IT SEEMS SO straightforward at first. Take out the perfect and recently re-upholstered velour seats the car was bought with – seats that look a zillion bucks.
Replace them with second hand – bruised, torn, worn and battered – leather ones that seemed a bargain when I bought them. Why not – everyone takes out good seats and replaces them with bad ones, don’t they?
Previous editions of this august journal of record have recounted my folly in buying a 1975 Citroen DS23 with new velour trim – and shortly after finding a full set of abandoned cow rejected from someone else’s restoration.
My naive expectation is that a quiet afternoon would see me slide the seats out of the DS and equally smoothly and uneventfully insert the desirable but hard to find leather replacements. Door trims with new cards will follow and the conversion will be complete. Professionally done, including importing the leather trim kits from Europe, allow somewhere between ten and fifteen thousand dollars.
Well, as is always the golden rule, you get what you pay for.
I pay myself nothing to do this job, and that is what my skills are worth. It turns out motor trimmers must be very clever after all. No wonder people do this for a living. Why the hell am I thinking that I can do as well in my spare time?
Failing most skill sets in auto restoration, I can now also put upholstery right up there with the other things I am no good at.
Taking out the back seat is absurdly easy. And provides a false sense of accomplishment. It also allows me to access and replace the sender unit from the petrol tank, which in the absence of any other fault that I can find is the main suspect explaining why the fuel gauge has never worked.
The rear seats unclip without drama. They are designed that way so that the melted ice creams and lost loose change can be dealt with away from professional help.
They hide a lightly rusted cover over the fuel tank, held down by seat belt anchors and some 11mm bolts. It all comes apart fairly easily, and I take the opportunity to attack the surface rust with the wire brush attachment in the cordless drill. Apart from several centimetres of sacrificial knuckle skin, all goes swimmingly and a spray can of gloss black provides a presentable new coat.
The fuel sender is simply held in by three small Phillips head screws and a gasket.
Despite its vintage, it looks as good as new and with all wires intact and the float still floating I fear the massive investment I made in getting a brand new one air lifted from France is wasted. If the sender looks good, and the fuse is not the fault, and the dashboard unit is not the problem, might I have a wiring break or mystery glitch somewhere undiscoverable deep in the bowels of the chassis? With an optimistic air I press on and replace the 40 year old unit anyway.
A fresh gasket comes with the new sender, the repainted cover is reattached and I turn the ignition to see if the dash gauge moves. Eureka ! I have a working fuel gauge. My outlook on life is improving already.
I turn my attention to the front seats. The drivers side sits in a cradle with height adjustable brackets. Pretty flash for 1975. The passengers side lacks height adjustment.
There are four big bolts holding each of the seats into the captive nuts in the floor.
Undoing them is tedious – the seat rails limit the movement of the spanner to about half a centimetre at a time – but eventually they all undo with only minor cursing.
The old seats removed, I turn my attention to close inspection of the ones I bought. They are worse than I realised. There are several deep cracks in the drivers seat and as well the top of the rear squab has bad sunburn. Cows don’t get sunburn so why do leather seats?
I scour the cupboard where lotions, potions and mystery balms are stored.
I find one called ‘leather restorer’ and interrogate it vigorously. Apparently it does not do anything on its own. It requires an accessory called ‘elbow grease’ which is not available in the same brand.
I search online and cannot find any suppliers in my neighbourhood. I go inside and eat some cake, make a cup of tea and bless my good fortune that I am not doing this for a living.