There comes a time when you’ve reached the limit of a design, and have to start over to reach new levels. That might be reaching the limit on a stock frame, and having to start from scratch with a new one. Perhaps it’s maxing out your weight in the gym where only a new regiment will bring a new personal record. Whatever the case is, at some point you have to change things up to maintain forward momentum.
That was the case for TMI Products. While you might not think of an interior company as making anything performance, TMI does just that. Starting over 30 years ago making factory original interiors, TMI recognized the need for a product that offered an original look in a performance setting. That’s when they introduced their Sport Series seats, which looked 100% factory but had extra bolstering on the sides to keep you in place during hard cornering.
The entire Sport Series of seats worked basically the same way. The end user would strip their factory seat down to the frame and springs configuration, then install the TMI Sport foam, and the new Sport Seat covers on top of that. The process was quick, easy and provided a huge improvement over the stock seating. After coming out with the Sport Seat II which had increased bolsters and custom looking seat covers, Marketing Director Larry Ashley knew he reached the limits of the stock frame.
“Once I unveiled the Sport Seat II, I started to wonder what’s next. Where can I go from here? I started looking back and realized the only way to go forward was to start from scratch,” explained Ashley. Enter the Pro-Series line of seats. These seats are 100% new from the ground up. They make up where the stock seats fall short, such as being able to recline in them, adjust the seat height, and scoot them further back. TMI also makes them in a low-back, high-back, with or without head rests, and even a complete bench seat.
Pro-Series: From The Ground Up
We wanted to see exactly what was inside the new Pro-Series seats, so we stopped by the TMI Products facility in Corona, CA to find out. “We make everything here in house from the seat frames, foam, sewing and everything in-between,” Larry explained. We soon found out that these are indeed 100% made here in their Corona, CA facility.
The beginning of any version of the Pro-Series seats starts with the frame. Grabbing raw stock from the shelves, they cut, bend and weld the frame up using their own design. Right off the bat we could see how they are better since now the bolsters have a wire support running through them, where the original Sport Seats didn’t have such a feature. Once they are fully welded up in the jig, we headed over to see the foam.
“Creating the foam is a tricky process,” Larry explains. After their in-house mold maker creates the molds to Larry’s exact specifications, they take that mold and squirt in the liquid mixture. As easy as that sounds, it’s harder than that. You see, the foam is a two part mixture which has to be mixed to a precise measurement.
Then the amount of time the gun squirts that mixture into the mold can impact the density of the foam as well. “We take a lot of time to ensure the foam turns out perfect every time,” continued Larry. This is done by using automated systems, and lots of trial and error to make sure your butt is comfy in the seats.
Once the foam was created, we watched as they pulled material from their massive stock. The material was then cut with a computer controlled knife that is precise up to 1/64th of an inch. This means that there is never a wrong piece of material, it’s always extremely precise. Once the material is cut, it’s then sewn by hand by some of the best sewers in the business. These people sew all day every day, ensuring an extremely high quality product.
Building The Pro-Series VXR
Now that all the pieces of the puzzle were complete, it was time to assemble them into a Pro-Series VXR seat. Watching their installer assemble one of these seats, it’s clear that Larry spent a great deal of time simplifying the upholstery process. Normally this is something that people farm out to an upholster – not with the Pro Series. Even though they come fully assembled and ready to bolt-in, the average guy could assemble them with basic tools in less than an hour.
Taking the upper part of the frame, the hinges are installed with a few hex-head bolts. From here the foam is set onto the frame, with it’s pockets for the side bolsters. Then they take the cover and flip it inside out, setting the back part on the foam. Using a few hog rings, they secure the upholstery to foam with the built-in guide wires. This ensures the cover stays put and provides wrinkle free use for years to come. After that, they flip the cover right-side out over the foam while working the material to make it sit correctly on the foam. The last step is to zip up the back side. Their installer did the entire process in a few minutes, but we are sure we could do it almost as easily.
The process is repeated for the bottom of the seat, then the two are bolted together with the recline-able hinges. With the two halves joined together, TMI then installs plastic covers for the hinges and adjustment knob. Flipping the seat over, a set of adjustable seat tracks finishes off the seats. We also nabbed a set of the seat brackets that mate the sliders to the floor in our ’66 Chevelle.
Installing them into the Chevelle was cake – a few bolts to secure the floor bracket to the sliders, then reusing the factory floor bolts to get this mounted to the floorboard. Simple and easy.
For those who want to upgrade to the Pro-Series but want to retain a factory appearance, not a problem. TMI also makes upholstery in OEM materials and patterns to retain a factory look. While we were there, we spotted these Pro-Series seats done in a factory ’70 Chevelle green and pattern. All the improvements of a Pro-Series seat yet most people wouldn’t notice they aren’t the factory seats.
Sport Series vs. Pro Series: Editors Opinion
I had the Sport Series seats in my Chevelle for about four years now. I absolutely loved them – they provided extra support for going around turns yet still retained a stock element to the car. The Sport Series seats are a massive upgrade over a bone stock seat, but as mentioned above, TMI Products had reached the limitations of the stock seat frames.
For me, I’m a bigger guy, 6′-0″ tall and over 200-lbs. I’m not sure what size the average driver was back in ’66, but they must have been really short. I couldn’t ever get the stock seats to go back far enough to get my legs in a comfortable position. Plus they didn’t recline at all, which would be nice for those longer drives. On top of that, the stock seats just aren’t up to today’s standard of comfort.
I really could care less about originality, but the factory buckets I really loved in that car. I didn’t want to swap them out for late model seats since those always look extremely out of place to me, even if recovered in original material. The Pro-Series caught my eye and I had to check them out. After hearing all the upgrades I knew that I had to try out a pair with Hot Rod Power Tour coming up in less than a month.
In short after putting almost 5,000 miles in about eight days on the Power Tour, I can say that these seats were a night and day difference compared to the Sport Seats. Being able to slide the seat back to get my legs in a ergonomic position was amazing but then it got better – I was able to recline the seat back to a comfortable cruising position. When my co-pilot was driving, I was able to lay the passenger seat all the way back and attempt to a catch some sleep.
For the full Pro-Series line with all the options or any other question, hop on the TMI Products site or give them a call at (888) 460-0640.