Exclusive Content
Original Shows, Motorsports and Live Events
Due to the EU’s Global Data Protection Regulation, our website is currently unavailable to visitors from most European countries. We apologize for this inconvenience and encourage you to visit www.motortrend.com for the latest on new cars, car reviews and news, concept cars and auto show coverage, awards and much more.MOTORTREND.COM

Our F-150 gets a Custom Lightning leather Seat upgrade from TMI Products

Project TOTYl Resurrection: Part Six- 1997 Ford F-150

Aug 20, 2020
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.
Photo 2/40   |   Before
Check Out the Rest of this 1997 Ford F-150!
How to Tune Up a 1997 Ford F-150 with Summit Racing, Accel, Lucas Oil, and a K&N Air Intake System
Window Tinting Install with Dub IR Film at Daley Visual
Windshield Protection with ExoShield at Daley Visual
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.
Photo 3/40   |   After
Photo 4/40   |   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.
Photo 5/40   |   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.
Photo 6/40   |   We got the truck out to TMI in Corona, California, and wasted no time getting the seats out of it.
Photo 7/40   |   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.
Photo 8/40   |   In just a few minutes, every piece for the kit was stacked and ready to sew up.
Photo 9/40   |   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.
Photo 10/40   |   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.
Photo 11/40   |   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.
Photo 12/40   |   Then we unbolted the seat rail frame at the seat bottom.
Photo 13/40   |   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.
Photo 14/40   |   For the seatback, the cover was simply unclipped at the bottom and peeled off.
Photo 15/40   |   The seatback is then pulled off the frame. We removed the factory plastic, too.
Photo 16/40   |   TMI's new Sport Foam was popped on the factory frame and the fitment was double-checked before moving on.
Photo 17/40   |   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.
Photo 18/40   |   Our favorite upholstery tool, the steam gun, is used to soften up the cover and remove any wrinkles before attaching it for good.
Photo 19/40   |   With the seat bottom flipped over, the J-hooks around the edges are popped into place.
Photo 20/40   |   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.
Photo 21/40   |   The contour of the foam corresponds perfectly with the stitching and recessed areas of the TMI covers. And the blue area is actually Velcro.
Photo 22/40   |   The Velcro section is fit into place first with the cover inside out. Then the cover is slipped over the seatback.
Photo 23/40   |   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.
Photo 24/40   |   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.
Photo 25/40   |   We scrubbed all the factory plastic clean before reattaching it to the seat.
Photo 26/40   |   The seatback was removed from the passenger side just like the driver side. Then the center console was removed from the seat bottom.
Photo 27/40   |   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.
Photo 28/40   |   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.
Photo 29/40   |   The pulling, slapping, and steaming continued until we had another perfect fit.
Photo 30/40   |   The seat rail and hardware were returned to the passenger side seat once all the j-clips were hooked in place.
Photo 31/40   |   For the rear seat, the original foam is retained, so it's simply a matter of removing the old cover and adding the new.
Photo 32/40   |   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.
Photo 33/40   |   Finally, the rear seatback was removed and re-covered in a matter of minutes.
Photo 34/40   |   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.
Photo 35/40   |   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.
Photo 36/40   |   Soon, all the new carpet was laid down, and after a deep cleaning, the seatbelts and doorsills were returned to the truck.
Photo 37/40   |   As a final surprise, TMI cut new matching floor mats to factory specs. Here, they are freshly cut and awaiting the overlock stitching around the edges.
Photo 38/40   |   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.
Photo 39/40   |   The front seats were next. The carpet was precut for the boltholes making this much easier than usual when new carpet is installed.
Photo 40/40   |   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.