A sore subject
Although our performance pages are mainly devoted to cars that travel faster than the manufacturer originally intended, a tuned or converted car these days is liable to consist of a lot more than just the improved engine. Over the years in which specialist firms have made man’s four-wheeled friend a more lively proposition in a straight line the people concerned, and their customers, have found that with each corner that rushes up to meet a car moving rather more rapidly than the designer could foresee, so new demands are placed on stopping, cornering, and the driver’s ability to comfortably control what is going on. In the case of the latter need, a number of concerns have prospered by ensuring that the intrepid conductor, and his passengers if the driver is not entirely selfish/impecunious, are securely seated on something other than the plastic production perch so beloved of British mass-production cars.
For example the Mini in all its forms (save when fitted with a BL reclining option) is quite the most uncomfortable car on the road for anyone over 5 ft. 9 in., whilst many of the Ford range, particularly the Escort, are nearly as bad, positively impressing upon sporting owners that some new form of location is needed, even if that means sacrificing some back seat space.
British Leyland, Ford and Chrysler all recognise the shortcomings of the standard seating in their best-sellers when hard driving over long distances is envisaged. Ford offer better than average seats in the Cortina Mk. 3 and Capri models, while AVO at Aveley look after the needs of enterprising Escorteers. BL cars are among the worst offenders, but again the company’s own conversions division, Special Tuning, offer seats of the type discussed here, or one can buy the reclining type. The Chrysler Competitions Centre are currently evaluating some very comfortable cloth/Ambla reclining seats suitable for the Avenger, whilst the Imp is already well catered for, though, as with the Mini, decent seats turn these small saloons into virtual two-seaters.
The trouble with the manufacturer’s offering seating alternatives is mainly that of expense. A reclining seat from these three car manufacturing offshoots is likely to be in the £25 region. BL have the cheapest range with a competition and road version of a fixed back bucket similar in outline to the Maxi model we have installed in our Capri! The Special Tuning seats also come in an Ambla-sided, cloth centre sectioned style, prices starting at £16 and ranging up to £19. From personal experience we can vouch for the rigidity of the fibreglass shell, and the fact that you don’t necessarily need a BL car in order to fit this secure resting place. Also from personal experience we can report that the Contour reclining cloth seats (as fitted to W.B.’s loaned Mexico and every pukka works rallying Ford the writer has seen) are exceptionally luxurious and sweat-free for long arduous trips: again this style of seating can be fitted to practically any popular car by the adoption of new runners.
Looking outside the motor-makers we have tried seats made by Car Hood Company (though ours came with a John Sprinzel label), Restall, Corbeau and Terry Hunter. The Car Hood Co., based at 73 Southern Row, Ladbroke Grove, London, W10, are one of the companies who list bucket seats for less than £10. For this sum of money one is unlikely to get seat runners (anything from £1.75 to £3 extra) and the covering will be black leathercloth with ventilated PVC panels, but you will be held painlessly and in greater security than before, with the chance of using the steering wheel as a direction finding device, rather than a vital prop to the art of brisk cornering.
In fact, as we were writing this, a telephone conversation established that Car Hood Co. have set up Rally Marketing Ltd., 22-28 West Row, W10, to concentrate exclusively on selling seats ranging up to £14.47. One of the beauties of this company, apart from the remarkable value they offer, is that they seem to be able to adapt to customers’ whims in finish (cord covering and some pretty dramatic colours can be specially ordered) and often style as well. We tried one of their seats mounted in a Sprite, and the transformation into an arms-out posture really added to the practicality and desirability of BL’s small sports machine. A two-year spell with a cord and leathercloth bucket design from the same company, but designed to fit a Mini, really made us into specialist seat converts, especially in hot weather when it was pleasant to relax on cord whilst the poor travelling salesman in the Mini alongside boiled, and drove in similarly heated manner.
Whilst the Car Hood part of that company still make useful hoods and tonneaux from the Southern Row address, Corbeau, operating near the coast at Dukes Terrace, Silverhill, St. Leonards-On-Sea, Sussex, are more single-minded in their approach to seating. Corbeau’s products tend to be spot-on in terms of what younger drivers want their car seats to look like, rather surprisingly as it turns out, for the designer (and owner) is one Colin Folwell who draws up the seats entirely by instinct. His latest wares are the GT6E and S, plus a GT8 version with slots cut in the side for full seat belt harness to pass through. The 6-series seats look very attractive indeed, costing £29.50 complete with runners and reclining backs, the GT8 bucket being under £25 complete, as it is rather more simply constructed, primarily for competition use.
Restall prices start at £15.50, but the famous Midlands concern are justifiably better known among enthusiasts for their more expensive offerings, especially the efficient racing model (Type 5) with its very high sides, whilst the more recently announced Type 8 Mk. 2 recliner model in knitted Bri-nylon and smart expanded PVC is an excellent all round seat providing reasonable access and remarkable ease, even in fraught circumstances.
The Terry Hunter range of seating is a very wide one, the former rally driver having moved onto the Industrial Estate, Mildenhall, Suffolk, where he produces seats priced from £13.50 to nearly £20. We have tried the Recliner, vinyl and brushed nylon covered, which offers much the same comfort as any other fabric or cloth finished seat. There are six seats in the Hunter line-up, all with steel tubular frames, and having the option of real leather finish.
That concludes the seats which we have tried. Of them all the Restall and Corbeau have proved themselves to the author’s satisfaction in competition, but a Motor Sport reader should find any of the models we have written about give a great improvement over the standard fitments in most popular cars.
In the case of the Capri we found that our new-found luxury and security turned attention to the steering wheel. There are so many of those on the market (and so little space left!) that it is sufficient to say that, after personal matters of taste have been resolved in the appearance of a new wheel, make sure that—as with a seat and its mountings—the structure is sound. Not only does this rigidity make one’s driving more enjoyable, it can also save needless harm if you are unfortunate enough to have an accident.—J.W.