Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Hapy Seating

Over the years, Hapy has had 3 sets of front seats. Today, I start down a path of a fourth, and hopefully final, set. For the curious, I continue to Bondo-cycle on the replacement front fender for Zed, as well as sort through the garage. Boo and I have been taking advantage of the waning days of "decent" weather (read: light rain, around 8*C / 45*F) to get some hikes in before late Fall weather really kicks in. So, large steps forward on any car project is not happening right now. Sometimes, you just need to spend some time on a project that you actually want to do. These days, neither the Zed nor my garage are that project, but they are each getting some of my attention. So, as a distraction from that, I'm looking at Hapy's seats.

Seats 1-3
the '74s
I suppose it makes sense to start with what Hapy has had for seating. First, he had his original manufactured-in-1971 seats. These were built before headrests, and while they looked the part, they were completely clapped out, sagging painfully across the entire seat base. The horsehair stuffing was mostly gone and the fabric was dry-rotting away. So, while I was still working in Old Town (an area of downtown Portland now called "the Pearl District") I bought a set of blue-green plaid 1974 seats off craigslist for $20.

The blue-green set were marginally better. Maybe. The seats had been rebuilt at some point with foam, but I discovered along the way that they were getting ditched for $20 for a reason: they were very uncomfortable. Still, they were the seats I had, and they had headrests for better neck protection in an accident. After a few months with them, though, I would have probably gone back to my originals if I had still had them.

A few years ago, GratefulEd swapped out his original 1973 seats with minivan seats (which look and seat great), so he loaned me his seats while I figured something out. The 1973 seats served GratefulEd just fine, but they, too, were worn out. The fabric is so destroyed that the simple aftermarket seat covers cling to the foam underneath, not the seat fabric. Again, these seats are not the most comfortable, but they are better than the '74 set. GratefulEd put many miles on these seats. For, like, 2k of those miles, I rode with him. Still, at some point he wants these back, and at some point I would like a seat that will improve the ride... like the seats he put in Belle.

New Seat, What a Treat
Yeah, I've used that line before. In my scouting around craigslist, I found a set of "comfort" front seats from a 2016 Sprinter for $250. The "comfort" seats are so labelled because they have things like angle control and lumbar support that the "standard" seats do not have. Coming from seats that were little more than an uneven pile of flattened foam wrapped in shredded cloth, these things are puh-lush. With an arm rest. I read reviews of these seats where authors described taking road trips of 8-12 hours and not suffering from leg or back aches or any additional fatigue they could assign to their seats. Sounds perfect, but are they 10x better than those old ratty '74 seats I bought 15 years ago? I think so.

I drove over to the seller in Hapy. Upon arrival, I pulled the front passenger seat out of Hapy and set the Sprinter seat in it's location. It fit well enough to know that it could probably work, and then I jumped in to test-sit it. Ultimately, figuring out how to mount it, deciding whether I go whole-hog and do a swivel-seat upgrade, etc, all only matters if the seat is comfortable for a long drive. Just because some random internet authors said so, doesn't mean it will work for Boo and me. Of course, sitting in a seat for a few seconds won't tell the story either. But, I liked the seats, so I paid the guy, put the seats in the back and headed home. Hapy ran great, by the way: no codes, no stammering; he just cruised and felt peppy.

So, Will It Fit?
extra surround
getting cut off
Before I go too deep into the install, there are some basics. The Sprinter seats are much taller and the bottom is much thicker than any of the stock bus seats. When I placed the seat in, the headrest sat about an inch or so below the ceiling. Because of the original mountpoints in the passenger seat pedestal, I could not position the seat on top of the inner flat very well. As a result, I could only sorta-kinda get a sense for how it would be before the inner seat rail slid down into the well in the middle of the pedestal. So, regardless of what I do, that old passenger-side mountpoint will need to get cut off.

A little concerned about how the driver-side would fit, I pulled the '73 driver seat out and set the Sprinter seat in its place when I got home. This made for a much better assessment because the stock driver seat is mounted with toothed sliders, not large C-hooks sticking up from the pedestal. Still, the height of the seat base wedged my legs under the steering wheel. I confirmed that the seat will be very comfortable, once I have figured out how to lower them. These are built for delivery drivers, service folks and RV's: designed to be sat in a lot for long periods, and Sprinter's are not cheap, so the seats are a reflection of that as well (read: these are good seats). I will not have to cut out the partition for the seats to fit, but removing the partition could make them more adjustable.

Seat Gets Trimmed
While I did not have to cut up the bus, I did have to cut a section of plastic off the seat base. These seats are adjustable in 3 ways: height, seat-back tilt, and seat-base tilt. The height is controlled with a lever on the outside along the base, and it raises / lowers the entire seat above the rails by as much as 3 inches. In the Sprinter, the seat is bolted to a pedestal that is smaller than the seat, so when it is lowered, the bottom plastic surround drops below/around that pedestal. This will not work in a bus installation, as the pedestal is larger than the seat.

new seat (with surround removed)
versus old seat
The plastic surround, however, seems almost designed for this modification. There is an indentation that runs along the lower edge of the cushion, maybe 3 inches above the bottom of the surround (see picture above). I scored this indentation repeatedly with a box-cutter until the lower section fell off, halving the plastic surround's height. The new now-the-bottom sets slightly above the seat rail at the seat adjuster's lowest setting. With this lower surround removed, the seat rests cleanly on the bus seat pedestal (see picture on the right). For a longer legged driver, there are now a few inches of headroom, if the seat needs to be raised.

Install Thinks
Boo and I would love to have at least the passenger seat swivel, if not both, to create more usable space while camped. But Hapy has steel partitions behind the front seats. Those partitions, I think, were critical for collision safety since the back of the passenger seat was literally mounted with a hook-and-ring connector thing to it, and the seat was unable to sit upright without leaning against it. Still, these partitions could also represent some stiffness in holding the sides  of the bus square against twisting or in case of an accident. So, we have a few options:
  1. *Mount the seats in a forward-facing-only orientation, bolting the slider rails to the bus.
  2. Remove the partition behind the passenger seat, install angle iron to take up the side-stiffness, install a swivel base and the seat. Driver side remains just like option 1.
  3. Remove the partition, but don't install a swivel. Maybe, the seat is just removed, reversed and re-installed facing rear-ward when we camp? Maybe instead of using bolts, the seat is mounted with nuts on studs, making the reverse-swap that much easier.
  4. Remove both partitions, install an angle iron for each side for side-stiffness, install a swivel on each side.
  5. Blending options 3 and 4, remove both partitions, but don't install any swivels. One or both seats could be mounted rear-facing when camped.
both seats mocked
My biggest question for whether options 4 or 5 are possible circles back to the steering wheel. Unlike the passenger side, where there is a big open space for the seat back to go when you face it rearward, that wheel is big, and sticks pretty far back from the dashboard. Just looking at the picture on the right here tells the tale. It is hard to imagine that driver seat facing rearward. Frankly, I'm going to have to think carefully about how to just install the driver seat. Use of studs may be necessary simply for that. I asterisked option 1 since that's the most direct option that gets seats in. I can always grow from there. Knowing that any swivel is going to raise the seat more, all the others may not be real options.

Some Prep Is Universal
Regardless of what we choose to do, there are some universal steps I need to take. First, of course, is addressing any rust on top of the seat pedestals. I removed the pedestal carpet a few years ago, and need to re-install it or cut some fresh carpet to install there. I intend to add some noise reduction stuff while everything is open before the carpet goes back in. I would like to move the brake fluid reservoir down into that below-the-seat area to simplify things a little bit. This would also create more possibility for a driver-side swivel (though that is still very remote). I may need to cut off the old driver-side seat tracks, if I run into issues putting holes through for the Sprinter seat rails. On the passenger side, the pointing-up C-hooks need to be cut off. You can see how they interfere in the mock-up picture on the right, here: the seat is pushed further forward because of where the C-hooks are. All of these (except the carpet install) can be done while I mull-over whether I am going to cut off one or both partitions. 

Boo and I tried sitting the mocked up seats just like the picture above shows. Overall, they are very comfortable. They do sit high, though, for our shorter-than-average-for-a-US-person legs. I can fully activate the pedals all the way to the floor, though. For Boo, she may need something under her feet for longer drives so the leg-dangle doesn't negatively impact her lower back. I'm sure we have something that usually travels with us that could stow there which would meet that need. In the past, she has sat with her feet propped up on the dash, so a more permanent step isn't necessary. The partitions do impact the degree to which the seat-back can be tilted. For the driver, I'm not sure how much it matters. For a passenger who sometimes likes to sleep on the drive, this might lead us to removing that partition eventually. At this point, I am going to work on simply mounting the seats and leaving the partitions. We figure I can always circle-back around on removing a partition, but once it's gone, it's gone. Maybe there's a way to just lower the passenger-side partition a couple inches to enable a seat tilt.

That's it for today. I'll post more on this progress as there is some, leveraging the old "Part (x)" to keep them strung together. Thanks, as always, for following along-

No comments: