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Top Of The Line

A convertible gets a makeover

Larry Jewett - August 30, 2012 10:00 AM

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This is critical condition. The window is now laying on the well and the seams continue to rip away. This top has needed replacement for some time.

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We have taken the car to Samarrippas Auto Upholstery. Darrell tapes off the exterior panels even though the paint on the car isn’t really worth protecting.

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There are a lot of fasteners that have to be removed to get the old top out of the way. Some of the first ones are easy to find, but you can’t forget the ones that are hidden in the trunk.

 
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Sections of the weatherstrip are removed from both sides. These pieces will be re-used so care is taken to set them aside in a safe place, along with the fasteners.

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The age of the car had made these small screws virtually impossible to remove without help. Darrell takes a grinder to cut new slots in the head. When he was finished, they simply unscrewed. These fasteners will be re-used.

 
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We were able to re-use the cables, but replacement wouldn’t have been a bad idea. These are inexpensive parts that could bring some added peace of mind.

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With all of the fasteners removed from the outside, it was time to get inside to take out the rest. In some cases, you’re working blind because you can’t see them … you have to feel them.

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Once all of the fasteners have been removed inside and out, Darrell can start to pull away the fabric. Note the scalloped edges of the material. This will have to be cut out on the new top.

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The old top is gone. This allows us to look at the pads and found out they too were badly worn. There were new pads in the order from Hydro-E-Lectric.

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Here’s a comparison between old and new. If there was ever a no-brainer, this is it.

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Darrell uses a staple gun to attach the new pads. There are literally hundreds of staples used in securing a top. The size of the staple depends upon the location and purpose. It’s good to have experienced helpers.

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These look so good that it’s a shame they are going to be covered. We’ll be getting the top on after prepping it.

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The work has moved inside where the rear curtain with the glass window is laid out. This window also had the rear defrost, but there are plain windows for cars not equipped like that originally.

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Darrell used a helper to set the rear curtain in place. The staple gun will be put to use once everything has been checked for alignment and fit. 

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Darrell has moved to the front of the car to begin pulling back the headliner. It will be necessary to take it back to the first rib.

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Here’s an example of how measuring and marking can be critical. This piece has been chalked and laid onto another. The marks are slightly off, so adjustments can be made by re-securing and then re-measuring. Samarrippas Auto Upholstery doesn’t allow anything to leave the shop unless it exactly right.

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Darrell follows the lines and keeps the openings that have been cut for the fasteners in the right place. The job requires stopping every few minutes to double check that everything is in alignment. If you have little to no patience, you cannot do this. We’re thankful Darrell is a patient man.

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The time has come to re-insert the cables. Using the guide string, the cables are run through their channels and re-attached to the top frame.

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Inside the car, Darrell is using the glue gun to attach the top to the exposed rib. The special glue is similar to that used in the furniture industry.

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The top has been clipped back into place at the rear. This area will be covered by the exterior trim, which will be fastened down with the original screws we took off at the beginning. We are getting close to completion.

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With the top halfway open, the weatherstrip pieces return to their spots. Just a few more steps remain.

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Remember those screws that Darrell had to grind new heads for? They are going back in along the header panel.

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 The exterior trim has been placed on the car to make sure everything eyeballs correctly and the top is straight. It looks good from six feet away, but looks even better when you’re standing right beside it.

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Darrell puts the last fasteners in place. The top has been run through some “up and down” cycles and visually given the once over. It’s time to show the world as the clouds begin to gather. 

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Sometimes, you don’t have to admit to being a procrastinator. Sometimes, the evidence speaks for itself.

The convertible top on the 1997 Mustang GT was living proof that nothing lasts forever. For a few years, there had been a slight tear above the back window that, in haste, was often covered with clear packing tape. As the top would go up and down, the stresses would continue and the tape would rip. The smart suggestion was to get a new top, but the job just never seemed to make it to the “top” of the list. Soon, there was evidence of the seams starting to unravel, working their way from the back toward the crest of the top. At about the same time, wear spots were staring to develop in the material itself.

Items like a new transmission and keeping the car running moved appearance to the low end of the importance spectrum. In reality, these were excuses, devices used by a procrastinator who is intimidated by what it would take to get the job done.

Then, the back window fell out. One day, when putting the top back up, the back window slipped into the well behind the rear seat. It didn’t tear away completely, but the fabric couldn’t hold the weight of the glass window. It happened the day before the start of “the rainy season”. For all intent and purpose, it wasn’t there. No need to lock the car anymore because you could just reach in and take what you wanted.

Attempts to tape the window back up were borderline comical, almost as funny as trying to carry on a conversation while driving down the road. I still think I may have missed my name being called out in a radio contest, but can’t be sure. This project had gone from the absurd to the ridiculous. Something had to be done.

As it turned out, my fears of tackling the job were unfounded. Reality set in from the bravado of “It can’t be that hard”, a message shared by a few others. There were those who were willing to tackle the project, but I wasn’t sure I wanted my car to be somebody’s guinea pig. I felt that if I was going to do this, it needed to be done right. It was time to get off the wallet and face the facts.

The first call was to Hydro-E-Lectric, which has a great reputation for quality products when it comes to convertibles. We’re not just talking tops because that is only a part of their business. You will find very few sources for items such as motors, switches, latches and more. They have been in business since 1976 and their inventory stretches to places where they cover parts for just about any convertible ever made.

When it comes to tops, there are a couple of choices, at least for the 1994-2004 Mustangs. The best selection is the STAYFAST canvas, which is a cloth material that offers great protection against staining, fading and shrinking. The other choice is vinyl, which has its advantages including good looks and lower cost. If you only plan to keep the car for a few years, you can get away with spending the lesser amount and get the good looks. If you want the good looks that last, the STAYFAST is the best option.

Trying to save a few dollars, we decided on the plastic back window, even though our car’s original window was glass. Here is another point that shows you need to leave the thinking to the professionals. As I said, they have been in business for over 35 years and we have been in the process of buying for only a few minutes. You do not put plastic windows in cars that are in certain climate zones. We were in Florida and a plastic window would not have lasted very long because of the conditions. I imagine it is the same way in Arizona and other parts of the country. Don’t guess, ask them when you order your parts because they know and now, so do I.

When ordering the top, we also got new pads for it. We could have done a more thorough inventory and gotten cables (an item the installer said would have been a good idea) or a replacement well for some of the tears or even a boot (that we never got when we bought the car used). Any of these items are readily available for our particular car. To find out what they have for yours (domestic cars for 1946 to present and some foreign models), simply follow the drop down menus and go to town.

Since we weren’t going to tackle the project by ourselves (one of the best decisions we made), we asked Hydro-E-Lectric for a recommended installer in our area. From a list of several options, we chose Samarrippas Auto Upholstery in Winter Haven, Florida. We contacted the owner, Steve, and set up an appointment and worked out the charges. It’s a busy shop that was tackling headliners and seat covers and even some marine work that day.

Darrell Raulerson was the “lucky” guy who got this job. On the morning of the scheduled appointment, the sun was shining brightly, a good thing since most of the work was going to be done in the driveway outside the office. We kept Darrell hydrated as he worked throughout the morning and afternoon to complete the project. His experience allowed him to foresee some potential time-consuming booby traps and work to prevent them from stalling the project. All told, it took a little more than six hours to complete the job. The time will vary according to your car. Steve told us there are some cars that are much easier than this Mustang, but there are others that are more difficult.

By late afternoon, the car was back on the road and looking, well, better. There’s still the matter of the peeling paint that was distracting from the beauty of the top. It rained later that day. Nothing got inside for the first time in a few weeks. From where I was sitting, it was a good thing.

Keep it Clean

Now that there is a new top in place, it’s our job to keep it looking like new. You can throw the car wash on it when you do the car, but that’s not the most effective way to do it.

Meguiar’s has done extensive research into formulating products that have the best effect on materials. The worldwide leader in car care technology has solved this challenge by a lasting solution to keep tops of all materials looking their best with its Convertible Top Cleaner.

Guaranteed safe and effective on all canvas, cloth and vinyl convertible tops, Meguiar’s Convertible Top Cleaner is specially developed to maintain a flawless look with no harsh scrubbing. This convenient new product easily removes even the most stubborn stains and contaminates such as bird droppings, oil and mildew.

In a simple process, users rinse their convertible tops, spray Meguiar’s Convertible Top Cleaner liberally, gently agitate with a soft brush and rinse for stunning results every time. This penetrating and biodegradable formula safely removes stains and dirt without damaging the environment.

 

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