Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Seating Plan

I've written about the importance I attach to engineering a correct driving position before, and the 18 months it has taken to restore my 911 has given me plenty more time to think about seats. 

In 1973, a Porsche 911T would have left the factory with a set of 'comfort' seats. While they might have been comfortable, these seats were probably better suited to a fireside in winter than doing the job of supporting an enthusiastically cornering driver. 
Comfortable, but not good
At some point over the last 40 years an owner of my car felt the same. Sadly, they chose to replace them with the cheap 'sports' seats that were in the car when I bought it. They were uncomfortable, badly made and installed so high up in the car that my head brushed the roof. They needed to go. 

The sports seats prior to an appearance on Ebay
Back in 1973, the original buyer could have opted for a sports seat made by Recaro (as are all Porsche seats) but these were expensive, and not many did - although if you'd been sensible enough to buy one of the 1,500 2.7RSs built that year you'd find a set when you opened the door - at least if you'd bought a 'Touring' version you would have. 
Recaro sports seats in a 2.7RS Touring
Original sets of these are now unobtainable - or at least, obtainable only if you're prepared to hand over a kings ransom. It is possible to buy reproductions; they are expensive, and while I'm sure the quality is good, I did want to sit on a set of real Recaros. I've experienced Recaro seats in any number of cars in the past and always appreciated their comfort and support. My need for access to the back of the car in order to stuff luggage or small boys into the rear perches meant I needed a front seat that tipped forward. That ruled out many of the race inspired models with their fixed backs, but this was always going to be a road car anyway. 

I spent a lot of time on the 'bay chasing after typical 1980's Recaros, and researched the possibility of modifying a period Porsche tombstone in the same way as Singer have done, but that didn't seem very original. 
A pair of modified 964 seats in a Singer Porsche
A few years ago Recaro produced a seat snappily called the Sportster CS. It's a high back design with good side support, slots for full harness shoulder straps, and a hard plastic back. Better still it adjusts for rake, and the back tilts. Recaro have used this design as the basis of many bespoke versions for manufacturers to fit in their sporty cars, so you'll find similar seats in hot Fords and Renaults, as well as upmarket vehicles from Aston Martin and Maserati. 

Now the Sportster CS is best part of £1,000 new, but I spotted a pair of the original aftermarket versions on the 'bay, and snaffled them up with a cheeky £900 bid. They had a slightly odd combination of grubby red Alcantara seat and squab with grey vinyl leatherette bolsters and head restraint, but they looked promising. When Tuthills Porsche were readying the car for its first UK MOT I asked them the install the seats. The first set of seat frames were too high, but a second version dropped them a couple of inches to the perfect height for my 6' 2", and I used them in the car for its first year on the road. 
The Sportster CSs as originally installed
There were many things about the pre-restored version of my 911 that were difficult to live with, but the seats were probably the best I've ever used in a road car. The colour though, didn't work with the otherwise black interior, or the yellow bodywork, and they were top of the list of things to change when I started the 'light' restoration. 

I'm something of a non-conformist when it comes to car interiors. As evidenced by thousands of aspirational Mercedes, Jaguars, BMWs and Audis etc., it seems the great majority aspire to have their seats (and dash, door cards, centre tunnels etc.) covered in leather - creating a veritable womb of dead cow skin. Why anyone would choose to sit on something that's cold in the winter, hot in the summer and slippery all year round is beyond me; leather doesn't really appear to be a material that's at all suitable for car seats. If you look at the most expensive coach-built limousines of the 1920s and 19030s you'll see that while the hired help doing the driving made do with a leather clad perch, the wealthy owners in the back sat on rich fabric. 
Sumptious fabric for this Bugatti Royale's owner
I'm with the fabric sitters,  so when it came to recovering the seats it was only going to be a fabric.

I researched the fabrics Porsche have used over the years. There's a wide range, from psychedelic checks that mess with your eyes, through wild tartans to utilitarian corduroys.

Bad trip
Eventually I chose a black and white houndstooth check known as Pepita in Porsche circles. This was used in the 911s from the late 1960s to early 1970s, and the two tones would unite the white headlining with the  black vinyl door cars and would be mirrored in  'Salt and Pepper carpet.  Sourcing an exact match to the original proved difficult and expensive, but there are options available that are so close only a Porsche geek with a ruler would know wasn't real. The small rear seats would use a combination of Pepita and vinyl that's close to original and matches the fronts.

So seats and fabric was handed over to Joe at Trimdelux, and in the fullness of time he worked his magic and I put the transformed Recaros back in the car in time for the MOT.