Installing a Soft Top on Your Spitfire

by Michael Burdick

Ken Copeland asked:

I just got my new top. This is my first ragtop. Theres no instructions with the top. Hints, Tips, and instructions greatfully accepted.

and Michael responded:

I just put one on my '70 Spit. It is the 4th or 5th top I've installed, and I've found I get better every time. If you've never done it before and you are after perfection or close to it, take it to an upholstery shop. If you are determined to do it yourself, read on.

Here's what I do. Keep in mind that I am not a professional, don't pretend to be one, don't want to be one, don't even know one. I've learned by trial and error(S) and by reading. I start from the back and work my way forward.

Find the middle point of the rear deck of the car, and the middle point of the rear edge of the top. Mark these with tape or chalk. Install the snaps in the top to match the snaps on the rear deck. The tension around the rear edge of the top is key - too loose and the top will flap around, leak, and not line up at the B-posts - too tight and it will be hard to get the snaps attached and it will not line up at the B-posts.

Next, install the snaps on the flap at the top of the backlite that attach to the rear rail. Again, tension is key (this time tension along the axis of the car), and so is centering.

Next install the snaps on the flap that attaches to the center rail. This flap gets both male and female snaps as it wraps the rail rather than snapping to it. Centering is not a problem here since the top doesn't attach directly to the rail.

Now the fun part: Find the middle of the front edge of the top, the windscreen and of the header rail. Mark them all. Now you are going to glue the top to the header rail with contact cement. Coat the rail and top with cement and let it dry. Now, bring the top into contact with the rail keeping in mind centering and proper tension of the top. How do you establish proper tension? Well, that's where doing it a few times helps. You want it to be tight enough that its a little bit hard to get the posts on the header rail to engage their sockets on the top of the windshield frame when you're done. The problem is that excess material can get in the way of this fit test so you have to kind of eyeball it. If you get it too tight, the top will be a bear to get up, and the seams will be overly stressed leading to premature failure. Also, if the top shrinks over time, your problems are magnified. Too loose and it sags when parked and balloons up when you're driving. If you're going to err, I'd err on the side of too loose. I've found that if I back the header rail away from the windscreen and have the top snug but not tight, when the rail is moved forward towards the windscreen, the tension is pretty good. After you've got it glued to the header rail, cut of the excess material, install the seal channels with pop rivets, and install the seal. I have had good luck with regular old contact cement. The stuff I used on the last top was from Home Depot and came in a 1qt can.

If everything goes well, that's all there is to it!

Jim added:

You can use 3M Super Weather Strip adhesive. AKA in the motorcycle industry as "Gorilla Snot"

Atwell Haynes suggests this tip:

If you need the little tool for installing the snaps, you can pick one up at a sporting goods store, look in the tent and camping department.

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