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Back to the Future – Part 7
It’s been awhile, but hopefully, we are now on the home stretch with the DRC Review Model A Sedan. At the end of the last episode of Back to the Future, the car had been moved from Home Grown Hot Rods’ premises, on the outskirts of Southend, to Neil’s Auto Interiors, in nearby Hawkwell, to have its interior trimmed out. UK rodders will undoubtedly be more familiar with it as the home of Neil Tadman, automotive upholsterer extraordinaire.
After considerable discussion and deliberation, the choice of interior colour scheme for the Ford was narrowed down to three possible combinations. All involved black leather, incorporating traditional tuck-and-roll treatment for the seats, kick panels, doors and rear window panels, but with a choice of contrasting piping in white, pale grey or green, and either black, dark grey or green Alcantara for the headliner. As the external appearance of the car is decidedly understated, we opted to go a similar route with the interior – black leather, grey piping and slate grey Alcantara. To complement this combination, we chose a box-weave carpet, as fitted to Mercedes models in the ’60s and ’70s, in a shade the sample swatch labelled “Anthracite” – or dark grey, to most of us.
The shape of the door panel is mocked up in card with all of the various holes for window crank etc added
Once Neil has his finished template, he can then get to work on the upholstery
Not long after our initial consultation with Neil, he called, asking if we could pop down to his shop to do a final check on the seating position and have a look at the headliner and two of the panels, which were now trimmed and in place. We didn’t need to be asked twice, as this would give us the first chance to see how our chosen upholstery design and colour scheme was going to look. We arrived with a slight case of nerves, but that feeling evaporated the moment we looked inside the car. The driver’s-side (left) kick and door panels were in place, and the combination of black leather and traditional, 2-inch tuck and roll, separated by pale grey piping and highlighted by the chrome door hardware, looked nothing short of superb.
The finished panel - a beautiful job!
Before work had begun in earnest, we had some quite involved discussions with Neil concerning the interior, as he raised questions about details we hadn’t even considered. A small example involved the forward edge of the tuck-and-roll section on the kick panel – should it flow through to the end of the panel or end short, and if the latter, should it be square, rounded or angled? In the end, and with some quick sketches from Neil to assist, we opted for it to be angled forwards, from top left to bottom right, with the angle mimicking that of the steering column. Now, seeing the finished job, we could understand the reason for Neil’s original question.
Beading on kick-panel lines up with steering column - not at this angle mind you!
One of the most difficult jobs when it comes to trimming an automotive interior is the headliner. The roof of an original Model A Sedan or Coupe consists of wooden bows, or stringers, over which a fabric covering is tightly stretched, and nailed and pinned in place. The headliner is then fixed to the inside of the bows. One of the unusual features of our project Model A is the beautifully filled steel roof, expertly installed by the Bobby Walden Speed Shop in Borger, Texas, but this led to a problem for Neil – there was no longer anything to which he could fix the new headliner. We had briefly discussed gluing wooden stringers in place to provide a suitable base, but Neil dismissed the idea on the grounds that, over time, the chemicals in the adhesive could react with sunlight and cause the paint to discolour.
Sunlight off chrome played havoc with our photos of the headlining, but you can see Neil's carefully considered solution to the problem - it's another work of art!
We had been told that Neil could verge on the obsessive when it comes to headliners, and the solution he devised for the Model A rather tended to bear that out. He built up a suspended panel, in individual sections, until he had filled the whole of the internal roof area. “It’s is the first time we’ve ever done it this way, and I’m pleased with the result,” says Neil. “On a standard Model A, the bows are not evenly spaced, but here, there’s a gap of exactly 10 inches between each one.” We’ve not taken a tape measure to check Neil’s claim, but we’re sure he’s right. Another thing we’re sure of is that the finished headliner is a work of art.
Mocking up the foams for the seat base and backrests
In addition to all of this, Neil had been busy carving different density foams to fit the frames of the Glide split front seat and rear bench, the latter a scratch-built item fabricated to clear the Optima Yellow Top battery located beneath the base. “You start with the high-density foams, as they hold their shape, and then work through to the softer grades to finish off, and hopefully, end up with a nice seat,” explains Neil. “The base of the rear seat proved a bit of a challenge, as it had to clear the battery, which even when laid on its side, comes well above the base on which the cushion rests. In the end, we used 2 inches of high-density foam, and it turned out to be surprisingly comfortable.”
With the panels and headliner in place, we had seen all we needed to, and gave Neil an enthusiastic thumbs-up to push ahead with completing the job.
That is exactly what he did, and a few weeks later, we received another message, to say the interior was finished. Once again, it didn’t take long to get down to Hawkwell, and the sight that greeted us was sensational. Neil had used four Scottish hides to cover the seats and panels, and combined with the dark grey Alcantara cloth and box-weave carpet, just the right look had been achieved. As explained in Back to the Future 6, we had a clear idea from the outset of this project how we wanted the exterior of the Model A to look, but the same could not be said of the interior. We were pretty sure the upholstery needed to be black tuck-and-roll, and there should be contrasting piping, but that was about as far as it went.
Thick underlay aids sound deadening on firewall
Mid-way through carpeting with the firewall and trans tunnel done
Job done! A subtly understated interior to match the outside
Neil had clearly looked very carefully at the car, listened to our vague comments and ideas, quietly asked some probing questions, and then went off and interpreted all the information to produce a knock-out interior. It was also a case of the more we looked, the more we saw. For instance, in the rear, he had introduced a small radius, highlighted by the curved piping, between the tuck-and-roll flutes and the smooth leather sections on either end of the seat backs and bases, the former meeting up perfectly with the piping line of the rear upholstery panels. “It just helps to reduce the starkness you can sometimes get with perfectly straight separation lines,” observes Neil.
You can see the contrasting colour of the piping more clearly in this shot
Underlining his approach to work, he continues, “It’s also worth mentioning that this is ‘real’ tuck-and-roll. There’s no pre-stitched stuff here – each flute has been manually stitched three times. We actually ended up doing the front seat backs several times in order to get them right. Initially, we took the flutes over the top, but it just didn’t work, so we changed it until we got what we felt was a visually pleasing result.”
There were other lovely details, including the leather gaiters surrounding the gear lever and handbrake, held in place by stainless steel surrounds supplied by Home Grown Hot Rods, custom-made mats with bound edges, and an almost complete absence of any visible fixings for the various upholstery components, the one small exception being the screws holding the door check straps in place.
Subtle colours comes together well in this shot. Watch out for better quality interior shots when we have more freedom to move the car about and do Neil's work justice
Soon after our visit, the Model A was moved back to Jon Golding’s workshop, for the finishing touches, including installation of the propshaft and fitting of various remaining pieces of interior hardware, including the dashboard warning lights, rear window winders and rear-view mirror. After two years, it appears we’re almost there, the final hurdle to be cleared being the DVLA inspection required before the car can be registered. That is now booked, so at the next time of writing, and with all going well, we should have the Model A licensed and on the road!
To be continued . . . .
Story: Graham Jones
Photos: Andy Kirk