The Studeblogger

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Safety first... or, at last.

Today I finally got a few minutes to do something I should have done a long time ago - install a proper set of seat belts in Barney.

There was already a set in there, but they may as well have been absent. They were installed in such a way as to be pretty much useless, had there been any sort of  accident. Seat Belts should always be anchored directly to the floor, with precautions to make certain they can't pull loose when stressed.

As you can see, mine were worthless - one side fastened under the seat-to-floor attaching bolt, the other even worse: screwed to the seat frame itself using a skinny little 1/2" #6 screw. Like I said, worthless. Luckily, adding proper seat belts to a Studebaker model year 1962 or newer is pretty easy, as the Federal government mandated that automakers include provisions for seat belt installation on all cars, whether they were optioned with belts or not. This makes installing belts simple.

So let's get to work! First slide the front seat as far forward as it will go, then flip up the back seat and pull the carpet forward. See those two small rubber plugs about the middle of the photo? Those are the Lark's built-in seat belt anchors. The plugs protect the cage nuts on the other side of the floor; once they're pulled, we can screw in the belt anchor hardware.

I used a flat bladed scraper to pull up the plugs (which came out in two pieces), revealing virgin 50-year-old machine threads ready for use. Sweet! Don't worry if the plugs come out in two pieces (mine did); you won't be using them again. Although I couldn't bring myself to throw out the intact ones; I doubt if even the SASCO inventory included any of these.

If your car is undercoated, however, you may have to do a little spelunking underneath before you can proceed. Here's what mine looked like: covered with undercoat and barely visible. Looks tougher than it is, though; a little scraping and it was ready for use.

One more thing, though - gotta cut the carpet. First slice the jute underlay, then make a discreet slit in the carpet. Not too much - just feel for the bolt hole with your fingers, then put a little "x" right in it. That'll be plenty for our purposes.

My seat belts (a Christmas gift from my lovely wife, purchased from Studebaker International) came with all the hardware needed to attach them to the Stude mounting lugs.

The big eye bolt threads into the floor mounting point. Once it's tightened down, the big hardened washer is placed on the threads between the floor and the lock washer and nut. In the event of a sudden shock on the belts, the washer will spread the force against the floor pan, preventing the anchor from tearing out of the floor.

You can see that there's a lot of thread visible underneath once the eye bolt is threaded in. I used a 12" adjustable wrench to tighten the bolts down. Once they're tight, you can put the bottom hardware on, but you may need an assistant to keep the eye bolts from rotating while you tighten the nut from below.

Do the same for the other 3 eye bolts (assuming you're installing a pair of belts), and you're ready to attach the belts. There is no torque value given in the Shop Manual for these anchor nuts, so just tighten them down as tight as they'll go. A little bit of Loctite Blue wouldn't be a bad idea either.

At this point, my installation took a little bit of a side trip. The outboard anchor on the passenger's side was located closer to the frame rail than the one on the driver's side, and the big washer would not clear it -- there was a quarter-inch too much washer.

So I improvised a little and stuck the washer in a vise, and used my Dremel and a cutoff disc to remove enough material to let the washer fit. After this was done, it slipped over the eye bolt and snugged up against the frame like it was born that way. The inboard cage nut in the floor was a little recalcitrant too - I needed to chase the threads with a tap, and even then it took a lot of grunting and sweating, a half-turn at a time, to get the eye bolt home.

After all the hardware is snugly attached, you can install the belts. Generally, the belts with the buckle assembly are mounted inboard; the bayonets are outboard. Thread them through the gap between the seatback and lower bolster. Each belt end has an opposing set of J-hooks that clamp to an eye-bolt, and are then held together with a cotter pin. It doesn't matter which way the cotter pin goes in, but I recommend orienting it so that the spread ends face the carpet, for cosmetic reasons.

You're done! Put the seat back to driving position, adjust those slick new belts, and head for the road! You're about 100 times safer now than you were an hour ago.

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