Killer Kong Project Update: Checking Off Our Bucket (Seat) List

As we’ve mentioned before, Killer Kong, our ‘69 Dodge Charger was everything but an R/T, meaning it came equipped with Chrysler’s smallest big block, the 290hp 383 B-Block, a floor-shifted Torqueflite 727 automatic and a 3.23-cogged 8 3/4 rear. In the cabin, the T7 Copper B-Body was optioned with the additional interior light package, center console, A/C, power steering, power brakes and an AM/8-track stereo.

Since bringing the Charger into the Street Muscle project car corral, we’ve promptly removed or replaced every single one of the above options except for the Torqueflite, which we’ve since rebuilt to handle nearly a 1,000 horsepower. But for our cabin, we wanted to reserve much of the Charger’s original look and appeal while maintain a degree of utility.

Arriving with our seat tracks already removed, we got right to work removing the factory hinge covers and seatback panel. Legendary Auto Interiors' new seat cover kit comes with the material to recover the panel. (See below). Since Killer Kong will have racier lap belts, we opted not to reuse the factory seat belt clips see here.

We kept the backseat only because we knew this was going to be a driver, and not a committed race car like so many of our projects end up being. We also kept the factory buckets and seat tracks, including the rare Dodge Custom-Comfort seat track, which we picked up for $50 bucks. According to the 1969 brochure, the Custom-Comfort seat could “manually adjust to more than 100 seating positions.” So far, we’ve counted sixteen, most of which don’t work for anyone over 5’6”. Oh well…

To bring our factory buckets and rear bench back to factory Dodge originality, we contacted Legendary Auto Interiors for new seat skins and foam. Legendary has earned its namesake over and over again, by providing the aftermarket possibly the most-factory-correct replacement soft interior products available.

Peeling back the original vinyl and seat foam revealed a surprisingly straight framework (unlike our rear bench, which had seen better days). As Tito stripped the bucket seats clean, we scrubbed them with a Brillo pad knocking off any surface rust and glued-on foam, and touched them up with some semi-gloss paint.

For our Charger, the right seat covers were these Saddle Tan (also known as “Camel”) skins (PT# AA69CX00010-650 and AA69CX00040-650). Unique to the 1969 models, these seats featured a pleated compartmental pattern with Ascot grain-vinyl inserts and Coachman grain-vinyl skirts. Besides replacing the torn and tattered original vinyl with new covers, we reached Legendary for their molded seat foam (PT# MF68ABSET).

We also hit up our friends at Classic Industries, who were happy to supply a pair of replacement seat hinge covers (PT# MD24051) and a mounting pad set (PT# MD2029).

We pulled out Kong’s bucket seats and rear bench and took them over to Tito’s Custom Upholstery in Temecula, California. Benjamin “Tito” Torres has been recovering, restoring and customizing auto interiors since he was 14 years old, and has made quite the name for himself within both the hot rod and lowrider crowds, providing anything from bone stock restored to wildly custom stitchwork.

As mentioned above, our rear bench needed a little bit of motivation to get back into shape. Earlier that day, we laid our new vinyl skins out in the sun to relax a little. With the help of a high temp heat gun, Tito was able to aptly stretch the new seat covers over the frame and tighten them down with new hog rings. Unlike buckets, the rear bench doesn't require new seat foam, as the necessary padding is incorporated into the vinyl backing.

Disassembling the seats was a quick and painless process. First to go were our original plastic hinge covers, which were cracked, broken and discolored. Next, Tito unbolted the top half of the seat from the bottom. With a pair of side-cut pliers, Tito made short work of the 42-year-old hog rings.

Stripping the seats down to their bare frames took mere minutes. We scrubbed the frames clean of any surface rust and old foam before making a couple passes with a semi-gloss black paint. Our rear bench frame needed a little more help in the way of a ball peen hammer and a body dolly to straighten it out. It too was touched up with the good ol’ rattle can to look a few decades younger.

Rear benches require only a fraction of the labor that buckets do, so Tito went to work stretching the new skin over the wire frame. Not requiring seat foam, the Legendary replacement covers come well-padded and fit the frame snug. Tightening down the seat covers required only a handful of tools including a fresh set of hog rings, a pair of hog ring pliers and a heat gun.

Seat foam doesn't want to stay in place on its own, so we used Tito's industrial-grade adhesive to bond the new seat foam to the newly repainted frames. This way, the foam won't shift out of shape when recovering it with the new vinyl.

Warming up the vinyl gave us a little more give to stretch it tighter across the springs as we cross-fastened each opposing corner until finally fastening down the seat completely. The same process worked with the bucket seats, but only after a little more prep work. Just like the factory seat covers, Legendary includes a fabric loop that runs the inner length of each cover. This loop – just like the factory skins – holds the tensioner rod (or “spine”) that pulls the seat’s center to the frame, giving the seat its pleated look.

Getting this spine to tie to the frame requires cutting a slit in the replacement seat foam long enough for the whole rod to poke through. Another handful of hog rings sucks the seat down and tight, giving the cushion its springy bounce. The cardboard seatback panels, which unscrew to reveal the back of the bucket seat’s framework, needed to be recovered as well, and our Legendary Auto Interiors’ kit came with these covers as well.

When it comes time to slide the new bucket seat covers over the new foam and frames, there are a couple steps needed to be taken. The factory spine (notice the rod in the first image) needs to be slid into the fabric loop also found in the new Legendary covers. Next, measure where exactly to cut the foam and for how long. Pull the spine through the foam and hog ring it to frame. This will pull the bucket's cushion in tight and give the seat that pleated look and springiness.

We opted to use an industrial adhesive instead of a series of staples. The glue gave us the same amount of drum-tight tautness without having to tear the factory staples out, making for an easier, less messy installation.

At first blush, our completed seats looked as wrinkled as a Shar Pei puppy. “That’s common with all seat covers,” Tito explained. “You just need to leave ’em out in the sun for a while. The heat will help the material relax over the frame.”

Sure to his word, it took only a couple days for the wrinkles to come out on their own. While the seats sat out in the sunshine, we got to work on our seat tracks.

Once we measured and cut the slit in the foam, Tito went about wresting the covers over the newly restuffed seats. Since the Legendary covers come in a single piece, Tito was mindful to align the seams to follow the outermost edges of the foam and stretch most of the wrinkles out. Next, he recovered the cardboard seatbacks with the new Saddle-hued vinyl material provided in the kit with the same adhesive. The original vinyl is stapled on as well, but we chose to cover over the original vinyl rather than risk tearing up the original cardboard backing. Complete, we let the sets relax in the sunshine a while.

We disassembled the slide tracks and roller bearings, which we cleaned, degreased and repacked with heavy grease, as well as chased all the threads with a nut and socket wrench. We literally flossed the gears, sprayed them down with WD-40, and reassembled all the pieces. The passenger seat tracks got the same attention to detail. After an hour scrub down with a Scotch-Brite pad, we repainted the tracks in semi-gloss black paint, bringing them back to as-new condition.

Ready to drop in our new seats, we started with the rear bench, which slid into place surprisingly easy even with our six-point cage. Wrestling the bottom half of the bench was a bit of a pill (we hung towels over the outermost edges to protect from snagging on the window regulator gears), but once in place fit perfectly. We next attached the newly restored tracks to the bottoms of the buckets.

With our seats finished, we turned out attention to the tracks. In need of a little refurbishment, we pulled the tracks apart, cleaned the channels, regreased the roller bearings, and slid them back together. Next, every square inch was sanded and scuffed to receive a fresh coat of semi-gloss black paint. The Custom-Comfort track required much more work, as we flossed between the tight spots, cinched up two springs and installed new body bolts. When completed, they worked and looked like new.

Before dropping them in place, we screwed on the new black ABS-injection plastic mounting pads and serrated locking sheetmetal washers. We also cleaned up the chromed plastic seat release knobs just for a final cosmetic touch. The new Classic Industries hinge covers came with white urethane spacers, making the final installation clean and easy.

Folding up the buckets made sliding them over the forward bars of the cage all that much easier. With our factory holes already marked and opened in the carpet, our buckets plopped down in place without a hitch. And since we had our multi-adjustable seat track in our Charger for the first time, we toyed with finding the perfect position for our 6’2″ frame.

The forward/reverse mechanism works via this tensioner wire which is pulled by a lever on the side of the bucket. We thankfully had the originals which include this coiled end keepers. Next, we installed the new injection-molded plastic pads and serrated washers. Finally, we installed our new hinge covers provided by Classic Industries' new Mopar line, which screwed into place without a hiccup.

Of course, putting our seats in at this point was only for the sense of satisfaction of a job well done, as we’re going to need to pull them later to install our replacement headliner, package tray and our restored front and rear interior door panels. Even though we’re a ways away from getting Killer Kong out on the road, we can still slide in behind the wheel, tilt the seat back and enjoy the view over that long, wide hood. And that’s never a bad thing.

We were elated to see the fruit of our labor, and how quickly the seats transform our Charger's cabin. Most of the wrinkles have vanished as we've let the seats bake in the sun, which helps relax the material. We love being able to climb in behind the wheel and look out over our Charger's hood and just imagine it lifting the front wheels.

We included a massive 160-plus-image gallery for all you do-it-yourselfers out there who want to see how you can do this at home. Enjoy!

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About the author

Kevin Shaw

Kevin Shaw is a self-proclaimed "muscle car purist," preferring solid-lifter camshafts and mechanical double-pumpers over computer-controlled fuel injection and force-feeding power-adders. If you like dirt-under-your-fingernails tech and real street driven content, this is your guy.
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