Racing seats are an important staple of every sports car build. “JDM” cars often have a Bride or two in lieu of the stock front seats, though Recaros can be found on virtually all others, domestic or import. In fact, Recaros are often sold as an option or included as original equipment in higher end sports cars. What makes them a “racing seat” and how are they much different than others?
The most notable feature of racing seats are the thick, fat bolsters along the sides of the seat bottom and the seat back. The thigh bolsters keep your legs tucked close together and positioned forward, while the back bolsters keep your back, particularly lower portion, from moving around. In high-speed driving situations, a supportive seat holds your body in place and allows you to “feel” the car’s movements more accurately. Not to mention the safety aspect of a seat holding you in proper place in case of an accident or collision. These seats are also commonly called “bucket seats” because the seat cups and holds you in deeply, not unlike sitting your butt in a large bucket (or trash can, for my rear).
Racing seats are typically made from a cloth, a suede-like material, or leather. Cloth seats are the cheapest option, with suede-like coming in second. Arguably, the suede material is best for maximum function, as it offers the most friction-improving surface. Smooth leather is more expensive and easy to clean, but you won’t find them on true race-only cars.
While not a critical defining characteristic, bucket seats most often employ gaping “holes” in the upper shoulder rest. They are pass-through slots for 4 to 6-point racing harnesses to better secure the seat and driver. However, most OEM street cars do not include harnesses installed in favor of the regular 3-point seatbelt, as they are often not DOT or street legal. (More about harnesses in an upcoming post.)
Further subdividing bucket seats, there are two main types: a full-bucket seat and a reclining bucket. Both offer all the above qualities, but the full-bucket seats have a fixed back and seat, often molded out of one piece of fiberglass, carbon fiber, kevlar, aluminum, or anything in-between. The angle of the seat can usually be adjusted by redoing bolts and some fitment can be gained by replacing or adding soft pads. The reclining bucket backs, as you can expect, are made to adjust much like a typical car seat for added customization and are therefore not as aggressive and snug as a full-bucket.
OEM racing seats now often include creature comforts like heated and cooled options, electronically-controlled adjustments, and safety airbags, but those are not commonly available as an aftermarket solution as I am discussing here.
I have been thoroughly enjoying my lowered stock seat I modified a few months ago, but it wasn’t quite as supportive as I want in a sporty car. As the car is not my daily driving car, I have no qualms about
Recently, I picked up a used East Bear Sports Sigma fixed-bucket racing seat for about 13900￥ ($125 USD) in very good condition. There is minor sun fading and a burn mark from when the previous owner probably dropped his cigarette, but is otherwise in usable condition with no obvious smell and tears.
The seat has four mounting nuts molded in each side, offering a surprising range of seating positions. The back, with the reinforcement ribs, seems better made with less lateral torsion than other low-cost buckets. Hopefully, with the fairly well-known name brand, the seat will hold up to more abuse and use than generic seats which can be found starting around 20,000￥ ($180 USD).
I was also lucky enough to pick up this low position seat rail for 8415￥ ($75 USD) in good condition with only a bit of minor rust. It actually offers a range of adjustability and virtually the lowest seating position possible. A cross supporting bar and the seat itself hinder a few centimeters of additional lowering, as you’ll see later. One reason I found this rail to be better than other competing products is that it has two seat locks, one on each rail.
I removed 5 bolts and disconnected the seat belt sensor and the stock seat was out. I installed everything loosely initially, just to make sure everything fits smoothly and the bolts go where they need to.
The seat rail includes a removable L bracket to mount the original buckle for street use.
These thin pieces of metal, connecting the two sliders together, do partially prevent the seat from sitting slightly lower. The side harness pass-through plastic slot pieces also touch the metal L brackets. In combination, they hinder lower seating. If both were slightly modified, it could be possible to lower the seat by another one or two centimeters, but probably not enough of a difference to warrant such modifications for now.
With the rear bolts in as low as reasonably possible, I tried several positions for the front bolt to adjust seat angle.
This is the seating position I decided on in the end, with a bit of a relaxed rearward angle. I might re-adjust this later when I change the steering spacers and throw in a harness.
Either I got fatter or this bucket seat is slimmer than the Bride bucket I had years ago. Probably the former. Still, I fit comfortably well. It has been years since I’ve used a true bucket seat and I miss the cocoon-like comfort it provides. Not to mention every short trip around town feels like a race day occasion.
Though getting out of my car smoothly will be a challenge. You guys ever seen those National Geographic videos where a giraffe gives birth? Yeah, it’s kinda like that when I have to gracefully “fall out” of the car…