Unique Cars - - CONTENTS - JON FAINE

MY GRAND­FA­THER ar­rived in the ‘new world’ a cen­tury ago and got his first job mak­ing leather seats on the trams. I have a leather suit­case he made, one of my most trea­sured pos­ses­sions. If the house was on fire and I had time to grab but one thing…

I kept think­ing of him as I set to work on the leather trim on my 1975 Citroen DS23. The lux­u­ri­ous Pal­las ver­sion of the iconic French car came to me trimmed with velour, and, as I have ex­plained be­fore in these pages, it of­fended my eye ev­ery time I got in for a drive. The velour was newish, grey and al­though ver y pro­fes­sion­ally done, it was not orig­i­nal. It up­set my ab­surd Citroeniste sen­si­bil­i­ties.

Upon luck­ily chanc­ing on a set of used and some­what worn leather seat cov­ers and door trims, I paid a man a lot of money to get them fit­ted into my car. Well, I thought it was a lot of money un­til he told me what it usu­ally costs to re-trim a car in full leather. Cheaper to go and tan the hide of your own cow.

The sup­pli­ers in the old world – that my grand­fa­ther left – quote around Euro 5000 just for the loose cov­ers for the front and back seats, plus the bits for the head­rests and all four leather door trims. Then add freight and the labour to painstak­ingly fit them and you can an­tic­i­pate the to­tal for a leather re-trim reach­ing well over A$10,000. Many many cows. No bull.

It is easy to over-cap­i­talise on a car when you spend so much on one part of the restora­tion. It costs just as much to trim a Holden or a Ford in leather as it does to fit leather to a Ferrari or a Bent­ley. The trim­mer does not dis­crim­i­nate. Stitch­ing is stitch­ing. Quilt­ing will cost more, and fancy pip­ing will add up too. But the fun­da­men­tals are what they al­ways are. The trou­ble with spend­ing big bucks on un­pop­u­lar marques is that you can end up putting far more into the car than you ever get back. And try ex­plain­ing that to your beloved.

So when I got to ex­am­ine my low-bud­get re­fur­bished leather seats, I was forced to con­front the sec­ond­hand­ed­ness of what I had ac­quired. I came to un­der­stand why they had been dis­carded by the pre­vi­ous own­ers. The driver’s seat, in par­tic­u­lar, was show­ing the signs of be­ing at­tacked by a sharp blade, and the sun dam­age to both front and back seats was enough to send the slip-slop­slap peo­ple into or­bit.

A visit to the leather and sad­dlers ware­house brought me a bun­dle of lo­tions and po­tions, and to­gether with more el­bow grease than I thought I could muster I have set about re­viv­ing the hides. The greasy muck that you mas­sage in does won­ders… for your hands as well as the seats.

The lat­est ef­fort in­volved re­pair­ing a few left over de­fects. The foam was pok­ing through from a tri­an­gu­lar hole and the tear was threat­en­ing to spread. What to do? Pay more money? Or chan­nel grandpa? I had sen­si­bly kept off-cuts from the re-trim, and made my­self a slightly over-size patch for the hole. Us­ing trim pad­dles like tweez­ers, I folded the patch and in­serted it sur­gi­cally into the gash. Spread­ing it out once it was un­der the wound, I ma­nip­u­lated it un­til it had found good cover of the hole. Once I was happy with its lo­ca­tion, I care­fully squeezed some leather glue onto a spat­ula, slowly smeared it thor­oughly around un­der the in­side of the orig­i­nal seat hide and then added some leather d dye to en­sure it all vis­ually b blended. An in­vis­i­ble re­pair.

Em­bold­ened, I next at­tacked so some other sore spots, on d door trims and seats alike. T The in­tent is not to make the se seats look like they just left the fa fac­tor y – the rest of the car is n not like that so there would be li lit­tle point. I am hop­ing that o once the var­i­ous short­com­ings o of the trim are ad­dressed, the in in­te­rior might look as if it has a aged in place. That price­less g gen­uine patina. But not g gen­uine!

Grandpa would be proud.

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