T-tops ... love ’em or hate ’em. Corvette owners generally fall into one of these two groups, with only the “I love all Corvettes” fans found in the middle. If you’re a true open car fan you probably look down on the T-top as a two-piece sunroof. Conversely, if you like the feel of open air motoring with the additional rigidity, safety and convenience of the T-top roof you fall firmly in the “love ’em” camp.
Personally, the team of Brennan & Burger walk the line right down the middle, making for a bit of a split decision. The true convertible with the top down holds a very special place in Burger’s heart, based largely on distant memories of open car motoring with the wind whipping through his hair. Of course, that’s truly a distant memory as the hair disappeared not long after this car was built. Then we have Brian “T-top” Brennan who likes the versatility of the T-top car and thinks the T-top cars have an extra bit of ’60’s and ’70’s vibe. Beyond that, he likes the idea of owning a first year anything, and 1968 was the first year for the T-top Corvette.
In the collector car world, “first year” always sounds good. The fact that the 1968 C3 was the first T-top does make it special, particularly since some type of T-top or removal roof panel has been a part of many Corvettes since the 1968 debut. Because the T-tops outsold the ragtop in 1968 it was obvious to Chevrolet they had hit on a winner. However, every Corvette lover will agree on this one thing: a leaking T-top is the worst. (The procedures shown here should serve you well on your 1968-’72 Corvette T-top.)
It only took one quick look at our T-top weatherstripping to know we would have substantial quantities of both air and water penetrating the cabin. The thought of water dripping all over our new Corvette America leather seats would never do. Happily, there’s a cure for distressed T-tops and it’s a job well within the reach of the weekend Corvette restorer. It’s a simple matter of ordering the proper high-quality parts and allowing enough time to proceed with the restoration at a slow and careful pace.
Since our ’68 Corvette is being assembled at Hot Rods by Dean, we rolled into Phoenix for a day of fun refurbishing the T-tops. As we walked into the Hot Rods by Dean shop, Paul Taylor was busy opening a good-size box from Metro Moulded Parts, a smaller box from Corvette Central and there was also a roll of Dynamat on the bench.
All of this would add up to brand-new latching systems for the tops using parts from Corvette Central, all-new weatherstripping from Metro Moulded Parts and a lining of Dynamat to help keep the heat out and the Vintage Air A/C in. The Dynamat material will also go a long way to keeping things quieter inside the cabin.
To successfully keep the cabin of a T-top Corvette sealed you need two things. The first is properly installed, fresh weatherstripping and the second is properly working and adjusted latches to compress that fresh rubber. As we mentioned earlier, this job is a great weekend project for any home mechanic. Like most jobs, the devil is in the details so we thought it would help if we shared some tips from a professional installer. With that thought in mind, ol’ “T-top Brennan” kept his camera handy as he and Paul Taylor went about repairing a pair of ’68 Corvette T-tops. Vette
1. Hot Rods by Dean’s own Paul Taylor will handle the refurbishing of our T-tops. Since our Corvette has fresh paint, special care is used to protect the surface from damage. To begin, unlatch the T-top and remove it from the car.
2. A soft, clean towel covers the work bench in preparation for our work. First, we removed the inside headliner. That hole in the center of the panel is where a single screw holds the panel in place. Remove the screw and carefully pry the headliner off the Velcro-style pads, being careful not to bend or crack the vinyl headliner panel.
3. These alignment housings are the receivers for the alignment lock plates. They have a plastic insert bushing. Our bushings were in good condition so we did not replace them. If the bushings are worn or cracked, new bushings and/or housings are available from Corvette Central.
4. We lined the inside of the panel with Dynamat. This will keep the hot air out, the Vintage Air A/C in and provide the additional benefit of subduing cabin noise.
5. The next step is to remove the two latches that actually pull the T-tops down into place. There are pins and bushings in the latches that can wear. Removal is as simple as removing a couple of bolts.
6. The pins and bushing in the latches were showing signs of wear. You can buy latch rebuild kits, but we opted to purchase all-new latches from Corvette Central. The threaded “foot” is adjustable and the red thread locker on the bolt ensures it will stay in proper adjustment.
7. It didn’t take long for us to notice that the weatherstripping on the car had seen better days. Removal is simple enough, but as always work slowly and carefully.
8. We begin the gasket removal process by removing the series of Phillips head screws from the outboard side of the T-top. These screws also hold down the stainless trim piece. Our new Metro Moulded piece will attach to the stainless molding.
9. This rivet holds the corner of the weatherstripping and the corner piece of stainless molding in place. The rivet must be removed by carefully grinding the head off or drilling the head off.
10. The rest of the rubber seal around the T-top is more conventional with the rubber held in place by a series of pushpins. A gasket scrapper works well to remove the old, worn and a cracked seals and to cut through the pins holding the gasket in place.
11. As you can see, the weatherstripping had decomposed over the past 50 years. The key to a proper seal once the job is finished is to completely remove all of the original rubber and any adhesive to ensure a smooth mating surface for the new rubber.
12. The headliner is held in place by one screw and then a series of these Velcro-style fasteners. Check the condition of these plastic units for cracking. Replacement pieces are available and are very affordable, so when in doubt, change them out.
13. Our new rubber seal from Metro Moulded Parts has original-type pushpins inside the exact duplicate weatherstripping for a true factory replacement installation.
14. Here you can see the nylon pushpins cut off flush with the T-top. We removed a couple of pins from the new gasket to illustrate how these tapered T-pins work to hold the gasket in place.
15. It’s easier to install the new gasket if you remove the alignment lock plates from the top. Three bolts remove the piece, if there are any shims under the alignment plates bag them and tag them for the proper locations.
16. A simple punch and a quick tap of the hammer will knock the cut-off pins into the top. Once again, clean all mating surfaces in preparation for the new rubber.
17. Paul very carefully drilled this hole and then shook the top to get all of the pieces of the pushpins out of the top. This eliminates the chance of those little pieces rattling around inside the top panels.
18. A simple flush plug was glued in place; these plugs are available from the local hardware store or automotive parts supplier. Hot Rods by Dean always has an assortment of them on hand in the shop.
19. A bead of 3M black weatherstrip adhesive is laid down in the corner of the T-top to ensure the gasket seals and stays in place. Use the adhesive sparingly to prevent it from oozing out from behind the gasket.
20. This simple plastic tool is used to the push the pins into the holes on the T-top. The tool has no sharp edges so it cannot damage the new Metro Moulded Parts gasket.
21. Between the pins, masking tape holds the gasket in place until the adhesive has dried. The gasket was a perfect fit with no stretching or twisting, making this an easy installation.
22. Two new Phillips head screws hold down the ends of the outer rubber seal, completing this portion of the job.
23. The straight piece of weatherstripping and the stainless molding are also held in place with new Phillips head screws.
24. Since we are using 3M weatherstrip adhesive, we opted to not rivet the gasket in place. We simply used the rivet to hold the corner piece of the stainless molding in place, while the adhesive will hold the gasket in place.
25. With the rivet holding the corner molding in place we will add a small dab of adhesive to the area and tape the corner down until the adhesive is cured.
26. With the gasket in place and the adhesive cured, it was time to replace the alignment lock plates.
27. Our alignment lock plates were in good condition and after a little cleanup they looked great. These plates align the T-tops, should you need extra adjustability a shim kit is available from Corvette Central.
28. Our new latches from Corvette Central were a direct bolt-in. Since we were replacing the entire latch assembly, we used the measurement from the original latches to set our adjustable “foot” (the rubber-capped bolt with red thread locker in photo) to its initial setting.
29. Here we can see both new latches installed on our T-top. After the tops have been on the car we will adjust the latch feet a turn in or out to achieve perfect compression and alignment of the panels. The panels should squeeze the new rubber without crushing the seal.
30. Our original headliner panels were in great shape so we carefully pushed the panel in place. The Velcro-style fasteners hold the panel in place. You may have to lift it off a time or two for perfect alignment. Once aligned, a single screw is the final fastener.
31. Hot Rods by Dean’s Paul Taylor gives the headliner a final wipedown with California Car Cover Golden Shine Interior Cleaner. Once again, our panels were in great shape, but brand-new panels are available from Corvette Central.
32. And that takes care of refurbishing our T-top. Paul carefully engages the alignment lock plates and then reaches inside to latch the top down. A few final adjustments and we had a perfect fit and a perfect seal.
Photos by Brian Brennan