When the sun's shining it really doesn't matter what shape your classic convertible's top is in. And why should it, since a drop-top is most fun when you're cruising with the breeze in your hair and sunglasses on. But wait until the next time it rains or gets cold out and up goes the top, you're sure to be a little more concerned then. And, you'll be happier-and warmer-if it does its job of sealing out the wind and water.
While this is an obvious sentiment, what's not so obvious is that fixing or replacing a convertible top is not as easy as you might think. First, most older convertibles are sure to have worn out parts other than just the outer material and back window. The mechanical frame most likely needs to be cleaned and lubricated. The tack strips that hold the material on to the frame are certain to have deteriorated. The window weatherstrips are surely hard and cracked, and you can bet the pads that protect the inside of the top from the frame are worn beyond reuse. So you see, there is more to replacing a convertible top than just laying on new vinyl.
We came to realize this with a project we came across: an early Nova convertible, whose owner was trying to get the car in shape for the winter. Having sat for a decade or two, this freshly painted, but non-restoredstreetmachine, was just hankering for a new drop-top.
The first order of business was to disassemble and clean the manual top mechanism. The owner felt comfortable doing this since it was a simple matter of loosening some nuts and bolts, using some sandpaper and spray paint to make it look nice, and reassembling it back on the car-nothing that couldn't be accomplished during a couple of Saturday afternoons. With that part of the resto job complete, the attention was turned to lining up the correct materials. This was a step made easier by the experts at Year One Incorporated and our Nova guru, Joe Grom of Chevy II Only.
When the boxes arrived, they were packed with everything necessary (pre-cut, heavy-duty vinyl top with a new clear plastic backlight, tack strips, hold-down cables, etc.). The only thing missing to commence with giving this old car a brand-new appeal was a talented upholsterer and his air-actuated staple gun. For the all-important skill of putting the top on we turned to a trusted friend, Wanda Wells, at Wanda's Upholstery in San Bernardino, California, to perform the meticulous task.
Wanda, who's been stitching up custom interiors and convertible tops in street rods, race cars, and hot cruisers for more than 35 years, was more than happy to cut, stretch, glue, and staple the Nova's white top into place for our cameras. And when it was done, six hours later (the labor book calls for the job taking roughly 10 hours), what we had was one cool-looking rag-top. Hey, now that we've witnessed it being installed on this soon-to-be street cruiser, maybe we can tackle the job ourselves when it comes time to put a new top on our own Rusty Ragtop resto project. And maybe you can rise to the occasion and do your our own drop-top replacement, too.
Since the top's frame is extremely flexible, it's important to take measurements so that the material goes on uniformly. Here, prior to installing the pads that run along each side of the frame, the distance is determined between the rear-most support arch and the sheetmetal ledge below where the rear window resides. This is important since you don't want it to be in the way of the window and you do want it to provide support for the material above the window.
With the rear section of the top secured in place, the next step is to attach these special braided wire straps along the inside edge of each side of the top. Their purpose is to keep the top material tight over the edge of each side of the frame. When the top is up and in place, the straps are pulled tight and serve to keep the sides snugly over the frame. A string is used to pull the wire strap through the sewn opening along each side of the top material.
To finish off the top install, a thin rub strip is attached on the outside across the rear-most bow. This specifically made piece is designed to be stapled into the bow's tack strip and then folded over to form an edge to seal the top to the bow and prevent it from tearing away at the staples when lowered and while driving. To accurately center the strip, Wanda measured each side.
Then it is folded over. A metal wire strip under the vinyl allows the strip to maintain its shape after being folded in place.
Finishing off the rub strip are stainless steel ends. They simply screw into the tack strip and offer a nice aesthetic touch, while also serving to keep the ends from separating apart.
After six hours of meticulous installation, this little drop-top was reloaded onto the H&H trailer looks. We think you'll agree that it looks like a million bucks. The next step for this Nova's owner is to install a complementary white interior, which we might add, was also sewn up at Wanda's Upholstery.