Project cars become more enjoyable with every upgrade you make, but there is one stage when the project really takes on a new level of enjoyment and continues to get more enjoyable every time you drive it-a new interior. Our 1954 Chevrolet Bel Air project has undergone a lot of mechanical improvements in recent months, but something was lacking from the driver’s perspective. Physically, it just didn’t feel or look right. We needed an interior upgrade to make us feel like we were driving a car as nice as we knew it was.
Our Bel Air project car has come a long way since it was purchased in 1996. The exterior and interior had been refurbished just over 10 years ago, but it felt outdated and out of style. Not having a big budget, we decided to do the interior upgrade ourselves with components from Cars Inc.
Cars Inc. specializes in making quality interior products for classic Chevrolet cars and trucks that meet or exceed the original equipment. They do this by focusing on details to ensure that the interior products fit exactly like the original pieces, if not better. Most of the interior kits can be installed by enthusiasts with an average skill level and common hand tools found in their own garage. We decided to combine our DIY mentality with Cars Inc. craftsmanship to make a serious improvement in our beloved first-generation Bel Air.
The interior was a mess when we picked up the car in 1996. What could have been the sad end to a once proud car, turned into a decent project car after the interior was fixed in 2001. These photos show what it looked like in 1996.
Nothing improves the look, feel, and value of a car like a good-looking interior. A show car interior is just that, an expensive custom and expensive interior for show cars. Ready fit interiors and seat covers are common and fairly easy to install, but most of the time these mass-produced covers don’t fit properly and require an expert to make them look right.
The 2001 interior upgrade was a trendy look that had passed, and now we were left with the fuzzy blue tuck-and-roll seat covers and a fuzzy white headliner. The door panels had begun to pucker and bow with age. We decided to replace the dated interior with something a little more conventional.
Cars Inc. makes it possible to have the look of a high quality custom interior job. Paying attention to the small details and using high quality materials, Cars Inc. has brought the professional trimmer right to your garage.
We use patterns that we’ve created over decades. – Dale Deaton
“We take great pride in the quality of our products, and we love when customers tell us they have had the same interior in their car for 20 or even 30 years,” said Dale Deaton of Cars Inc., “We use patterns that we’ve created over decades by taking apart factory seats and door panels, and dissecting the materials to make sure what we make not only fits perfectly, but is also 100 percent correct for those going for a 100 point restoration.” We love the fact that the material used in the Cars Inc. interior kits are made in the USA, which automatically instills pride in the installation.
Cars Inc. makes its interior components right here in the USA, keeping their quality assurance and quality control standards high.
It is this attention to detail that helps guarantee that a discerning do-it-yourselfer will be able to install the interior easily and correctly with great results. Cars Inc. also sells the seat foam, hog rings and pliers, and even new seat frames that are needed for many classic Chevy cars. The key to a proper installation is correctly assessing what is needed to achieve the desired results. Don’t shortcut the project by using worn or damaged seat foam. The seat covers will not fit properly, and a trip to the upholstery shop to fix the problem will cost you more in the long run. Buy what you need to do the job correctly, or wait until you have all the right parts.
Tips From The Pros
- Plan accordingly. Give yourself plenty of time.
- Take plenty of photos during disassembly. This will help during installation.
- Have an organized plan. Use a method like top to bottom or back to front.
- Inspect the parts and replace as necessary. Don’t settle.
- Use the proper tools for the job.
- Apply just enough heat to make the material pliable, but more. Often it is sufficient to lay the new covers in the sun for 15 minutes before slipping them over the foam.
- Patience. Have an extra supply of patience. Rushing the job will result in shoddy work.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
According to Deaton, “The vinyl we use is just as thick and pliable as the original, and has Cars Inc. stamped on the back so you know that you are getting the best materials possible.” Deaton also assured us, “Our cloth material is made with the same scrutiny for quality and accuracy.” The quality of the Cars Inc. interiors is due in large part to the experience level of the staff that hand makes each component, one piece at a time.
Deciding on what interior pattern and color is the first step for anyone wanting to improve their car’s inside appearance. With the internet being one of the biggest marketplaces for automotive goods, it’s sometimes difficult to get a clear look at the color choices through a computer monitor. Cars Inc. has a program to eliminate that “it looked different on the computer” scenario. Just call 800-227-7462 or email their staff at firstname.lastname@example.org, and explain what color you are interested in, and they will send you a free swatch sample in cloth and vinyl. Factory duplicate and custom colors are available, so just about everyone’s favorite interior color is a reality.
Once you’ve decided on the color and material (cloth or vinyl), and which components you want to use to improve your existing interior, you can complete the transaction online, by phone, or in person at their Michigan or California stores.
We started by removing the seats from the car, then removed the old seat covers by cutting the hog rings holding the covers in place. We pulled off the old seat covers, revealing the foam and springs.
The interior of our Bel Air was redone 10-years prior, and due to the amount of ongoing projects in our stable, the car basically sat without any wear and tear to the seats and carpet. The tuck and roll upholstery was done with custom material that had a “fluffy” look. The interior was still very usable, but was significantly outdated, which is why we decided to replace it all and return it to an original look. We evaluated the project and determined that new seat foam was not needed, but to keep the color correct and uniform throughout, we would order new seat covers along with kick panels, carpeting, and a headliner.
List of Parts:
- 1954 Bel Air four-door sedan front seat cover set – gray/gray (PN 361-4)
- 1954 Bel Air four-door sedan rear seat cover set – gray/gray (PN 366-4)
- 1954 Bel Air front armrest pads – pair (PN 7310)
- 1955 to 1972 seat belt with chrome buckle – black (PN 11720) required one per occupant
- 1955 to 1980 rear seat belt – black (PN 16564) required one per occupant
- 1953 and 1954 four-door sedan carpet – gray (PN 376)
- 1954 Bel Air headliner – ivory (PN 391)
- 1953 and 1954 Chevy kick panel – black (PN 959)
- 1953 and 1954 Bel Air sedan package tray – black (PN 571)
We added some extra foam to the seat bottom, but since the interior had been redone in 2001 and saw very little use, the added foam was not really a requirement, but a personal preference.
We recommend buying a set of hog ring pliers and hog rings that come in a kit (PN 5592). If you do not already have these, they are needed to help with your installation. Don’t try and make due with regular pliers to save the $30.00.
Remove The Old Interior
The process of removing the old interior is basic, but requires a certain attention to detail from start to finish. Many “how-to” articles do a great job at making the task seem simple enough for anyone to do, but undersell the actual skills required to perform the task. We’re not going to do that!
To get the results you desire and that you can achieve with the Cars Inc. products, you need to set aside enough time to do the job without rushing. Taking your time to examine each original component as you remove it, to spot any problems that will cause issues when installing the new components will go a long way to ensuring a professional-looking completion. A perfect example is a broken seat spring. Taking the time to find and fix any broken seat springs will prevent a disastrous installation.
The basic removal process for our interior upgrade began with unbolting and removing the seats from the car. Once the seats were out, we worked from top to bottom so all the old material scraps would fall on the carpet, which we could remove last. Starting with the headliner, package tray, kick boards, and finally the carpet, we finished the demolition without any difficulty or identifying any problems. We highly recommend anyone doing an interior restoration to take a good look at the components that you will be reusing, and the area surrounding those components, for any problems. Identifying and fixing any issues before going any further will save you time and make your completed project look like it should.
Laying the new seat cover over the seat frame and foam, the listing wires are inserted and the material is worked into place by hand. Starting from the back of the seat we began attaching the seat cover to the frame with hog rings, working from back to front.
The seats are the component that everyone riding in your car will get to know intimately. It is the centerpiece that brings it all together. Once the seat is removed from the vehicle, the seat caps, brackets, rails, and trim can be removed. Remember, taking time to photograph everything could solve some serious questions when re-installing the parts back on the seat frame.
The old seat cover is attached to the seat frame with metal rings that are commonly referred to as hog rings. These hog rings can be removed by cutting them with a pair of side cutter pliers (dykes). We tend to remove the seat covers starting from the back and working to the front of the seat. This prevents forgetting a seam, and ripping the material when you tug the old seat cover off of the frame. We removed the wire from the seat cover listing-loop as we would be reusing this wire on the new seat cover.
Working the material by hand to prevent puckering or loose material in spots will result in a nice finished product. Ensure the hog rings are holding the listing wire and material tightly to the frame.
Installing seat covers can benefit from a little heat to make them pliable and easier to work with. Laying out your vinyl or cloth seat cover in the sun for a short time (15-20 minutes should do it) will make the material smooth and flexible enough to work the cover into place. While our seat cover was resting in the sun, we checked the seat foam and burlap. Ensuring the burlap is in place between the seat foam and the seat frame will help prevent the frame wires from eating through the seat foam over time.
After installing the listing wire into the new seat cover listing loops, we laid the seat cover over the seat frame and foam, working the material around the side skirts and the front of the frame. Again, we worked from back to front to keep the seat cover aligned properly. Once we were confident that the cover was aligned and the symmetry was correct all the way around, we began attaching the hog rings around the skirt, starting from the back and working forward.
We laid the carpet and headliner in the sun to help remove any creases in the material caused by shipping. This also gave us a chance to compare the original headliner to the new one.
Next we installed the molded carpeting by laying the back piece in place then overlapping it with the front piece of the carpeting. The seat belts were swapped out with the new, color correct belts, followed by the bench seat assemblies.
The key to installing the headliner is simple: Make sure you number the headliner bows from front to rear as they are removed from the headliner that is being replaced. The bows are designed to only fit one way. While we are doing a quick check to ensure the bows fit properly and do not have any distortions or bends, our headliner material is laid out soaking in the sun’s warm rays. Again, this heat works to relax the material so that it can be worked into position with no wrinkles.
Installing the headliner is a matter of making sure the bows are in the correct place, and then starting with the middle bow, hang the headliner. The headliner is lightly stretched by pulling the material at the edges and trimming the excess.
After the material had relaxed, we found the front of the headliner and begin inserting the bows into the listing loops. After the bows were in place, we hung the headliner by attaching the bows in their holders. Once the center bow was in place, things were stable enough that we could begin gently pulling the headliner forward and fasten the headliner to the front tack strip. We then did the same thing to the back, working the headliner toward the rear tack strip, attaching it at the center and working toward the sides.
After the headliner was tightened up, we laid the carpet down before installing the seats and door panels.
At this point the headliner has wrinkles in it because the material is not attached to the tack strips or V-prongs on the sides of the roof just above the doors. Working gently but firmly, we pulled the headliner from the center bow, working the material to each side. We continued working the material toward the sides by hand, securing the material to the tack strips and V-prongs. We found that exercising patience and going through this process more than once resulted in a tight headliner installation without wrinkles. We finished by trimming the excess material and installing the window trim.
Finishing the Installation
The package tray lays in place and really doesn’t need adhesive. The board is sandwiched between the rear window and the rear seat firmly enough that it is held in place. The kick panels are fastened by a single snap button in each panel. With that, our new interior was finished and we were anxious to drive the car. Before we drove away, the pros reminded us that some routine maintenance would help keep the interior looking new for years. Cleaning with mild soap and warm water is all that is required for removing dirt. A light mist of vinyl protectant for the vinyl is recommended, but don’t over-do it.
We finished up the job by installing the door panels, the seat trim, seats, and finally, the seatbelts.
All things considered, a do-it-yourself interior from Cars Inc. is a great way to improve the look and function of your classic Chevy without having to pay someone else big bucks to do the work. Anyone with basic skills and patience can get great results, but if you have doubts, the interior can be ordered and taken to an upholstery shop for installation.