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We Outfit Our 1997 Ford F-150 with Custom Lightning Leather Seats from TMI

TOTYl Ressurection is Back!

Some of you may remember a few years back when we dragged this beaten-down 1997 Ford F-150 Lariat out of the parking lot and gave it a new life. The truck is significant because it's the actual truck that Ford delivered to MotorTrend magazine back in 1996 for testing. This truck won the coveted Truck of the Year award for '97—the first year of this body style, and somehow the truck has remained a member of the staff ever since. After seeing it abandoned in the parking lot, Truckin commandeered the F-150 and brought it back to life. It has served us well as a parts hauler and occasional tow vehicle.

Recently, after sitting in the company parking lot for a couple months, we jumped in the truck to find that the head unit had been stolen, along with a few other odds and ends. The battery was also totally dead. But as you can see in the before photos, we had a much more pressing matter if we were going to get this truck looking respectable again. The factory Lariat leather had just about had it when we started working on the truck the first time, but sliding our butts in and out of a lifted truck and letting it sit in the sun all the time took its toll and the seats literally started coming apart.

Before

Luckily for us, we had a remedy for this situation. TMI products, long known in the muscle car and VW world, and more recently blowing up in the C10 world, provide upholstery solutions for nearly every popular classic car and truck with both replacement interiors and custom options. We were shocked that they had custom seat options for the '97-'03 F-150s, but the reason why is pretty straightforward. The SVT Lightnings of this era are still extremely popular, and TMI jumped in to provide a simple to install leather seat option for them. Of course, Lightnings all had gray interiors and no back seat, but the folks at TMI knew guys like us would be bugging them, so they had already created a pattern for the rear seat. And the color change is not a deal breaker; you can custom order any color you want. We chose two different tan colors and black thread, a combo that matches the dash and panels of our truck even better than the factory seats ever did! We spent a couple days out at TMI headquarters and learned a few things while the experts busted out our new interior and installed it, and we couldn't be happier with the results. Check out the TMI website to see what's available for your classic truck, and check back next month when we address a couple other interior issues and make our parts hauler good as new—on the inside anyway.

After
Remember our F-150 project? After some TLC, we spent a few years beating it up again. And when we weren't doing that it was sitting in the SoCal sun in our parking lot.
Recently, we hopped in the truck to find a dead battery and a stolen head unit. Couple that with the completely destroyed leather seats and we figured it was time for a facelift.
We got the truck out to TMI in Corona, California, and wasted no time getting the seats out of it.
Since we previously picked out two tan colors that matched the rest of the interior perfectly, we dropped the truck off the day they were slicing up the leather seat patterns on the automatic cutter.
In just a few minutes, every piece for the kit was stacked and ready to sew up.
When we returned a few days later, our kit was waiting for us. When you order a Sport kit, like the Lightning upgrade, it comes with both the leather seat covers and the new bolstered foam. We will rebuild the seats from the frames up.
Since the F-150s use a 60/40 configuration, TMI had to get clever with the passenger seat where it morphs into the center console, which by the way, also gets re-covered.
We started with the driver's seat by pulling the side covers and all the electrical and then unbolted the seatback from the seat bottom.
Then we unbolted the seat rail frame at the seat bottom.
Now the plastic rails, or J-clips, could be removed from the underside of the seat and what's left of the cover could be removed. Then the factory foam was removed from the frame.
For the seatback, the cover was simply unclipped at the bottom and peeled off.
The seatback is then pulled off the frame. We removed the factory plastic, too.
TMI's new Sport Foam was popped on the factory frame and the fitment was double-checked before moving on.
The new foam was popped onto the seat bottom and then the new leather cover was set into place. These require a couple hog rings which were easily handled with the pneumatic gun.
Our favorite upholstery tool, the steam gun, is used to soften up the cover and remove any wrinkles before attaching it for good.
With the seat bottom flipped over, the J-hooks around the edges are popped into place.
Moving to the seatback, the TMI crew discovered that our seatback frame was missing the two outer rods seen here. They are necessary for clipping the covers in place, so clampable versions will be included in the kits.
The contour of the foam corresponds perfectly with the stitching and recessed areas of the TMI covers. And the blue area is actually Velcro.
The Velcro section is fit into place first with the cover inside out. Then the cover is slipped over the seatback.
There is a fair amount of yanking, slapping, and steaming, but eventually we were left with a perfect fit and the cover was clipped together at the bottom.
Now we were ready to reattach the rails to the seat bottom and reconnect the seatback. The look of the seat and our color choice is starting to take shape.
We scrubbed all the factory plastic clean before reattaching it to the seat.
The seatback was removed from the passenger side just like the driver side. Then the center console was removed from the seat bottom.
After the removal of the lid and some careful unsnapping of the plastic, we removed and replaced the covers on the console, which folds to become the seatback, and the lid.
With the passenger seat frame stripped, the bolstered TMI foam was set in place. Then the areas that require hog rings were hit with the gun to begin to lock the cover in place.
The pulling, slapping, and steaming continued until we had another perfect fit.
The seat rail and hardware were returned to the passenger side seat once all the j-clips were hooked in place.
For the rear seat, the original foam is retained, so it's simply a matter of removing the old cover and adding the new.
After hooking all the J-hooks, these flaps from the seatbelt holes required a couple of hog rings. On much older vehicles, multiple hog rings would be used all the way around the seat, but the J-hooks have replaced them in all but a handful of situations.
Finally, the rear seatback was removed and re-covered in a matter of minutes.
Remember when we told you we left the F-150 at TMI for a bit before we re-covered the seats? Well, we were pleasantly surprised to find out the crew went ahead and developed a carpet kit for this truck to go with the seats.
Not only that, they laid down a layer of their heavy-duty insulation on the entire floor of the truck. We were stoked! And we showed up just in time to see them gluing down perfectly cut sections one at a time.
Soon, all the new carpet was laid down, and after a deep cleaning, the seatbelts and doorsills were returned to the truck.
Our favorite upholstery tool, the steam gun, is used to soften up the cover and remove any wrinkles before attaching it for good.
We were excited to see the final product come together. The rear seatback was locked onto the cab wall, then we slid the seat bottom into place.
The front seats were next. The carpet was precut for the boltholes making this much easier than usual when new carpet is installed.
We were amazed with the final product. The inside of this truck didn't even look this good in '97. And for all you diehard Lightning fans, just imagine the two-tone tan in black and gray. We still have a couple of items to deal with to call this interior done, so check back next month to see how it all turns out.