Car enthusiasts are a pretty handy bunch. Tearing an engine apart, fitting
bigger brakes and dabbling in a bit of paint and panel work doesn’t scare too
many away. But automotive upholstery? Well, err...
Here enters Automotive Upholstery Handbook by Don Taylor.
Published by California Bill’s Automotive Handbooks in 1993, this 227 page
soft cover book is aimed at enthusiasts who are starting a large scale interior
make-over. This isn’t a book containing small hints for making tweaks here and
The book has 17 chapters covering a very broad range of trimming tasks and is
extremely well supported with diagrams and black and white photos. The author
(with five auto-related books previously to his name) writes in a very ‘chatty’
manner that isn’t always succinct but is always easy to understand. There are
also a few American-isms scattered through – for example, “backlite” means rear
The beginning of the book is aimed at familiarising readers with the tools of
the trade – there’s some useful information on second-hand equipment prices,
making your own tools and a major focus on sewing machine selection. In later
chapters you’ll see why a sewing machine is so important in the world of
upholstery – not surprisingly, you’ll find an entire chapter dedicated to
learning to sew. This is a great chapter for beginners – there’s absolutely no
assumed knowledge on the part of the author.
Many of the upholstering tasks covered in the book are very detailed and time
consuming, so the author first suggests making a very simple piece – a stadium
cushion. It may have absolutely nothing to do with automotives, but the cushion
will build experience measuring, cutting, sewing and other basic trimming
And then we get into the hard stuff.
The first project - which is covered in excellent step-by-step detail -
involves making a new bench seat cover from vinyl. We can’t see many readers
re-vinyling a bench seat but the process and many of the tips and tricks are
extremely valuable. An example? Well, let’s say you’ve measured and cut a
section of material to the required length and you then proceed to fill the
pleats with poly foam – all of a sudden your cut-to-length section of material
gets shorter and shorter as the pleats are filled...
Once the vinyl bench seat is completed, the author takes you through the
process of adding a fabric insert to a BMW seat which has the added complexity
of a retractable backrest, slider rails, a headrest and heater element. This
project delves into blind stitching and French seams – the next level of
The most interesting chapter relates to headliners, door panels and carpet.
The author takes you through the process of replacing moulded and old-school
sewn-in fitted headliners. The installation of the sewn-in headlining is
performed on a ground-up rebuilt 1965 Comet Cyclone. Next, you look over the
author’s shoulder as he makes and installs new upholstered door trims to replace
a damaged pair of originals. However, he makes the point – this sort of
fibreboard backed door trim has been recently replaced by moulded trims in all
but the cheapest late-model cars. We very much like the section of replacing the
carpet and its under-padding – beautifully detailed and illustrated. And, yes,
the task is quite easily achievable.
But there’s a lot of the book that will be of limited interest to most
There are a couple of chapters on making and installing
different types of vinyl roof covers – including a “sim con” which is an
abbreviation of simulated convertible. There’s also a very detailed chapter on
replacing convertible tops – something MX-5 (Miata) owners might find
interesting but, without previous trim experience, it’s not something to be
tackled by the backyard tinkerer.
Curiously, there’s also a chapter on building a boat seat. Much of the same
trimming principles are applied except using marine-grade materials and a
plywood frame. Still, the section describing how to bend plywood without a press
is very impressive – albeit not relevant for the vast majority of auto trim
Other chapters of limited interest include replacing the cover on a
motorcycle seat and making a tonneau cover for utes. There’s also a section on
van interiors, which has a slightly broader focus that includes cabinet making
and cutting metal to fit extra side windows. The final chapter is a
pictures-and-caption segment on the upholstery seen at an American hot-rod show.
A show from the early ‘90s...
So how does the book rate overall?
Well, its 1993 print date is obvious in the amount of coverage given to
various forms of vinyl roof trimming. Equally, there’s a notable lack of
anything to do with plastics or carbon composites. We must also point out that
this is not the sort of book to buy if you own a late-model car and you’re
thinking about a few subtle trim improvements - it isn’t aimed at that market.
Instead the book is aimed at trimming at a more fundamental level and covers relatively
large tasks. If you own an old or bare-bones late-model car and you’re not
scared to put in a lot of time piecing together a new interior, this is
definitely the book for you.
Automotive Upholstery Handbook can be purchased for AUD$45 (plus delivery)
from Beven D. Young Automotive Books and