It’s your closest connection with your car, yet once you’ve ticked the colour choice box on your order sheet, you barely think about it. Interior. Upholstery. Trim. It may be luxurious leather or practical fabric but (until someone spills Ribena on it) you barely give it a thought.
Unless you are restoring a classic car, when you suddenly discover how many choices your trimmer wants to know about. And that’s when simply copying what someone at Lagonda or Austin, Bertone or coachbuilder James Young installed many years before. There is much skill in stitching those seams to a period pattern and ensuring the material is beautifully taut and the stitching ruler-straight. Traditional skill, but not inventive. But if you’ve radically altered your latest machine in restomod fashion you don’t really want standard upholstery.
Step forward Dean McConnell of Trimworks. You want a vibrant interior colour scheme? Completely reshaped seats? Alcantara everywhere? Dean can rustle up a dozen ideas for something fresh that no-one else can boast. He’s perfectly capable of assiduously copying a worn-out interior for a much-loved classic, but it’s the chance to get creative that gets his sketching fingers twitching.
Though a stand-alone operation, Trimworks is firmly linked with Retropower, whom we investigated last month. If you read that one you’ll recognise several of the projects he’s working on, like the Kaiser Mercedes W108 saloon and the Lancia not-quite-Stratos.
“You need to get to know your clients, and they need to be open to ideas”
“Maybe 70 per cent of my current work is with Retropower,” Dean says. It figures, as at the moment his studio is upstairs in the Retropower building, though a new shop is under construction which will allow him to add staff. He actually took a degree in shoe design and worked in footwear for 15 years, but cars were a constant interest. “I had done a few trim projects,” he says, “and I was friends with Nat and Callum [Seviour, Retropower’s kingpin brothers] and I knew we thought on similar lines. So when they got going it made sense to switch direction and ally myself with them”.
His forte is in creating unusual interiors reflecting the character of the vehicle – a Ford Bronco with chunky tan leather door cards and thick hide straps to match its macho image, sophisticated woven leather panels and Alcantara console for a 1960s Alfa Giulia GT coupé (the rear cushions fix with powerful magnets to be quickly removed for track days), copper-coloured stitching for that Stratos. “There’s a definite process of getting to know the client,” he says, “and they need to be open to ideas.” His sketch- books burst with ideas – a whole page on quilting designs, another on stitching patterns. Dean’s website talks of bespoke interiors, and it’s certain whatever you decide with him for your project is going to look utterly different from anything else.
In his upstairs lair, where leather hides hang in racks alongside rolls of upholstery fabrics (even a Murray tartan for the Gordon Murray Escort we described last month) he’s sculpting rear chairs for the Kaiser Mercedes from chunks of green foam of differing densities, to be clothed in sumptuous black leather with purple trim.
“We’re going for that crazy ’80s Tokyo look!”
But it’s not just about leathers and stitching. Dean also contributes to the Retropower team on external and internal styling. In a neat little sketchbook he shows me schemes for the ‘widebody’ wings and spoilers on that highly modified ZX Nissan – “We’re going for that crazy ’80s Tokyo look!” – and the subtly restyled dash on the Escort: a few extra dials and a nav screen, quietly integrated as Ford might have done it decades back had GPS existed. He’s completely in tune with the Retropower ethos – free-ranging ideas tempered with a period approach.
More sketches involve that Stratos; it was Dean’s idea to remodel the plain slats of the rear window into the chevrons of the Zero show car, and he designed the extra air intakes as well as a dramatic sweeping dash without the original’s instrument binnacle and new seats referencing the ‘chocolate bar’ style of the prototype. And if you haven’t yet seen it on YouTube, Retropower’s Corvette-powered Jaguar XJC boasts a Trimworks interior, completely reclad in dark leather with a real Supermarine Spitfire starting button on the console. The seats were remodelled and updated but in a way that harks back to the Seventies. “That car involved a lot of separate small panels to re-cover,” Dean says, “but at least they were designed to be covered in leather. Modern cars can be hard because a moulded plastic panel doesn’t leave room for the thickness of the leather”.
He has just refreshed a Lotus Esprit with leather and Alcantara (every designer’s favourite artificial suede), while there’s another classic in the wings for a proposed restomod job – a Triumph TR6. Dean shows me the exterior design sketches: you know it’s different but you might have to look twice to see where. “I’ve tried to tidy up the lines,” he says. “closing up the bumpers to the body, but without losing the recognisable muscular British shape”. It too would gain a custom interior – classic but not conventional.
There’s a wistful comment I’m sure I hear every time I visit a workshop or restorer. I ask about a car lurking in a corner, to hear a sigh and the answer “that’s my baby – I just don’t have time to work on it…”
Ditto with Dean: “I want to fit a new interior to my Nissan Patrol, and I have a Mercedes saloon that used to be my daily driver but now needs a workover. I just don’t have time…”
Specialisation Interiors and styling
Number of employees 1 – currently!
Premises nr Wykin, Leics
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