Installation of Upholstery in a Model T

One of the most difficult aspects of Model T restoration is the installation of a car's top kit or the installation of upholstery. It is not that the actual installation involves difficult activities, but the fact that there are multiple pieces that must be installed in a specific order and must also end up installed accurately in relation to the other pieces of material. Also, even though the tools and hardware are not difficult to work with, many restorers are not familiar with all of the procedures. The second time you upholster a car is usually a lot easier than the first time. Now, that's real helpful for the beginner, isn't it!

Here a few hints:

1. Make sure you know the correct body style and year of car that you are ordering an upholstery kit for! Be sure to identify and discuss any modifications that have been made to your car when placing your order. For example, many cars that were originally manufactured as touring cars have had the back seat removed and have been converted to a "Roadster Pickup". Sometimes you can use a Roadster upholstery kit for the front seat but you'd better check on it before ordering. All upholstery kits are produced after your order is placed so it's not like the manufacturer can just put the one you ordered back on the shelf and send you another one. Also, through the years, a 1915 car may have had a 1926 engine installed or may have been registered with a 1916 title. Do enough research to be sure which body or top kit you think will fit your car. And speaking of top kits, a set of 1925 Roadster top bows will easily fit on a 1926 Roadster, but the 1925 top kit will not fit on the 1926 top bows. That's a voice of experience you hear! You can see that step #1 is the most important step in re-upholstering any car. There were also a few mid-year differences between cars. For example, some 1923-1925 closed cars had structural wood doors and some had all steel doors. When these conditions exist, the catalogs and order forms for the upholstery products will identify the need for you to make a choice when placing your order.

2. If you are upholstering a car which you did not have the opportunity to remove the old upholstery from, try to get the opportunity to examine a friend's car of the same body style and vintage. Seeing exactly "how Henry did it" is often a real benefit. There is not much literature available that is helpful when it comes to re-upholstering or installing top kits on Model Ts.

3. Read all of the way through the instructions that come with your upholstery kit. Then read through them again. Seriously, familiarity with the complete process is very useful as you proceed.

4. Lay out all of the materials supplied with your upholstery kit and make sure you not only have everything you will need, but make sure you have an idea where it goes before you start installing it. A common mistake is to install one of two pieces that are almost alike only to discover the differences after the wrong one is installed.

5. As you install various pieces of the kit, do a minimal amount of fastening until you are comfortable with the fit and location of each piece. Then go back and finish securing the installation of each piece.

6. Even though everyone "knows that all model Ts are alike," don't expect every piece to just fall into place perfectly. There could be slight differences in the way any Model T came off of the production line originally, or, we never know when a Model T we are working on has been modified by someone else at an earlier era in its life. The manufacturers of upholstery kits do the very best they can to match their product to the original Ford items, but there always seem to be some "adjustments" necessary.

7. In the end, regardless of ease or difficulty, you will wind up with a restored car that you can be proud of and you can take a lot of pride in the fact that you upholstered it yourself!

When you decide to upholster your car, you will want to remember that upholstery material samples are available from the parts suppliers who sell the kits. Be sure to pick up one of the material sample cards to make your selection. Upholstery kits are available either in authentic fabrics or non-authentic fabrics. The non-authentic fabric kits are slightly cheaper that the authentic materials. The non-authentic fabrics are only available in a few colors, all of which are similar to the authentic materials. If you wish to have your car upholstered in your personal favorite fabric and color, your only option is to have a professional upholstery shop do a custom upholstery job.

Upholstery kits are not available for the early cars produced between 1909 and 1912 that used leather for the seat upholstery material. Upholstery kits are available for most Model T cars and trucks (including Ton Trucks) beginning with the 1913 production year.

The Texas Touring Ts March 2010 newsletter has a page regarding body style identification that is useful when considering the purchase of upholstery kits. The Cartouche Upholstery Co., a division of Mac's Antique Auto Parts, has kindly consented to allow our club to use artwork developed for their website on our website and in our newsletter. Texas T Parts is a dealer for the Cartouche line of antique car upholstery.

Contributed by Ben Hardeman

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