For those of you just joining us, your humble Corvette Online editor bought a 1995 C4 roadster last year, and set out to make the old Corvette roadster, affectionately christened “Red Haired Step Child,” the baddest in the land.
When I use the term ‘baddest,” I’m not referring to hacking up a clean old ‘Vette, LS swap, or amateur build that leaves the car worse off than it was, squandering any value the old jalopy might have had in the process.
1995 Chevy Corvette aka “Red Haired Step Child.” 34k miles, five owners, pampered and well cared for but showing a little wear around the edges. We’ll fix that.
I’m talking about preserving and gently breathing on a very clean, low-mile C4 Corvette, helping it along and bringing it into the 21st century while preserving its factory integrity.
The C4 is obsolete compared to today’s ‘Vettes, but the later years – 1992-1996 – were nicely refined cruisers and are very capable beasts in the twisty bits. The LT1 V8, even with its kooky Opti Spark, is still a stinkin’ small-block Chevy and probably underrated at 300hp.
We also think Jerry Palmer’s styling has stood the test of time. Designed in the wee dawn of the 1980s and debuting for sale in March 1983, the C4 design is now thirty-four years old! The refresh in 1992 was especially deft, and when compared to the bloated styling themes of today, seems lithe and sleek in comparison. We love it.
C4 styling has arguably gotten better with age, looking long and sleek compared to later ‘Vettes with shorter overhangs. I’ll probably get some hate mail for that observation, but so be it.
RHSC came out of Meguiar’s looking mighty fine. So good, that the little C7 Z06 in the background is hardly noticeable….
Next up was the interior. It had common C4 maladies, (i.e., threadbare carpet on the door sills, scratched rubber film on console, a loose piece of trim here or there, and dry, worn out leather seats on collapsed foam).
The condition of the interior is a key indicator if the mileage on a car is correct. Our C4 came to us with 34k miles on the clock and other than the aforementioned minor flaws, was in excellent, unmolested condition, and based on the condition of the pedals, upholstery and trim, it confirmed for us, that seller’s representation and the ‘Vette’s CarFax mileage history was correct.
Believe it or not, when "Red Haired Step Child" was built, Bill Clinton was President. Many folks said, "The seats looks fine, why are you gonna replace them?" They were hard, floppy, smelled funky and the leather could have been used to sole shoes. Lower Left: Look closely and you can see standard issue bolster wear. Lower Right: What the pics don't really show was how deeply soiled the seats were. I tried to scrub 'em but alas...a futile expenditure of effort.
The seats needed to be updated. We debated whether to stay stock or spice things up a bit with a gentle nudge in the bling department, so we put on our thinking caps and mulled over our options.
We made a phone call to Corvette czar Mike Yager over at Mid America Motorworks (MAM), and he suggested we go with a re-creation of our standard seats, but in a two-tone scheme of Torch Red and Jet Black. A bonus was contrasting stitching that added a subtle but effective custom touch. It all sounded intriguing, so we ordered a pair and marked our calendar. MAM also offers a factory-correct, all-red version of these seat covers, so if you want to stay original, you can get the same quality and fit in an exact replacement set as well.
Mid America also offers a service where you ship your seat frames to them and they will install the seat covers for an additional charge.
Our seat covers arrived on schedule and impressed us with their brand spanking new-ness. MAM’s “Performance Choice” leather seats were delivered in flawless condition and were truly a sight to behold. They have the factory correct combination of vinyl with leather seating surfaces and are a dead ringer of the original pattern and stitching.
Removing the seats frames was easy. Four bolts hold the power seat tracks to the floor and another four bolts attach the seat frames to the power seat tracks. The seat belts aren’t attached to the frame so you don’t have to break those free to lift the seats out.
Late C4 model seats are really easy to work on. The bottom cushion mounts to a plastic “tray” and lifts out after loosening a hinged clip. The seat backs are a little trickier. They slide over foam and seat back frames and zip together.
After breaking eight bolts free–four per chair–the seats lift right out.
This is what’s underneath the power seat tracks. They also have four bolts per seat and after unplugging the power supply, see lower left, they lift right out.
With the thrones removed, we got to survey the obligatory collection of coins, french fries, human/animal hair and dander, not to mention 22 years of dingy scum on the carpets. They were stinky too. Dropping seats on top of this was a “no go.” We grabbed our cleaning supplies and got to work. Might as well clean house while the seats are out. New seats in a cabin with clean carpet was critical to the final product.
At this stage, the scope of our project grew a couple of clicks. Anyone who has updated a room in their house soon realizes filthy carpets, worn furniture and dirt are exacerbated next to a fresh coat of latex paint.
The same thing happened with our Corvette. The brand new, creamy leather made the rest of the cockpit seem drab and forlorn. We unbolted the seat belts, pulled out the sill covers and headed to the coin-op car wash.
We removed the sill and speaker covers, soaked ’em in Simple Green, and they turned out great.
With trusted Simple Green and a spray bottle full of plain water in hand, we power washed the floor mats, carpeted sill covers and seat belts outside of the car. They were packed with gray crud from 1995.
Inside, with the seats out, we vacuumed thoroughly and then sprayed the carpets with water, following with a liberal spritzing of Simple Green, and then tenderly scrubbed the carpets with a stiff-bristle brush. We let the cleaner “dwell” for 1o minutes to do the work of breaking down the dirt.
Aaaah. That’s better. The carpets cleaned up nicely. Note the green tape around the power supply for the seat track. We sprayed a lot of water and saturated the carpet, being sure to protect the electronics in the process.
The next step is crucial. We saturated the carpet again–heavily–with just water. An extraction device works best if dirt and grime can be floated away in water. Don’t be shy to really soak the carpets after the the first step. When extracting with a wet/dry vac, you can literally see the carpet change color as the dirty water is floated up and away.
With the carpet, seat belts and mats clean, we let the car dry over night. By morning they were all bone dry. We did another dry vacuum run to remove any dried cleaning residue and marveled how good the carpet looked.
We saved time and money by breaking old covers off seat ourselves. The foam is glued to seat frame and then the covers are hog ringed to various steel rods on the seat frames. Simply unzip the backs, cut the hog rings with a wire snips and pull ’em off. There will be foam and glue residue left on frames. We used a plastic razor blade and 3M Adhesive Remover to loosen glue and then scraped off big chunks of foam. Now is the time to look for any broken welds or missing bolts. Also, the “trapezes,” the pair of elastic, beige seat suspension straps picture above on the seat bottoms, were in good shape. If they are stretched out or limp, Mid America Motorworks has replacements for those as well. While you’re at this stage, best fix everything and get it over with.
Next up, getting the seat covers on the frames. We took our bare seat frames and to Sweetwater Upholstery in Temecula, California, where the seasoned hands of their staff gently mated our new leather to the seat frames.
The seatbacks came “on foam.” While some prefer this method, we separated the backrest covers from the foam and got to work.
This is where we had a a little snag with our install. Our seat covers were delivered on-foam, and some folks–and installers–prefer that. However, we found the following combination to be the most effective for us.
Separating the leather from the foam on the new seat backs and installing the foam first, resulted in a better fit. We would advise ordering the seat bottoms on-foam and your seat backs off-foam. That worked best for us. Either way, Mid America Motorworks can deliver your seats in any configuration you specify.
After a trial fitting, the adhesive was applied to the frame and we’re ready to mount the foam.
Sweetwater Uphostery in Temecula, California did a great job. Here our tech fits foam to frame.
After test fitting the foam to the frame, we used adhesive to secure it. We let it bond for awhile and then slipped on the seat covers and got a really nice fit. The install only took a little over two hours for both seats and they look absolutely gorgeous.
Sweetwater's seasoned installer was a joy to watch. If you're handy, you could very easily install them yourself. However, we think going with an installer and leveraging years of installation experience is the way to go.
Bottom seat cushions popped in and bam! We’ve got factory fresh seats.
Well worth the effort. The easiest, most cost effective way to get your Corvette ready for show and shines. The improvement of comfort, appearance and new-leather smell were added delights. Every time we slide into these Performance Choice seats from Mid America Motorworks, we’re like a kid on Christmas morning.
We dropped them into our now sanitary cockpit and the results speak for themselves. Aside from the obvious cosmetic upgrade, there were several “a-ha” moments gleaned from this upgrade as well.
The old seats were floppy and noisy. Because the underlying foam had collapsed and the leather was shot, the seats squeaked and “itched” against the seat belt anchors and console. New, supple leather quieted that racket down to almost zero. The difference was amazing.
The car had a funky smell permeating the interior. Probably from one of those tree air fresheners or some cologne/perfume that worked it’s way into the cockpit. By cleaning the carpets, wiping down the interior and installing new seats, the smell is gone.
New seat foam brings many benefits. Not only are the seats super comfortable, you sit a bit higher in the car and in a low slung C4, that’s a good thing.
We can’t say enough how much new seats transform the car. Mid America Motorworks “Performance Choice” have the quality, fit and look that we Corvette owners are looking for.
Next up for project “Red Haired Step Child,” lowering the car and updating wheels and tires.
The picture is kind to the old seat on the left. Trust us, it looked and felt terrible. The new seat is light years ahead in appearance and comfort. It’s like driving a new car again it made such a positive difference.