Sid Chavers is hot rodding’s signature stitch man. He has been sewing things for nearly 55 years, hot rod upholstery accounting for the last 42 of those. Just barely a teenager, his uncle taught him how to sew using an old Singer. Being industrious and attentive, Chavers was a quick study. He took his propensity for threading the needle to school and began “pegging” the jeans of fellow high school students for one dollar per leg. Yes, hipsters, cool cats were wearing skinny jeans 45 years ago. His first car was a 1953 Ford F-100 that he drove to Sunnyvale High School. Since that time, he has never had another livelihood other than sewing up interiors and seats.
Chavers is also a Veteran and a decorated one at that. In 1974 while serving in the Navy, he had an unlikely role in a Reader’s Digest article. He was on a search and rescue team when the call came in saying a hiker was stuck on a river rock in the southern Sierra. The chopper left Lemoore Air Force base near Fresno, California to hover above a windy granite ravine and Chavers was the soldier who repelled 200 feet down to the water getting the man hoisted to safety. It was a perilous situation. For that, President Richard Nixon awarded Chavers the Navy/Marine Corps bronze medal for heroism which was the highest honor given out during peacetime. It was just one of many journeys throughout Sid’s life.
In the 70s, Chavers made a living doing motorcycle seats. He was an avid biker with long hair, dark glasses and had the look of a rebel. But underneath that persona was the same humble craftsman he’d been since the high school peg leg days. He transitioned to auto upholstery in the late 70s. In the mid-80s, he built his first Ford roadster – a black on black hi-boy with IFS and trendy style for the time. The car caught the eye of Andy Brizio at the 1986 Goodguys Nationals in Pleasanton. Brizio filled out his award slip and just like that Sid Chavers drove off with “Andy’s Pick.” To this day, that is his favorite award of all time and his wall is adorned with dozens of them.
By the 1990s, Chavers was doing strictly hot rod and custom upholstery with a shop full of four team members. He estimates he’s sewn thousands of yards of stitches on car interiors.
Sid Chavers Upholstery, opened in Santa Clara off Aldo Road in 1990 (he had other shops in Mt View and in his back yard prior to his current location) a long and narrow shop just miles from the biggest tech companies in the world. This shop is a window to the past taking you back in time to when old school craftsmen wore aprons, used hand tools and turned out nothing but the highest quality work. The most cutting edge piece of technology here is a boom box playing classic rock. Underneath the hanging lights of the shop, Chavers (now 64), and his teammate Rich Santana make old cars feel like new cars with exotic blends of fine stitched leather, various fabrics, wood, metal, carpet, sound systems, GPS and more.
The process is clean and efficient here. Each interior takes an average of three weeks to finish but that varies. Hi-boy Ford roadsters are two-week jobs. A 1932 Lincoln KA is a 4 weeker. A coupe might take 3 weeks. But Sid and Rich stick to precise deadlines. If they say the car will be done on the 25th, you can pick it up that morning. They never miss.
Here in Northern California, Chavers’ shop is part of a three-way hot rod pipeline that continues to flow at a rapid pace. The process starts at Roy Brizio Street Rods. Once the cars are ready for paint they head to Darryl Hollenbeck’s Vintage Color Studio. The last stop is always Sid Chavers Upholstery. It’s usually straight to the winner’s circle from Sid’s. But there is also business from outside the Bay Area. He just upholstered a ’32 Ford coupe for the Hot Rod Garage and Rodger Lee of Ironworks Speed & Custom uses Sid a lot these days. Chavers says Lee’s exotic Pro-Touring machines has “gotten me out of my box.”