It was a sad day for many drop-top Corvette owners when GM dropped the convertible option from their lineup in 1976. Many Corvette owners feel a convertible is the only way to go. There's just something magical about the wind in the cockpit and that open-road feel.
When GM reintroduced the Corvette convertible in 1986, there had been huge strides in convertible technology. You could now hear yourself think for the first time with the top up and the windows closed. GM's addition of a headliner helped abate a lot of the road noise and lessened the heating and cooling tasks tremendously. The headliner added a much needed finished look to the interior. There were now no more steel top bows to look at, just a nice, smooth, finished look. For the first time you could also wash the exterior without worrying about water intrusion. You could even direct the water hose at the top of the windows and not be concerned.
It took a while but finally the '94 Corvette was fitted with a glass back window to finish off an already stellar convertible top that was simple to use. The top material would deteriorate long before the back window glass would become cloudy or crack on a cold winter morning. All of the '86-'93 Corvettes can be retrofitted with the glass back window with only a few additional holes to drill and some rivets to clinch. The retrofit kit utilizes a few springs, cables, and glass stops to keep the glass back window in place and is available from Corvette Central if you decide to go with the improved top.
The very first Corvette convertible tops were a bear to install, even when you had a precut top ready for installation. More tools and patience were required to install those early tops, even for experienced top installers that did them everyday. If you ever get the chance to watch an experienced early Corvette convertible-top installer in action, take a few moments to watch their talented hands at work. They make the install look easy because they have the experience and know where to move the material to make those significant changes to make things fit just right.
Our edict in this article is to allow you to feel more comfortable installing the '86-'96 convertible tops yourself. on a scale of 1-10, the early top would be 10 as the most difficult and the '86-and-later Corvettes registering as a 1 on our scale. There really is that much difference in the installation difficulty and patience required from early to late tops.
Things You'll Need
- Black Stafast cloth top (glued-in rear window) PN 134607-63: $449
- Rear bow weatherstrip PN 634552: $55
- Weatherstrip kit (complete top kit) PN 634560: $289
- Side tension cables PN 544465: $29.95 (For those not needing the entire kit)
- 3M Adhesive (black) PN 8001: $6.99
- Armacell closed-cell insulating foam: $16.97
- Xylene solvent (1 quart): $8.99
The '86-'96 convertible tops are cut to fit, sewn, and are ready to install without any staples. You'll need an assistant to make things easier during the install. Brute strength is not really required, but that extra assistant allows more finesse for positioning the material correctly. The really labor intensive work begins after the old top is removed. The old adhesives take a while to remove properly, and, in some cases, convertible-top frame work is required.
Unfortunately, the top's frame condition is always kept under wraps until the headliner is removed and the top is off. Don't be surprised to see corrosion at the rear bow. When I was working on my own '90 convertible, I found severe corrosion that required a new rear-bow section on the left side. Unfortunately at the time, none were available from GM. A quick call to C&S Corvettes in Sarasota, Florida, yielded a like-new rear-bow section from another crashed convertible. It was a lucky find as you sometimes will have to pay for the entire top frame to get that one piece. In cases like that, you must rely on your friends and be diligent in your search, and it usually pays off.
If corrosion is found once the top is removed, the aluminum must be primed with an etch primer to allow the top coat to stick properly when painted. If we find any untreated aluminum areas, we always give them a touch of primer to help prevent future corrosion before the new top goes on.
The old top comes off in about an hour or two; then many hours can be spent cleaning things up, and depending on how careful you are, days can go by. Once you're finished cleaning and prepping the frame, you can figure on six to eight hours to install the new top. Once you have a few top installs under your belt, the entire job can be done easily in seven to eight hours, depending on the top-frame condition.
Proper fit and placement are required to begin the installation, along with careful adhesive use. We always use 3M black weatherstrip adhesive to blend in with the top material, placing a 1/4-inch bead in the center of the area to be glued. The adhesive is applied to the frame; the top material is put in place; and then the material is pulled away so the adhesive can air dry. This typically takes three to five minutes in 85-degree weather. Colder temperatures require additional air drying time. If you happen to mislay the convertible top material, you should be able to pull the material back and reapply the adhesive at least once. Too much adhesive can be a real pain as it becomes soft and gooey, allowing the top material to slide around, and it can take days to dry. If you have to reposition the material more than once, the best policy is to remove the original adhesive and reapply fresh adhesive. Adhesives can be cleaned off with Xylene, but brake cleaner is recommended for this job because it doesn't leave any residue. Avoiding a spill or excessive glue is the best policy, but things happen, so keep the solvents nearby and ready for action if necessary. Procrastination during this part of the install can be costly because as the adhesive dries, it gets tougher to remove. Remember to move quickly.
Keep a camera handy to record the disassembly process for some added reassurance. Hopefully, the photos in this article and your own will make the install as painless as possible.