Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Seat Belts for a Tri-Five Classic Chevy
How To Install a Three point Shoulder Harness Safety Restraint System in a Classic Car  
   -Alan Arnell
OMG! His face is stuck into the windshield."  The before mention  horrifying site, that I was a witness to was the catalyst for me to update my 1957 Chevy 150 with a three point seat belt harness.
In 2000 with the purchase of my Classic Car I equipped the car with period correct seat belts.  My  choice for a seat belt system was based on my desire, at that point in ownership, to have correct stock parts.  The movement of the Tri-Five Hobby was in full swing going resto-mod, but to be different and make myself happy I tried to stay 50's factory correct.  Little did I know!

Seat belts being available for Tri-Five Chevys did not begin until the 1956 model year.  That year Chevrolet offered consumers a dealer-installed accessory seat restraint system.

The new lap style seat belt was an answer to F@%d's big safety program at the time.   Still many people passed on the $10.95 per seat option.

The only vendor available to Chevrolet in 1956 was the Davis Aircraft Products of New York.  The belts were an aircraft unit still used  today on many airplanes.  No automotive seat belt option was available, because there were no laws regulating seat belts or installation for cars at the time.  There was not even a seat belt purposely designed for automobiles in 56 on the drawing boards.
Until the Boeing 707 became a common plane for civilian flight very few people flew for  transportation purposes.  Where I grew up in down state Illinois, flying on airlines like Pan Am and Peoria's major carrier Ozark Air Lines was not very common.  I was the first of my friends to fly on a commercial turboprop commuter plane from Chicago to Peoria in 1979.

The common Joe did not understand seat bets or how to work them for that matter when they were introduced.  That is why you have to sit through, what seems now like a waste of time, of how to attach and tighten your seatbelt on airlines during the pre take off instructions.  Someday, those instructions will go the way of the dinosaur.

My Grandparents and most of my Aunts and Uncles would not wear seat belts.  They said, "Seat belts are unsafe...why they will trap you in the car...it's better to just be thrown out of the car than be stuck inside... (and my favorite) the seat belt wrinkles my dress!"  No wonder so many people were killed in car wrecks in the 50's and 60's.
The 1956 local Chevy dealer installed safety restraints were made up of a buckle assembly with a slide-in-catch, two lengths of two inch wide nylon webbing, two adjustable slide bars and two floor brackets .  The brackets were double nutted using a heat treated steel bolt with a two and a half inch diameter reinforcing
Danchuck's 3=point Retractable Front Seat Belts in Black
Item # 12579
Link to Danchuck
washer mounted on the underside of the passenger compartment.

The buckle catch lever was lifted to disengage the belt.  The instructions on how to operate the new fangled safety device were printed on a card that the dealer placed in the glove box when the belt was installed.

Plugola: I bought my belts at Danchuck. They are an excellent source for Tri-Five parts and information. I or any of my friends have ever had issue with Danchuck. I would recommend.-Alan

To tell if you have original seat belts in you classic car there is stamped on the underside of the buckle the Davis Aircraft Eagle logo.
In 1956 you could have any belt color you wanted as long as it was medium silver gray.  The belts were non retractable, therefore that outer belt was hung on a hook attached to the side of the vehicle’s interior.  The hook was incorporated into the coat hook attachment above the rear window or rear door depending on if you had a 2 or 4 door car.

After that scary day of the horrific traffic accident, that I was a witness to, I changed out my 50's era seat belts for a more modern 3 point retractable seat belts.
The new belts I installed have 3 attachment points within the passenger area of my classic Chevy.  However, only one end of the belts are attached to where I had hooked up my original lap belts.  More project, more fun right?

For proper and safe installation you will need to mount anchor plates into the vehicle. Attachment will be to the "B" pillar in sedans and wagon models. The roof and the side panels for hard tops and convertibles.  You will be bolting the parts in place, however welding may also be required to complete the installation.

I welded my anchor plate to the "B" pillar and dogleg by the floor.  Let me tell you, welding inside of fully upholstered car with a good paint job on the outside of the "B" pillar is demanding and nerve racking to say the least to say the most.

Tech Work List
  1. Using a friend of average height as a guide, measure where you wish to position the retractor and third point
  2. Mount the shoulder bracket.  More than likely the bracket will have to be trimmed to size to fit correctly.  From your mark you made in step one, cut and weld the plate in place.
  3. Note: To save the interior from being set a fire you must cover all the flammable parts.  I went to all my friends and borrowed their leather welding jackets for fire protection.  I used four or five jackets.  I also used sheet metal pieces that fit in place over the carpet.  For added burn protection, I covered the remaining areas with wet towels.  To not burn the paint on the outside of the "B" pillar I used bailing wire to hold a wet dish towel on the outside of the pillar to keep the paint from burning.-- -Obsessive, you bet! I go by the old Texas saying, "It is better to have it and not need it, than not have it and need it."
  4. With some modern ingenuity you will be able to bolt the retractor to the dogleg area at the front of the inside rear quarter panel rather than on the floor. Doing so, keeps the retractor from tripping your passengers as he or she get in the back seat.
  5. With your locations marked, drill three holes.  The two outer holes are lug welded holes for the anchor plate.  Which means, you  weld the center of the hole on the anchor plate to make a homemade spot weld.  You will want to put the plate behind the sheet metal and weld the bracket to the sheet metal.
  6. Mount the last seat belt bracket or so called “fixed arm” next to the transmission/ drive shaft hump behind the seat.
  7. Mark a spot where moving the seat back and forth will not be affected the the mounting fixed arm.  
  8. Check to insure you are not going to drill into something you do not want to on the other side of the floor pan.
  9. Drill the holes.  It is messy, but I drilled through the carpet, My bad!
  10. Once the fixed arms are all in place for your three point shoulder harness, you are done except for the custom work to make it all work to your satisfaction.
  11. Now start on the lap belts or three point belts for the back seats.
  12. The back belts are very similar to the front belts.  Mark them, make sure there is enough room for an anchor plate behind the floor, drill and bolt in.
I feel much safer now in my Tri-Five Classic Chevy with my new updated belts.  I wish we lived back in a time where you did not fear for your life on every driving experience, but oh well! That is life in the big city.

How to install three point retractable seat belt in a Classic Chevy Tri-Five
1955 Chevy Belair 210 150
1956 Chevy Wagon
1957 Chevy Nomad

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