Editor's note: Use of the term "heap" is purely a rhetorical device and is not meant as a comment on the condition of any Corvette, real or otherwise.
Seventy-two thousand and twelve. That's the number of Corvette Auxiliary Hardtops sold by General Motors from 1956 to 1967. And if you're reading this, you don't need to be told that a great many of those tops are still performing their duty, protecting thousands of Corvette owners from the elements. You also don't need to be told that, like anything else on a vintage Vette, Auxiliary Hardtops begin to wear out. Paint and stainless steel trim pick up dings and dents, weatherstripping cracks and loses its elasticity, retaining strips, rivets, and screws rust, and the whole works tends to pick up a noticeable shake, rattle, and roll.
The answer to these problems, of course, is to restore that top to like-new condition. And many hale-and-hearty do-it-yourselfers take on the task. But after spending the better part of two days with the guys at Glassworks-The Hardtop Shop, located just outside Pittsburgh, I couldn't help but think, "There's no substitute for experience." The Glassworks crew, consisting of Matt Kokolis, Bryan Benson, and Joe Tustin (with Matt's dad Ted frequently pitching in), were working at breakneck pace to get ready for Corvettes at Carlisle. And despite the flurry of activity, it quickly became apparent that rebuilding and restoring a Corvette Auxiliary Hardtop isn't as easy as it may look.
"It's easy for us," Matt comments. "It's second nature, 'cause we've been doing it so long." Glassworks began in 1987, with Matt and Ted working out of their garage. Important as all that experience is, though, much of what Glassworks does comes down to time and elbow grease. Dismantling 35-plus year-old tops isn't easy. Neither is repairing the effects of age, or finding replacement parts when needed. And forget about reassembling components that may not have had the tightest tolerances to begin with. In short, the hands-on attention to detail that this group puts into restoring a hardtop is substantial.
The skill and dedication that Matt and company bring to their work is apparent in the end product. If the tops in the lead photo aren't convincing enough, the fact that Carlisle Productions' Chip Miller entrusted the top from the 1960 No. 3 Le Mans racer to Glassworks might be referral enough. (We'll show you a few photos in Part Two.)
Not that Glassworks won't sell do-it-yourselfers the parts they need. In fact, they've created parts (such as aircraft-quality rear glass with the correct compound curve and new plastic retaining strips) themselves, and their catalog is a must have for anyone with a hardtop. They understand the D.I.Y.'er, and are happy to oblige. According to Bryan, who's worked with Matt for a good chunk of the past 14 years, "People want to say they put the car together themselves." But we also have to take note of Matt's observation that, "Most of our business is from people who order the parts, then can't do it themselves." And that's not meant as a put down. As we said above, there's no substitute for experience.
In Part One, we'll show you some of what goes into tearing down a solid-axle Auxiliary Hardtop and preparing it for a total refurbishing. First, though, a couple of notes: Glassworks also restores mid-year tops; we're focusing on the earlier tops here, but the process is very similar. Also, given that the guys were extremely busy when we visited, we followed along as several tops were worked on, so you'll see different tops throughout the steps. Lastly, this article isn't meant to be an exhaustive guide to hardtop restoration; we can only show you part of what goes into it. But whether this article inspires you to send your top to Glassworks or to take the "do-it-yourself" approach, you're sure to find a new appreciation for what goes into being "Top of the Heap."