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C3 T-Top Restoration - T-Time
Hard-Core Topless Tech For Our '71 Stingray
Dec 8, 2010
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C3 T-Top Restoration - T-Time
While the convertible top was a popular option on early Corvettes, the majority of C3 Stingrays were coupes that came equipped with removable T-tops. This month we'll show you how to restore yours for functional good looks.
The first step to working on T-tops is to remove them from the vehicle. Don't worry too much about alignment problems at this stage; new weatherstripping may take care of the issue.
Once the tops are removed, you'll need a place to work on them. We found that a pair of sawhorses and a piece of plywood covered with a soft quilt worked well.
Most T-tops on cars this old will have damage, either cosmetic or mechanical.
The only way to find out what parts you'll need in order to repair your T-tops is to completely disassemble and inspect them.
There are only a couple of Phillips-head screws holding the headliner panel to the T-tops, and several of those Velcro pads GM liked to use. Removing the headliner pad will reveal the mechanical parts of the T-tops.
The weatherstripping is held on with plastic clips and glue, and usually comes off in pieces. Don't worry about breaking the clips; the new pieces will have fresh clips on them.
Using a drill, remove the heads of the rivets holding the side molding in place and take the trim off of the T-tops. Be sure the metal shavings don't fall between the painted side of the top and the quilt, as they could scratch the finish.
T-top latches are easy to remove by simply taking the bolts out, allowing you to inspect them for wear. Ours were in pretty good shape, so we elected to reuse them.
The periphery molding can be gently pried from the underside with a small screwdriver, then tapped with a plastic or rubber mallet. These pieces should come right off with a little persuasion, but be careful not to scratch the upper painted surface of the T-tops.
Now that all the parts are removed, it's a good time to paint the T-tops (if needed). We previously had the exterior of ours painted by JD's Paint and Body Shop, so we were only concerned with the underside.
A quick check of Corvette Central's C3 catalog verified that the company had all the items we needed to complete our T-tops, including the trim, the weatherstripping, and even the fasteners and hardware.
While we waited for our parts to arrive, we cleaned up the underside of the T-tops, masked them off, and painted them black to match the rest of the car's interior.
Latches and guide plates were cleaned up in the parts washer and polished with chrome polish.
The parts from Corvette Central arrived quickly, and we were impressed with their quality.
Everything was professionally packaged and show quality, making us eager to get these pieces on our car.
The new headliner pads use a molded plastic frame, which is far better than the original fiber board. All the Velcro fasteners were pre-attached.
We began reassembling the T-tops by installing our clean hardware and latches.
It's amazing how well even the original pieces clean up with a little elbow grease. If yours are too far gone, Corvette Central has replacements.
The new front moldings can be installed next. Once in position, they're simply tapped into place using a plastic hammer and held in place by friction and the other trim.
The side trim is held on by rivets, which Corvette Central includes; the weatherstrip molding is riveted on next. All of the pieces we installed fit like new, with no issues.
Our old weatherstripping was definitely shot, so we ordered new pieces from Corvette Central. These fit properly and came with the correct plastic clips to hold them in place. We suggest adding a little adhesive between the clips to prevent the seal from sagging.
Before proceeding, reinstall the T-tops in the car and make the final adjustments on the latches and plates so that the tops align and operate properly.
This is a bit of a trial-and-error process, but easy to accomplish with a little thought and effort.
Once everything is properly adjusted, tighten all the fasteners and remove the T-tops to install the headliner pad. Before installing the screws, place the T-tops back in the car and realign the headliner pad as needed to prevent chafing on adjacent areas.
While we were at it, we decided to replace the forward, rear, and center T-top panels in the interior, as ours were cracked and discolored from age. The parts were exact reproductions, with the exception of the higher-quality materials used to make them.
The new T-top parts really make the car look better from both the inside and outside.
Road noise is reduced, and the tops and side windows now close properly for a weather-tight seal. This is one of those projects that's easy to do if you have a day off and want to spend it improving your Corvette.
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