If you take one look at a NASCAR cockpit you’ll see how different the driver’s position is, compared to your own when you’re driving a car that’s not in race trim. You’ll see the NASCAR drivers are actually sitting much closer to the steering wheel and almost leaning in towards it, because it makes for much quicker actions, as in they don’t have to move their limbs as much to apply aggressive steering. A big part of this ensemble is the seat.
Non-competition seats are built for comfort, however many cars today come with lumbar support (sometimes adjustable) which wasn’t always so common. A racing seat, however, is not meant to be comfortable. It’s meant to be secure, safe, lightweight and strong. Seats for professional racing drivers are tailored to their body size much like a suit, do not have rails, and are made of carbon fiber.
If you’re someone who really wishes they could get a racing seat in their daily driver, don’t worry it’s not only possible, but somewhat encouraged, as some racing seat manufacturers provide brackets to ensure the product fits perfectly in your car. As much as the seat should fit you, the driver, it should fit the car.
Many manufacturers grace the stage of aftermarket racing seats, but not all are “FIA Approved”, which means they haven’t earned proper safety recognition from the Federation Internationale del’Automobile (FIA), the governing body for many four-wheel motorsports. However that doesn’t mean those manufacturers don’t make quality seats.
Auto Sports and Special Equipment Association (ASEA) approved and FIA approved, BRIDE racing seats is the choice of many racing enthusiasts (including God himself), despite their prices almost reaching $1800 for a pair of fixed buckets.
BRIDE prides itself on making the first FIA-approved seat in Japan, and claim undergoing rigorous safety tests and severe manufacturing scrutiny. Their seats are made of carbon fiber and aramid fiber, the primary material that makes Kevlar.
The seats are made by hand, from carbon fiber molding and cutting to stitching together seat covers. BRIDE also makes its own seat rails but only for specific Japanese cars. If you want to fit a set of BRIDEs in your Mustang, you’re going to need some rail-fitting finesse. Aside from the outrageous (but worth it) pricing, that is the only drawback of BRIDE seats.
A US based company, Seibon Carbon makes primarily exterior panels for specific cars, including hoods and doors. However they also produce fixed racing seats made from carbon fiber, sourced from France and the U.S. The jury is out as to where their seats are manufactured, as some buyers claim China and others claim Japan, based on where the product is shipped from.
One thing to note about Seibon Carbon racing seats is they are not FIA approved, that is to say they are not on the FIA’s list of approved racing seats. Realistically this just means you aren’t allowed to compete in certain official club series using Seibon Carbon racing seats. It doesn’t necessarily mean Seibon doesn’t make a quality seat. Like anything else check the reviews. The going slogan appears to be, on the forums at least, “FIA approved prices for non-FIA approved seats.”
Somewhat new to the racing seat scene, CipherAuto tries hard to cement itself among some of the greats like BRIDE and Corbeau, but seemingly with more affordable prices while retaining modern style. Unfortunately in the world of racing seats, there are some companies that create their own seats based on more reputable models like Recaro or Sparco, and then re-brand them.
Sometimes crassly labeled as “knock-off brands”, these seats are to some extent of lesser quality compared to more reputable brands, and it appears one end of the CipherAuto owner spectrum classifies them as such.
However, the only “defect” we’ve been able to read about consistently, based on customer reviews, is that the cloth color fades a bit in the sun. If that kind of thing doesn’t bother you, then Cipher is certainly an option. Note that CipherAuto accentuates style and comfort, and doesn’t appear to have any information about how its seats are constructed.
An excellent feature of CipherAuto is that its seats seem to fit a plethora of cars, foreign and domestic, and sell everything you need on their website including a bar for the harness, the harness itself, and brackets.
There seems to be some controversy surrounding Corbeau seats regarding their construction quality and the fact that not all of their products are FIA certified. Especially considering its off-road seats, Corbeau despite its expertise and 50-year tenure, might have some flaws in its products, and according to some first hand experience don’t always produce the best brackets. Corbeau also does not use the same material for its shells.
Depending on how much you want to spend, you can get an FIA approved “Sprint” seat made out of Kevlar, carbon Kevlar, or carbon fiber. However for all of the negative press Corbeau has seen, it still produces affordable, decently constructed and comfortable racing seats that are lightweight and fit just about anywhere. If you don’t want to pony up the extra dollars for BRIDE, then Corbeau is certainly a respectable alternative.
Another brand labeled as “questionable” in terms of durability is NRG, even though it appears to use carbon fiber for its products. Certainly on the cheaper side, NRG claims exceptional lumbar support while emphasizing comfort and style. That being said it appears to be the general consensus that NRG's products in general aren’t necessarily the best-constructed.
If buying seats on a budget, certainly for cheaper seats like Corbeau and NRG, a fixed bucket construction is the safest way to go as reclining seats are more prone to breaks. Consider the safety aspect of the seat you’re about to buy, as racing seats are supposed to be safer than OEM.
Something you notice instantly while researching certain high-end racing seat brands is the level of detail in regards to seat construction and features. Recaro is one of those brands. The Pole Position racing seat is a fixed bucket that boasts exceptional ergonomics, lumbar cushions and flame retardant upholstery, and is a prime example of Recaro fiberglass craftsmanship.
Recaro also claims that all of its racing seats are FIA crash-tested and approved, even those seats that are made of fiberglass, like the Pole Position. Recaro is up with BRIDE in terms of being a top caliber brand, and although like Corbeau you pay more for carbon fiber, it’s well worth it.
Boasting a steel-tube construction and “visual carbon finish” as well as Kevlar materials, Cobras are highly rated and well received above even Sparco seats. Cobra is based in the UK, but you can get some of its products on Summitracing.
They even manage to be decently priced, when compared to BRIDE or Recaro. Cobra also has a deep seated relationship with professional motorsports, its founder’s work “gracing the cockpits” of racing legends like grand prix winner Stirling Moss and Formula 1 world champion Jim Clark.
Focused primarily on steering wheels, Momo also produces a handful of reasonably priced fiberglass seats, and have received high praise for being among the best in quality. The Momo Start, the cheapest seat Momo offers, is known to be a bit tight around the waist, but there are other options like the Daytona and Daytona Evo which are also very popular.
All seats are FIA approved as well. For a basic, high quality yet borderline affordable seat made by a reputable brand, Momo is the seat of choice. Be aware that Momo only makes fixed bucket seats.
Ending with the genuine article, Sparco made the first carbon fiber seat designed for competition in 1984, and made the first carbon fiber adjustable seat in the world. Now Sparco supplies some of the biggest names in the auto industry including Lamborghini, Ferrari, Bugatti, Koeniggsegg and others. That reputation doesn’t come cheap, but luckily Sparco offers a lot of different seats for multiple purposes, and some are more affordable than some BRIDE models.
Racing doesn’t come cheap, and that goes all the way from the engine to the seat that holds you above the floor of your car. Racing seats can be more secure than OEM seats and are more supportive, but be sure to read reviews and don’t leave anything to chance. Seats after all are a safety feature, and racing seats are the safest.
Avid Formula 1 fan and motorcyclist, I enjoy chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream and long rides to the beach.