Featuring Terry Thomas’s Carrera 3.2, Brett Fraser’s Boxster 986 S and Jeremy Laird’s Boxster 986 S
Back in the 911& Pwfold, Us-based Terry Thomas is setting to work on his 911 Carrera 3.2, starting with an interior-makeover. On finding a pair of shape hugging Sport seats, a Chevy houndstooth-makeover by local auto upholsterer, ‘Sew itmatters,’ has transformed the tired chairs
One of the many delights of the classic air-cooled 911 is that so many parts interchange among the various years. This has led to many folks deciding to 'backdate' their impact bumper cars and 964s to look like early pre-1974 'long hood' cars by replacing their wings and bonnets (indeed, boutique manufacturer Singer has created an entire business of transforming once-unloved 964s into half-million dollar works of art). I myself am old enough to remember when things went the other way – not so many years ago, people updated their early cars with more modern impact bumpers. And, sure as the sun will rise tomorrow over Zuffenhausen, someone somewhere in the world is busily re-backdating a previously updated 911. Winds of fashion blow in circles, it seems.
Those of us lacking Singer-levels of funding can still, however, modify our cars, using Porsche OEM parts, to suit a wide variety of tastes. My own current project, a 1985 Carrera 3.2, has already been the beneficiary of this mix-and-match ethos. Having once owned a 1988 911 equipped with factory Sport seats, I have always considered these to be my favourite of all the Porsche chairs out there. These particular seats were available as options on the 1987–1989 911s, as well as certain 964s, such as the RS America. They were also available in various 944s. In addition to being all-day comfortable and supportive, these seats look fantastic, their Rubenesque shapes nicely complementing the classic 911 styling. Alas, it appears that, as always, many others share my affection
for them. When they can be found at all for sale, they are often thoroughly trashed after all the intervening years, and, practically regardless of condition, they are frighteningly expensive. A recent search of ebay finds a used, but lightly worn pair, in leather, for sale at $2800. This is typical, and, since it is still further toward Singer price territory than my own price point, I decided to look for a pair locally. After several weeks of scanning the want ads online, I located a set from a 944 Turbo, in vinyl, with the seating surfaces in Porsche logo cloth, for sale near me. Upon seeing them in person, I found them to be somewhat dirty, but un-ripped and structurally sound. A deal was struck.
I toted them home, planning on bolting them into my car, declaring victory, and moving on to the next project. But the next morning, after Iooking them over more carefully, I found them to be rather more shabby than I had initially thought, with the tears and splits that would be expected in seats over 30 years old.
I decided to explore repairing and/or recovering them. And in a further fit of borrowing designs from other years, I decided that the centre seating surfaces should be done in houndstooth pattern, known as Pepita, that was available in various Porsches from the sixties and seventies. In a break with tradition, though, I chose a slightly smaller pattern, which I remembered was an option on certain Chevrolets dimly recalled from my youth. Sure enough, reproduction 1968 Chevrolet Camaro fabric was the look I wanted. I ordered a yard, enough to do the inserts on the two seats.
Since the seats were not currently installed in any car, I loaded them up in my wife’s Golf Sportwagen (a wondrous vehicle, that) and drove them around to a couple of local upholstery shops for estimates. One highly recommended shop sort of sniffed, told me the seats could not be repaired, had to be redone completely, and the price would be $2400 for the pair. Oh, and it would take a couple of months, since his shop was booked out re-trimming local yachts before summer.
My next stop was at a tiny back alley shop of an upholsterer named Jessica Brown, who runs a one-person business called Sew It Matters, which specialises in upholstering sports cars, boats, airplanes, and other conveyances. Jessica, a friendly, loquacious woman who reminded me of the free spirits who roamed places like San Francisco when 1968 Camaros were new. She had never done a Porsche seat, she told me, but she was willing to give it a try.
She quoted me a fair price, we selected an appropriate piece of Naugahyde, which I chose over the formidably more expensive leather option. “You’d have to bring me a whole cow,” Jessica said.
Before leaving the seats with Jessica, I removed the seat tracks, exposing the four “jacks” that raise and lower the front and/or back of the seat. The jacks are driven by an electric motor via some ingenious flexible cables with square cross sections that fit into matching square female recesses in the sides of the jacks. As I do these days, I took dozens of photos as I went on my smart phone to document how everything came apart, in the hopes of ensuring things would go back together (More and more, the tool I use the most in the garage is my smart phone). I decided to leave the jacks themselves attached to the seat frames, as there was no need to remove them.
Once she received the seats, Jessica disassembled them slowly and carefully, meticulously documenting everything as she went. The first step, after removing hardware and detaching the hinges that held the backrest to the bottom cushion, was to remove the covers, which are tightly fitted over the seat frames, springs and foam. On Porsches, the covers are attached to the frames by prongs at the bases of the frames that are both fiendishly sharp and very fragile.
Jessica bent these back carefully and peeled the covers off the seats, noting every seam and stitch as she went, marking the old covers and matching their sections up, with a series of witness marks, numbers, and other hieroglyphics. Every step was meticulously documented and photographed.
Once the seats were “skinned,” Jessica removed the factory foam padding, finding it to be in reasonable condition if somewhat squashed. “At least it isn’t crumbling, like a lot of stuff I see,” she said. She next revealed a clever trick of the trade, whereby she actually un-squashed the padding with the help of a steam treatment. It was remarkable watching seat bottom padding, bowed and downcast from decades of, uh, people’s butts hitting them, spring back to full, er, flower (OK! Metaphors end here).
Once the seat padding was removed, some of it covered by the factory with a sort of burlap ‘skin,' the steel frames were finally exposed underneath. These, and their attached springs, were in remarkably good condition and were set side.
So assembly is the opposite of disassembly, right? Well, there was an another intervening step – the matter of making new seat covers from the remnants of those so carefully removed and catalogued. Jessica arranged the pieces of old vinyl – there were surprisingly many of them – on the back of the Naugahyde, traced their shapes, transferred her many notes and other hieroglyphics onto the new pieces, and cut them out. A single sentence that encompasses many hours of hard work.
After cutting the many pieces out of the various materials, Jessica started making the new seat inserts by cutting the houndstooth-patterned cloth, then sewing up the tricky double row stitching from the original. The results looked great. She then proceeded to sew all the Naugahyde pieces back together, incorporating new 'piping’, attached the newly rejuvenated cushions onto the frames, and pulled the tight-fitting covers into place. She then reassembled the seats, re-using all the original hardware, and the job was done.
Sew it Matters’ Jessica Brown, with Terry Thomas’s retrimmed Sport seats. A great job, and a great price
Below: It looks very Porsche, but this houndstooth pattern is actually Chevrolet Camaro, circa 1968
This is not a job you’re going to want to do at home! Seat covers are held in place by prongs. Seat frames unlikely to suffer over time, unlike seat foam
Decades of being sat on flattens the seat foam, but it can be brought back to life with some tricks of the trade, plus a good steaming!
Top middle: What looks like a pile of discarded vinyl is all the panels that go into making up a seat cover. These are used as templates for the new covers
Finished and installed. A job well done and suitably retro looking, too