At HC Classics we are passionate about every aspect of classic car restoration, but our specialty is interiors. Founder, Richard Carp, who has a selection of his own classic cars, was finding it difficult to source quality restoration which prompted him to start his own company.
When a classic car arrives at our Wiltshire workshop the original upholstery is often tired and worn; severely damaged seats and cracked hoods and tonneau covers are among the most common. Most of the time they are in such poor condition that no amount of TLC short of a full replacement will suffice. Here at HC Classics we source the highest quality leather, producing the finest finish possible, bringing each vehicle back to its former glory while being as sympathetic to the original as possible. On the occasions when the client wishes to use different colours, contrasting piping etc, we can offer a wide range of choices. We work closely with our clients to ensure they receive their desired finish.
As a natural product, leather likes to be fed and nourished to keep it soft and supple. A simple treatment two or three times a year can help maintain the leather’s condition and longevity. If it is kept clean and a regular regime is followed, there is no reason why your vehicle’s interior should not last for many years, even generations. If you buy a car with upholstery problems it will only get worse if untreated, this could seriously affect the value of your classic car. And, let’s face it, who wants to be driving a car that’s crumbling around them?
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Common problems, which can cause concern, are:
Grease, sweat and body oils
Areas with direct contact such as seats, steering wheels and leather gear knobs etc may darken. To prevent this from happening it is best to lightly wipe once or twice a week with a leather preserve cleaner followed by feeding with the correct conditioner.
Heat and direct sun can be killers causing the leather to crack and the original colour to diminish. Keep your leather well fed with a good conditioner and keep your classic car away from prolonged exposure to extreme weather conditions.
Transfer of dyes from clothing and stains
Sometimes new clothes can leave stains on leather, this is especially true of certain types of denim. There are numerous solvent cleaners that are very effective at removing such stains. There are also products which can remove ink stains as long as you act fast.
The general rule is; use water-based products to remove water-based stains and chemical-based products to remove non water-based stains. If in doubt it is best to contact the product manufacturers directly to ensure you are using the right product. If you like the ‘lived-in’ look but still want to know it’s in good condition, we can provide a leather that looks the part.
Leather with mould should be cleaned immediately and wiped with diluted vinegar. White mould is easy but black mould is near impossible to restore. The optimum temperature for storing leather is 15-20C but lower temperatures need not be detrimental; leather suffers more from constant changes in humidity.
Leather is made of collagen fibres knitted together; these protein fibres together form a strong and tear resistant material. There are several different tanning processes used to preserve the many types of animal skins available. You have to be sure, when you choose your leather, of the make-up and treatment of your individual leather. However, that being said most leathers can be treated as follows.
Cleaning your leather
Firstly, check for marks, scuffs, dirt etc. Use a gentle leather cleaner remove these. Old leather is often porous and can dry and crack easily so be gentle. A soft nailbrush gently swirled can be used to clean the creases and seams if needed. We recommend using a good quality cream or balsam. Do not soak vintage leather with products; apply sparingly, wiping off in between coats. Porous leathers are very sensitive to water and can cause stains. Water damage will need expert attention and possibly replacement. It is best to use a sponge to clean smooth surface areas and a cleaning brush to get into the graining. Work from seam to seam, this prevents any wipe marks. If your car has just been reupholstered, no doubt with high quality leather which does not come cheap, you should buy the best product you can to protect it. There are many excellent leather care products on the market. Autoglym is readily available and others such as Furniture Clinic can be found online. Always test an area first using a clean cloth.
A common error in the cleaning and maintenance of leathers is the use of unsuitable products. Some cleaners are very alkali and may look as though they have worked initially but may harm the leather in the long term. Avoid silicone treatments. Body lotions etc should also not be used, as they are unsuitable for the leather after tanning. A high-collagen leather treatment will rehydrate and strengthen the leathers fibres. Use reputable brands and do not ignore your classic car interior, a little TLC will go a long way to prolong the life of your vehicle.
With original or old leather which has become badly marked or stained, strip the old lacquer off using small amounts of lacquer thinner. Be gentle. Use lots of clean rags or paper towels to remove the lacquer and allow to dry for as long as possible (over night or a day or so). Make sure all the old lacquer is removed and then spot clean if needed and allow to dry. At this stage make sure that you do not stretch or mark the leather as it can be easily damaged.
Never use hairspray. If you have, don’t panic. There are products which will help it recover if you have done this. Once the lacquer is removed the leather will need feeding.
If the leather is old it is often best to feed with rejuvenator oil. This can be done several times over several days, using light layers. You will notice the difference. Finally clean the surface once you have applied the oils and lightly wash with very mild soap and water. Don’t saturate the leather, just a gentle light clean. This is to remove any fats that maybe on the surface.
Make sure that all leather areas of the car are treated. Do not cut corners or colours may change over time and neglected areas could become dry and cracked (unless the patchwork effect is what you’re going for?!).
The ideal time to carry out the work is often down to how and when you use the vehicle. Once in the winter is usually a good time, and once again in the spring.
If you take only one thing away from reading this, let it be this. Regular cleaning and maintenance without over application of products is the best way to enjoy your classic leather upholstery. Act quickly in the event of any damages.