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Soft top restoration advice desired


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My 1957 T-Bird was a hardtop only car when it came from the factory. At some point in its existence it did have a soft top, but not when I got it. I have been using an aftermarket softtop to keep the rain off when driving in summer storms. I finally decided to spring for an original style top. I picked one up on eBay for $1650 delivered. It has all the pieces that can't be bought from the T-Bird parts suppliers, which makes my job a little easier. It is missing the clamps on the side and back (these are available from the parts suppliers). It even has the swing bar that helps lift the top into place from behind the seat.

Before I move forward with the restoration I would like to hear from anyone that has done one and what are the particular things that I should be aware of as I begin this effort. I hope to do all the work myself and any advice you have would be greatly appreciated.

Thanks,

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The tacking strips are the key to replacing an early 'Bird top. When you have the top apart, replace all the strips with new plastic strips, it's a special hard plastic that'll hold the staples for the top installation. Don't try to "get by" with so-so tacking strips.

It's an easy top to install, since, like the early tops, you can do it all from the outside, and not like the newer tops that bolt in from the inside............

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I just finished a complete restoration of my T-bird soft top and frame. Removed pins, powder coated each individual frame piece,new pins, new latches, new rubber, new tack strip, new hadware, the whole nine yards. I may be able to answer any specific questions you may have.

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Billybird - I appreciate the offer and I know that I will have questions as I go along. I would be interested in the following:

Is yours a concours quality restoration where you never put the top down once you installed it or do you drive your car and use the top as needed?

Which parts vendor did you use to get the materials for the restoration?

Which instructions did you use, if any?

Thanks and I will try to post a few pictures of the frame since I have removed all of the old top and screws. I was pretty fortunate in that since it was a top from California it didn't have screws that rusted in place and I was able to get them all out without breaking any.

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1957 Birdman:

My bird is a very, VERY nice DPC car. Any time I do anything to the car, I do it to concourse level, because that will make it easier if I ever decide to do a full frame off resto. The top looks so nice and smooth I never plan to put it down.

All of my parts came from CASCO, incuding top fabric.

I purchased a vidio from CASCO on "How to install a new top on your bird" The vidio is good, and makes the job look easy, but we know how that goes.

I did all the dissassembly, what powder coating parts that would fit in my oven, and all reassembly. As for myself; I let a pro install the top fabric itself because after a few upholstery jobs I found that is the weakest point of my restoration skills. I am SOOOO glad I left that to the pro because it looks great with a capital G.

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Billybird - Thanks for the additional information. My car is a DPC car also and when I replace things I try to improve rather than just putting anything on the car. Because of how I use my car and where I live, I will definitely be putting it up and down as conditions warrant.

I don't know if you have any of the back issues of the Early Bird, but there were two articles in 1995 and 1996 that describe how to restore the convertible to frame and install the new top. I was just curious whether you had looked at them. A fellow in our local T-Bird club got the CASCO video also, but I don't think he was too impressed by it. For my part, I've reupholstered the seat of my car with good results and installed a tonneau cover, also with good results. I will probably get professional help for the final stages of the top, just to be sure that it goes on without a bunch of wrinkles.

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1957Birdman: I do have those back issues from CTCI you speak of and read them at that time. However, I did not refer to them because frankly I forgot about them. I don't know how far you want to go; but the hardest for me by far was getting the small split pins out that hold in the big pins at the joints. I took it apart piece by piece to make stripping, sand blasting, and powder coating more manageable.

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I haven't really decided how far to go with this and am obviously still in the fact finding stage. I was wondering how the pins were kept in place and now I understand based on what you have posted. So far I've lucked out because there aren't any broken screws that I have to deal with and I've pretty much disassembled all of the top.

Thanks for your input, it is greatly appreciated.

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  • 2 months later...

Hi Lew-I've restored 4-5 softtops over the years and have found that top frames from high mileage cars often had worn pivot pin holes in the soft frame material. Enough wear can make it almost impossible to fit the top frame to your car over the windows. If this is a problem drill the pivot holes oversize and install bushings to bring pack a tight pin to frame fit.

The Trim and Sealer manual available from parts vendors or the Club has excellent instructions for fitting the frame to your windows and body. This should be done before installing a new canvas.

The rear tacking strip which is encased in a metal frame is usually shot because the metal part is rusted through. This metal frame provided very important stiffness to the 2 joints tween the 3 rear deck castings. If you do not install some replacement stiffener across the 2 joints your outer rear deck pieces will flex up and make a gap tween the top frame and rear deck at the outer corners letting in rain and small rodents, etc. I have made shaped stiffeners of 18 GA steel to rivet across the 2 joints and have no problem with gapping. The new plastic tackstrip material is not stiff enough to prevent this gapping problem.

The Trim and Sealer manual also gives full directions for installing a new top and I will study carefully when I install a new blue canvas on a 57 Bird top frame.

Maartin Lum

57 Blue Bird

Happy motoring.

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Hi Marty,

I appreciate your input. I have the manual you suggest along with Gil's Restoration guide. Thankfully, my top is in pretty good shape and I don't think I will need to put in bushings, although that sounds like a really good idea. In terms of the rear channel that attaches to the deck, have you considered welding the 3 pieces together? Gil Baumgartner recommends that and I would consider it if I could find a welder experienced with welding aluminum. Your idea for holding them together more firmly also sounds interesting. Do you have any pictures of what you do there?

Oddly enough, the thing I am having the toughest time sourcing is two set screws, size 12-24 X 1.25. Two of those are missing from my top and finding replacements has been difficult. You wouldn't happen to know where I could get two of them, would you?

Thanks much for you insight.

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Lew-I don't believe I ever photoed the rear pieces after riveting on the 18 GA steel stiffeners. I make up the stiffeners on my sheet metal brake and bend then to match the curve of the pieces. My stiffeners extend about 12" each side of the joints.

A good hardware store stocks the allen screws but you may have to go online to get the extra 1.125" length. I'm not sure I stock these screws in that length.

I'm planning to do a 57 convertible top later this Spring. I could make you a set of stiffeners when I do this top. If you original metal frame for the tack strip on the rear deck is in good shape take care of it and dig out the old gutta percha and install new vinyl and rivet back on carefully. Most of the time this piece is rusted out.

I've never considered welding the 3 pieces together mainly because of the difficulty getting the right alignment before welding. You'd almost need to have the pieces clamped on the rear deck of a Bird with the 4 attaching clamps. TIG welding could burn the hell out of your paint.

Martin Lum

57 T-Bird

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  • 7 years later...

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