Google, I was able to locate that owner and gain a new friend with something in common.
This is a amazing and awesome article . Thank you for sharing post.
Everybody wants to his car make beautiful look. It’s for use Upholstery and create a classic car. Your article must help people for make classic car
The technology has reached on its peak and now, whatever you think; it has already been introduced in the market. The technology griping the marketing gradually and we are being habituated to use these technologies. Now the times have come when we cannot live without the technology. If you move back a few years, then you will find that there was not any concept of LCD screen in the car, but now you can see, the new model of the car contains the large LCD screen and even on the back of the seat, you can find the LCD for watching anything while traveling to one place to another place.
Car Parking Systems
To Try This YearThe room in our society will not raise but the quantity of cars venturing on the routes will certainly. What we want is car parking methods that handle these areas for all of us in a more suitable way and uses the small space we’ve got in perfect way.
Now I am not very technology savvy, so the first time I heard about Bluetooth I was nervous to say the least. It wasn’t sure how to connect it with my phone and I thought it would be more trouble than it was worth. With Bluetooth I am able to make telephone calls without using my mobile receiver with just the touch of a button. When my coworker calls me I click one button and I can answer the call through my audio system.
Since the Bluetooth devices were released, there have been many advantages that have been delivered by these devices. Picking up the phone call while driving, or keying in the number can lead to accidents and there have been several cases reported. The risks have been compared to drunk driving. There are strict rules to prevent people from using mobile phones while driving. There are Bluetooth devices which allow voice recognition which will allow you to pick up calls even while on the drive so that you can keep your eyes on the road.
Most of the friends make a plan to do camping or outing. Thus, they start music in the car by using car DVD player
and have fun with friends and dance in that place. Usually, teenage prefer to install the big speaker in the car because they do parties with friends and start the song in the car and have fun with friends outside the car on road. The blue tooth feature makes you able to connect with DVD player and now you do not need to put DVD in the player, just connect with Blue tooth and play the songs through your smart phone.
You can buy car electronics in Eincar: https://www.eincar.com/
Wow. This is awesome. A great and good article. Thank you for sharing. http://www.sonnyscollision.com/
Great article. We can help with car restoration. Visit us at http://www.butlerscollision.com.
Are substitute materials for the wooden upholstery tack pieces?
Hi, Robert. I have seen many things used for tack strips in old cars, including old fan belts, and it seemed to work fine.
To answer your question, if it works then it’s a good replacement… professional upholsterers seem to all have their own ways of doing things and it’s not always as the factory did it.
been working on my 1962 daimler sp250 for a while,as I am almost 70 the progress is slow.looking forward to hearing the 2.5 liter Hemi fire up!
Yea I know what you mean I’m pushing 74 and have been working on a ’57 Dual Ghia for quite some time although mine is running after rebuilding the motor last year.
I thought I was too old at 64 to begin a project!!!!!
i’m 76 and i am working on my 71 rs pro street camaro with a 415 inch ls motor just for fun
I have a 1936 Dodge d2 I’m trying to restore, I’d like to as much as I can by myself, upholstery, head liner