If you have a classic Mustang, it’s likely that its seats have seen more than their share of long rides, humid summers, and spilled coffees. Fifty years is a long time, and most classic Mustangs need a little interior restoration work in order to look their best. The good news is that you can reupholster your seats and bring them back to their former glory. You can even make your seats better if you’d prefer.
In terms of reupholstering classic Mustangs, there are really three options. Restoring to true stock, creating a restomod that looks restored but has modern features, or simply replacing the seats with modern ones. All three of these paths have a significant number of pros and cons.
To do a true restoration, you’ll want to find a match to your upholstery. Unfortunately, for interiors there aren’t particularly obvious names. What was listed as blue for one year might not even be close to next year’s blue.
Though the first generation of Mustang was only in production for a decade, there were a lot of interior options that changed dramatically every year. Further complicating matters, the Mustang was in such immediate demand that factory workers were hard pressed to keep up with orders, and there are many stories of a Mustang being created with parts that weren’t supposed to be used yet.
Consequently, while this guide is a good indicator of what colors were available and we’ve worked hard to ensure that it’s accurate, there are some anomalies that are impossible to account for. Further complicating things, if you’re trying to match your existing upholstery, it’s possible that it’s faded enough in the half-a-century that it’s been around that it no longer precisely matches what it would have looked like new from the factory.
In modern cars, lumbar support and bolsters are standard fare, but that wasn’t true of the original Mustang. Though the exterior of the Mustang has stood the test of time, the same could hardly be said for the thin foam, which provides little cushion and no support.
Thankfully, some companies have decided to create restoration-look modern-featured replacement seat foam that can give you the feel of a modern car without changing the classic look.
These resto-mod seat foam options provide bolsters while blending in with the fabric changes from the original stock options. In short, it’s the perfect compromise between modern comforts and classic looks.
Modern All the Way
There aren’t a lot of things actually limiting what you can do with your classic Mustang. You can add seats from any generation of Mustang you’d like, with any feature from heating to power adjustments. The downsides to going this route are most obviously cost. Reupholstering existing seats gives you the ability to skip purchasing some of the most expensive parts of the seat. And making modern features work in a car that wasn’t built with the wiring for them can be expensive.
On the other hand, there’s something truly special about maintaining the details of a vintage car that you love while modernizing the rest of the vehicle. Seats in particular are an area where modern options are just significantly better.
What Can’t Reupholstering Fix?
Reupholstering your Mustang’s seats can fix a lot of problems, but there are a few that it can’t address. If your seat is broken or badly bent, then the condition of the foam and fabric don’t really matter.
Trying to reupholster a seat that’s broken means you could put in a lot of work for awful results. There are replacement seats available for anyone who believes that their seats are simply beyond repair.
Reupholstering is an ideal option for people who have seats with great bones but in need of a revamp. To be clear, reupholstering can refer to just replacing the fabric, or replacing the fabric and foam. In either instance, you’ll be keeping the actual frame and rails of the seat. This makes the process of replacement a little more complicated than simply lifting the old seats out and putting new ones in, but it’s also a great way to keep as much of the original structure intact as possible, or to save a little money by reusing parts.
Preparing to Reupholster Your Seats
Reupholstering seats can be broken down into five major steps. You’ll want to remove your seats, strip them, prepare them, re-cover, and then re-install. Though this sounds fairly straightforward, it can be time-consuming and is a job that is best approached with patience in order to ensure the best possible results.
Upholstery is held on with hog rings. These rings are so named because they resemble the rings that were once placed in farm pigs’ noses in order to prevent digging. Essentially, it’s a U-shaped metal ring that can be bent into a circle.
Because of the nature of hogs rings, they can’t be pulled apart and reused with any degree of stability, so it’s best to simply cut away the old hog rings and use new ones to install your new upholstery. Thankfully, there are kits that include hog ring pliers and hog rings. You will want an abundance of these to account for any mistakes, and also because they have a tendency to find exciting places to hide.
Another thing to think about before you get started is listing wire. This wire is what the hog rings will attach to in order to create a stable connection between your seat’s foam and the upholstery. Though listing wire can be reused, especially if you’re careful while removing it, it’s good to have backups. Listing wire can be made out of welding wire or even clothes hangers.
You’ll also need the new upholstery material, and potentially new seat foam if you’re interested in replacing that at the same time.
- Jack Stands
- Phillips Screwdriver
- Flat-head Screwdriver
- 3/8” Drive Socket Set
- ½” Deep Well Socket
- Pair of Diagonal Side Cutters
- Pair of Hog Ring Pliers
- Pair of Shears
- 500 Hog Rings
- Pry Bar
In order to prepare your Mustang, you’ll want to disconnect your battery. This will keep the battery from running down while the interior light is on. You will then jack up the car and install jack stands.
- All coupe, convertible, and fastback models will have an identical method for removing the front seat. Underneath the front bucket seat, you’ll find four rubber plugs. Using your flathead screwdriver, remove those.
- Then, use a ½” deep well socket to remove the four nuts holding the bucket seats in place. Repeat this on the other side.
- Lift out both front seats.
- Remove the slotted plates that you’ll find on top of the carpet to keep the track from catching on the carpet when the seats are being moved. These will need to be cleaned and repainted.
- For the rear cushion, you’ll simply push back on the front of the cushion while lifting until you clear the safety catch. Then, you’ll pull the rear seat out.
- Once the cushion is out, you’ll move on to the backrest. For the coupe and convertible, the backrest can be removed by using a 3/8” socket to remove the two bolts at the bottom of the rear backrest. Once the bolts are removed, you’ll gently lift the backrest approximately two inches until it clears and catches at the top. Then pull the backrest forward.
- For the fastback, you’ll need to reach under the metal frame holding the backrest in place. There, you’ll find two Phillips screws in the bottom edge of the frame. Remove the screws and pull the bottom of the backrest until the two metal tabs are clear. Then lift the backrest until the two clamps on the frame are free of the spring unit and pull the backrest from the car.
- Place the two front bucket seats on a table or workbench. Use a Phillips screwdriver to remove the three screws that are holding the chrome seat shields to the side of the front. Tech Tip: Keep the driver’s cushion and passenger’s cushion separate, or better yet label them to avoid any mistakes during reassembly.
- Then remove the one screw holding the plastic trim piece on the opposite side.
- Underneath the moldings, you’ll find cotter pins in place. Use a pair of needle nose pliers to remove these.
- Using a screwdriver or pry bar, pry the outside arm off the pin and slide the inside arm off the opposite pin.
- Lay the cushion face down and remove the spring that pulls the seat forward on the track. Slide the track forward and remove the Phillips screw that holds the seat to the bottom of the seat base.
- Slide the tracks to the rear and remove the two front Phillips screws.
- Remove the seat adjusting mechanism and tracks from the bottom of the seat cushion.
- Clean, repaint, and re-grease the seat tracks.
- Turn the two front seat cushions face up and remove the two Phillips screws holding plastic stops at the two rear outside corners. Tech Tip: After you remove each stop, replace both screws so that you can easily locate them after the new cover is installed.
- Turn the cushion face down and use your side cutters to cut the hog rings loose. These are what hold the seat cover to the frame. Pull out and save the listing wire.
- Roll the rear corner up and over the frame, then roll the sides and front over the foam and frame. Tech Tip: Using a razor to cut the fabric makes it easier to pull up and over the corners, and since the fabric can’t be reused anyway, you may as well. Just be careful not to cut down far so you don’t damage the seat base.
- Repeat for both sides.
- For bench seats, follow the instructions for bucket seat cushions with a couple of important caveats. There will be an extra interior listing wire on the side under the center armrest that must also be cut loose.
- Lay the two front backrests face down on a work table. Use a straight screwdriver to remove the clips holding the backboard in place, and then remove the backboard from the backrest.
- Along the side of the longer arm you’ll see a chrome-plated ½” bolt with a chrome-plated washer and nut. This bolt is used to adjust the height of the front backrest. Loosen the nut and remove the bolt.
- Cut the hog rings loose around the back edge of the front backrest. Roll the cover back over the foam. Tech Tip: Cutting the fabric with a razor is an easier way to pull it off of the foam, and since it can’t be reused is a fine way to save energy.
- Remove the original listing wire. This will be reused.
- Lay the rear backrest face down and cut all of the hog rings loose.
- Remove the listing wire and pull the material over the top two corners.
- Turn the backrest over and remove the cover from the pad.
- Now that you’ve exposed all of the cushions, you’ll likely notice places that your seat foam is less than adequate. This would be an ideal time to replace your seat foam. You can simply put the new foam on the old frame.
- You can also use fabric banting and upholstery adhesive spray to give a little extra padding to foam that is in good condition, but perhaps a little flat.
- Clean the seat frames and repaint if needed.
- Recovering each of the individual cushions will be a pretty similar process. Reinsert the listing wires you removed, or replace them with welding wire or even a clothes hanger. Just be sure to create a small loop at the top so that the wire isn’t pulled through since that can cause the fabric to tear. Then place the cover on top of the padding.
- Push listing wire into the grooves in the foam where it is intended to sit.
- Use hog rings along the top, bottom, and sides to secure the cover in place.
- Roll the upper corners over the seat frame. You’ll want to work slowly, stretching gently as you go. You want the covers to be wrinkle-free and tightly fitting, but you don’t want to rip them.Roll the two lower corners over the frame and turn the brackets face down. Check to see if the French seams are lined up with the upper corners of the frame.
- Once the fabric is stretched over the cushion and the frame, you’ll hog ring it in the back as well. You’ll start in the center and then work your way around each side before coming back for the corners.
- You’ll need to stretch the fabric as you go, so it’s important to take your time through this step. After hog ringing, flip the cushion over to see how the fabric is looking and ensure that it’s centered.
- When you’re recovering the seat cushions, you’ll need to locate the four holes that hold the seat’s track in place. You’ll need to cut a hole for this so that the material doesn’t get caught in the treads of the track.
- Slide the track forward and install the back screws, and then slide back to install the front screws. Once the screws are all tightened and you’re sure that the track can move forwards and backwards, install the two springs that slide the tracks back.
- Use door panel clips to attach the back panel to the backrest.
- Either using your removed hardware or with replacement hardware, reattach the backrest to the bottom cushion and check for secure fittings before re-inserting into your vehicle.
In this video, Bill Tumas from CJ Pony Parts' YouTube channel demonstrates how to correctly complete this process.
Once your seats are re-covered, you may notice some small wrinkles and imperfections. Usually these disappear in the first forty-eight hours as the fabric further stretches and becomes adjusted to its new shape. To preserve your seats, make sure to complete an interior detailing from time to time. With a little extra care, you can keep your seats looking perfect for another fifty years.