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Some Assembly Required

Some Assembly Required – Upholstery Part 2

In my previous article, I discussed the specifics of selecting an upholstery kit for the restoration of my 1963 Etype FHC. For this article, I’ll try and make some more general recommendations regarding upholstery.

Of course, if your car is relatively new or a well maintained older car, your job is simply to preserve the nice upholstery you already have. There are lots of options in this regard. Most of us will certainly think of self maintenance of our cars interior as one of the responsabilities of owning a nice car. That may mean we keep all sorts of cleaning and preservation potions on our shelf in the garage and use them often as required to keep our car’s interiors clean and as new looking. I can’t improve on the advice and products available from the various firms that specialize in car care products. Griots Garage, Meguiars, Leno’s Garage, etc. etc. Everyone seems to have their favorites. The trick is keeping ahead of the game so you aren’t dealing with a degraded interior. You may even consider hiring a detailing specialist in your area to keep your car in top shape. I would point out that direct sunlight and heat in general are tough on upholstery. If you can generally keep your car parked in a shaded area during the day that is a big help. Another tip- if your car has memory seat position settings and if you can teach your drivers seat to move all the way back when you are parked, you may avoid some of the wear that tends to show up on the drivers side seat back bolster when you slide into the seat. Another nice thing is to use protective mats on your carpets.

Assuming you have a situation where some minor “touch up” is required, there are options. If you don’t feel up to a DIY approach, one option is to ask someone at your favorite car dealership who they use to recondition used cars they take in trade. Assuming they are willing to share this info, there is a whole world of “guys” out there that can repair minor blems both inside and outside of your car. You just have to seek them out. If you are up for a DIY effort, I have used an outfit called Colorplus.com. Their main effort is selling products and expertise to bring back old leather. But for minor issues of scuffing, etc. be aware that they offer a color match service where you send them a snippet of your leather or vinyl and they will mix a dye to match. It is not cheap but I have found their accuracy in matching to be quite good. If you go this route, I would suggest a spray application versus a brush. You don’t need a fancy paint rig. Their product is really easy to spray. Google “Rechargeable Sprayer” and see what comes up.

As we get into older cars, you may be faced with more than a simple touch-up effort. Going back to Colorplus.com mentioned above, a few years ago I removed all the leather interior items from my Porsche 928 and re-dyed them. The recommended process is discussed at the Colorplus website but in general I removed the items from the car, cleaned them with detergent, removed much of the existing dye or colorant using lacquer thinner and elbow grease, and used my spray rig to apply new dye. Colorplus also has products to fix small tears or scratches in the leather. Their dye product also works on vinyl. Here is a link to an article on my website – https://newhillgarage.com/2015/06/24/porsche-928-care-and-feeding-interior-refurbishment/

Let’s face it, there can be a lot of plastic surfaces in newer cars. And they can start to look pretty shabby. I have used the Colorplus dye to refresh the finish on plastic parts. SEM also makes a line of plastic paints. Plastic is actually more tricky than vinyl or leather. There are different types of plastic and, chemically, how the paint adheres to them can be affected by the base plastic type. You also need to use an adhesion promoter. If you go this route, which I did for another one of my Porsches, do some reading on the internet before you jump into it. But it can be done.

At some point, you may be in a situation where you say “I just want to replace this awful mess!” And that is probably where you thought this article would start! So some thoughts. First, don’t discount the idea of ordering new interior parts from the dealership. I did this for my Porsche Cayman that became infested with mice. I was able to order most of the carpets for less than $2500. The color match was very good and they had all of the correct dimensions, weaves, and backings. The only drawback was the order lead time was quite extensive. Months, since I gather they were made to order. But I was very happy with the results. I also was able to order a new headliner, which was falling down. As you get into older models, there is aftermarket support for pre-cut upholstery kits. For instance I see that World Upholstery has listings for models from the XK-120/140/150, Etype, XJS, XJ6, XJ12, XK, XK8, and XKR. I have no direct experience with them but the point is that replacement options are out there. Of course, as noted in my previous article, there are a number of suppliers that support the Etype. If they support the Etype, it might not hurt to ask them about other Jaguar models. Also, you may want to do a web search in the UK.

Finally, there are local automotive upholstery shops and upholstery shops associated with marque restorers. OSJI, a subsidiary of marque restorers Muncie Imports, has a very good reputation. And every community has local automotive upholstery shops. Back in the 90’s, I got the entire interior of my Volvo 245 wagon done at a small shop in the middle of Nowhere, SC for $500 as I recall. I got to generally pick the color and that was about it. It was certainly not factory original but it dressed up this old car quite nicely for another decade of service. I would stress that you will probably not be able to get authentic materials and configuration from your average local upholstery shop. Some will get closer than others but by the time you notice the shortcomings it may be too late to do anything about it. Recommendations are key in this regard.

Obviously, if you read my previous article, you know that I am into doing it myself. I think upholstery is a good entry level project. Your tool investment will be relatively simple. Contact cement, applied with cheap “chip” brushes. An electric staple gun is nice. Scissors. Plastic gloves. Pry tools (to get under panels to release clips). Screwdrivers. If you have shop air, a spray gun for contact cement is very helpful. If you have the old upholstery items to “go to school” on, that is a big help. At some point, there is a need for an walking foot industrial sewing machine, if you are truely starting from scratch. But the kits generally do all the heavy duty sewing for you. And of course, there is nothing to keep you from buying a big roll of vinyl and having at it. I recommend buying relatively inexpensive vinyl and upholstery cloth from local fabric shops to use for practice and getting your patterns just right. There is very little that can’t be done multiple times until you get it right. If you want to educate yourself on the basics, there is a fascinating video series on Youtube by a guy that goes by Cechaflo. For the Etype, go to my website and search on Upholstery. Head to the circa 2011 articles where I get into a lot of detail about the upholstery of my 67 Etype 2+2. Other resources can be found using Google search terms “Bill McKenna Jaguar”, “Relicrecyclery Jaguar XKE”, and on Youtube “John Carey 1963Jag”.

I hope this gives you some ideas regarding your options. Nice upholstery is a key feature of a great car.



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