Whenever I build a car I usually have a vision of certain aspects of the car and how I want it to look. Usually I try to stick true to those visions and often when I stray from them I find myself later going back to that original idea. When I was planning the build of the “Pagoda City Coupe” I wanted to build an “east coast style” traditional hot rod. What’s this mean? a fairly low slung frame, a body channeled pretty hard, and NO chop.. I repeat NO CHOP. I also wanted to stick to putting a bench seat in the car. What I don’t do when I plan out a car is how hard some things will be to pull off, but that’s the fun of it right?
Channeling an early 30’s car looks the cat’s meow but it creates ALL sorts of problems with actually making the car comfortable inside. Every step of this project I’ve had to take a step back and figure out how to fit everything into the car with the decreased room inside. Because the transmission and driveshaft tunnel protrude up above the floor now I couldn’t just put the seat on top of the tunnel or I’d have my head hanging out the roof. I needed to get the driver and passengers butts as close to the floor as possible.
Now if you look at some of more extreme “show rods” from the 1950’s-60’s they would just upholster a piece of thick foam and sit right on that in the car making almost two buckets. While that looks cool in a crazy, show rod, I’m keeping my car a bit more subtle and straying from doing that. I tried fitting some vintage jump seats I scored at a swap meet, but the bucket/jump seat look just wasn’t fitting my “vision”, so they went back into the parts archives. I started looking around in my parts stash and remembered I had saved the original S10 seat from the donor truck that gave it’s rolling chassis for Project Pile House. I drug it home and decided that with some slicing and dicing I could get it to fit in the car nicely. I know a middle seat out of a minivan is the tried and true solution for fitting a seat in a 1930’s Hot Rod, but I already had this one sitting around for “free” and I actually liked the way the frame, springs, and foam looked for repurposing in my car. I also would have to make new seat mounts and modify the seat to fit around the tunnel regardless, so whats a few more cuts and welds? I decided to document the process and maybe this can give you some ideas for fitting something similar in your channeled car.
The S10 seats are pretty simple in construction AND are dead simple to disassemble. I started by separating the top and bottom and seeing how much needed to be modified to get them to fit. The main issue was that they were JUST too wide and needed a bit taken off the sides. The bottom was good back at the hinge point but flared out in the middle of the frame that hit the b-pillar in a small car like a Model A. I bet one of these seats would fit perfectly in a slightly larger 30’s car like a ’33-’36 Ford.
I decided to start by trying to reshape the flared out section and flatten it out on the sides. I cut the seat at the front corner and heated the flared out area with a torch until it was red hot and gently tugged and hammered on the side until the area was pretty much flat. This left me with an overlap in the front where I cut it on the corner. I then trimmed off the excess and butt welded the pieces together with the MIG 175. I repeated the process on the opposite side after the first was welded. I didn’t want to cut the seat apart too much at once and allow it to get askew.
The cool thing that this shortening/reshaping process did was that it caused the wire springs/supports that go under the foam to bow down and create a recessed area that will allow the seat foam to sit down into the frame thus getting your butt down lower to the floor and giving some lumbar support under your legs. I won’t admit to have fully expected this to work so well, but once in a while you win! By narrowing the seat at the front I did have to cut away one or two of the front to back wires on either side that now overlapped the edge of the seat frame.
With the frame narrowed I test fit it in the car and it slide in and fit pretty easily. I then cut a C-notch in the center of the front and cut off the pinch weld on the back of the seat frame bottom so the seat could sit a little lower over the tunnel. Because the wire supports dip down below the frame now I didn’t have to channel the seat frame quite as low.
After I notched the frame I set it back into the car and looked at how the wire supports straddled the tunnel and found that they were getting pretty deformed from the weight. I relieved this pressure by cutting off ONLY the 4-6 front-to-back wires that went over the tunnel in the center. I left the wires running width-wise intact as these help support the rest of the seat support wires. The result was that the wires now flowed up over the tunnel and sunk back down into the seat on either side. Now that the seat bottom was fitting pretty well over the tunnel I sat the original seat foam back into the car and used a hacksaw blade to cut off the excess foam. This allows me to easily drop everything in the car and test fit throughout the rest of the project.
With the seat bottom shortened, notched and fitting the car I placed the seat back onto the bottom and moved the back all the way to one side so the hinge bracket bolted to the seat bottom. That gave me a large gap on one side of the seat that I could measure. This measurement was the total I needed to shorten the seat back. I divided this amount in half and that’s how much I needed to take off either side to keep the proportions correct.
I started by cutting the tubing at the top and bottom on one side and cutting through the small solid round bar that made up the seat back supports. Unlike the seat bottom the back supports aren’t sprung with metal wire like the bottom and I can cut and weld these. Once I cut the excess out on one side I welded around the tubing at the top and bottom and melted the round bar supports back together again with the MIG 175.
I then test fit the entire seat back into the car and cut the seat back foam down as well. This allowed me to sit in the seat and test out the height and angle. I also made sure the seat hinged forward and back as it should with the stock package tray. Luckily I only had to make one set of C-notches in the seat bottom and it sat at a good height where the bottom wires just hovered off the floor pans when I was sitting and I had a comfortable driving position. You want to make sure that you don’t lower the seat so much that the wires touch the floor or you have lost the extra sprung support those wires offer and just the foam is now supporting your butt.
On my floors and substructure I built I had cross bars that also served as the body mount fixture points. I decided to use the center and rear cross bars as my points to connect the seat mounts into. The S10 sliders were far too tall for a channeled car and I had to ditch them. I made the decision that I would just make fixed mounts as I’m the only one that will really be driving the car. I started with box tubing and measured out the width of the cross section of the cross bars in the car and notched the tubing so it straddled the cross bars.
I then drilled holes in the bars and ran the body mount bolts through the tubing and into the frame. This fixed the tubing in place and allowed me to set the seat back into the car and center and level it. I then made a pattern of the feet that would connect the seat rails to the seat frame. I could have easily just shoved some box tubing in under there and welded it together and it would have been plenty strong, but I decided to make something slightly more stylized. This did mean a LOT more work though.
I rough-cut the S shaped patterns from 1/8″ plate steel with the Versa-Cut 40. I then clamped the first batch of four plates together in the vice and sanded them with a flap disc all to match in shape and size. The second set of four were for the rear feet and I left those to sand and shape until I had the fronts made and fixed to the seat rails.
I then bolted the seat rails and seat back into the car and clamped an S shaped plate on either side of the box tubing in the front of each rail. This allowed me to adjust the angle of the plates so that the tops of the S’s touched the bottom of the seat frame. I then tack welded them in place with the MIG welder and did the same process in the rear.
Once the plates were all welded to the rails I removed the rails from the car and used the TIG 200 to slowly bend and weld flat stock in between the pair of S shaped plate to box it all in. I then sanded the welds and pieces to blend everything together and make it all look like one piece. Finally I drilled holes in the center of the flat tops of the brackets and transferred those holes to the seat bottom.
Next I drilled out the holes in the seat bottom and welded threaded inserts in with the TIG 200. This allowed me to install threaded inserts into each corner of the seat bottom. Why not just weld studs into the seat? By putting the threaded studs into the seat bottom it allows me some adjustment of the seat. I can now raise the front studs and insert spacers under the seat to give more angle to the seat or take some angle out once I start driving the car. There’s a big difference between me sitting in the car for a few minutes testing it out and driving an hour or two to a show!
With everything welded I put it all back in the car, adjusted the seat angle to my liking, and bolted it all down. I then mounted the original package tray and tested folding the seat forward and it sits perfectly against the original Model A tray when upright. All that’s left now is for me to find some retro/period correct-looking material and cover the seat foam. I will probably keep the seat pads easily removable to make removing the seat frame a little easier, but you could easily install new hog rings to fix the foam to the frame like the seat had originally.
As with all of my projects this isn’t meant to be the gospel or the only way to do something, but just how I tackled a project with the parts and tools I had laying around the shop. Thanks for reading along and feel free to drop us a line if you have any tips you have for this topic.
Below is an updated photo of the seat reupholstered and fit back into the car. My friend Jerry Laboranti recovered the seat and the roof insert I made to match for the car. The result is a seat that looks factory and fits nicely in the car. With the seat finished like I did it Jerry was able to wrap it easily and we were sure it would fit the car nice and snug! To see more of Jerry’s work or to contact him directly visit his Facebook profile here: https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000420057418 .