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Book Review - Automotive Upholstery Handbook

A book dedicated to one of the most overlooked areas of car modification

By Michael Knowling

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At a glance...

  • Plenty of information and tips for large-scale upholstery jobs
  • Detailed and easy to understand
  • Lots of photos
  • Lacks up-to-date content on plastic and fibre composites
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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 there...

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 window...

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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 practices.

And then we get into the hard stuff.

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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 trimming complexity.

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 readers.

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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 jobs.

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?

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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 Software.


Beven D. Young Automotive Books and Software  +61 8 8298 5548

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