How to Reupholster Our MR2’s Ratty Old Seats | Project Toyota MR2 Turbo

J.G.
Update by J.G. Pasterjak to the Toyota MR2 Turbo project car
Apr 7, 2021

In any 30-year-old car, there’s going to be stuff that just flat wears out. In the case of our 1991 Toyota MR2 Turbo, the parts in constant contact with our sweaty backs, unsurprisingly, were not faring so well.

Our driver’s seat in particular had seen better days, and the leather covering was becoming ripped and worn beyond what we considered presentable or even passable. Reupholstery was in order.

We turned to MR2Heaven, this time for custom leather covers that mimic the seats’ original shape and feel. They were available at an extremely reasonable price: We got our set on sale for $300 shipped and would label the out-of-the-box quality as excellent.

If you’ve never reskinned leather seats before, don’t be intimidated. It’s a job that’s perfectly novice-suitable, but be ready to hate your car, your life, and the world in general before you’re done.

The only specialized tool you’ll need for most reupholstery work is a set of hog-ring pliers, as they affix the many hog rings that secure the fitted covers over the foam padding. Just accept the fact that all hog-ring pliers are awful, and you’ll be fine.

Tackle this job with patience, and never attempt it when you’re under a deadline and can’t simply walk away from the work for a while. And to all the folks out there who do this for a living, you have our undying respect.

Here’s a quick rundown of how to install replacement leather on MR2 seats. For most any car, the process will be similar, although the details of some fasteners will change.

1. Start by removing your turd-pile old seats. Then, lay out a safe place to work on them that’s free of sharp or rough spots that could scratch your new leather. You’ll be flipping over the covers a lot, so a soft surface like a towel or sheet is handy.

2. Once you have the seat on a suitable work surface, remove the trim and controls holding it on. For the MR2, that means a couple of knobs held on by horseshoe clips—these can be released with a small hook—and the recline lever trim that simply presses on to the handle. We knocked it off using a half-inch socket extension as a punch.

3. The side trim then comes off with a couple of screws. The trim clips onto the seat from the front, so be careful not to pull it straight off once the screws are out. You can also remove the headrest by depressing the adjuster button while pulling it straight up. We’ll remove those headrest bezels a couple of steps down the road. The seatbelt catch can also be removed at this point.

4. Now start removing every hog ring you can find. The seat cover is formed in two main pieces: a top that fits over the upper part like a shirt with no sleeves, and a bottom that fits over the lower cushion and cinches at the rear and underneath. It’s a great idea to photograph every set of hog rings and their associated tabs as you disassemble. Our replacement covers were very similar, but not identical, in configuration. Having photographic evidence of just how things fit together and where the cinch points were was invaluable during reassembly.

5. Some of the hog rings, like these in the mid-back region, are only visible once you start removing the covers. So once you get the initial rings out, begin peeling off the covers slowly to reveal any additional attachment points.

6. Once you get the upper cover nearly off, you'll have access to the bottom of the headrest bezels, which are clipped in with these parrot beak-shaped clips. A simple squeeze undoes them and allows you to slide the bezels out the top.

7. The seat bottom cover is fastened with not only hog rings, but also plastic push fasteners to the seat frame.

8. There are also a couple of bolted connections where the fastener passes through the lower seat cushion’s upholstery. You’ll need to undo these to remove the cover.

9. And here’s our naked seat. That black stuff is three decades of back sweat. Spray it with Lysol until it smells like your grandma and give it some time to air out.

10. Installation is quite literally the reverse of removal. The trick is properly stretching the new leather cover over the old seat. Hint: Doing this in a 35-degree garage in January won’t help. Working in warmer temperatures and tossing the new covers in the dryer for a few minutes before you begin can help ease them on. A hair dryer can also help warm and loosen trouble spots during installation, but stay away from heat guns. Things can get out of hand too quickly with that much thermal energy.

11. You’ll need to reuse a few of the wire forms from the old seat that the hog rings attach to. Lay out the covers side by side and transfer as applicable.

12. Now it’s time to make with the hog rings. We promise that your hands will hate you the next day. We prefer to work from the center of a given flap out to each side. This tends to maintain an even stretch and symmetry within the piece.

13. Once the covers are mostly stretched into place, you’ll need to locate the old mounting holes. A leather punch works great here to open them up; so does some careful work with a razor blade. Try not to end with straight slits, though, as those create stress risers in the leather that can tear further once you start sitting in the seat.

14. Remember that fasteners are spaced throughout the seat, so some are only accessible with the cover partially in place. Work your way from one end to the other, fastening as you go.

15. We located the spots for the headrest bezels by using the headrest legs as a guide to press some depressions into the leather. We then cut out proper holes and reinstalled the bezels.

16. The posts that hold the control knobs are easy to locate once the covers are in place. Liberate them from inside and reinstall those knobs as well as your seat trim and seatbelt mount.

17. And, viola, you have… a rumpled mess. Don’t be alarmed when you finish the installation and the seat looks like a suit you slept in at the airport. After all, it was in a shipping box only a few hours earlier. Heat and moisture are your friend here, and if you have access to a clothing steamer, you can use it to work out many of those rumples. Or you can simply wait a few weeks, park in the sun a few times, and allow the act of sitting and the heat of the car’s interior to take care of things naturally.

18. Back in the car, the seats were already starting to look smoother than they did on the bench. Replacing the driver-side cover took us about 5 hours, mostly because hog rings are miserable little contraptions to both install and remove. If you’re good with hog rings, this will be easier, but your real allies here are patience and persistence.

 

At $300 for the pair of covers, this job is a high-impact upgrade for an aging car. The new leather is both comfortable and grippy.

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Comments
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DeadSkunk  (Warren)
DeadSkunk (Warren) UltimaDork
4/6/21 1:12 p.m.

I worked in the OEM seating arena for 25 years and I'd suggest that cover is several sizes too big. Post pictures in a few days or weeks, I'd like to see how well it fits then. In my experience it should be tight when it goes on and it would still take a bit of steam to get small wrinkles out. And the operators who assemble seats for a living can put those covers on in 3 or 4 minutes per cushion. wink

LifeIsStout
LifeIsStout GRM+ Memberand Reader
4/6/21 2:18 p.m.

I've been reading about replacing covers for my e30 project car, and one thing that has been mentioned is steaming the foam while the covers are off, it will bring back some of the lift and also provide a tighter fit (and maybe also help with some of the baked in grime).  Even a 15$ steamer can evidently make a difference.

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