We were at the London Classic Car Show in Excel last week and what a busy weekend it was! Thanks to everyone that came to see us. We also enjoyed a little celebrity spotting, the highlight being Jenson Button driving this beautiful McLaren.

                               London Classic Car Show     Jenson Button McLaren

The definition of a classic car changes for each country around the world. In general terms, it is an old car valued enough historically to collect and restore rather than scrapping it as old metal. In the UK, all cars built before 1st of January 1975, are exempted from paying annual road tax and are flagged as ‘historic vehicles’. In the US, cars 100 years old or older are classed as ‘antique’, but the term ‘classic’ varies in each state but usually ranges from 20-30 years old. 

But we are more interested in what is inside these classic cars - old leather! 

                               Classic car seats     Classic Car old leather

The first motorised vehicles already had leather seats. They were copies of the seating in horse-drawn carriages that used to be the main form of transport. Originally, vegetable-tanned cowhide was used without any surface staining, which was covered with oils and fats – just like horse saddles. This type of leather was standard until the late 70s and 80s. From this period, chrome tanning became industrially viable and therefore replaced vegetable tanned leather very quickly. 

The tanning process is directly related to the main problems of old leather, shrinkage and hardening. Leather hardens when it is dry due to lack of care, thus losing its inner oiling. This process is accelerated, when exposed to heat. Once shrunken, leather is irreparably damaged. It can be softened with the appropriate care products, but it can never be stretched out again.

Traditional vegetable-tanned leathers begin to shrink at much lower temperatures than modern techniques, such as chrome tanned leathers. However, it should be noted that leather that is well cared for will never shrink as fast as poorly maintained leather.

The patina of vintage leather

The attitude to patina has changed in the recent times. Previously, patina was seen as damage and a good restoration was one that left a smooth finish and leather looking like new. Today, however, patina is considered to add value and character to the leather, and repairs are carefully done to retain the grain. The level of patina accepted on the leather surface is not measurable, each individual has a different taste as to what is acceptable as patina and what requires repair.

Common damages on classic car interiors

If not looked after or kept properly, old leather in classic cars can be damaged by mould if stored in humid places, or more commonly, it will dry and crack without the appropriate treatment.

                               Old leather cracks     Old leather faded

Recommended products

Top tips!

  • Remove mould from old leather using a mixture of vinegar and water in equal parts.
  • Regularly treat old leather to prevent it from drying and cracking
  • Be careful when cleaning very old leather, as colour from the surface can easily be removed due to its age. We recommend testing first on a hidden area.