C3 T-Top Restoration - T-Time

Hard-Core Topless Tech For Our '71 Stingray

Dave Young Dec 8, 2010 0 Comment(s)
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As far as automotive roofing goes, manufacturers have tried just about everything to appeal to drivers who want the wind in their hair (or what's left of it). Removable hard tops, sunroofs, moonroofs, retractable hard tops, convertible tops, targa tops, and T-tops have adorned many famous-and some infamous-examples of historical automobiles, the Corvette included. But which style is the best way to feel the breeze while not sacrificing the car's usefulness and convenience?

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True topless aficionados will say that the only way to really enjoy your car is if it has no top at all. You see these drivers in their Cobras, first-generation Vipers, and removable-hardtop convertible Corvettes, sometimes wearing scarves, goggles, and fingerless driving gloves, and often stealing nervous glances at the sky to check for rain. While we do appreciate the visceral, bugs-in-your-teeth manliness of this type of motoring, we don't necessarily want to plan our trips based on the availability of carwashes and bank drive-throughs to duck into in the event of inclement weather.

There are other drawbacks to going the fully topless route. Convertible soft tops are flimsy and thin, admitting lots of wind noise even when the top and windows are up. They're also prone to leak and wear, typically requiring replacement every 3-5 years. Third, these tops don't offer any structural support for high-horsepower applications, or protection in the event of a rollover accident. And finally, a retractable soft top takes up precious cargo space whether up or down.

Don't get the idea that we're completely averse to convertibles-we're not. We just feel that a T-top configuration offers most of the benefits of an open-air driving experience in a much more user-friendly package. It seems the public has historically agreed: Starting in 1968, Corvette T-top coupes outsold convertibles nearly two to one during years when both models were available.

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One of the downsides of a T-top roof, however, is that many of its mechanical components-such as latches, guide pins, plates, and bushings-are prone to wear or break. Weatherstripping also tends to dry-rot, crack, and come apart, while trim, paint, and chrome can also become damaged or deteriorate over time. Project C3 Triple-Ex's T-tops were suffering from many of these afflictions, so we decided to rebuild them with new parts from Corvette Central.

Once we disassembled our T-tops, we found that they were largely intact but worn and out of adjustment. The weatherstripping and molding had also deteriorated, causing the T-tops to leak and not align correctly. Also, the original stainless-steel trim on our T-tops had become weathered and dinged over the years, causing it to look exceptionally bad next to the fresh paint we recently applied. Fortunately, Corvette Central carries all the parts necessary to repair the T-tops in early or later C3 models. We found everything we needed in the company's catalog, including new weatherstripping, moldings, periphery trim, and headliner panels. We also ordered a new T-top center panel, along with the parts kit necessary to repair our latches.

It took us the better part of a day to disassemble, repair, and reassemble our T-tops, but when we took the car for a drive, we couldn't believe the difference. The panels snapped into place correctly, and the new seals offered a weather-tight fit. Aesthetically, the car now looks much better with its new headliner, center panels, and stainless trim. We immediately noticed that it was quieter as well, thanks to the new weatherstripping seals and the fact that the door glass was actually sealing at the top. Now we can go topless or not, with equal satisfaction!

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