Reutter Reclining Seats as factory option for Jaguars.
The standard seat configuration of Jaguars from the Fifties results in a driving position which is far from ideal. In the early fifties. Jaguar understood that something had to be done, but no solution was available in-house. As far as we know, none of their British suppliers, nor competitors had a reclining solution at that moment.
Early 1960’s Reutter brochure
There was one company that had been working on reclining seats after WW2 and had started production in early 1953. Reutter Karosserien of Stuttgart was a German company with a long history: established in 1874 by Wilhelm Reutter with his brother Albert joining the company in 1910. The company built special car bodies for many German brands like Adler, Benz, BMW (incl. Dixi) , Daimler-Benz, Horch, Maybach, NSU, Opel, but also for non-German manufacturers like Ansaldo, Austro-Daimler, Bugatti, Buick, Cadillac, Chrysler, Fiat, La Salle.
The Reutter Reclining kit (German: „Liegesitzbeschlag“) was introduced at the 1954 Geneva Automobile Salon.
Later 1960’s Recaro brochure; note similar reclining system
The Reutter subsidiary “Recaro AG“ (derived from Reutter Carosserien) had been established on September 9th 1957 in Glarus (Switzerland). Reutter manufactured the bodies for the early Porsche 356. After the sale of the body works in Zuffenhausen to Porsche in 1963, the “Recaro AG“ company kept their headquarter of the “Recaro GmbH & Co.“ in the former Stuttgart body works. Next to complete seats also seat rails, reclining kits and head supports have been manufactured here. The RECARO Sports Seat was created in this period, which became a worldwide quality benchmark.
Other German manufacturers of reclining systems
Reutter wasn’t the only company manufacturing reclining systems in the early Fifties. The Hüls company (also named Hülsmetall) of Kamen (Ruhr area) made aftermarket systems for the Volkswagen Beetle and Bus that could be bought as an accessory; these systems were mostly manufactured in painted steel and didn’t give that “high-end” impression.
Another company was Keiper of Kaiserslautern (near Frankfurt) that had an almost identical solution as Reutter had, however with a large turning knob instead of the handle for adjusting the seat back. These chromed products were often used for the conversion of Mercedes seats (type 170V and W110). We have to mention here that keeper eventually took over the Reutter company in 1983, but more recently Keiper in turn was sold to Johnson Controls (USA) in 2010.
Keiper recliner on Mercedes 170 Brochure Mercedes 170 with Keiper system
It is interesting to note that the Keiper system was available in the USA from 1954 onwards, long before Jaguar started with the supply of the Reutter option. Jack McAfee Motors of Sherman Oaks, California offered them for $35 for a complete set.
1954 adverstisement: Jack McAfee Motors importing Keiper systems
Reutter reclining mechanism
Reutter obtained a German patent (Nr. 881099) on the 29th of June 1953 for a „hinge mechanism for upholstered seats with adjustable back-rest“. Note that Reutter also obtained a British Patent probably to protect their (future?) interest in the UK.
German Patent Nº881099 British Patent Nº727335
Jaguar Reclining Seats by Reutter
After having contacted Reutter in Germany, Jaguar started the development of reclining seats based on the Reutter kits. The supply of Reuter reclining seats as a factory option (factory modified seats using the Reutter kits) started in 1958. In October that year for the first time on a Jaguar, separate reclining front seats became available for the Jaguar Mk VIII and Mk IX (having more or less the same seat). The factory option included both front seats to be executed with the Reutter reclining mechanism. Later it was also available for the Mark 2 and for the XK 150 as well. The Reutter option was in Jaguar’s program for about 3 year: from 1958 up to 1961. Note that Jaguar opted for an “older system” that was in production from 1955 onwards.
Mark VIII (1958-1959)
The Jaguar (UK) price list of October 1958 lists the “Reutter Reclining seats (per pair)” for the first time as a “Proprietary Optional Extra” only for the Jaguar Mk VIII and the (then new) Mark IX. Customers had to pay £52 extra for two recliner seats which doesn’t seem to be expensive if related to an amount of £1800 to £2150 for a complete Jaguar Mk VIII or IX in those days.
Jaguar (UK) price list October 1958
Mark IX (1958 – 1960)
The introduction of Reutter reclining seats actually coincided with the introduction of the new Jaguar Mark IX. Next to the above reference of October 1958 there is also the US Jaguar Price List from June 2, 1960 issued by the Jaguar Midwest Dist. Inc. of Indianapolis, mentioning the option “Reutter seats” with a Dealer price of $120 and a Retail price of $145.
Factory photo of Reutter option for Mark IX Original Mark IX Reutter seat
XK 150 (1959 – 1961)
There are some references regarding Reutter seats in an XK 150 although no options-list seems to be available that explicitly mentions the Reutter reclining seat as a factory option. Jaguar XK 150 S 3.8 FHC with chassis number T8251328DN, produced around 18th February 1960, received apparently the Reutter conversion according the H&H auction specification of 2014. Another possible example is the XK 150 S 3.8 FHC with chassis number T825134DN manufactured end of February 1960 (with Reutter seats according Coys auction description of 1993). Photo’s of a third known example are shown below: a 1958 XK150 DHC RHD has 2 Reutter seats that apparently have been modified in a very early phase using new leather kits (with 7 pleats i.s.o. 9) .
Two Reutter seats in a 1958 XK150 DHC RHD. Note the combined solution for seat cushion & frame.
Professional factory conversion on XK 150 or poor DIY?
I acquired a Jaguar XK 150 Reutter left hand seat (which later has been modified for application in an XK 140) but there is sincere doubt whether this particular Reutter seat was actually manufactured by Jaguar for the XK 150, as this conversion was far from professional (see photos).
“Reutter” for the Jaguar Mark 2 ?
We noticed that some Jaguar Mark 2 cars for sale refer to have “Reutter seats”. Even Nigel Thorley in his book Original Jaguar MKI/ MKII mentions on page 64 “Reutter Reclining front seats” available as Optional Extra. It is very unlikely, however, that Reutter kits have ever been used for the conversion of early Mark 2 seats .
Non-Reutter reclining system Brochure introducing “Special Jaguar reclining seats” on Mark 2
We had to conclude that all examples of Mark 2 cars claiming to have “Reutter seats”, did not have a reclining system manufactured by Reutter. So it looks like “Reutter seat” had become a generic name for a Jaguar reclining seat in this era. Jaguar issued a special brochure on reclining seats for the Mark 2 in which it mentioned “Special Jaguar reclining seats”, whereas for the Mark IX cars Jaguar spoke openly about “Reutter reclining seats”. This later Jaguar reclining system was manufactured from March 1963 onwards and is also mentioned in the Jaguar Mark 2 Spare Parts Catalogue. This catalogue also mentions a “Kit of Parts” (Jaguar BD.24397 (LH) and BD.24432 (RH)) for converting a rigid Mark 2 seat into a reclining version. These Jaguar systems can be easily recognized by having a separate chrome handle positioned below the hinge plate (instead of above the hinge plate as per Reutter).
Reutter influence on E-type (XKE) Series 1 (1964 – 1967)
Although none of the E-type (XKE) versions ever had a Reutter system installed, we still mention the Series 1 from 1964 (coinciding with the introduction of the 4.2 litre engine) up to 1967, because the design of this reclining system was clearly inspired by the earlier Reutter version: the shape of the aluminium casting was derived from the Reutter design.
Reutter inspired design Series 1 E-type Series 2 had a different reclining system
The Series 2 models had a completely redesigned reclining mechanism, no longer supplied by Reutter.
Other period cars with Reutter reclining seats
Most obvious user of Reutter reclining mechanisms was of course Porsche: their 356 models had them from 1953 onwards (even before the official 1954 introduction in Geneva). Other car manufacturers in the 50’s that used Reutter reclining mechanisms were: Alvis TD21, Aston Martin DB4, Bentley S1, Bristol 406, Volkswagen Beetle and Bus (T2, T5), Volvo (B16 and pre 1965 B18), Mercedes, Borgward, Facel Vega, and probably many others.
Reutter seats on Aston-Martin Bentley S1 with Reutter seats Borgward Isabella with Reutter option Volkswagen Beetle with Reutter option
Overview of recliner mechanisms.
First type reclining system with long arm and three mounting bolts is used by Jaguar
There are two basic types of Reutter reclining mechanisms that look almost identical. The first version had a rather long arm with three mounting bolts connected to the back rests. This version was already in production by 1955 and modified a number of times, differences mostly related to the shape of the aluminium cover over the large spring. The above examples, showing a spring cover attached with 2 screws to the upper arm, often have a date code from 1955 if applied in German cars. The Jaguar versions, however, have the “British Patent” stamped but lack a date code.
Date code 5-55 and 6-55 on the Reutter type as used by Jaguar (but from an early Porsche 356)
Beware: this later Porsche 356 C Reutter system doesn’t fit Jaguar seats
Although the Reutter system for the Porsche 356 C (1963-1965) looks identical to the aforementioned version (3 mounting holes and black adjustment knob), the above shown later version cannot be used for the Jaguar seats as the installation and synchronization is completely different.
Later shorter version with only two bolt holes
From about 1957 onwards we also see versions whereby these arms had been replaced by a shorter version with only two bolt holes. Note that both versions have already been described in the original patent application of 1953. Not used on Jaguar seats!
Jaguar applied the first Reutter generation type from 1958 onwards and kept this model over the entire period of Reutter reclining seats up to 1961. All of these hinges have steel tubes that connect the LH and RH hinges on each seat.
The reclining mechanism
Reutter used chromed aluminium castings rotating around a spring-loaded hinge. These assemblies were placed at both sides of the seat (LH and RH castings). The LH and RH mechanisms were connected by a cross-over tube “synchronising” the seatback movement. A short lever allowed the position of the backrest to be changed relative to the base using a gearwheel mechanism coupled to the cross-over tube. The casting mounted to the backrest was longer than the one connected to the seat base. The castings were fixed with 3 bolts to the seat back and with only 1 (swivelling) bolt to the seat base: this allowed the seatbacks to be hinged forward in order to get to the rear seats.
LH and RH reclining mechanisms
Connecting tube “synchronising” the seatback movement
Jaguar XK 140 FHC recliner seat conversion
Reutter front seat for Jaguar XK 140 FHC
As the introduction of Reutter reclining seats as a factory option started only in 1958, it seemed unlikely that this option was ever used for the XK 140 series. However, there is apparently (at least) one example of an XK 140 with a reclining seat installed by the factory: Jaguar build records show that the (RHD) XK 140 FHC with chassis number 804574 (registration number WNK 843) was manufactured on 20th December 1955. The first owner is registered as Major Robert Cunningham-Reid. Mr Cunningham-Reid has confirmed that the car was modified by the factory with a Reuter reclining seat on the driver’s side.
I obtained an XK 150 seat with Reutter reclining mechanism and converted the original Jaguar XK 140 (FHC) driver seat to a reclining version. It requires a complete dismantling of the seat and some constructional modifications, however none of them are too complicated.
Base frame XK 150 (left) is wider than XK 140 (right)
The distance between the LH and RH reclining assemblies is determined by the frame width of the seat base (see photo). As the base frame of the 150 seat is 35 mm wider than the one of the XK 140 (about 423 mm), the existing Reutter system had to be modified in three ways: (1) the cross-over tube had to be shortened by 35 mm to fit and (2) spacers had to be used for fitting the RH recliner assembly to the metal inner support construction of the seat back and finally (3) a piece of plywood is placed on the outside of the LH side to compensate for the spacers on the other side (see photo).
Spacers for RH recliner assembly to metal inner support
Plywood on the outside of the LH side
“Synchronizing” tube end with internal square
Note that the ends of the cross-over tubes are square on the insides (to fit a gearwheel) and therefore the tube has to be shortened in the middle: use a solid rod to reinforce the middle section before welding the tube.
“Stop section” replaced by a new bracket
Another modification relates to the stops for the seatback: the original “stop section” on the rear of the base frame has to be cut off and replaced by a new section (see photo).
Original hinges removed
On the XK 140 seatback frame the original hinges have to be removed as their presence is no longer required (see photo).
Re the XK120 fog light knob..it is a chrome knurled knob which was also used in the 2 1/2 / 3 1/2 litre 46>48 cars as a panel knob
I had Reutters seats in my July 1958 XK150DHC, RHD. It looked like a professional and very old installation, and I therefore think they were fitted when the car was new or nearly new. They pre-date the purchase by the previous owner, who had the car from May 1977 until I bought it from him in 1994. I have a few photos of the seats still, although not the seats themselves, as the car was stolen in October 2009. I never thought they suited the car as they were a bit too big.