TMI Products Brings The Soft Goods To Project Gift Horse

Project Gift Horse has been galloping ahead toward completion. The owner Aubrey King, and builder Mike Hoover spent many hours burning the midnight oil to get the project car together and ready for the Danchuk Tri-Five Nationals in Bowling Green, Kentucky. A plethora of unforeseen circumstances pushed the team to the absolute limit to have it ready in time for the show, but they made it. Now, they have been working on buttoning up the final parts of the build. For this installment, we look at how the team called  TMI Products to make sure the interior of this classic Chevy is as stunning as the exterior.

TMI Products is a family-owned business founded in 1982 in Torrance, California. It makes high-value, automotive interior components like seating, consoles, floor coverings, door panels, convertible roof assemblies, headliners, and integrated electronic systems for a variety of modern and classic cars. TMI can provide a complete turn-key interior, which was just what Gift Horse needed to meet the deadline to be at the Tri-Five Nationals. Luckily, it added the Tri-Fives to its lineup in 2017.

The OEM interior has seen better days. The rear seat sat outside, meaning there is rust to contend with on the original seat frame. It's hard to say how many rodents called these seats home over the years, and the springs have likely settled. A new TMI interior makes all these concerns irrelevant, and the choices available ensure there's an interior for every build.

“Tri-Fives were a natural progression for us to add to our offerings,” says TMI’s Marketing and Product Development Manager, Larry Ashley. “The interiors are pretty similar from a layout perspective which allowed us to scale the operation without having to make complete one-off pieces, which helps us keep the cost down. Since day one, our Tri-Five interiors have been extremely popular, just like the cars themselves.”

Upgrading Project Gift Horse both inside and out meant this project fit perfectly with TMI Products offerings. The company offers a variety of choices, with each interior custom-tailored to your order. While it’s not a one-off custom interior, the benefits far outweigh the alternative. Let’s face it; unfortunately, upholstery seems to be a dying art form for one reason or another.

Finding a good upholsterer is getting more and more difficult. If you are lucky enough to find one, chances are he’s booked out for a year or more, and it will cost your first-born to get your car out of the shop. TMI’s website features different options for each interior model, which allows you to choose colors and patterns to your taste and budget.

Out With The Old

The interior of Aubrey’s ’56 Chevy had seen better days. Being a recovering project vehicle, the outside looked pretty good, but the interior was shot. With a deadline looming, there just wasn’t enough time to find an upholsterer to start stitching up an interior. The interior packages TMI offers fit right into the build schedule, with a turnaround time usually in four to six weeks (depending on choices made). The quality and styling, coupled with Aubrey’s ability to choose individual options, meant that he could have a show-quality interior, explicitly designed to complement his build.

The floor needed trimming for the transmission. Once everything was fabricated and fitted, the entire floor was treated to a rust inhibitor to prevent future issues and give the Dynamat something to really hold on to.

Aubrey explained his surprise when he looked through TMI’s offerings, “They’ve got so many choices!” he said. Even for a seasoned enthusiast such as Aubrey, the task was greatly simplified, thanks to being able to order everything at one time. “I just needed to put it all together and tell them what I wanted.”

As is the case, when given a myriad of choices, it may be difficult to pin down exactly the best option. Like Aubrey, you’ll be spending a lot of time looking at the interior, so he suggests you take your time to figure out precisely what you want before ordering. Even then, ask a lot of questions to the tech helping you out. When the interior does arrive, he recommends opening every box before installing anything. Building a car can take some time, and finding any issues upfront is a lot better than scouring the files looking for a dog-eared copy of the shipping invoice months down the road.

The entire interior was treated with Dynamat to insulate the interior from unwanted noise and outside temperatures. Aubrey strongly recommends taking the time to do this, especially in an interior space this large. You'll be glad you did.

TMI has perfected the industry of supplying ready-to-install interiors to remove the hassle of finding a custom-upholsterer to build a complete interior, yet still involving the builder by providing enough choices for a truly custom interior. The interior for Project Gift Horse will be more modern, affording the comfort old springs and burlap could never allow.

Aubrey decided on a classic tan, Premium Naugahyde throughout — not too flashy, but a half-century fresher than Houndstooth. The TMI interior package includes all of the major components to complete the interior — front and rear seats, headliner, carpeting, kick panels, door skins, and interior quarter-panel inserts.

Aubrey deviated from the plug-and-play install by raising the console and front seats. He modified the TMI console to fit the shifter and fabricated seat mounts to match the console height. The additional room under the armrest made a great place to stash the ECU for the engine.

Many of these components can also be custom-tailored with everything from accent stitching colors, grommet inserts in either black, brass, or chrome, and even suede inserts to really set your interior apart. Another benefit — the interior is professionally-installed on all-new seat frames, so you don’t have to worry about previous rust or squeaky, weak springs. In fact, installing a TMI interior is installing an all-new interior.

Aubrey chose TMI's Pro-Series Universal Sport Low Back Seats for his project. All of the fabrication work was completed for the seats and console first, then he removed everything to install the headliner.

But first, the team needed to get the inside of the Shoebox ready for the threading. Not only did the ragged remains of the original interior need to be exorcized, but also the floor and adjacent metal surfaces required some attention to bring all the benefits a modern interior provides.

The headliner must be installed through the front or rear window opening. Several friends make the install easier as they can help hold the headliner while positioning and fastening everything into place.

Once the OEM bench seats were removed from Gift Horse, Aubrey and the team began massaging the floor to accept the new Chevrolet Performance LS3 and 6L90E transmission. Once the appropriate clearance was made, the whole floor was treated to a rust-inhibiting coating. To help eliminate unwanted road noise and vibration, the entire interior was treated to a layer of Dynamat before installing the interior.

In With The New

Replacing a complete interior can appear to be a daunting task, but with TMI’s products and Aubrey’s advice, it can be a rewarding experience. Aubrey suggests tackling the job one step at a time. The headliner is the largest component and should be installed first. The new TMI headliner uses a fiberglass base, so installing it through either the front or rear window opening is the only way to get it into the car’s interior. They are the only two openings large enough for the headliner to fit through.

The interior panels are molded and upholstered, and although the molds have the holes located for the window cranks and door pulls, TMI does not cut the material in case the owner is using some other form of mechanism such as power window switches (a thoughtful touch). The builder just needs to cut the material to allow the mechanism to protrude through. The door panels come with a sturdy grab handle which bolts to the door to give you something secure to pull the door shut.

Also, having full roam of the car’s interior will greatly simplify things. Not having to climb around seats trying to hold items in place makes it so much easier. Aubrey also suggests having at least two other friends to help secure and hold the headliner as it goes into position. Constantly defying gravity and the size of the headliner panel makes this easily the most trying of the entire install. But once it’s done, you’ll certainly enjoy the view knowing the rest of the task is all downhill from here.

Sound deadener went on all the interior panels, doors included. From there, the door and rear quarter-panels were fitted into place and secured.

The front bucket seats were next because Aubrey was modifying the TMI-supplied center console. He decided to go with the Pro-Series Universal Low Back Sport Seat, which comes in a variety of styles and has the option of including a headrest or not. Aubrey opted to forgo the headrest to keep with the more traditional styling of the Tri-Five’s interior but added a touch of bling thanks to the additional chrome grommets.

As shipped, the center console was considerably shorter than needed to fit the shifter Aubrey bought for the transmission. He also decided to build his own seat rails to raise the seats to match the new height of the modified console. Due to the front seats’ ease of removal, he was able to do the necessary fitting and trimming without worrying about the rear seat, carpeting, or interior panels getting damaged. Once everything was fitted, the front seats were removed to install the carpeting and grant access to the rear.

When you start on the rear portion of the interior, install the rear package tray first. Any trimming is best done before the rear seats are installed. Then, once you have it situated, you can fit the rear quarter-panels and seats. The interior quarter-panels attach using brackets fastened to the inside of the car. Screws then hold the panels to the brackets. The seats snap in much like the OEM rear seat. Once they are in place and everything fitted properly, there is a center console installed that flows from the floor, between the rear seats, and over the rear package tray.

Because there are so many options for controlling windows and door handles, TMI sends all of the interior panels sans window crank and door-handle holes in the material. However, the mold do have the holes drilled in the stock location, so if you are using the stock handles and latches, all you need to do it slit the material. For this car, it is using power windows with the OEM wing-window intact. The controls for the windows are in the console so Aubrey didn’t need to slit the material in the stock location. All he needed to do was trim the panels for the door latches and wing-window cranks. Take your time and make sure not to make too big of a hole, just enough for the crank to fit freely onto the mechanism.

Aubrey installed the rear package tray and seats before adding the carpet to make sure everything fit as it should. The seats have a console that runs from the floor to the rear package tray behind the seats.

TMI even offers interior goods for the trunk area of Tri-Five Chevys. Aubrey decided to skin this storage space with the same tan Naugahyde used on the inside. As part of the rear interior, TMI also provided the same carpeting used in the passenger’s compartment for a matching installation throughout.

In The Details

Once all of the soft goods are installed and fitted correctly, then the rest of the interior can be affixed to complete the install. This car is a 210 post model, so there are window frames around the glass in the doors. The metal trim that goes onto this frame secures the door panels (front and rear), so Aubrey ordered a few extra yards of material to trim between the front and rear glass.

The TMI carpet is a molded unit that mates to the contour of the floor. The edges have a nice, sewn finish and the carpet finishes the floor of the interior and trunk beautifully.

TMI also offers a padded dash, but because this car’s dash was in pretty good shape, Aubrey opted not to use the softer option. The brightwork bits to finish off the install were from Danchuk Manufacturing. The OEM-style door handles and cranks keep the vintage vibe alive while bringing some brightwork to the cockpit of our Chevy.

The trunk kit came with interior panels as well as carpeting. Note the flat floor in our trunk. There are carpet kits designed with the opening for a spare tire, should you choose to use the spare tire carrier in the trunk.

Finishing off the interior of a project vehicle has an amazing effect on the perceived progress of the build. Knowing that Aubrey planned to unveil the car at the Tri-Five Nationals, TMI invited him to display the car in its booth during the show where many enthusiasts stopped by to get a look at Gift Horse and try out the interior for themselves.

TMI Sales Manager Jim Pearce was pleased with the response from potential customers. “I was busy the entire show with people checking out the interior of Aubrey’s car, along with all the different Tri-Five options we have,” he says. “People are definitely looking for an affordable custom option when it comes to interiors, but they don’t want one exactly like the next guy. Being able to see firsthand just how much Aubrey was able to tailor the interior to his own liking (even adding some things himself) generated some incredible foot traffic.”

Aubrey couldn’t be happier with the way the interior turned out and told us at the show, “We’ve been scrambling to get the car ready for the show, and still have a few more things to do, but the interior makes it feel like we’re there. This is the first chance I’ve really had to admire it, and I think it turned out great. The seats are so comfortable, I’m debating climbing in and finally taking a nap!”

Like he said, there are a few other areas to be addressed before Project Gift Horse is ready to roam the open highway. With the entire interior installed, it looks so much better and so much closer to being complete. It gives the project a nice shot in the arm to get the team over the finish line.

To finish off the interior, Aubrey made skirting out of sheet aluminum to cover the seat mounts. He then covered them with extra material he bought from TMI to match the interior. Danchuk provided the door handles and wing-window cranks for our Chevy.

While it would be tempting to cut a few corners to get the car running, they’re not going to do that. Instead, they’ll continue to systematically work their way through the checklist of items that need to be addressed until the ’56 is genuinely ready for the road. Until then, we may find Aubrey sitting in his ’56 Chevy, making vroom-vroom noises (or snoring noises). If so, we’ll be sure to shoot a little video before he notices. Keep an eye out for our next installment; we still have a lot left to cover on Project Gift Horse.

Article Sources

About the author

Andy Bolig

Andy has been intrigued by mechanical things all of his life and enjoys tinkering with cars of all makes and ages. Finding value in style points, he can appreciate cars of all power and performance levels. Andy is an avid railfan and gets his “high” by flying radio-controlled model airplanes when time permits. He keeps his feet firmly grounded by working on his two street rods and his supercharged C4 Corvette. Whether planes, trains, motorcycles, or automobiles, Andy has immersed himself in a world driven by internal combustion.
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