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Improving Your Seats
Brooks Townes

I have a 73 1800ES. I have done several engine and suspension upgrades and would like seats that have better side support. The interior is pretty narrow, and with the parking brake on the left, there's even less room on the driver's side. Has anyone put in aftermarket seats or used seats from a more recent sports car?
Barrett Ladd

Yes indeed, Barrett -- I went through exactly the same sequence you have. I made all sorts of suspension, tire and wheel improvements before I did the one thing I should have done at the beginning: Get good seats. They are at least as important to good car control as big anti-sway bars, as you learn in the first half-hour at any good high-performance driving school. Holding yourself in place with your knees, the steering wheel, door handle and body tension is not conducive to precise control. Besides, if you're married, there's little advantage to falling over into the passenger's lap on hard lefts.

After scouring after-market dealers for affordable new seats and gagging at the prices, I started searching the junkyards and ended up with a dandy pair of seats for $20 each. If you live in a state with "Pick-Yer-Parts" or "U-Pull-It" junkyards, you'll probably be able to do the same thing. I didn't find mine right away. I think it took four or five visits, but I was fussy. I also nearly made a $40 mistake when I found a beautiful set of after-market seats with good side bolsters in leather matching my car's interior, and there was no blood on 'em! They were in a totaled 4-door Mercedes Kompressor sedan that had lots of trick stuff on it, and they were narrow enough! Fortunately, I realized in time that there was no provision for flipping the seatbacks forward for access to the back, none being needed in a 4-door.

The low price is because those junkyards charged $20 a seat no matter what it came out of, trashed Toyota or freshly totaled BMW 740 M-series. Seats is seats to those junkyards.

It was my practice to go junkyarding with a buddy every month or two, usually on a Thrusday afternoon or Friday morning when the yards have put fresh wrecks out to replace picked-over cars in anticipation of big weekend crowds. Don't bother on a Monday -- cool seats are hot with the low-rider and slammed Honda set.

Make sure you take a tape measure and have your width requirements written down, and don't forget the width at the top of the seatback -- really wide up there and it could hit your B-pillar (plus be butt-ugly). Measure from the top of your seat-tracks to the top of the seat cushion front and rear, and note the amount of adjustment up and down of the four studs to which the seats mount, and how far apart those studs are, both athwartship and fore and aft. You probably won't have trouble making them work -- seats aren't all that much different in size -- but I try to err on the safe side.

You probably don't want to try to use the seat rails from the donor car. Adapting them is a pain (I found out). Adapt your "new" seats to your car's Volvo seat tracks instead -- much better! And, no new holes will have to be drilled in your car.

I found my seats in a Lancia Scorpion, but I'm not completely sure they came stock in that car. Some of the mounting hardware seemed Mickey Mouse, but then Lancia is Italian so who knows? I didn't care. Once I determined they'd mount in my ES, and before removing them from the Lancia, I worked all the adjustments -- recline, lumbar support, tilt, side wings in and out -- from stop-to-stop. They all worked well. Next, I grabbed the seatbacks solidly and juked them hard back and forth and side to side to make sure their structure wasn't getting wonky. I tested the bottom cushion -- yup, pretty damn firm, which is good. They were fine. I unbolted them and hauled them home.

My new seats were tan, fabric-covered and more or less matched the interior of my Cypress Green ES. They were dirty, so I scrubbed them with carpet cleaner three times and they looked good! However, I had a perfectly good set of sheepskins from my stock Volvo seats, so I installed them and I'm glad I did -- much more comfy. The headrests adjust on two chrome 1/2" diameter posts sticking down into the top of the seat-back. With headrests off, I fitted the sheepskins, marked the holes, removed the sheepskins, backed the area with some scrap Naugahide contact-cemented to the underside of the sheepskins, then punched holes on the marks and crimped 5/8" brass grommets onto the sheepskins to keep the holes from tearing out. I've meant to cover the mouse fur headrests with vinyl matching the car's interior but never get around to it. They look fine.

Had I not found these seats in that Lancia, I might have taken a set out of a Honda Qualude, er, Prelude. They're mighty good seats for side support, but aesthetically I don't care for the long-board backs that stick way up behind your neck and the bottom cushions are kind of short. Several of the Japanese boy-racer cars have pretty nice seats also. Several look more like mine -- a classic low-back with separate headrest -- and provide plenty-good lateral support in back and seat. One thing on mine -- the big knob for reclining the seat is mounted midway forward on the driver's side instead of back where the seatback meets the bottom cushion. Fortunately, the seat was narrow enough I could mount it toward the center of the car and still turn that knob inside the handbrake with my finger tips. It also put me more squarely behind the wheel and in better line with the pedals.

Lemme tell ya, I'm happy with my $20 seats! It was such a luxury to cook that first winding road after installing them I was whoopin' and hollerin'. No more tension! With the side wings cranked in against my ribs, I'm In Place! My wife likes her seat too. There's a lot less bellyaching from over there when dancing two-lanes and less motion queasiness for her too.

I did have one concern before making the swap. The stock ES seats were great for gonzo runs coast-to-coast in 50 hours with no back-ache. Hard to beat 'em for that, but my new seats nearly match the originals for long-trip comfort. Part of the reason is they have a knob under the front that changes the tilt of the whole seat. Changing the tilt and/or the lumbar contour every couple hours makes a world of difference in keeping your legs and hiney from going to sleep too.

One more thing -- make sure you get manual seats, not electric. Motorized seats weigh a ton, they're a pain to wire up and if you can't adjust your stupid seats without electricity, what're you doing in an ES?

To adapt the new seats to the Volvo seat rails, I simply laminated two roughed-up 3/16" x 2" flat bars of mild steel with epoxy and a couple of rivets, cut them to length, then drilled them to fit over the seat rail bolts and also for the original bolts up into the seat frames. One of these fabrications runs athwartship under the front of each seat, one across under the rears. Using a suitable section of angle-iron would likely work, if there's room for the angle-iron's flange. There wasn't in my application.

Go for it!

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