The Genuine Article?

Mazda "Spirit-R" Recaro Racing Seats

Recaro Spirit-R Seats for "The Seven".

So do I drive a street car or a track car? Hard to tell sometimes. But when it comes to seats it is a decision that really dictates what to do. I considered the R1 seats in my car as very good, and grippy too for an "adjustable" OEM seat. For the street they are very nice…and comfortable. However on the track they did show some shortcomings in the form of bruises on the outsides of my knees when trying to keep myself planted in the seat. So perhaps a single piece racing seat would be more appropriate. So I tried a one piece seat. A nice entry level Sparco “Road” racing seat. See HERE for details of that seat and the fitment. A matched pair was purchased and installed and fit well with custom fabricated rails. But they too had their drawbacks….for street use. For one they did not have a tilt adjustment which made my seating position less than desirable. Yes I could have corrected this but it would have required some work. Next was the fact that in order to get in and out of the car, with the high side thigh bolsters required sliding the seat ALL the way back for my legs to clear the steering wheel. A nuisance for a street car. And then, to be honest they were a little tight for my frame. Sure they fit the car but they were a tad too snug for me. So there lies the dilemma. Is there a compromise? Did Mazda think of this issue as well? They sure did. Later model FD RX-7’s had optional single piece seats offered for the more track oriented vehicles, the more specialized RZ and the limited edition Spirit-R models. These seats were manufactured by Recaro specifcially for Mazda and originally offered primarily in black but later, for one year only, offered in red for the Spirit-R limited edition car in 2000. They are a single piece fiberglass composite and or fiberglass and carbon fiber composite seat. They were mounted to modified OEM sliding rails and even came with an optional tilting function. And they are asymmetrical to fit the interior space perfectly. But there were problems, even though these sounded like the perfect solution to my dilemma. 1) They are expensive, 2) they are rare, 3) by now, ~ 10 years later, most are worn out, 4) I wanted the red Spirit-R seats, and 5) did I mention they were expensive…even more so for the red Spirit-R seats…to the tune of $3000 to $4000 for a decent pair! Their price new, as a side note, was on the order of $4200 each!

The Aligning of Stars

And then it happened. Through some casual conversation a pair of roughly used and heavily worn black RZ seats, with the optional and hard to come by tilt and slide OEM rails, were offered to me to buy at a very decent price. “I wonder if these can be recovered?” After some more discussion and a bit of research and some moral support from my mother-in-law, who is very capable with a sewing machine, I decided to give it a try and bought the seats. And so began the rejuvenation and recreating of set of "Spirit-R" seats.

A ratty pair of RZ seats with all the necessary supplies for a complete rejuvination.
Back from the Dead

So first up was an initial assessment of how the seats were assembled. Essentially there is a covered bucket with a padded head section and padded side bolsters, plus a seat cushion and a back cushion. The fabric is a simple foam backed synthetic. I noted that the upper seat back seat belt hole “frames” were screwed into the seat back but that the fabric was glued to the bucket on the backside – that was going to be tricky. The seat belt retainers were shot, one was simply broken (a common problem with age) and the other was so faded it looked white. These would have to be replaced. The rails and sliders were in good condition. And the seat belt buckles were in good condition but very dirty. I later noted that one of the buckles was not original and was probably lifted from a regular OEM seat since the anchor was longer (it sits a little taller than the buckle made for the one piece bucket design). As for the seats themselves the fabric on the passenger side seat (the drivers side in Right Hand Drive cars) was very worn – the side bolster was completely worn through with a patch glued over the hole(s), there was also what looked like a cigarette burn in the seat cushion. The rest of the seat covering was satisfactory but overstretched in some sections and somewhat worn in others. Overall they was no question they needed to be recovered to even look halfway decent.

Issues: The one seat cover removed but note the condition of the padding and you can tell the cover was in worse shape.

The first step was to obtain all the supplies. I managed to get Recaro USA to send me a bolt of genuine Red Recaro race seat fabric which was identical to that which came on the Mazda seats - they are after all Recaro seats. I ordered enough to cover at least 3 seats in case I ran into difficulties. I found ultraviolet and mildrew resistant heavy duty synthetic seat thread, and firm seat padding in various thicknesses from JoAnn Fabrics, and ordered new OEM seat belt retainers from the dealer (these were expensive!). Also some heavy duty headliner adhesive. And then the work began.

The cushions are just held in with Velcro so they come right out. And the cover is held onto the seat shell with velcro and a long wire through a seam than runs the entire length up and around the back of the seat cover to keep it in place. The seat belt guides are held in place with posts poked through the fabric and seat frame and pinned on the backside with small clip-washer thingies. The two rear seat belt hole frames were removed and VERY carefully the small ring of fabric that was glued to the seat shell around each hole was scraped free of the shell. After this, removal of a tensioning spring and the whole cover, wire and all, can be taken off the seat. There is one more layer of fabric glued to the inner side of the shell that was simply peeled off. So there it was, each seat had only 4 major pieces to replicate.

Stripping the old seats

Care with the seat belt holes! Be sure to mark the location of the velcro tabs.

The goal was to use the original coverings as a pattern for the new pieces. I started with the seat cushions. The padding is actually sewn into the cushions so each stitch had to be painstakingly unpicked so as to not damage the original fabric or the foam. After each cushion was unpicked the pieces were laid out on the new fabric and the shape cut out. One thing was to note how each of the pieces of fabric was sewn together to ensure the proper folds and pleats were in the right place. This proved to be a little tricky in some parts but we able to figure it out. The original pieces of Velcro were also unpicked and they were actually reusable so those were sewn onto the new pieces. My mother-in-law has a very expensive and capable sewing machine (Bernina) but even it struggled to sew through the two layers of fabric AND the seat foam in order to put the pleats in each of the cushions. The seat bottom cushion was fine but the seat back cushion was a little bit more tricky as it had stiff wire retainers sewn into a hard backer board attached to the seat foam all of which had to be integrated into the cushion. Three clips on each wire had to be threaded through the seat fabric and attached to the backer board wires all after the foam was sewn into the cushion. Quite difficult to the point I was afraid I’d tear the fabric getting it all together. As you might have gathered I was able to reuse all the original seat foam but did add about another inch of new additional foam to compensate for the age of the original.

Cutting the new pieces using the old cover as the patterns.

My mother-in-law working her magic.

The same was done for the seat cover, each piece being cut from the new fabric and sewn together in exactly the same fashion as the original. The retaining wire was also sewn into the seam as the cover was assembled. The size and shape of the seat belt holes took a few tries to get it right. It should be noted that the original fabric had stretched (of course) so adjustments had to be made here and there but not a big issue once I figured it out.

Early steps in the recovering process.

A finished seat cushion.

Coverings and Cushions complete!

As I mentioned before the passenger side seat side bolster was essentially gone – simply covered with a crude patch glued over the hole(s). The hole(s) were so bad that the padding underneath was also gone all the way down to the bare shell. So all this old padding residue was removed and the glue scraped off the shell and cleaned. While I was at it I repolished all the exterior surfaces of both shells to remove all the scuff marks and 10 years of grime. I then used the other seat as a pattern to cut new sections of foam and glued them to the shell in the damaged areas.

What padding?

Clean up.

Repadded and a cleaned up bucket.

Once the seat cushions were done and the seat covers assembled, I cut the inner seat panels and glued them in place with the heavy duty headliner adhesive. I took the seat covers over to an embroidering specialist and she had the Recaro logo stitched onto the covers. I had the logo made just a little bigger to make it stand out – I though the logo on the original covers was too small. ;-) I panicked when I saw that although perfectly located the embroiderer had not stitched them at the same height on each seat! So one was unpicked and redone…thankfully there was no residual damage to the cover.

Gluing the new inner seat backer to the bucket.


And then came the hard part, installation of the covers around the seat belt holes. The fabric around the holes has to be pulled tight through the holes, glued, AND clamped in place by the seat belt hole frames, all while it is being held in place long enough for the glue to dry. Oh and since the fabric is only about ½ inch wide at most there wasn’t enough room to get some clamps in place nor enough room in the hole to fit any kind of retaining mechanism. The solution was to temporarily hand sew long pieces of fabric to pull and hold the seat cover sections in the hole in place while they dried. Once dry the long pieces were cut off and the seat belt hole frames were then reinstalled to permanently hold the fabric in place. With the seat covers now “permenantly” attached I found the locations of the holes for the new seat belt guides and with baited breath cut the holes for the guides and popped them into place.

Tape to stop overspray of the adhesive. use the original trim rings to determine how much to tape off.

What a contraption! Gluing the fabric through the seat belt guide holes.

Very neat.

All done. Now ready for rails and hardware.

New Seat belt guides.

With the seat shells essentially done the rails were scrubbed and all the grime from the seat belt buckles cleaned. All the plastics were soaked in ArmourAll for 24 hours to bring the luster of the plastics from its faded gray condition. Then with the seat shells recovered, a few adjustments to ensure everything was straight, the rails were reattached to the seats and they were ready for installation in the car. Essentially a brand new pair of Spirit-R Recaro seats.

Tilt and slide rails - cleaned and regreased. Just like new!

With slide and tilt rails each Spirit-R seat (including seat buckles) weighed 25.8lbs. My original R1 suede seats with OEM sliders and the buckles weighed 34.0lbs. I’m sure the leather seats weigh more. That’s a weight savings of 17.6lbs for a pair of the Spirit-R’s over the stock seats.

Before and after - R1 vs. Spirit-R


New Simpson Harnesses

New harnesses!

It was long overdue. My original Simpson harnesses dated back to the 90’s!!! Along came a deal for a new pair of 6 point harnesses with the newer cam-lock design so I figured it was time. No trouble installing them as I was able to reuse all the same mounting points and ties the two sub-belts to the seat rail anchor points. No sweat and the black looks great with the red Recaro’s.

FEED Side Bolster Protectors

The Recaro seats are really pseudo race seats posing as street car seats when you consider the choice of fabric used to cover them with. This is a lightweight foam based fabric. Great for a racing seat to hold you in place but it doesn’t do well with abrasion resistance during egress and ingress. Looking at every used seat that comes up for sale the side bolsters are all worn or completely worn through on the door side of the seat when the occupant slides in or out of the car. To combat this FEED made a leather side bolster cover to stop the premature wear on the side bolster. Frightfully expensive but I did not want to risk the brand new seat covers so decided it was a prudent purchase. Oh and in matching red leather.



If you would like to contact me and converse about my experiences with my RX-7's:
please feel free to send an e-mail to

This page last updated July 7, 2012

Disclaimer: All images contained on this page are the sole property of C. Regan.