Trans Am seat cover replacement
Replacing seat covers in a late-model Trans Am
Jefferson Bryant - September 29, 2011 10:00 AM
For Your Information
Hawk’s Third Generation
1 We removed the passenger seat and started pulling things apart. Do not take both seats apart at the same time, since you may need it for reference during reassembly. Put all the bolts, springs and other hardware in a safe place; we used a plastic bin.
2 With the back off, the hog rings holding the back of the cover were cut off. Be careful not to cut the attaching strap.
3 The headrest post sleeves must be removed as well. They are held in with spring clips.
4 These seats are electric, so the plugs had to be disconnected before the disassembly could continue.
5 We took off the hinges. Keep track of the bolts. Separating the tops and bottoms not only makes it easier, but necessary to get the covers off.
6 Inside the seats, the covers are hog ringed to metal, plastic or fiber cords in the seat foam. Cutting hog rings takes sharp cutters, and the process can make them dull fast. A half turn will usually bend them out of shape and they pop right off. If your cords are plastic or fiber, cut them, but you don’t want to break the retention cords.
7 We found that the seat covers were a little loose. Since replacing the foam is not really an option, we went for the next best thing. Using some one-inch cotton batting (available at any upholstery shop or fabric shop), the original foam was lined. You can glue this on, but it isn’t necessary. We cut the batting in the center to help accentuate the separation lines.
8 We placed hog rings every one to two inches apart. There is a sleeved cord sewn into the seat covers for this purpose. Be careful not to pierce the cover itself.
9 The cover filled out nicely with the batting in place.
10 The lower half of the seat back needs hog rings along the sides. This has to be done from the inside of the cover; it takes patience and a little work.
11 We decided not to reuse the original seat backs, since they just didn’t look right with the new covers. Note the wrinkles along the sides. That needs attention. We traced the shape of the seat with a marker on a section batting, cut it out and shoved it in the seat. We did this on both sides.
12 The original seats used plastic clips to secure the bottom seam; new ones use zippers.
13 The seat bottom cover is retained by these plastic clips, which pop off. The sliders were removed before the cover was removed.
14 On the top side, the cover was held in place with Velcro®. This is a bit odd, as this is the first time we have seen Velcro® used in a stock seat in this method. Only the “hook” side is used and the white cloth acts as the loop side. The new seats don’t really work with the Velcro®.
15 We used some TIG welding wire to secure the seat covers. We could have used glue, but this is what most other seats would have.
16 We ran the wire through the foam, just under the surface, along the length of the Velcro® strips. We made four runs, one for each strip of Velcro®. We hog ringed the cover into place.
17 The underside was ringed in place to the steel frame. You may have to drill some holes to get the rings to hold.
18 The headrests were not an easy task. You need two people to do this. The cover is closed with a plastic clip tab that flips over itself and locks into the channel on the other side.
19 We had to put a ton of heat into the vinyl to get it to stretch. It still tore, but in an inconspicuous area, so no big deal. We also drilled two holes in our work table to hold the headrest steady. Great care is needed when heating vinyl, as it burns and melts really easily. We placed the heat on the inside, where you are less likely to boil the vinyl as fast (but it still happened … BE CAREFUL!)
20 A nylon pry tool was used as a shoehorn to get the cover over the foam. These headrests are wider up top than they are on the bottom, so you really have to pull and stretch these things on.
21 The new covers are closed up with Velcro®. They are not quite as clean as the originals, but they look good on the seats.
22 The rear seat covers were held in place with glue. We could have done the wire trick, but the rear covers didn’t have provisions for hog rings, so glue was required. We sprayed the seat with glue and the base of the new covers. Use high-quality upholstery cement and not the junk in aerosol cans. You can get upholstery cement from any upholstery shop.
23 The cover was laid onto the seat, aligned side-to-side and front-to-back and pressed to the glue. No glue is needed around the sides.
24 The rest of the cover was stretched around the foam. You may need some heat to get the vinyl to stretch.
25 The last step was stretching the cord to the metal basket frame and clamping the rings. We used some professional grade hog ring pliers, but the kit comes with an inexpensive set. They work, but they are a pain to use.
26 All done. We left the driver seat original for this shot so you can see the differences. There are a few wrinkles. That is to be expected and they will work themselves out over time. Definitely a different style, but they look great and feel even better. The added cushion of the batting makes the seats softer to sit in.
No place sees more wear and tear in any car than the seats and the carpet. Whether they are cloth, vinyl or leather, the seats will see a lot of action and over time simply wear out.
Leather cracks and splits, cloth ravels and frays, vinyl is probably the most resilient with the minimum amount of maintenance, but even vinyl dies. Replacing the seat covers is really the only fix, as repairing seat covers just doesn’t work. The problem is that fourth-generation Firebirds don’t get much love in the upholstery market.
There are just not many options unless you want to spend major coin on custom upholstery. We searched high and low through the typical restoration channels and found nothing. We scoured the forums and finally hit pay dirt with Hawk’s Third Gen parts. For less than $400, we had a set of new seat covers — front and rear — in soft Hampton vinyl that updates the look of the interior and provides a fresh place to rest our laurels. It didn’t come without some work, though.
Installing seat covers is not terribly difficult, but sometimes, they just give you a challenge. This set challenged us. The original seats in our 2000 TA have plastic backs with the lumbar billows and they looked decent, but dated. The driver’s seat was worn out and the others were showing some age as well. These covers fit 1993 to 2002 seats, and there are some subtle differences along the way. The instructions that come with the seats are fairly generic and not specific to the seats we were working on. Since we have some experience with upholstery, that was not a problem for us. If this is your first set of seats, don’t plan on getting it all done in one day, at least not if you want them to look good.
The covers look really nice, the styling is updated, and they feel good, but a few things didn’t quite fit. The seat covers were a touch loose and the headrests were impossibly tight. We had to use a ton of heat to get the headrest covers installed. To tighten up the seat covers, we used an old upholstery trick: cotton batting. Since seat foam breaks down over time, the covers not fitting snug was not necessarily an upholstery issue. The fact that these covers fit a wide range of seat styles makes a difference. The seats with plastic backs don’t have as much side cushion, because it is hidden by the seat backs. This allows some extra material that needs to be addressed.
Another issue we had was the attachment points for the upholstery. Our stock seats used several different attachment methods: hog rings, clips, glue and Velcro®. For stock seats, the Velcro® and glue threw us off a bit, as those methods are unorthodox for factory seats. The new covers had provisions for hog rings and, well, hog rings. The factory obviously changed things along the way, so some of you will have no problems while others will see some of the same challenges we faced. The good news here is that once you tackle these minor issues, the seats look great and you saved a bunch of cash along the way. So get seated and read on. Pun intended.