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Installing a new convertible roof on a 1988 Mustang GT convertible
Photography Courtesy of American Speed Company
To many, owning a Mustang equates with having a convertible. Top down, cruising along the Pacific Coast Highway or Route 66, wind in your hair, well you get the picture. Convertibles conjure up the ultimate image of romance on the open road, but like many pleasures in life, owning one comes with responsibility. By their very nature, convertible tops are more susceptible to the elements than a solid roof Mustang and over time, cloth or vinyl tops can fade, fray and eventually start leaking. To make matters more interesting, if they aren’t cleaned regularly and properly, a convertible top in the up position can make even the nicest Mustang look dowdy and unkempt. Given that some Mustangs, particularly Fox cars, are now around a quarter of a century old, many are at the stage when they’ll likely need a replacement convertible top, like our featured 1988 GT convertible. This particular car is in rather good condition for its age, especially considering that it hails from the heart of the rust belt. From the looks of things, it appears the car has hardly, if ever been winter driven which has helped preserve it in this condition.
However, the convertible top on this car, while it looks decent from a glance, hasn’t aged as well as the rest of the Mustang has. A close up inspection reveals discoloration and several tears, one above the main window on each side, close to the tension cables and a couple of holes around the back window.
Given that the owner had to spend a few weeks driving it every day, the car became subjected to the best Mother Nature could throw at it during late spring and early summer. And it was during a few thunderstorms, where it became apparent that a new top was needed. Water would collect below the rear window and in the well behind the back seat and also dribble in through the tops of the windows, making the driver and front passenger seats nice and moist for the drive home.
The owner resorted to placing a tarp over the car when parked at his work, but a new top was desperately needed. Finally, after placing a call to Hydro-E-Lectric; a company that supplies all manner of replacement convertible tops for classic cars, we had a suitable replacement convertible top for our subject vehicle and one that almost exactly matched the OE original in terms of design and quality. Once we had the top, we then placed a call to the experts at American Speed Company for help with the installation. Although it specializes primarily in building hot rods, the company has deep roots in the OE convertible and sunroof business, with several key staff members being former employees of the American Sun Roof Corporation. So if anybody would know how to successfully install the replacement top on our ’88 Mustang GT, it was these guys. Follow us now as we watch them work their magic on our Reagan era 5.0-powered pony.
Special thanks to D. Mark Trostle and Kevin McLoughlin of American Speed Company and Hydro-E-Lectric for their assistance with this project.
1.Here’s the convertible top on our subject vehicle before we began. Twenty-two years is a long time in anybody’s book especially for a car that cost less than $16,000 new. The old top had held up well and from a distance still looked to be in good shape, but closer inspection said otherwise.
2.Here’s one problem. On both sides of the top, where the tension cables run, the material had torn. Not only did it look tatty, but during heavy rain showers water would seep in, leaking onto the seats and carpet – not something we want.
3.Another obvious issue on the outside, was a tear by the rear window on the driver’s side. In addition, where the zip-out back window attaches to the top, the stitching had started to come apart. It was starting to look rough and if we didn’t do something now, it would only get worse. It was also another trouble spot for water leaking in.
4.Sometimes the surface can hide a multitude of sins. In the case of our convertible top, inside, was considerably worse. Past leaks had stained the material, making it look unsightly. Have a look around the rear top brace.
5.Even worse was the top panel. Where it mates with the two side portions, the stitching was coming away and it was also stained from past leakage. Somebody had even squeezed duct tape between the seams to try and prevent water from getting in.
6.Another view, close to the header panel just shows how bad it was getting – you can clearly see that the headliner fabric was just rotting away. The only solution – install a brand new top.
7.At the bottom of the rear window, you can also see the stitching come away. This is a huge trouble spot for leaks on Fox Mustang convertibles.
8.Here’s the car inside American Speed Company’s workshop, ready for the top replacement to begin.
9.The first task was to take a good look at the convertible top to note the problem areas, before removing it. Also make sure that the car is supporting its own weight. Fox Mustangs have notoriously flexible unibodies, so you need to make sure the car is on terra firma, otherwise you can run into alignment issues and you won’t be able to close the roof properly.
10.You can do a project like this at home, but bear in mind that it can be fiddly and you do need to be patient. Make sure you cover as much as you can of the vehicle’s bodywork to prevent scratching the paint when removing and replacing the top. Here we begin pulling the top off the frame, in the raised position.
11.The bottom of the top is secured to the rear well lining by these screw pins. Carefully remove them and place the nuts to one side, before pulling out the bottom of the top.
12.Here you can see additional bolts where the top meets the well on the passenger side. You’ll need to carefully remove these, along with the rubber seal at the bottom of the well.
13.Carefully pull the edges of the top away, from where it mounts over the frame on both sides. You’ll need to unfasten the tension cables to do this.
14.Considering that the fabric was starting to come apart in places, the actual rubber seals on the edges of the top where it meets with the edge of the windows, weren’t that bad.
15.The top is secured to the top of the frame by staple-type pins, bolts on the header bracket at the front, plus this strip on the rearmost crossmember. You can use a flat blade screwdriver to carefully remove the pins.
16.Once the bolts around the boot well have been removed, carefully slide out the top from the bottom.
17.With the tension cables disconnected, you can now pull the old top away from the convertible frame mechanism. Note the vinyl headliner layer beneath the outer top that runs along from the rear crossmember to the header panel on both sides.
18.Now that the top has been removed, the inner pads need to be taken off in order to install the replacements. Note the bottom brace that reinforces the window structure in the foreground.
19.With the top removed and the inner side pads clearly visible, we found another problem area where the material had separated, causing water to leak in.
20.Here’s our new top, supplied by Hydro-E-Lectric and manufactured by Kee Auto Top of Charlotte, North Carolina. Kee’s tops include a five-year warranty on the top itself, as well as a three-year warranty on glass rear windows. Seams are dielectrically sealed and the tops are made using Sateen bow sleeves for better quality and longevity. When selecting a top it’s important to choose the right one for your car. 1983-1989 Mustang convertible tops differ from 1990-1993 versions. The latter have a lower stacking height and different design that uses coils instead of zippers for removing the back window. Hydro-E-Lectric can also supply pads (which we used), replacement tension cables, well liners and top boots, that closely replicate the original factory colors.
21.In this picture, the replacement side pads are laid out, ready for installation over the frame on both sides.
22.As you can see here, make sure the quarter-panel and rear deck are protected when installing a replacement top. Although it isn’t shown here, if you’re doing this project at home it’s sometimes a good idea to remove the rear seat and interior quarter-panels, in case the tension cables fall down the sides.
23.Here, the inner pads are draped over the frame. You want to make sure there are no creases in the pads when the frame is in the closed position, otherwise it will eventually cause permanent creases. It’s a good idea to test fit the pads first as sometimes…
24.…they might need trimming or tweaking to get them to fit properly.
25.Once they fit properly, you can begin stapling the pads to the convertible top mechanism.
26.Like canvas, rubber deteriorates over time, becoming brittle. So when you’re replacing a convertible top, it’s a good idea to inspect the rubber seals and replace them where necessary, in this case the lower rear window seal was a prime candidate and damaged.
27.Here’s our new replacement, ready for installation in the boot well.
28.Once that was taken care of, we could then tackle the glass rear window. Because of the weight of the glass, care needs to be taken when attaching it to the convertible top frame. Once it’s secured in place at the bottom in the well and attached with bolts, plus the rubber seal installed, you can then stretch the canvas where it meets with the main, underside part of the top on the rearmost crossmember. After stapling the material to the member, carefully trim and remove the excess.
29.Here, the remaining staples are added to secure the rear part of the top underside in place on the frame.
30.Now that the rear part of the convertible top is secure, you want to test to see that the rear window can be unzipped, pulled away and put back again as intended by the factory, without causing the top to stretch or sag.
31.Once everything’s okay and no problems have emerged, we can carry on with installing the rest of the top. Here the left side headliner is mounted and trimmed, ready so the outer section can be secured over it.
32.Now with the outer top mounted and secured to the frame, we’re almost finished.
33.A tricky area on Fox Mustang ragtops is the rear window surround, as sometimes the outer top can wrinkle. As a result you need to very carefully install the rear top outer brace, once the new canvas is in place. In our case we ended up re-using the original from the old top, as it was slightly wider, reducing the risk of wrinkles. This also helped when it came time to park the car outside to let the new top “cure.”
34.From the inside, you can see that we’re almost there. Just a little adjustment is required with the tension. Compare this image to picture number four.
35.There, we’re done. Here you can see that the outer top is stretched nice and tight over the frame – it’s 1988 all over again for this car.
36.Looking at the rear window, you can see just how well our replacement Kee Auto Top, courtesy of Hydro-E-Lectric fits the Mustang – it’s definitely a piece of quality craftsmanship.
37.Now that our new top is installed, we can drive our 1988 Mustang GT convertible come rain or shine, without those pesky water leaks. Not only that, but the new top is a great compliment to a car that’s in exceptional condition for its age.
American Speed Company (734) 451-1141 www.americanspeedcompany.com
HYDRO-E-LECTRIC (800) 343-4261 www.hydroe.com
Kee Auto Top Manufacturing (866) 312-6553 www.keeautotop.com