Yep, I’m an absolute nerd, but let’s think about this for a minute. The seats in your car are incredibly important, even when you take away the fact that you have to sit down. Duh. They have to be comfortable, but they also have to be firm enough to hold you in and minimise your movement and fatigue. It’s the source of the largest physical connection between car and driver, and therefore has to be able to communicate the movement of the car to your arse. Manufacturers have to decide exactly what type of seats fit your car. Can you imagine a Rolls-Royce with seats from a Lotus Seven? Suddenly, these seat things sounds a bit more complicated than we initially thought.
Always Choose Cloth Seats Over Leather
For years now buyers have associated leather seats with luxury and expense. Leather of all colours and textures are now draped over expensive cars with the cloth fabric seating being left to the cheapest of cars like the Toyota Aygo and VW Up!. But it wasn’t always like this. In the early days of the motor industry, leather was always used for the driver, with the rich passenger sat in the back treated to the softest of upholsteries.
This was because leather is much stronger than fabrics, is much more waterproof, and can be wiped down to remove stains and dirty. Cloth is much more open to damage and is harder to clean and protect from water. Obviously, synthetics have come a long way lately, meaning you’ll rarely find real leather in cars. And this is a very good thing, because leather farms have been found to be barbaric in the way they treat animals. James May is a massive advocate for moving away from real leather and using synthetics for this very reason. Plus, he seems to be allergic to the leather Rolls-Royces use in their cars.
Why we Moved From Bench Seats
Ah, bucket seats. They had enough space for three people in the front and were a lot cheaper to make than individual seating, so why did the market move against them?
America is well known for loving an automatic transmission, and because of this, the centre of the car wasn’t being used for gearsticks or handbrakes. It was much more efficient to shove a single seat spanning from right to left in the front to allow a third passenger to fit. But the Europe and the East intervened, and suddenly cars with manual gearboxes and handbrakes were being imported into the US. Add on the fact that individual seats were massively safer, so it was a no-brainer. Eventually trend was adopted by sports cars like the Corvette and Mustang, and not long after, the were the more popular option.
The last car to have the option of a bench seat was the Chevrolet Impala before its 2014 facelift, but even then, the option had a price tag of $195.
Recaro Originally Built Seats Only For Porsche
Recaro used to be known as Reutter Carosserie Werke, and they specialised in building bodywork for cars after being established in 1906. It built bodies, interior fittings and seats for a number of one-off production cars, and eventually had their name involved in all major manufacturers. By 1965 it had built over 60,000 vehicles, but in 1963 they were forced to sell. Porsche was the buyer because Reutter’s deep involvement with the 356 and 901, and renamed the company Recaro.
For years they only built seats for Porsche road and race cars, but they eventually turned their hand to the rest of the market, innovating seat technology across the board from building the first seat with memory function in 1984 to breathable seat covers in 1986 for taxi drivers.
Now the company is dabbling in everything from airliner to train seats. A profit of £550million solely from selling seats for planes isn’t too bad when you compare it to the economically challenged company of the 60s.
The First Seatbelt
Invented by English engineer George Cayle in the late 1800s, they were initially used to keep pilots safe in gliders. It wasn’t long until they reached the motor car, though, with waist restraints being used in taxi cabs to protect passengers. These would often be much more harmful due to their ‘cutting’ nature. I’ll leave it there, but you get the idea.
It was Nils Bohlin, an engineer at Volvo, who was first to invent the 3-point belt in 1959. This was much safer, but the design belonged to Volvo. This wasn’t to be an issue, though, as they realised how significant this piece of tech was, so quickly released the patent to the world.
Volvo’s managing director Alan Dessell is quoted as saying: “The decision to release the three-point seat belt patent was visionary and in line with Volvo’s guiding principle of safety.”
Bohlin received a gold medal from the Royal Swedish Academy of Engineering Science in 1995, and was introduced into the Automotive Hall of Fame in 1999. No surprise, as on its 50th anniversary, it was thought to have saved a million lives.