Repair and Restoration Of Your Imperial's Upholstery

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Question from F.C. (1958):

Is there anywhere one can purchase upholstery for a 1958 Crown Imperial or is that something that is long gone and have to settle for the closest one can find now?


From Philippe:

My '57 upholstery was completly redone by G. Goers but I don't know where he bought the vinyl and leather. Try Original Auto Interiors, seems that they have stuff for Mopar.

You could try also SMS but I (or rather a friend of mine) are not pleased with the order we sent: they took the money in 2003 September and since .. nothing !! I sent a lot of faxes, w/o replies or a reply as "your order is in process...."

From John:

I don't know if Original Auto Interiors is one of those that buy from SMS, but I have dealt with both & from my experience would start with Original first. Their service was much faster, theirs goods were in better condition & the price a little cheaper.

Question from Clay (1960):

Would anyone care to guess how many "yards" of material it would take to re-do the seats (bench) on a '60 Custom?


From Rodger:

I'll say five yards for your 1960 Imperial.

From John:

If you plan on doing the door panels too, you would be wise to get at least 6 yards. Keep in mind that they need to change directions when doing the armrests & a surprising amount of material is used to do those. Also, there are sometimes flaws in the material such as staining or pulls that they will need to work around.

Question from Mike (1965):

I'm getting the seats on my '65 convertible's redone, and I will probably buy the correct pearlescent leather from Kileen's, but would like to know how many hides to expect to need to recover the front and rear seats--I was told 15 hides, but that sounded like a lot.  I have 3 questions: (1) How many square feet in a typical "hide"? (2) How many square feet needed for the seats? (Or how many "hides"?)  (3) What surfaces are actually covered in leather?  (i.e., is there any vinyl used for the sides, etc.?)


From Chris:

I bought several hides of russet colored leather recently. One is used as throw cover over the seats of my NY wagon. It is so big, I have to fold it in half or there is too much extra hanging over the edges of the large bench seat. Hides are about 40-50 square feet. 15 hides is a preposterous number, unless you are upholstering a 35-seat bus. Perhaps 1.5 hides was the intended number, although I can see the possibility of 3 smallish hides being needed.

Only the seat surfaces are leather. With a couple of exceptions, the remainder of the upholstered surfaces in the car are done in matching vinyl. And unlike other years, the upholstery pattern in 1965 Crowns used relatively small sections of leather stitched together, resulting in maximum yield from each hide used.

I think you need to re-examine that estimate and the person giving it.

P.S. I am told the real trick in this project will be to find the delicate, thin, color-keyed, solid vinyl welting originally used on these seats. Most upholsterers simply make welting from the leather or vinyl being used, and it is always twice as fat as the original stuff. Spotting it is a fast way to tell if an interior from this era has been redone!

From Arran:

I would agree with Chris on the matter of how many hides one is likely to need. In fact it may not even be as much as 1 1/2 hides given that it is only the seat faces, and possibly the arm rests, that would use the leather. The door panels and the outside backs would more then likely be vinyl. Even in the old days before vinyl it was a common practice to use oil cloth or some form of patent leather on things like door panels and such to keep the costs down on a production car. I am sure that with something like one of the limousines or one of the salon era Imperials you could probably have leather everything if you asked for it but they were absolutely top notch. By the way those of you that think that leather is the most expensive interior material should price out mohair. A hide of leather will give you roughly 40 square feet and cost about $300, mohair starts at $200 a yard and that is for the cheap kind. Now you know why they used it in the back seats of old limousines while the chauffeur sat on leather.

From Maurice:

When I did the interior of my 65 convertible in 98, I used 3 hides of pearlescent leather which I had bought from SMS auto fabrics. These hides were huge.  I don't remember the exact square footage but my cost was 2700.00 Canadian dollars (appr.1500.00 US in 98). If the cost of the 15 hides are close to this amount, then it is possible that they are very small hides, but I doubt this.

The only parts covered in leather are: the back seat including the central divider, the two front seats, the front dividing arm rest and the head rest. All the rest, door panels, sun visors, central top boot and top well are of matching vinyl.

The only problem I encountered is that I could not find the thin welting for the seats and they had to be fabricated by the upholsterer resulting in a thicker welting which looks good anyway.

Question from Dan (1965):

I also wanted to ask if any of you IML members that have replaced your convertible's interiors have a reliable, reasonably priced source here in the New Jersey or North East area. I have seen several in Hemmings (Bill Hirsch I believe was one of them) but wonder what suggestions I might get from those of you who have already gone through the 'replacing-the-leather-interior' trials!! this something I can do myself (my wife is really great with the sewing machine, but its NOT a heavy duty one!) or am I better off having a shop sew up the new covers?

Reply from Arran:

I would suggest finding a good upholsterer to do you car interiors. The way that you do that is to get some referrals from the local old car guys as to who does the best job for the most reasonable price. It wouldn't be a good idea to only farm out the sewing since the covers really need to be fitted to the frames, with new padding, to have the proper look and feel. The best way to save money is to take the seats and door panels to the upholsterer and reinstall them yourself after the work is done. Your wife may be good with a household sewing machine but a house machine uses too fine thread for upholstery and wouldn't have enough power to go through leather and vinyl. Even if you were too find an upholstery machine to do the job it would take your wife quite a while to get the hang of using it. Another way to put it is that switching from a house to an industrial sewing machine is like getting behind the wheel of a Charger with a 426 Hemi when you are used to driving a Morris Minor. The industrial machines are literally that much faster and more powerful then the house ones, in fact they will sew through plywood! The other factor is having access to all of the special tools and supplies to get the job done.

Question from Lance (1965):

Great news my Dad's ol '65 is back on the road with new tires. I am getting a new car that will not be availble until mid November and thought why not actually drive the '65 until the new car arrives. The Imperial is in good running shape but has a lot of warts and pimples, rust, trashed leather and poor paint. I am thinking that I want to restore it a little bit more, starting with the headliner and the seats. The seats are the patch button white leahter. Amazing I bet when they were new. I have a guy who said he can do the front and back for $ 800.00 in a leatherete? What are your thoughts on that vs real leather and he said he can match the pattern but I have my doubts? Are there any leather pattern kits available or actual original leather available? What about a good temporary seat cover, any suggestions?


From Greg:

Interesting you would post this message. It wasn' too long ago this topic came up and there were many opinions with some for and some against the cost of going back with leather. You need to decide whether your car is going to be a driver or if you want to make the substantial investment bringing the car back to its original conditon. Personally I wouldn't spend $800.00 on leatherette when the real thing is not that far away from that. In other words Lance, yes leather is more expensive than vinyl or leatherette (not sure what that is) but the labor to do the job should be the same. The upholsterer is going to have to go through the same steps regardless of what material he is using. So, if I were you, I would get another estimate from a shop that is able to match the pattern and find out what leather would cost. Once you have that figure, you ought to be able to decide if leather is in your budget now or ever. If you think down the road you would really want the leather, I'd just get a decent looking seat cover for now and sit (think) on it for a while.

From John:

Most of that price is in the labor, which is the same whether you do real or immitation leather. My experience is that good automotive vinyl is not cheap, so if you are going to put 8 clams into the job, a couple hundred more for real leather is a good buy.

Question from Mike (1967):

I am in the process of restoring the leather seats on my 1967.  I think I can fix the cracks and tears with some glue, replacement leather, and Leatherique, but what to do about the faded/dried leather on the top of the seat backs?


From Chris:

Look carefully at your seats. The embossed panels in the '67s are separate from the rest of the seats, or at least able to be kept separate. If those panels are in decent shape, you might be able to re-use them while reupholstering the rest of the seats. And don't forget that the side trim, seat tops and rear faces of the seatbacks are vinyl, not leather.

From Allan:

If I remember right, there is a way to make a mold of the original embossing using a rubber product that dries like silly putty without the stretch, you could then transfer this to a hard plastic moulding compound or plaster making a male and female. If you use the plaster, you could then make a metal male and female mold and use a press to emboss this into the leather panel. I know that it sounds like a lot of work but at least when you were finished, you would have the original look and I'm sure that it would do your heart good every time you looked at the seats. Of course, if the originals are embroidered you could find an embroidery shop that has a computerized embroiderer and they could copy it from the seat or maybe a picture. A good place to find an embroidery shop would be a uniform company as they put names on shirts all the time or you could look in the Thomas Registers which should be at your local library or probably someplace on line. If you can't find them, let me know and I will look up the shops that are near you for you in my set. Molding materials can be found at . You won't believe the amount of stuff they have.

This page last updated June 17, 2004.  Send us your feedback, and come join the Imperial Mailing List - Online Car Club.