The specialist: Bridge of Weir Leather

| 3 May 2023
Classic & Sports Car – The specialist: Bridge of Weir Leather

James Muirhead opened the large envelope, stamped ‘DO NOT BEND’, that he’d just been handed by a senior car interior designer.

Inside was a rock, a piece of seatbelt, a length of thread and other random oddities. The gauntlet cast down was to match the colour of each item in leather.

A couple of weeks later, every one of the perfectly colour-matched samples was returned, including one of the envelope itself, stamped ‘DO NOT BEND’.

Classic & Sports Car – The specialist: Bridge of Weir Leather

Machines play vital roles today, but this remains an artisanal industry

Bridge of Weir has a legacy of meeting tough demands.

When the seminal Ford Model T was in the offing, company founder Arthur Muirhead, James’ great-great-grandfather, went to the USA and convinced Henry Ford to choose his leather for the seat upholstery.

The first Model T plant built outside the USA was opened in Trafford, near Manchester, in 1911, and the cars were indeed trimmed with leather from Renfrewshire.

Classic & Sports Car – The specialist: Bridge of Weir Leather

Technological advances have kept Bridge of Weir Leather at the cutting edge of automotive trimming

Other famous cars followed, including the Citroën DS, De Lorean DMC-12, McLaren F1, Aston Martin One-77 and latterly the McLaren Speedtail, for which 157 colours were created.

Bridge of Weir is also popular among classic trimmers, supplying to Allon White Sports Cars, Aldridge Trimming and the British Motor Heritage-approved Newton Commercial, to name but a few.

“The hides feel almost alive,” says Larry Piper, of Piper Trimmers. “They’re soft, nourished, easy to use and make up beautifully.”

Classic & Sports Car – The specialist: Bridge of Weir Leather

The spraying processes can mimic period-correct finishes

Among the company’s expert abilities is a bespoke spray programme to mimic the period-correct cloudy finish for the high-gloss Nappa leather in Bentley’s latest Blower Continuation cars.

Another development is the ability to create perforated designs digitally, for use with a CNC stamping machine rather than with traditional pressing tools.

This is used more as a sample and prototyping tool for larger runs and to test different trim patterns, although it could also unlock lower-volume opportunities in the classic industry.

Classic & Sports Car – The specialist: Bridge of Weir Leather

The leather is shaved, dyed, then stretched and top-coated to create supple yet resilient hides

Practicality plays a big part, too.

Developing coatings capable of preventing blue jeans from staining white leather, for example, is one of the many unseen sides to Bridge of Weir, while an in-house test lab features rows of specialised rigs that exhaustively check how the leather copes with rubbing, water, sunscreen, alcohol, alkalines and stretching.

Fogging tests establish how much leather contributes to humidity inside the car, and shrinkage tests establish the suitability of certain grades for use on the upper instrument panel or a seat.

Classic & Sports Car – The specialist: Bridge of Weir Leather

McLaren, Aston Martin and Bentley are among Bridge of Weir’s customers

The material is so tough and long-lasting that even budget airline Ryanair uses Bridge of Weir leather for its aircraft: its robustness makes it more cost-effective than cheaper alternatives.

Stretching racks and sprawling, heated presses dry the hides, which measure five square metres and come out board-stiff before being softened in tumble-dryers.

Then an automated spraying machine sets the A-side’s final colour and sheen.

Classic & Sports Car – The specialist: Bridge of Weir Leather

Bridge of Weir is able to produce leather in any colour you desire

Modern Bentleys generally use the more uniform, resilient and harder-wearing Nappa leather, but Mulliner, which James considers “almost a separate, smaller OEM” uses matt-finish aniline – a softer hide that escapes the spray guns.

The firm recycles the 2000 tonnes of water it uses daily, and claims its leather has the lowest carbon footprint of any in the world, at 1.1kg of CO2 per cow hide. It’s aiming to be CO2-neutral by 2025.

After almost 120 years, Bridge of Weir’s craft has evolved from old-school to high-tech.

And with a client list that includes McLaren, Aston Martin, Volkswagen and Bentley, along with the ability to work on bespoke projects that demand a high level of authenticity, it’s still at the top of its game.

Words: Jesse Crosse

Images: Max Edleston

The knowledge

  • Name Bridge of Weir Leather
  • Address Baltic Works, Kilbarchan Road, Bridge of Weir, Renfrewshire PA11 3RH
  • Specialism Refining raw leather hides for trimming, including car interiors
  • Staff c1000
  • Prices n/a
  • Tel 01505 612132
  • Web

Enjoy more of the world’s best classic car content every month when you subscribe to C&SC – get our latest deals here


The story of Bentley: from Blowers to Speed 8 and beyond

Future shockers: De Lorean DMC-12 and Bricklin SV-1

The specialist: Doug Taylor Metal Finishing Co

The specialist: One-to-One Trimmers