Installing the front seat upholstery
On Saturday I spent basically the entirety of my time—almost three hours— aligning the driver’s side windows. I’m still not happy with where things have ended up, but I’ve got a good, functional working alignment in place. Sunday it rained and drizzled off and on throughout the day. Most of the time it was just misty, but any kind of precipitation spells doom for garage work because I have to push one car out of the garage. I checked the forecast beforehand, though, and I prepared with a plan! That plan was to at least attempt to install the front seat upholstery.
Upholstery is detail work, and lots of folks usually sub-out their upholstering to specialty shops rather than tackling it themselves. And for less well-supported makes and models, that’s probably a smart decision. I can’t imagine having to measure and stitch an entire seat cover myself. Even if I had an industrial sewing machine, the amount I’d end up spending on wasted material would hardly be worth it. Could I probably figure it out eventually? Sure, but it would take me forever.
Luckily the enthusiast community offers pre-sewn seat covers for many popular cars, including my 1966 Mustang. Interior kits bring trim and upholstery squarely into the realm of capability for the average detailed backyard mechanic. TMI offers a full line of factory-correct seat coverings for early Mustangs in all available colors, as well as some tasteful upgrades for the front seat upholstery.
Disassembling the seats
My first victim was the driver’s seat, which is the only one I need to have done to get the car running. I considered starting with the passenger seat to get my technique down, but ultimately I decided not to waste any time on non-essential progress. Minutes after I pulled the driver’s seat from its hiding place in my hall closet I began disassembly.
As seats go, the Mustang seats could not be simpler. A metal spring frame is covered with burlap and then the perimeter of the frame is wrapped in horse hair to protect the seat foam. Foam sits on top of the burlap and the vinyl upholstery is then hog-ringed to the frame through the foam then pulled over the corners and hog-ringed to the edges. You put listing wires in pre-sewn channels on the upholstery to keep the seams straight and hog ring it down. Simple.
When I pulled the seat apart, the burlap on the bottom of the driver’s seat disintegrated immediately. The horsehair batting similarly turned to dust in my hands. Thankfully I’d anticipated needing to replace at least some of the burlap and batting, so I had new material already on-hand.
Struggling to put it all back together
Once I had the frame bare, I proceeded to rebuild the superstructure (burlap, support wires, batting) exactly how the factory did it. Doing it the Ford way was one of the reasons I’d wanted to do this job myself. The other reason being that I didn’t want to pay someone to do something I knew I could do. The seat back didn’t even need new burlap. Getting the burlap cut and hog ringing the burlap batting to the bottom was easy. Everything that came after that, though, was complicated.
I bought the Sport II seat package from TMI. The Sport II adds extra bolstering but keeps the factory look. But that extra padding also makes it harder to install and stretch the vinyl. And boy did I have trouble.
In my experience, the seat foam is too tall to pull the seat cover over it. Well, it’s probably possible, but I was afraid I’d rip a seam. At first I’d tried attaching all the hog rings, but that was an exercise in futility. The trick is to attach half of the vinyl and then roll that half down. With one half rolled over I was then able to hog ring the other half and roll that over. It made it a lot easier.
Am I totally happy with the way the front seat upholstery came out? Mostly. I’m happy enough, and I did it myself, so I feel a big sense of accomplishment. Also, if I ever get the urge to fiddle with it some more, I’m confident I can get those last few wrinkles out.
Words of wisdom
The best thing that I can suggest to a would-be upholsterer is to watch a video. Autorestomod has an excellent primer on classic car upholstery, which I highly recommend. CJ Pony Parts has videos on upholstery installation for multiple generations of Mustangs as well.
I got my upholstery in a complete interior kit from CJ’s, and if I had it to do over again, I would. You might be able to save some money ordering components through NPD, but you’d spend hours assembling the components before you’d know. The CJ Pony Parts kit is very comprehensive, affordably priced, and a major time saver. My kit included almost everything I’ll need to do the interior from the front seat upholstery to the carpet. Almost.
Here are some things to know about the interior kit:
- CJ’s does not include listing rods, you may need to make your own from wire coat hangers or welding wire.
- You should order extra hog rings. You may need them. They’re cheap.
- The hog ring pliers they give you are very good.
- I didn’t realize this until last night, but they don’t include the rear seat batting/foam with the coupe kit.
- You’ll need to order burlap and horsehair-replacement batting from NPD.
- The headliner they include with the two-tone kits is almost always white.
- CJ’s will change the kit if you want to upgrade or change certain components in the kit (for instance substituting stainless door sill plates or the correct color headliner).