Repair and Restoration Of Your Imperial's Seatbelts

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Tips from Bob on Adding Shoulder Straps:

1.  I got interested in the shoulder belt when I noticed a "ring" only on the driver's side roof, between the chrome molding & grab handle. When I took these off for cleaning (everything was very dirty & pitted), I noticed semi-circles had been cut in the pieces and the ring was solidly bolted to the inner roof, with the nut accessible through a 1" x 3" cutout to the rear of the hole. The edges of the cutout were not smooth and this seems to indicate this was a dealer installed option. I took the ring & nut out and when I got some "extra" seat belts, I thought I could use the hardware and have shoulder belts made.

2.  I went to Deist Safety (nearby Glendale) with the car & described what I wanted. They made the belts in a light blue (not exactly correct, but nice) which simply run from the roof mounting through the original male/tongue fitting. The belt slides freely at this point. The belt then continues through the retractor into the original door-side plastic coverings and final adjustment is made on the floor mount.

3.  I used new "ring hardware" from Deist, which I had nickel plated. The driver's side came out pretty good. I got the two belts for about $80.

4.  When I started to install the passenger side, I was (not exactly) surprised to find the mounting hole, but no "access" box. Obviously, I need to cut this and have procrastinated for a while. This metal is very thick & I'll need to probably drill a lot of little holes, then cut, etc.

5.  If this doesn't make sense, I'll try to make a drawing & measurements. The key to the installation seems to be whether the car has a place to mount the upper fitting for the shoulder part - I don't have experience with anything except my 66. (I put a roll bar in my Alfa Spyder mostly just to have a "high" mounting point for shoulder belts for that car. Those belts were also made by Deist and are also good.)

Question from David:

For the purchase of lap belts is there a preferred company that any of you have used. I have the basic bench seat. Have any of you purchased your car rubber from Dodge city and truck located in Canada? If so do you have any feedback on them as far as price and quality.

Reply from John:

For lap belts check the JC Whitney catalog. I buy ones that have the airplane seatbelt type metal buckle. They are available in many colors and in standard, long and back seat lengths. I've installed these in '59, '60, '62 and '63 Imperials. For your '60, you will have to drill mounting holes so take care in clearing fuel and brake lines. '62 and later cars have DOT mandated mounting points for driver and passenger front belts.

Question from Jim (1960):

Can anyone recommend a nice lap belt/seat belt for my '60? I don't like the originals.

Reply from Ernie:

Eastwood has nice belts, authentic for era and priced right.

Question from Dave (1960):

I am thinking of putting period seatbelts in my LeBaron . I know nothing of the webbing or the width etc, plus the correct colour for the brown interior for my Le Baron. Were the original seatbelts made from canvas?


From Arran:

I don't think that your car had factory seatbelts, if it had belts at all they would have been aftermarket ones. There was an old set of seatbelts in my car, aftermarket of course, and they were woven from nylon webbing the same as the new ones are. They were basically aviation type seatbelts with a chrome buckle that you have to pull open to undo, if you want some appropriate to your car I would find a set of lap belts like these. J.C Whitney, among other places, still sell these things in multiple colours. Nylon goes back a long ways so unless you had a set from a 1930's aircraft I doubt whether they would be made out of canvas or leather.

From Richard:

My '60 LeBaron came with factory belts. They were a standard width belt (2"), but of a courser thicker weave then we find today. My belts were labled made exclusively for Chrysler. There was even a silver sticker on the dash that said: "fasten seat belt" that included the makers' name so I know that it was original. The sticker is a silver oval and pretty tacky. The buckles are the flip-up type, square, chrome. The belts connect to the floor with a hook mechanism to a ring, some have double rectangle buckles that hold the belt at the floor. The 1960 Chrysler master accesssories catalog does show these belts. I have ordered new belts from ssnake-oyl. 1-800-526-4500 or try I have not received them yet. My car had only driver and front passenger belts.

I have one N.O.S. seatbelt in the original box. It is stamped Black SM $10.95. It looks olive drab (green). The box says black. My LeBaron had a white leather interior with white belts. I am going to do black in the LeCrown's silver interior. If I use the NOS one it is going to get dyed black.

From Larry:

To the best of my knowledge seat belts were available for the 1960 Imperial at the factory. They were an accessory which was ordered and installed at the factory (part No. 1902 291 - $23.95 installed). This is why some came off the line with them and some didn't.

The 1960 Imperial Review from Motor Life magazine, November 1959 (Page 64-65) states the following;

"Best of the new features are a double padded instrument panel, improved seat belt design and a wonderful emergency warning flasher system"

I have taken the pics of mine and will scan them and send them to you when they are ready. Yes they are of the aircraft design made of webbing material and mine are green - yes green. I have heard that green belts were in many vehicles in those days even though my veh is black with grey broadcloth seats. I have heard that some people say that the colour was originally grey and that over the years it has somehow turned green due to the sunlight etc however this is not so. When undoing the rear floor bolt and buckle there is some webbing covered by the buckle for over 40 years (no light) and it is green. They are exactly 5cms wide.

I believe that the U.S. Government didn't make it mandatory for carmakers to install seatbelts in their vehicles till 1962 or there about.

Follow-up from William:

I might be wrong, but I suspect seat belts were optional until they became standard in the early '60s. After the big safety buzz that Ford started in '56, a manufacturer would have had to be a little dense to not have padded dashes and seat belts as optional equipment.

Key thing would be to determine if there were seat belt anchors in the floorpan. Basically, that might be a reinforced area or segment of an area behind the seats, near the outer rocker panel area and on each side of the driveshaft tunnel. Otherwise, you'd need someone to make a reinforcment piece with an appropriate size nut welded in the middle of it, for the seat belt bolt to screw into from the top side and get that tack welded to the underside of the floorpan.

I kind of suspect that many of the earlier seat belts would be similar to what the add-on units or "replacement" lap belts of today might be. The thicker webbing came in more toward the 1964 or 1965 time frame, again, if I remember correctly.

Question from Greg (1965):

I'd like to throw out another question regarding the seat belts from our '65 Crown convertible. They either need to be replaced or dyed as they are a faded beige and aren't going to look very nice next to Gary Goers beautiful leather seat covers. Has anyone replaced just the fabric parts of the belts or do you have to replace everything? Do they look like the originals? Can the belt fabric be colored with a product for coloring vinyl or carpet/fabric? Does this in turn make the fabric stiff? Sounds like twenty questions doesn't it? Any suggestions would be very much appreciated.


From Elijah:

I recently did a satisfactory seat belt "restoration" project on one of my Imperials. The belts in question were originally dark blue, but had faded, and also had some stains on them.

My first step was to remove the seat belts from the car and then to soak them in a cleaner. I chose to use OxyClean, but I suspect a solution of warm water and detergent (clothing or dish) would work equally well.

Once satisfactorily cleaned, I redyed the belts using Rit dye. Yes, Rit dye. And it worked great!

You can follow the instructions on the Rit, which include a vat of boiling water, or you can do what I did, which was to simply mix it in a spray bottle with warm water and start spraying. I had an extra belt from another car that I used to experiment with until I got the mixture to the right shade.

It went on really easily, provided good coverage, and gave great results. It's colorfast, so you don't have to worry about it bleeding on your clothes.

And it's cheap. :o)

From Roger:

I got a pair of seatbelts from a '65 "lesser" MoPar for my '58 "lesser" MoPar. [Lesser, HA! But I digress.] These had the original Chrysler cloth tags on the belts and paper labels under the buckles.

Point of the story is, my wife and I scrubbed them over and over with Oxy Clean and Castrol Super Clean. They weren't too pretty to start but they now look great. There was some slight fading which could have been the cleaners or could have already been that way under the crud.

From John:

I have had very good luck with cleaning belts by using a scrub brush and Goop hand cleaner. If they really have faded this will not help, but it would be worth a try. I lay them out on the driveway and load them up with Goop and scrub, let set a while and scrub some more. I rinse well with a pressure nozzle on the hose and set in sun to dry, moving the buckle several times to avoid a rust stain. I have been amazed at how much dirt and grunge will lift from the nylon fibers.

From Kenyon:

My friend Luke Nola from NZ was with me when I bought some seatbelts that are original. They are as stale and old-looking as it gets without being compromised.

Being that Luke wants only NOS on his car, he noted that the belts in my hands had CHRYSLER CORP. tags sewn on them (!!!).

Being the restorer that he is, Luke immediately insisted that I cut the thread that was used to sew the belts into loops, redye the webbing, and rechrome the buckles. I was then to have the original webbing resewn with new thread to keep the content of modern materials to a minimum.

Not sure that I'll do that, but thanks, Luke.

The webbing should be capable of being re-dyed. RIT dye at the grocery store may work - read the directions first to see. If it is nylon, it may resist this, but I don't think that my 1960's are anything but natural fibers (cotton?).

I grabbed an extra set of the airline-style buckles, so if you need a pair, I have them - probably from an early to mid sixties Imperial.

Question from Chris (1966):

I am looking to upgrade the seat belts in my '66 Coupe. It came with 4 factory lap belts, but because I have 2 young boys, 4 and 7, I would prefer shoulder harnesses, ESPECIALLY in the back seat where they sit. I just called local junk yard and was quoted $5.00 per person to pull my own. Here's the thing: my grandfather drives a F#*d Contour, probably a mid-90's model year, and it has the rear lap belts that hide the winding mechanism behind the courtesy light panel. The belts lay nicely against the seat. SO, I'm thinking maybe I could rebuild the same panel in my coupe with sturdier materials, cut a hole to match the plastic guide from the junk car and find a way to bolt the winder into the body panel. Has anyone else done this before? I think I could even find junker gold belts that would match (pretty closely) the original belt color.

THEN, I would love to be able to set up a shoulder harness belt of some sort in the front, but of course my car has no pillars and it may look pretty dumb. UNLESS I could attach an O ring to the roof framing up above where a pillar normally is found, and then maybe detach the shoulder belt guide using a carbineer or some such detachable but strong piece of hardware.


From Chris:

Lap and shoulder belts do a bit more than these two things.

Basic lap belts essentially prevent ejection, and they can also help hold the driver in place during an extreme evasive maneuver, potentially helping the driver avoid an accident.

But shoulder belts do more than just prevent impact with interior surfaces (and believe me, being thrown face-first into the front seatback at impact force is no picnic)... they also help prevent spinal injuries caused by the occupants being "folded in half" at the hips. It's the reason rear shoulder belts are a requirement today.

Funny thing about air bags: they revealed a whole mess of other injuries we never paid attention to, like those to the feet, ankles, knees and head. The reason is that before air bags, the "test subjects" (people in real accidents) were dead from other injuries, usually internal ones caused by the sudden impact of the occupant against the seat belt. Suddenly people were surviving more severe impacts and were therefore around to be concerned with what else got injured.

A reminder that every accident includes THREE impacts: 1.) What your car hits, stopping its forward motion. 2.) What stops your body's forward motion (seat belts, air bags, a collapsible steering column, interior surfaces, etc.). And 3.) What stops your internal organs' forward motion (usually your rib cage or adjacent organs. Impact #3 is what usually causes death or severe injury. And the determining factor is simple: deceleration, which is the amount of time it takes your speed to go from X (how fast you're driving at the time of impact) to zero.

Since you really cannot change X, and you cannot change the zero, all you can do to reduce injury is increase the amount of time YOUR ORGANS take to slow down. Crumple zones help: they allow the passenger compartment to stop a little more softly than the front bumper did. Seat belts help, as there is some give in the webbing. Padded things do for the same reason. But it's air bags (which work by deflating... they only get ready for you when they inflate) and recent innovations like seat-belt force limiters.

In an old car with a very rigid body and lap belts, and with no head restraints to protect your neck, the chances of injury in a higher-speed impact are much greater. The Imperial might inflict more damage on the Civic, but the occupants in the Civic might very well fare much better.

By the way, 1967 is the first year for a collapsible steering column in an Imperial (or any car... though some got 'em in '68 per FMVSS108).

But belts are better than no belts. They should be pliable (not brittle and unlikely to stretch a little on impact), and shoulder belts would certainly help more. Do what you can to have good, working seat belts, drive with care, be aware of the realities of accidents, and hope for the best otherwise!

From Henry:

Try a web search on The Andover Company. Click on Andover when it comes up and you will find a source for '50s type aircraft belts and also three point shoulder belts plus harness types. They have retractable styles, too.

I just ordered a set for my '49 non-Imperial and like them.

From Demetrios:

I have no suggestions for the rear seatbelts, other than shoulder belt is less important for the rear passengers. Remember, the seatbelt does two things. One, prevents ejection (most important task, and a lap belt will work fine) and two prevent face impact with the dash and steering. Well, there is no dash in the back seat.

As for the front shoulder belt installation, try to find a '67-'68 Imperial hardtop shoulder belt installation and see where in the roof the bolt attaches. In these two years, the shoulder belt was optional, so may be someone in the list has a hardtop with shoulder belts. I would hope the body difference in these areas is small between these two model years.

Question from Don (1967):

I am having my seat belts rewebbed and replated for my 1967 Imperial. I need to replace the mounting bolts but have not been able to find them, any suggestions?


From Phil:

I expect finding new replacements would be about impossible, but the bolts should be standardized over a few years. I'd go to a junkyard and check out all the '67 to '70 Mopars, you should be able to find a decent replacement.

From Dick:

These are special bolts, made from high strength steel, and with a shoulder to allow the belts to rotate about the bolt without binding. Therefore, you need the right stuff; just substituting a hardware store bolt is unsafe. One way to be sure you've got the right stuff is to go to your local discount auto parts store and buy a set of El-cheapo belts - open the package and rob the bolts out of it, then throw the belts away.

Another way is to go to your local NAPA store and ask them if they stock the seatbelt mounting bolts - it is possible that DORMAN manufactures those for the whole world, and NAPA does stock the DORMAN line. The price is probably about the same as suggestion #1.

Question from John (1968):

I am having my interior redone and now the seat belts look shabby.  I don't need the floor mounted pieces just the seat belts that have the buckle on them.  I don't want to change the base attachments.  I would need the same buckle or maybe I can take off and just use new material and reinstall buckle.

Reply from John:

I have been very happy with cleaning capabilities of Goop. I lay the belts out on driveway or other flat surface, rub Goop into material, let it sit 15-20 minutes, then scrub with a scrub brush and rinse with pressure sprayer on hose and let dry. You will have to move the buckle on adjustable belt to clean and several times as the belt dries so it does not rust stain the belt material.

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