Epic 68 Polara bench seat rebuild for originality


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May 13, 2015
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Fargo, ND
My goal for this thread is a step by step seat rebuild from tearing the seat apart - to making patterns - to re foaming - to re making the seat covers - to reinstalling. But the back story comes first.
For those that have seen my “68 Polara Restore Back On” 68 Polara restore back on
thread know that my goal is to have a “brand new” 68 Dodge Polara that is as close to original as possible. While I am spending the majority of my money money on the rotisserie restoration of the body I have pretty much done everything else myself.
One, for the challenge, two for the learning process, and three, I am too cheap and picky to pay someone for something that I think is within my capabilities.
Early on in the restoration (about 9 years ago), I took the seats to get an estimate on the restoration costs to get back to original. The first question asked was do you have a source for seat covers. Well this is a 68 Dodge Polara, what a silly question. Nobody makes them that I can find for a bench seat with original pattern and color. Back then I think the quote was between$3-4K. It was enough to make me swallow and say thanks for the quote, I will have to think about it.
So I went home and bought an upholstery sewing machine off E-bay. Well life got in the way and the seats went back to the attic. Fast forward nine years years.
I am thinking I should just have someone else do it for me as I am in a better place financially and I want it done right. So last week I took them down from then attic to get another quote. To be continued...
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Fast forward 9 years....
Getting close to the end have to do something with the seats. Still no seat covers but SMS had both the vinyls and colors. I wanted to get the vinyl on order, but wasn’t 100% sure how much to get. I can measure it up, but wasn’t sure how wide the rolls are for each. I could have eventually figured it out, but decided to take them to an established upholstery shop to get back up measurements and a quote. First question- do you have the seat covers or have a source? I told him I didn’t, but had a source for the vinyl. He measured it up and came to about 8 yards of each vinyl to be safe. Then I asked him what he thought it would take to do the seat covers and foam re- build. “Well probably about $4,000 depending on my time.” This was not including the vinyl cost which I already said I would order.
Doing the math for the original vinyl at $69 & $79 per yard plus the cording, tax and shipping I am at $1,300 plus $4,000.
There is only one other option within 60 miles so not a lot of choices.
Breaking down the $4K I figured about $500 for supplies ( foam, muslin backing, burlap, cord for the hog rings and miscellaneous). At $50 per hour estimated shop rate that would give him 70 hours to do the job. He would have to disassemble, mark up the seat covers to facilitate re-assembly, take apart the old for patterns, trace onto new vinyl, stitch up the pattern, reassemble the seat cover, strip the old foam and burlap, re- foam an install the covers for two benches and three backs. That is about 14 hours per piece.
I am going to do it myself. I am going to try to keep track of my hours, and share step by step.
Step1. Watch you tube videos about making seat covers. There are a couple good ones and a few not worth watching. I picked up a few tips on marking the panels for future assembly.
Step 2. Find a good clear space ( a 4x8 sheet of plywood) is about the right size. Make sure it is smooth so it doesn’t catch the covers and make sure its a good working height. They say about 1” below the elbow is about the right height. My table is about 6” below my elbow and is ok.

Step 3. Take any measurements you may need to refer to for assembly. Mark seams on adjoining piece. Mark reference points ( seams are also good reference points if they are put back in the same spot. Label each panel with a unique name. I used RB and a number for each panel on the Rear Back. FS for Front Seat and so on.
Step 4. Before assembly number the adjoining panels so you remember what panel is sewed to the other.
And mark an arrow pointing towards the front of the car, or up for vertical panels. This is important when cutting fabric or using a pattern for a mirror image.

More later.
Rear seat patterns complete. I am getting faster, but is time consuming. I even started with the most complete panels. The front may be a little more challenging as there are bigger pieces missing v
I have 16 hours invested so far.
Last post I documented marking the panels before disassembly.

After removing the hogrings from the seat frame carefully peak the seat covers off. If they are a little stiff a heat gun or hair dryer doe wonders to make the vinyl more supple.

Use a razor blade or better yet a utility knife blade and take off the panels that contain the hog ring cord ( I am not sure of the proper term). You can use scissors and cut on the stitching if you have good scissors.

Take note of the assembly procedure when dismantling. If something is on top of other parts it is most likely the last piece to sew on. Example (Rear seat back. RB8 assembles to seat covers before sides RB4 & RB5. RB 6 front wire is last)
The goal is to get the parts down to the size of the panels from one side of stitching to the other. This will allow you to trace your stitch line on the new material so you have a joining line to follow with your sewing machine. Just remember to cut your material about 1/2 wider than your stitch lines.

Final disassembly.
Now that the seat panel is separated I went one step further and removed the foam backing to facilitate tracing. If your panel is flat enough you could attempt tracing without full disassembly. My online research tells me that on seat panels with foam the panels shrink about 1/8” per seam. So if you trace the full panels with foam attached allow extra. For example my panels have 6 stich lines across. So your panel before stitching should be about 3/4” wider. I would imagine the thickness of the foam also affects this. Being new to this and my panels not very flat I took them apart.

They are made up of three layers. Vinyl, 1/2” foam, and muslin.
Now that everything thing is apart and down to the seam width it is time to trace.

Making patterns
If you are a professional you would probably go right from disassembly to tracing directly to the new material. I am adding a step of making patterns for two reasons.
1. The seat are in rough shape and making a pattern allows you to make adjustments or fill in the blanks and align the panels before tracing it to expensive material.
2. I wanted to have a set of master patterns available in case someone else needs to do the same.

For my pattern material I was going to use rosin paper or the thin contractors cardboard they roll out on a new floor. But I stumbled across an 8 oz 9x12 canvas drop cloth for $14.00. Much more flexible than paper or cardboard.
The main issue with the canvas is the edges want to fray after cutting. I didn’t have any pinking shears to give it a zig zag cut but I found some glue stick tubes. I traced the cutting lines with the glue stick. Let it dry a few minutes then cut it out. So far the glue seems to be holding the edge from fraying. Also need a couple of Sharpies or some artist pens that do good on canvas.

Next take your panels and lay them out on the pattern material. Smooth it flat. A heat gun can be used take the stiffness out of crispy vinyl.

Trace around the panel, mark your alignment points just out side the trace. Also mark the decorative stitching seams the same way. Lift your original and fill in the pattern using a straight edge to connect the stich lines and transfer the alignment marks to the pattern. Initially I thought the crossing lines should be at right angles, but I soon found the originals were not. My thought was that the were adjusted for the curvature of the seat. When in doubt follow the original.

Don’t forget to label your pattern wit the same numbers a name as your original.

For the quilted seat section and edges you can use the back side of the pattern for the other side. If you have a mirror image it will be symmetrical and you will have less of a chance to screw up. Just make sure you label both sides and put the reference marks on the B- side as well.
By the way the front panel on the rear seat is not symmetrical. Who knew the hump is offset 4” from the left side?
Next up are the front seat patterns. Rear seat patterns finished with 16.75 hours invested.



Checking rear seat bench and back for pattern alignment.

Rear seat patterns complete.
Front seat. This will be the challenge for making a pattern. I will just have to use my alignment marks and the Center and side panels to help me size it.
More work on the front seat patterns. Holy crap. The seat panels were so far gone that I had to slowly Dissasmble as to not disturb the edges so I would at least have an outline. I couldn’t just scissor them out like I did the others. Once I Got the whole panel out I used duct tape to hold it together while I slowly removed the foam. It didn’t help that where the holes were the vinyl was stretched so hopefully I have it back to the right shape.
Once I re-foam the seat I will have to da dry fit with my patterns to see how close I am.
Another 6-1/4 hours for a running total of 23 hours so far.
Cool deal, man! Whole lotta go get'ers up here making seats and taillight lenses. I gotta get my butt in gear!
Front bench pattern complete. Front backs next. Hopefully I can do one and mirror it. Should save me some time.
Front seat progression.
From this


To this

Great work on this. Do you have previous sewing machine experience? I am hoping to do some thing similar.
I have my fair share. Growing up Mom taught us to sew from the time we could reach the sewing pedal. If we wanted something mended it was on us to do it. She even made us make a shirt or two from a pattern. It was one of those life lessons you didn’t appreciate as a kid, but now I am glad for the experience. For heavier material I have put windows in our tailgate tent sides, added straps to things and sewn up a couple of wind damaged awnings. I have tried covered chairs and even button tufted a fainting couch with over 100 buttons.
These will be the first vinyl or seat covers I have stitched. I will just have to take it slow, really lay it out well and then stop and think about what I am going to do. I may even by some cheaper vinyl and practice by building a panel or two first.
These will be the first vinyl or seat covers I have stitched. I will just have to take it slow, really lay it out well and then stop and think about what I am going to do. I may even by some cheaper vinyl and practice by building a panel or two first.

I was actually considering doing that also with some cheap vinyl also. I figure if I can make it look decent then I could say I did this. I mean really how many people can say that...... but again If it looks like crap I can always send it in to be redone. I'll just keep the original patterns.

I decided a few years back that I was going to teach myself how to use a machine. I bought a vintage one (1970ish) one that could handle heavy duty use and started working. Watched a bunch a youtube videos and got a book. Then I redid a chair as my first project but it didn't make the move and it was fugly...... I got the chair for free from the dumpster behind my apartment at the time... bought the cheapest fabric that was on clearance and my wife was like we are not moving that...... It made sense...... But because of it I learned a skill that is not being taught anymore. Since then I have made blankets, Pillow cases, Rifle blocks, fixed jackets and other smaller items.
Front seat backs complete. What a *****.
I am now into this process wit a total of 35.5 hours

It didn’t help that the front backs were toasty on the window sides. And I think the heat and rot shrunk that side. I tried to trace the drive side first but the insert seems much shorter on the window side even though the seats look and measure fairly square The side panels on that side were about 1/2 “ shorter kind of make sense as the seat does taper in a little.



I decided I would have to take the other side apart and compare. I was really crooked and couldn’t even come close to a mirror image. I scrapped that pattern for the insert and started over with the passenger side. It was still a little short on the window side but not as bad as the driver side. It still traced out a little short on that side. I measured the seat and the circumference around is within a 1/2”. Again I will have to dry fit once I have the new batting on.
What I wouldn’t give for a look at some original patterns. Who knows how much shrinking and stretching went on over 50 years.

Making sure the stitching is aligned from bench to seat back.


68 Polara L4 seat patterns
Now to think through the padding.
Each seat is a little different v

Front bench:
1. Burlap with wire stays woven in. The wire is like spring material and hard to bend
2. One layer of 2” cotton batting with burlap lightly stitched to the bottom for support and gauze like material on the top.
3. Foam is 1-1/2” medium density. Guess what nobody carries 1-1/2” foam. Will have to modify.

Front seat back construction
1. Double layer of 2” cotton batting.
Burlap stitched to bottom of first layer that rests directly on the seat back springs. gauze covering on top of second layer that the seat pad sits on.

Rear seat bench. Not made for comfort
1. Burlap with wire stays
2. Carpet padding around the front
3. 1-1/2” foam

Rear seat back
1. Burlap with wire stays
2. Single layer of 2” batting gauze covered both sides