MY GRANDFATHER arrived in the ‘new world’ a century ago and got his first job making leather seats on the trams. I have a leather suitcase he made, one of my most treasured possessions. If the house was on fire and I had time to grab but one thing…
I kept thinking of him as I set to work on the leather trim on my 1975 Citroen DS23. The luxurious Pallas version of the iconic French car came to me trimmed with velour, and, as I have explained before in these pages, it offended my eye every time I got in for a drive. The velour was newish, grey and although very professionally done, it was not original. It upset my absurd Citroeniste sensibilities.
Upon luckily chancing on a set of used and somewhat worn leather seat covers and door trims, I paid a man a lot of money to get them fitted into my car. Well, I thought it was a lot of money until he told me what it usually costs to re-trim a car in full leather. Cheaper to go and tan the hide of your own cow.
The suppliers in the old world – that my grandfather left – quote around Euro 5000 just for the loose covers for the front and back seats, plus the bits for the headrests and all four leather door trims. Then add freight and the labour to painstakingly fit them and you can anticipate the total for a leather re-trim reaching well over A$10,000. Many many cows. No bull.
It is easy to over-capitalise on a car when you spend so much on one part of the restoration. It costs just as much to trim a Holden or a Ford in leather as it does to fit leather to a Ferrari or a Bentley. The trimmer does not discriminate. Stitching is stitching. Quilting will cost more, and fancy piping will add up too. But the fundamentals are what they always are. The trouble with spending big bucks on unpopular marques is that you can end up putting far more into the car than you ever get back. And try explaining that to your beloved.
So when I got to examine my low-budget refurbished leather seats, I was forced to confront the secondhandedness of what I had acquired. I came to understand why they had been discarded by the previous owners. The driver’s seat, in particular, was showing the signs of being attacked by a sharp blade, and the sun damage to both front and back seats was enough to send the slip-slopslap people into orbit.
A visit to the leather and saddlers warehouse brought me a bundle of lotions and potions, and together with more elbow grease than I thought I could muster I have set about reviving the hides. The greasy muck that you massage in does wonders… for your hands as well as the seats.
The latest effort involved repairing a few left over defects. The foam was poking through from a triangular hole and the tear was threatening to spread. What to do? Pay more money? Or channel grandpa? I had sensibly kept off-cuts from the re-trim, and made myself a slightly over-size patch for the hole.
Using trim paddles like tweezers, I folded the patch and inserted it surgically into the gash. Spreading it out once it was under the wound, I manipulated it until it had found good cover of the hole. Once I was happy with its location, I carefully squeezed some leather glue onto a spatula, slowly smeared it thoroughly around under the inside of the original seat hide and then added some leather dye to ensure it all visually blended. An invisible repair.
Emboldened, I next attacked some other sore spots, on door trims and seats alike. The intent is not to make the seats look like they just left the factory – the rest of the car is not like that so there would be little point. I am hoping that once the various shortcomings of the trim are addressed, the interior might look as if it has aged in place. That priceless genuine patina. But not genuine!
Grandpa would be proud.