Rod Farmer asks:
Can anyone offer advice on renovating leather? I have a XJ40 with 160,000 on the clock. It is a 1988 and has been well loked after mechanicaly, however the seats are cream leather going on worn! Any tips on renovation, what type of cleaner / conditioner or how can I get back the color on a solid 1988 car?
In reply to several list members who requested a description of how the seat re-dye job was performed, here it is.
I started by pulling all of the seats. It was easier than I imagined. Once they were on the bench, I brushed them off, and we began by putting a little of the water-based, non-caustic CT-600 cleaner on a rag and wiping down all of the surfaces. This was followed with a few damp cloth rinses, then drying with another rag.
This however, didn't seem to pull the dirt out of the leather 'grains'. So we put the CT-600 in a spray bottle, lightly coated the seats with it, and scrubbed lightly with a soft nylon scrubbing brush. This we followed with a few damp cloth rinses, and finished by drying with another rag. The leather was so clean and supple after this cleaning, we could have stoped right there if there weren't patches where the original dye had worn off.
We cleaned the vinyl sides of the seat with laquer thinner and a scrub brush, which was quick and effective. Gerard warned against using laquer thinner or other organic solvents on the leather itself, since the wait time for all of the thinner to evaporate from the leather would be more than a week, whereas with the water based cleaner it was not a problem if rinsing was thorough.
We waited a few hours to apply the dye. We used cheap disposable foam brushes, and did about three or four thin coats to all of the leather surfaces, waiting 1/2 to 1 hour between coats. The atmosphere was warm and dry (in-law's kitchen table). We coated the vinyl with two to three thicker coats, as the grain of the vinyl was much more pronounced than that of the leather.
I used a Bissel carpet cleaner on the carpets and headliner, and we re-installed the seats. Overall working time for Dianne and me was 4 days. We had to disassemble the rear seat bottom (a moderate pain, but we did it in front of the TV so it went quickly), to replace a corner piece of leather which had a gash in it. Reassembly of the rear seat bottom was not difficult, just time consuming to ensure a wrinkle free cover.
Again, we're very happy with the results. We'll wait a few more days, then soak the seats with Lexol Neatsfoot Oil to try to moisten the leather all the way through. This should keep them in good shape for awhile.
There were some cracks in the seats, and the dye was able to fill these to a degree. Gerard mentioned that he could use a leather crack filler, but I decided not to go with that. For this job, I wanted to maintain the softness and suppleness of the leather, at the expense of a few cracks. Perhaps the crack filler would have been just fine, but I kept imagining wallboard filler paste, so we decided to stick with the dye. I think it's flexible enough to stay in the cracks for some time. We'll see how it goes.
The interior really does look brand new. Even the vinyl has the proper flatness, or 'leather sheen' to it. I've seen 3 or 4 different interior leather dyes, and I believe this one is the best so far. The cost came out under $100, or just over that if you count the $32.50 the upholsterer charged me to sew the leather piece into the disassembled cover.
So we're happy. I imagine when I get out of school and get a real job, and the kids (future) have trashed the leather, I'll spring for new leather covers altogether, but until then we have a very much presentable interior at a fraction of the cost. I was even thinking I'd make vinyl upholstry for the baby seat and dye it to match the rest of the interior. Perhaps I'll put a leaping kitty on the front 'grab rail' of the baby seat?
Vince Chrzanowski wrote:
As I recollect it, you re-dyed your interior about a year ago with a process that most of us were unfamiliar with. There was some question at the time about the porosity of the new finish, and its ability to accept softening and preserving treatments. Despite all that, you were enthusiastic about the ease of application and the quality of the results.
Now that some time has gone by, are you still able to recommend that process? How about a report?
Vince and others,
The seat redye has held up pretty well. Now that about 8 months have passed, the seats show a little wear, but overall look pretty good. There were a few deep cracks in the passenger front seat back, and the finish has not remained in the cracks. I would expect this however, since the leather fibres are deteriorating as the seat flexes. I would doubt that any crack filler would work in this application.
In the lower pleats of the rear seat back, there were a few areas which had lost all of the original dye, and we re-dyed right over these. Of course, the pressed in leather-look texture was gone, but the areas we treated in this manner are still holding up.
To the porosity issue. I'm not very consistent with leather maintenance. I put Hide Food on the leather about 1 month after treating. I put Lexol Neatsfoot NF oil on about three months after treating, and again about two months ago. I was surprised by how the leather absorbed the emulsified neatsfoot oil. I diluted the nf oil a bit with water (as prescribed), and it soaked in even better. I've not been much impressed with Hide Food, but that's just because I think it doesn't soak very well into surface-dyed leathers.
Overall, the interior looks nearly as good as when we re-dyed it. The few cracks in the front seat back can only be repaired by replacement I'm sure, so I don't worry too much about those. The leather has remained reasonably soft (compared to other Jags), so we're pleased with the results.
To review, Al Gerard Sr. mixed up a custom (door-panel matching) biscuit for us, and included the cleaner, for @ $100. There is enough dye left over for me to do the entire job at least once more, which I probably won't, but I did make a vinyl cover for our baby seat and dyed it to match our interior.
I like the fact that the dye and cleaner are water based.
I re-did the interior of my car (85 XJ-S) this past spring and summer. This included the leather as well as the headliner and the woodwork (still working on that one). The leather on the front seats was cracked and split in several places. The leather on the back seats was dry and the "dye" had began to wear off showing patches of the leather itself. The trim leather (door panels and arm rests, front and back) had became faded and in places grimmy.
The front seats were too far gone and the solution was a no-brainer : ordered a leather kit and replaced them outright (fairly easy job but time and patience consuming) cost for the new covers, including headrests, $600 for both. The only thing I should have done differently was to also replace the foam bottoms with new ones (additional $150). I looked closely at the old ones thought they were OK and decided to not replace them. The front seats came out really good. Would have been better with new foam cushions. Anyone interested in more details regarding the front seat recovering, send me a note I'll be glad to share the experience.
Regarding the rest of the leather ..... It was in good shape physically (no tears, cracks or splits), so I decided to re-dye it. First I got leather cleaner from the Jag dealer. It came in a green bottle with Jag logo and it is called "Jaguar Leather Cleaner" (JLM-9869); cost $5.00. This turned out to be the greatest thing since sliced bread!. You apply it by rubbing very small amounts of the stuff onto the leather with a damp sponge (full instructions come on the back; I followed them to the letter). After I got through cleaning the leather I seriously wondered whether I wouldneed to do anything else. However,the wear patches had not gone away (I hadn't expected that they would) so re-dyeing was in order.
I got the dye from Bill Hirsch Automotive (800-828-2062; NJ 210-642-2404); they carry genuine Connolly dye (the can comes labeled by Connolly); cost is about $55 for a pint can, including shipping. For my car it took two pint cans to do all of the leather in the car, except for the front seats. I still have some left over and could have done the front seats also. The "dye" is actually a spray-on lacquer paint of the right color. I applied it using the disposable spray-painters that you can buy at hardware stores for about $8.00 plus $2-3 for the replacement cylinders. By the way, Hirsch also sells the dye in spray cans for an upcharge of $5.00. The dye resulted in an almost perfect match with the newly recovered front seats and I am very pleased with the outcome.
The dyeing proces is fairly simple. After I cleaned the leather as described above, I wiped it down with a rag soaked in lacquer thinner and let it dry for a couple of days. I sprayed all the pieces in one day. Each piece was sprayed with 5-6 very light coats of the dye. The dye is used straight out of the can and is not diluted with thinner. I let each coat dry while I sprayed the remaining pieces. I was aided in this by the fact that I live in Phoenix and the weather here was dry and warm. In a cold, wet climate you may need to provide some additonal drying time. The trick is to get the coats on very light so you don't have runs or drips. After the last coat I let all of the pieces to dry in my garage for a period of about a week before I put them back in the car. At the end of that period the dye was definetly dry. However it did have a residual "tacky" feel to it. It took about an additional two weeks of Phoenix weather to make the tackyness disappear. I believe that this is due to the dye forming a "crust" right on the surface, but the underlying dye below it still has the thinner in it and releases it more slowly.
I am extremely pleased with how it came out. I feel that it is easy to do but
requires patience and an eye for detail. You should also make sure that you
give yourself enough time to do it. Again, if anyone is interested in more
details regarding the proces send me a note I'll be glad to share the
experience. Good luck,
SUMMARY This is a step-by-step guide to refinishing/recoloring leather and vinyl seat upholstery on a 1986 US xj6. Much is relevant to other Jaguar models. This guide tells you how to renew your seats completely to near new condition. Materials cost is $100-200. No experience or exotic tools needed. Among the materials used is a water-based colorant product called Surflex. Surflex colors both leather and vinyl. Topics here: how to prepare your upholstery surfaces, remove the old coloring, hide creases, fix cracks, splits, broken stitches, apply new coloring while restoring leather suppleness.
Some of this information is unique to Surflex. I have previously used another leather refinishing product made by Connelly. However,I believe the Surflex product, application and result is superior. I have no business interest whatsoever, etc., in Surflex or any material or products contained here. Information here is from my own experience, Surflex instructions, and tips from Gregory Andrachuk whose good advice helped me renew my upholstery. Comments, additions, corrections are welcome.
BACKGROUND: Jaguar uses hides made by Connelly Brothers of London. Jaguar makes a lot of hoopla over Connelly leather whose hides may be fine, but whose appearance can fail the test of time. One reason, apparently, is the lacquer coating they use for coloring. This coating can deteriorate more than the actual leather underneath. Over time, this lacquer gets brittle,cracks and fades. Repeated flexing and stretching creates minute chips and cracks in the lacquer. These omnidirectonal wear lines enlarge, get dirt in them, and ultimately degrade your seat's upholstery. This is the transmogrification of character and patina that fine leather can gain with time to a faded, flaking, cardboard-like material. In light colored leather, like doeskin, the cracking and dirt accounts for those unattractive dark lines. Darker Jaguar leather colors like mulberry can show the lighter flesh colored leather underneath. Even many big unsightly cracks can be areas where there is simply an absence of coloring. Underneath, the leather is good. If your leather is particularly old, dry or deteroriated, these areas can progress to actual cracks and crevices in the leather itself. Then one day you sit behind the wheel and your leather splits. Happily, most of these conditions, including tears, can be fixed yourself. This assumes you have finally set yourself to completely renewing the color,condition and suppleness of your seats. In one respect, you are making the leather of that gorgeous Jaguar of yours to look better than new. Your seats, due to their age, possess character: wrinkles and creases that new ones lack.
STEP 1. REMOVE THE SEATS. a. Remove your backseat, the part you sit on. Two screws, one on each side, in the seat cushion front. Pull seat out of car. b. Remove the seat back section. Two bolts, one on each side, down where the seat belts are attached. 7/16" socket does it. Lift the seat back upward to free it from the three hooks which secure it from behind. One hook is in the center, the other two on the right and left side. c.Once out of the car, now you can remove the armrest. The 4 nuts are easily accessed on the back of the seat back. You also need to remove about 6 black trim clips hold the vinyl trim board which is mounted behind the armrest. Remove all hardware from the armrest. Six screws. d. Remove your front seat cushions. One screw in each cushion front. Then lift up and out. On the driver's side, disconnect the wire leads under the cushion which attach to the seat position motor. e. Remove the front seat backs and frames from the car. Four bolts,nuts/washers and spacers in each seat secure the frames to the floor. Unclip the return springs to more easily move the seats forward or backward to access the bolts. Lift the frames/seat backs out of the car. f. Now remove the chrome levers which operate the seat back position. One screw. Levers pull off. g. Remove the lumbar handles. One screw. Handles pull off. h. Raise the headrests as high as they go. You need this clearance to prepare the seat top surfaces for coloring. Apply masking tape on the chrome post and collar.
STEP 2. REMOVE THE OLD FINISH. This is the worst part of the whole job. You
remove to (1) renew the color or (2) change color. The problem with
changing color completely is that Surflex doesn't recommend using its
product to change the color on VINYL. Color changes on LEATHER are fine and
effective though. I added rear headrests to my xj6 which I got from a
salvage yard; they were doeskin which I colored red to match my interior
STEP 3. MAKING REPAIRS:
STITCHES. If you have several broken stitches, you need an inexpensive
tool, a leather stitcher. This looks like, and is about the size of, a
large awl; mine was equipped with several needles and waxed string. I got
it from a shoe repair store for about $15.00. I have also seen them in
craft stores. Instructions on how to use, make knots, are included. Easy.
I would not use this tool, however, for major restitching, such as doing
two or three long seams with 30 or 40 stitches. The only stitching I did
was on the front seat cushions, repairing a coup[e of broken stitches here
and there. First thing: you must gain access to the underside of the
leather. Access to this underside in the back seat or seatback appears to
be similiar as below although I have never done it. And, I haven't studied
how to access the front seat backs which house the head rests. Anyway,
procedure for the front seat cushions:
Surflex offers a crack filler which works like joint compound on drywall.
It is made to be flexible when dry. And as Surflex says, a little bit goes
a long way:
FIX SPLITS -leather or vinyl
If you have a tear or split or if the crack is deep enough and appears that
it will likely split at some point, glue a leather or canvas patch to the
underside. If you cannot access the underside of the leather, do the
Any questions, please email. Ralph W. Allen. (I have no connection with Surflex)
Company that makes Surflex:
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