Corvette Convertible Top Replacement

On a Budget

(This is a 1987 model, yours may be slightly different)

I was able to obtain a vinyl top for my convertible for $90.00 on E-Bay. So, I figured that I could attempt this project a few times and still come out ahead even if I ruined a couple of tops before I got the technique down. But, I must say I did a pretty fair job the first time around.


My goals were to do a half-way decent job without having to replace the headliner or weather stripping immediately. Also, my fabric top was in very good condition with the exception of a completely opaque window, so I wanted make sure not to damage the old top. Headliners are VERY expensive! You will see that the weather stripping will likely crumble if it's not in excelent condition.


First, here's a picture of the basic names of the areas that we will be dealing with. Refer to this diagram durring these instructions.

I can't remember where I got this diagram, but thanks!

- I started by removing the front bow retainers. There's the one at the very front, and the headliner retainer. Make sure to keep a couple of plastic bags, label them with each part that you are removing and keep all screws seperate. This is VERY important. Mixing up the screws is fatal!


- Now use a pair of needlenose pliars to pull the top up from the front bow. If it was installed with the correct adhesive, this comes out fairly easily. It's a bit tricky at the corners, above the windows, but be patient and it will peel out of there.


(BONUS TIP:  Yet another use for a $1.99 flashlight!  )

The headliner retainers are simply plastic rails that run along the two bow retainers(see below). If they are not too brittle, you can gently pry them off of the bows. Be very patient and gentle or they will crack.

Release the wire at the front sides of the top.  The new top should have come with strings you can attach to these.  Tie them onto the end of the cable and leave them on until you are nearly done with the project.  It will save you some headaches.


After removing the headliner retainers, unscrew the top bow retainers.  Slide the retainers out of their fabric loops.



Peel the top back to the rear vertical area (see diagram and picture).  This is were thing can get tricky and/or messy.  There is a vertical weather strip that covers a retainer bar.  Make sure to notice where the top’s corners are located at the bottom of the rear vertical.  This is VERY important when installing the new top.



If you carefully pry the weather strip back from its metal backing (from the inside-out, see picture) you will reveal 3 torx screws attaching the strip to the rear vertical.  Remove them.  As you can see from the picture, my weather stripping was so old it crumbled during this step.



Next is a screw at the top of the rear vertical’s weather strip.  This is a very tricky screw.  It’s hard to get out, and even harder to put back.



There’s a retainer “snap” at the bottom of the weather strip that attaches it to the front corner of the rear bow.  Pop it out of its socket.

You can now remove the rear vertical weather strip.



In the picture below you can see a piece of metal that actually holds the top to the rear vertical.  It is easy to remove once the weather strip is out of the way.  Again, keep your screws in separate, well labeled containers or bags!



You can now remove the rear bow fabric.  I was surprised to find that there is no retainer for the rear bow fabric.  The adhesive is all that holds it on.  Notice that at the very rear of the top, along the rear bow, there is 2 flaps of fabric under the bow.  These are glued together to help prevent the trailing edge of the top from flipping up when the top is stretched tight while in the up position.


(Bonus Tip: Torque wrench with socket and vice-grips work well to hold up rear bow!)


I managed to remove the top without damaging the fabric.  And, the headliner survived!



I started with the rear bow (reverse of disassembly). The rear bow weather strip was removed.  Then I double and triple checked that the rear fabric was centered correctly.  Remember above where I said to check where the corners of the top meet the bottom of the rear vertical’s bottom?  Here is where you get to make them match!


I’d have to say, this is the most difficult and time-consuming part of the reassembly process.  If you screw this up, the top WILL NOT FIT!


I did some research and found the most commonly used adhesive by top installers is 3M weather-strip adhesive.  This also gave me an extra bonus, because it’s removable without too much stress, I was able to start over!  This could be very important



Now that you’re ready to begin, Place the top over the rear bow.  Find its true center and clamp it down.  I used a needle-nose vice-grip wrapped with a towel to prevent damage.  Then, starting at the middle, glue the fabric to the rear bow.  Make sure the keep it stretched as tight as you need to in order to have it line up with the bottom corner of the rear vertical!  This may require assistance if your new top is particularly tight.  Setting it in the sun to get warm is also an option, but I found that this project takes a lot longer than the top will retain any heat from the sun.  I guess a good tip would be to do it in the summer, no winter!


Once you have all the rear bow glued, Glue the outer layer of fabric to the inner layer.  You can be a bit exaggerated her and glue it so it is pointing at a fairly aggressive angle towards the deck lid.  When the top gets stretched into the up position, it will pull it upwards.


I used a fairly liberal amount of adhesive, on the underside, the rim, and the outside of the rear bow.  As I said above, this is the only thing holding the top to the rear bow, and the adhesive is cheap and can still be removed for next top change, or even a re-do.(not too many re-do’s)


There’s not too much more I can tell you about this part, just remember, this is the worst part of the project.  If you get this done correctly, the rest will be a breeze!



My picture didn’t come out for this section.  But, if you got your rear bow aligned and stretched properly, this is fairly self-explanatory.  The most difficult part here is to make sure to stretch it well vertically.  I would check, and recheck this part before re-installing the rear vertical retainer bar.  The reason is that you will be punching holes in the fabric of the top to install the bar.  If you mess up, you have a potential leak!  Glue the fabric under where the retainer bar sits and screw it down over the fabric.  Refer to the removal picture above.


The weather strip goes back on over the retainer bar.  The real difficult part of this is that darned screw at the very top of the weather stripping.  With a fresh tight top, this is almost impossible to do without doing some damage to the weather stripping if it’s even a little brittle.  Be patient and careful with this part!


Now insert the bow retainers into the loops on the new top (rear first).  By feel and patience you can align the retainers with the bow screw holes.  Don’t forget to make sure the retainers are centered in the fabric loop.  If they are too far to the front or back, you will stress one side more than the other.  Take your time; it’s not too hard.


You will also need to thread the cables through the sides of the top as you do this.  Leave the string attached to the cables because it’s too early to actually attach the cable and it will be pulled back into the top as you work.


The front bow is fairly easy to install.  Put the top in the up position and make sure it’s centered before you start to glue.  Use the same clamp method to hold it to center and stretch it to the sides as you go.


The only part here that seems tricky is those side corners above the window (see above picture).  I used a small screwdriver to shove the top fabric between the top and the weather strip.  I thought about removing the upper front weather strip at this point, but because it was so brittle, and its replacement wasn’t in the budget, I worked around it.


Glue liberally at the front edge of the top.  This will receive a fair amount of pressure when it’s stretched in the up position.  I lightly glued the back of the section where I used the screwdriver to tuck it under the upper-front weather strip (this was of no use, it came loose within a day).

Finishing the Job

Believe me, by the time you are done getting the top off of the car, and if you know what order to do the reassembly, most of what I have here will be self-evident.  The bottom edge of the rear-vertical, and the trailing edge peeling up were my biggest problems.


You will have to double check where you need more adhesive, don’t be shy with that stuff, but try not to make a mess.  That stuff is not easy to clean up after!


It doesn’t look half bad, and my total money investment is about $95.00.  So, as far as vette repairs go, this was a BARGAIN


Here’s the completed top.


Have fun and enjoy working on your very own CORVETTE!