IN the 1960s and ‘70s, most cars had vinyl seats and only high-spec luxury vehicles and sportscars were upholstered with expensive, much-coveted leather interiors. The next best thing was to get a pair of sheepskin covers for your car. In the ‘60s and ‘70s, you’d find many a Mercedes-Benz owner driving along ensconsed in fluffy beige sheep skin covering the tan or brown vinyl seats of their beloved car. In fact, I suspect sheep farmers started the whole trend because they had a steady supply of sheepskins and often drove big, tough Mercedes-Benzes when they didn’t need their bakkies and tractors.
If you haven’t sat in an old Benz with its large, vinyl seats adorned with pure sheepskin covers, you’re missing out on a comfortable experience. Citroën DS owners might disagree, but sheepskins are second to none. Commonly cream or beige in colour, many of these coverings are still fitted to these classic cars although, understandably, after four or so decades, you can expect the wool to be somewhat worn by now. I have covers fitted to my classic Fiat 128 that must be at least four decades old.
Of course, many cars now have leather or leatherette seats. These are easy to clean but get hot in summer, cold in winter and are less yielding when sat on, making them less comfortable than cloth-covered pews. So, some owners, especially of cars with large armchair-style seats, still choose to cover their upholstery with lush wool.
Apart from wool, the market for off-road seat covers has also grown. Taking your vehicle off the beaten path inevitably sees it ending up with grubby and sweat-soaked upholstery. Usually made from strong canvas or a waterproof material, these covers are an effective barrier to dirt, sweat, muddy water and liquids. They’re easily removable for washing, too.
Oskava is a small family-run business that has been making sheepskin covers since 1966.
Steve Karele, Oskava’s owner, recalls how the business started on a farm before the family opened a retail outlet. Some members of the staff have been working for Oskava for as long as 38 years.
The company uses genuine, long-hair merino sheepskins with linings, but sourcing skins and finding a private tannery to do the complex tanning process is a costly affair. It will cost you about R1 650 a seat, excluding headrest covers, and if you cover both front and rear seats, plus four headrests, you’re looking at R8 000. Colours are limited to black, grey and sand.
Synthetic wool and woven nylon are more cost-effective options and Karele estimates that 80% of his sales are synthetic/woven nylon and 20% genuine wool sheepskin.
The synthetic covers are also available in more colours and patterns.
House of Henry is another long-established manufacturer that has been in the business for over 30 years. It uses sheared wool fitted to a backing material. This company also offers seat covers made from a wide range of other fabrics that include water-resistant material, cotton canvas, fur fabric and leatherette.
Melvill & Moon is family-run company dating back to the 1880s, making – among luggage lines – old-school heavy-duty cotton-canvas seat covers, sometimes combined with leather, for bakkies, double cabs and SUVs.
Takla produces a variety of custom covers, even ones with incorporated plug-in heating elements. Caprivi also makes upmarket covers for 4x4s.
Pricing of off-road covers varies between manufacturers and the type of vehicle, but most are in the same ballpark as the sheepskin prices mentioned above.
Please ensure that the seats you choose are compatible with side airbags should your car be fitted with these. Made specifically for cars with such seats, the covers will either have special panels with breakable stitching or cut-outs for the bags.