Driver’s Seat Rebuild

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So as those following this thread know, I’ve been looking into a Sports Seat conversion ever since sitting in Tom’s (Wuffer) at the last Wine Barrel Tasting Tour. Also the driver’s seat was in need of repair so I wanted to kill two birds with one set of Sport Seats if possible – although I only really ‘needed’ a driver’s Sport Seat and/or seat repair because all the other leather in the car is in fantastic shape.

Option 1: Buy used Sport Seats from a donor, pay to have them shipped, and pay to have the leather matched to Lotus White, an unusual BMW leather color.

Option 2: Build my own Sport Seats. Cost: ~$4400 for two sets of parts and replacement leather. I’d be lucky to even FIND a match to the Lotus White at the local upholstery shop. Even if I only did the driver’s seat to save half the cost, they would be different seats and might look ‘too out of place.’ And did I really need that thigh support for all that money anyway?

Then I found these pix which gave me encouragement that it might not look too bad to just spent the $2200 bucks for just the driver’s seat. Here’s one Sport and one normal seat together in Lotus White:

Not too bad but still not in my immediate budget.

Option 3: Re-condition and re-dye my driver’s seat, make it last a while longer until one day I could take on option 1 or 2.

Budgets being the way they are, I decided on option 3 using Leatherique’s products knowing the finished product might not match perfectly but at least for just the cost of a C-Note and some elbow grease, it wouldn’t look like this anymore:

   

Just look how sad the seat bottom looked – the foam looked like it had collapsed.

So I set about tearing the seat down thinking it would be easier to do the reconditioning and re-dye on the leather off the seat frame. If you’ve never dug into taking your seat apart, just know that it’s not as bad as it may seem at first glance. Sure they’re well engineered, well thought out designs and everything is inter-related so the reinstallation order is important; but nothing too daunting.

Here’s what’s under all that engineering. Seat frame and motors:

Separating the leather from the seat cushion:

Separating the backrest plastic frame from the foam after taking off the backrest’s leather:

The heater fabric covers the leather-to-seat cushion latching system (wires running the length and width of the seat sections within the foam provide a means to attach the leather hide tightly to each cushion section:

The heater element rests on top of the hard cushion foam and this is when I got thinking…

Why not just figure out a way to make the existing cushions press inward, and perhaps add another layer of softer foam to the top, maybe I can just build my own darn Sport Seats, customized to my personal comfort – this was my Eureka moment! And it wouldn’t require a whole new hide:

So I set about cutting some custom strips and experimenting with bolstering the bolsters, top and bottom, to make the seat feel like I wanted:

   

Here you can see how much I stuffed under the cushion but on top of the frame:

Next I got busy on reconditioning the leather. After a deep clean and using the rejuvenator three times to make the leather nice and soft like new, I set about filling cracks with Leatherique’s Crack Filler:

   

Then I set out to ‘flatten’ the permafolds that had managed to form over time using duct tape and a hair dryer:

Then I started the dye process doing first the piping and seams, using more duct tape to hold apart the leather while it dries. You gotta use thinned out dye, multiple applications and a lot of patience. Otherwise, if you put it on too thick, it will just peel right off. Gotta give the leather time to soak in the thinned dye mixture:

Since the main hinge metal does show at times, I figured I would also repaint those so the whole seat would look like new:

Fast forward to many days of dye, then dry, then dye, then dry, soft sanding with 600 to 1500 grit sandpaper in-between to reduce the gloss of the dye, and the final product can finally be put back together (bottom first):

Then the top. Notice how the side bolsters don’t “look” any different than before? Also notice I added some center seat foam to better fill out the leather cover and make the seat look more new:

And then finally back into the car:

   

Finally the test drive: Well let me tell you, this seat is now PERFECT! Not only is it reconditioned, nice and soft like new and re-dyed – the custom Taylor Bolsted cushioning added to the side and seat bolsters keep me well inside the seat during side loaded fun!!! I purposely left a little less bolster boost out of the bottom cushion because I wanted to be able to spread out during long drives, but the new Taylor Bolsted backrest is so fricken comfortable! Not only that, I just saved a couple thousand bucks!

I’ll tell you what guys and gals, if you’re looking for some Sport Seats and are willing to do just a little bit of work, it’s not that hard to get out the seat, un-staple the leather from the sides and slip some foam in there custom to whatever feel you want. Then just re-staple the leather, you don’t mess with the lumbar, you don’t mess with the heating element, all you do is add instant bolster and you will be stoked you did!

What do you think?

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About the Author:

I am an 8 Series nut. In 2009 I restored a '92 850i to peak condition and subsequently sold it - which left me depressed. So I embarked on catching my White Whale: this '95 850CSi Chassis #CD00166. I’m opinionated and swear constantly, but I have friends in spite of myself. I am funnier than my wife realizes. Please tell her. Cheers!

Comments

  1. Rod  March 9, 2012

    Oh Man, Too Much FUN!! I’ve done 4 complete E-31 seats with leather upholstery and cushion replacements. I’ve that these seats totally apart. IMHO, it is not an easy task. Just R&Ring the heavy seats is a task in and of it self. Use heavy protection blankets over the door sills to prevent damage to the door trims.

    I don’t want to scare you off however if you get into removing staples and leather upholstery this will “NOT” be an easy afternoon task and requires much patience.

    These must be the most complex seats in the auto industry. If not for the complexity of the components it would be for the disassembly/assembly requirements.

    I set up several clean moving blankets on the garage floor to do the seat cover and cushion replacement.

    You should be prepared to replace many broken plastic push-pins, trim fasteners and other small dealer special order parts that keep these seats together and trimmed out. Also, closely inspect the seat back gear housing/assemble for broken tabs. This is also a good time to check/inspect and repair the seat motor inner cable lengths.

    Once you get the seat trims off, there are numerous screws that hold the seat buckets to the seat frames. That I remember the seat back frame must be separated from the seat bottom frame to replace the bottom seat bucket/cushions/covers. The cushions are glued (industrial contact cement) to a composite seat bucket and the center of the seat upholstery is Hog Ringed to the seat cushion, then the leather is glued and stapled around the edges to the seat bucket.

    If you will be working with the foam cushions and upholstery, you will want to buy 100 hog rings and extra polyester sheet (1”) cushion filler to help fill out the seat cover where the existing foam/polyester cushion lacks volume. I also purchased some heavy stiff ribbon material from the fabric store to support the leather being stapled to the seat bucket in some strategic locations (keeps the leather from tearing/pulling through the staple).

    I purchased as pneumatic upholstery stapler to do the job with my priceless leather seat covers.
    I used a Senco SFW10XP G06-G10 stapler with G04BAAN – 1/4, (20-gage x .045”) (.023”) staples. The Senco stapler and staples worked flawlessly. You will want to adjust the air pressure to set the staple depth without cutting through the soft leather.

    An Arrow T-50 hand crown stapler with a T50 1/4” (20 gage x .052 width) staple won’t do the job, “Been there done that – got the tee shirt”!! I guess the hand stapler doesn’t have the power to set the staple into the composite bucket or maybe because the T50 staple has a diagonal cut leg that causes the problem.
    Also, also: The hand staplers are a flat surface stapler and you want an upholstery stapler with an extended tip to get into the numerous nooks and crannies to set a staple.

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  2. CD05001  December 6, 2012

    You’re lucky you can get your seat out. Somehow on Ms. Oxford Grun the drive cable to the driver’s side, slide mech. doesn’t move the driver’s seat forward or backward and so you can’t unbolt the seat to work on it. She came that way. Still haven’t come up with a solution to address this problem. =:? Woof!

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    • Taylor  December 6, 2012

      No matter what position the seat is in, you should be able to ‘feel’ your way to unbolting the six Torx screws that hold down the seat to the floor board. Then you can unplug the electrical connections and liberate the seat from your car for cable maintenance/repair. I know it sounds like a challenge but it really isn’t. Good luck!

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