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No Convertible top, No problem - 1920's Buick missing top bows and sockets


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What do you do if you are missing the iron top sockets and wood bows on your antique car?  My intention of this posting is to provide guidance on putting a top assembly on a convertible.  The complexity goes way up if you are missing the top sockets and the wood bows.  This foundation has to be installed correctly before any fabric can even be added. 

 Some history.  The body and chassis is a 1927 Buick Master model 47 (4 door sedan)( 120" wheelbase).  The hood is from a Master and the body from a 1925/1926 Buick Standard Touring model 25 (116" wheelbase).   The width of the section between the doors may or may not be correct.     

- The most value that can be added to this car is to install a convertible top.  

- This job started as an upholsterer approached me about doing a top on an early Buick.  I sent him instructions, and then he said he did not have the top bows.  So Larry DiBarry provided dimensions on the top sockets and bows from his 1925-45.  These are in the table below.  The length of the wood that is in the sockets is unknown, so I used the dimensions that were used from my 1925 -25 when I rebuilt that top.  The reason for creating this document was to have dimensions to have new wood bows steam bent. 

- Later the upholsterer said he was unable to do the work.  The car came to me with two sets of top sockets.  I was not aware that these were not the Buick top sockets for this car.  So technically not "missing the sockets", but hoping that one of these non Buick sets function for this Buick.

- I have solicited help from Larry DiBarry and Mark Kikta to get finished top dimensions.  I need to find the ballpark where the bows should be to have the correct look.  This is a first step of finding a similar car where someone can provide some dimensions.  

So I will do some postings as I figure out the best way to recreate this structure.



Edited by Hubert_25-25 (see edit history)
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So the first 2 photos are of the sockets that were shipped with the car.   The socket with the eyelet is the last socket and the eyelet is for for the body pivot bolt.

In the first photo,  notice how high up the top mechanism is on the last top socket.  

In the 2nd photo, this is the top sockets that we will be using.  The pivot is midway on the last socket.

The 3rd photo are dimensions from OEM Buick top sockets used on a 1925 Buick model 25 touring car. 

The 4th photo is the 2nd photo with dimensions.

The last photo is the extended dimension of the sockets we will be using. 

     Compare the 2 photos of the socket assemblies with dimensions.   Notice how different the construction is.  Buick used a "double bar and parallel bar" assembly.   The double bar is two equal bars with spacers between.  The first photo has this "double bar" detail, but it is not a good fit for this car.      





Edited by Hubert_25-25 (see edit history)
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This first photo shows the last socket with the top mechanism that is very high on the last socket.  The top mechanism should be fairly parallel with the top of the doors when installed.  This set would have to be pushed very far back as the height from the door tops at the front door was 19" and it was 27" at the back door.     


The other set of sockets looked much better once opened up and set against the car.   Using 3/4" PVC and a little bit of 1/4" rope, the front and the last bow were replicated.  These can be moved a little inside the sockets to fine tune the shape.  The intention is to verify where the wood bows will be relative to the 2 drawings with dimensions that I received from Larry and Mark.   Larry has the last bow at 18" high from the rear tub, and Mark has his at 22".  My 1925-25 was 19 1/2".   This height is effected by two factors.  How far in the socket is bow #4, and/or how far in the socket is bow #1.   The "back curtain" also needs to have a slight slant of the "top to the rear".   Minimum is vertical, but it should slant back some.    


Since I feel I am going to be struggling with too much height at the rear, I am going to fit the last bow first.  I am going to put it as far as I can into the last sockets.  Once the curve in the bow starts, they can not go any deeper.  So the last bow will get installed first.  



Edited by Hubert_25-25 (see edit history)
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The last bow in the top set is similar to all the others, but on some cars, it is wider than the others.  On a Buick Touring car, Bows 1 thru 3 are 1” x 1 ½”, while bow 4 is 1” x 2 ½”.  The last bow is made “offset” as there is a flat side (on the bottom when the bow is in the folded (rest) position).  The last bow is the one to install first.  Attached are 4 wood bow drawings with dimensions from my Buick 1925-25.  In the first drawing is a side view of this last bow.  This is the basic design of how each bow will be cut.  Notice also in the last photo that there is a stiffener board that is attached to the last bow, but it is not steam bent.   


It will save time in the long run if you lay out the bow centerline and the side distances first on each bow on the work table.  Steam bent bows aren’t like a stamped part.  Some areas bend just a little differently.  The right side is not necessarily a mirror image of the left.  I like to use a straight edge and 2 points about 16” from each side of center.  Then I mark the bow ends at 12 inches from the center wood.  Each side of the scrap ends of these bows are a different length to that line, so measuring from the mid section will make a more symmetric top.  From these initial marks, I measure and mark where the bow cut off will be, and how deep to make the socket insert.  In addition I use a small drill bit to make a tiny dot to mark the wood in case the pencil marks get knocked off.         


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Now the time consuming part – fitting the socket ends.   The bow is cut to length on both sides.   I made a template from some heavy paper of the wide end of the top socket.  This is the profile that the wood must conform to first.  I transfer this oval size onto the end grain.  As stated before, there is a flat side to the rear bow, so this profile is drawn on the bottom of each end grain.  A reciprocating saw is used rough cut the socket end and to make the transition in size to the wider portion of the bow.

The tools used in this step are:

1)      Recriprocating saw for rough out cuts

2)       Circular saw to rough cut the slot for the socket seam

3)      belt sander with 40 grit band

When sanding, there is almost no sanding on the flat sides of the wood bow.  It is mainly trying to get the rounded contour and the taper correct.   For fitting the end of the wood bow into the sockets, start with getting the first inch into the socket without removing too much wood.    You have to clamp the wood bow in a bench vise.   Make 2 pencil lines ¼” apart to indicate where the socket seam is.  Use a circular saw and carefully rough cut this slot.  Now almost all the work is using the 40 grit paper in the belt sander. 

1)      Slide the socket on (but not too tight), wiggle it.

2)      Pull the socket off.  It will leave “tight marks” on the wood.

3)      File with the grain and remove just the dark spots.

4)      Repeat – A lot




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Now it is getting interesting, because I am using non stock top sockets and starting to check the fit again after the first pass with just PVC for the bows.  So the rear bow is in and it is all correct.  The rear wood height to the back of the tub is 19 inches.  So now I really need to do Bow #1 to get the top frame stiffened , and to ensure bows 2 and 3 hit in the right places.  Now folding the top we begin to see the problem with the non Buick top sockets.  Bow #1 (on the top of the folded stack) projects 8” further than if using Buick top sockets.  Most noticeable in the side view as typically wood bows nest closer to each other.   Not ideal, but not a deal breaker either. 

1)      Doubtful that this top will be folded once installed.  If it is folded, it is still functional and many of these old tops on touring cars hung out significantly past the rear of the car back in the day.  Ever looked at a VW Bug with the top down?   

2)      I do now have access to a set of more correct Buick top sockets (Thank you Frank Freda) but I also learned that some of the sockets need repairs.  The repair estimate for the sockets is in the neighborhood of $1,000 plus the cost of the buying the sockets.

3)       The owner is looking for functional and not concours.  

So on to more sanding and cutting wood bows.




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I always aplaud Hugh's thoroughness in detail. He has a tough engineering problem. Considering that he was given the earlier style sockets to deal with instead of the later 1927 and newer plate type irons. These have the wood aplied to the outside of these plates.




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Good progress yesterday as I was able to fit all the bows and install it on the car.  I will need to remove it later to blast and paint or powder coat the socket assemblies.  

One other item that was a big help was a "Japaneese Z cut" saw.  These are a pull saw.  Flexible blade.  This saw really helped with fitting the top wood bows into the sockets.  If you don't have one of these saws, you are missing out.  Expect to spend a couple hours on each socket end working to get a good fit and getting the wood deep into the socket.

Photo number 4 shows the extra length of the front bow due to the incorrect sockets.   The front bow is 8" longer than stock.  Bow #2 was 4" longer to make the math work to keep the distance between bows 1 and 2 at 39 inches.          

I did lay a board across bows 2 and 3, and I have good height relative to bows 1 and 4.  

It would have been nice if the top frame were the "metal bar" type as Larry referenced.  A person could use the dimensions at the top of this thread and create a metal frame assembly and then cover it afterward with wood.  A good alternative.  

I have several attachment brackets to make and I have to add the wood around the rear tub before I can start installing fabric.



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Great work Hugh:

 As you know by this time the designers of these tops were trying to make a neater, less obvious stack. In an ealier post you have the factory imgage of the 1927-55.

Below is what my top looked like before I learned the correct sequence of folding. Including photo with the bent and welded up shortend sockets. I have since straightened these bends. The width of the bows to be narrower at the windshield and the wider at the rear tub. Mine were all the same width front to rear.

DSCF1465(1024x768).jpg.53b8fac9694da27179f83d1022b3ea36.jpg   DSCF1466(1024x613).jpg.01bd773c74c074857c490738fae46aaa.jpg



The only factory image I have found showing our 1925-25 with the top down and boot on. The

fellow who did my slip cover type boot for my cobbled up top indicated that the image was in error. That, no way, could all that top fit in the "dust cover". Not unless there were no pads and such on the bows. Our 1925-25 bows/sockets are to "nest" a bit which my cut down older bows just stack on each other.

 thumbnail_DSCF4482.jpg.e744499823c2df2b234e2085156f5ac4.jpg      thumbnail_IMG_63381.jpg.0b63e66f6f4dd626a129f85fcfdf94b5.jpg 

Temporary pattern for the finished vinyl cover with loose foam padding "falsies" to fill out for more smooth form fitting appearance.


The boot actually fits the correct original design top for my 1925-45 Master much better. Witout the extra foam padding I have to use for the Model 25.

DSCF5684.JPG.f5e33db3900de3082b137d13b4ed2f9f.JPG DSCF5687.JPG.3098413986774bdfb1c5c49574b167f6.JPG

 Unfortunately with what you have been given to work with this will not be possible with how far out the front bow extends out. On my Model 25 car the front bow sits about 6" to the inside of the stack. With what you have will make for an interesting top down appearance.

 Keep up the great work!

 This may give me the insentive to start on my new top bows and sockets that I have had laying around for 3 years or more......

DSCF8208.JPG.c2563e0cb61dda4834c98de75965de78.JPG    DSCF8207.JPG.075e08e85b5d052ca2ad78103953b177.JPG



Edited by dibarlaw
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Larry brings up a good point about later bows being narrower front to rear.  A styling trend.  Early cars used all bows the same in many cases.  It helps if another owner of your make and model can provide a few of the basic dimensions to get the top in the ball park of how it looked originally.  I too am looking forward to seeing Larry's new top on his car one day.      

I wanted to add this slide because I feel I left something out.  I had 2 sets of top sockets to choose from for this car.  If you can get a person that has top sockets to lay them open and take some measurements, you may be able to find a set that will work.  So this dimensional diagram gives some guidance.  A person could draw the segments to scale and make a mock up of the design.  The important thing is 

 - Dimension A - height from doors to top frame at the front. 

- This needs to be very close to dimension B, so have a person open up the sockets and on a break in the concrete, set A equal to B and photograph the sockets.  Then get a few dimensions and see how it would fit on your car.




This photo shows the socket set that I did not use.  

When I laid this out next to the car, Dimension B is much taller than Dimension A.  About 7 inches taller.  This tells me that this set is for an older make or model when the windshields were taller.  It looks very much like a Buick design to me.  It is looking for a home.  At some point I will take another photo of this like above if someone shows an interest in them.  This is a good solid set.   


I'm also going to show you this pile of top sockets and front bumpers in the Arizona desert.  No labels so no one knows what they belong to.  




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Fitting the rear toneau wood surround.

The wood around the rear tub serves 2 main purposes.  The top side of the wood across the back accepts the tacks for the seat back covering.  The back side of the wood across the back, holds the tacks for the tops back curtain.  On the 2 sides of the toneau, the rear seat arm rests are attached to the outside sides of the toneau wood.  These also get 4 durable dot snap bases on each armrest side to hold the gypsy curtains.

The wood used on the toneau surround is typically a semi soft wood (not oak) Mahogany, birch or poplar.  Easy to carve and accepts tacks easily without splitting.   

On this car I was given mahogany wood, but it needed to be modified to fit the car better.  The outer side of this wood is recessed from the edge of the body sheetmetal by 3/16”.  This provides some room on the sides for the armrest leather, trim, and snaps.  On the back side, the back curtain canvas will stop on this metal edge.  The set back of the wood lets the canvas sit even with the back of the sheetmetal with a very small amount of being flush or just a little proud of the sheetmetal.   About fifteen  #8 x 1 ½” countersunk screws hold the wood to the rear tub.


The person that carved this rear wood originally made it a fit flush with the edge of the sheetmetal.  That is too wide, so I had to shorten it in the middle (photo left).  I also had to fit it more evenly across the back.


The next missing item are the top rear strap supports.  You can use this drawing as a guide to determine the location of the strap loops.  On the back of this car the holes were drilled for the brackets to be 37” apart, but I had no brackets. 


I need to make the strap loops.  As a side note, I also thought that I could have used “Footsman loops” and some long wood screws, but I built these brackets as Buick did. 


I used 1/8” steel plate.  I bought a piece of steel 3” x 12” on Ebay.  First I made the U shaped bracket that goes over the wood.  I cut it on the bandsaw and folded it over some scrap metal.  I did have to carve out the wood so that the metal is recessed into the wood.


Next I made the straps ends.  Making the slot is a pain because I do not have a mill.  5 holes in a row and then lifting the plate steel on the drill press to break the steel between the holes.  Then I filed it smooth.


Then I was able to set it on the back wood, but I still need to paint it.  Now I have brackets to hold the rear top straps.





Edited by Hubert_25-25 (see edit history)
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Time to clean up the top sockets.  No dents to deal with and no rust in this set of top sockets.  Unusually in great shape.  Choices on removal of the paint is sandblasting and then dealing with excess sand, and taking it 30 minutes one way somewhere, or using the wire cup wheel on an angle grinder seemed to be the easiest method that removed the paint the best, but it took one person to hold the sockets and the other to run the angle grinder with the cup wheel.  Also used a wire brush, 40 grit sandpaper and a pick.  Time wise, I think it was a wash and I might have preferred taking them somewhere and drinking lemonade instead.  Wear a mask as paint removal is always a dirty job.  As you can see they did clean up nicely.


Then it was a choice to paint or powdercoat.  Powder coater is 1 hour away.  I also had a concern about the wood coming out from inside the sockets if the sockets spend too much time in the oven.  If you do powder coat, it has to be someone you trust, and they have to minimize oven time.  I finally decided to use 2K primer and single stage acrylic enamel automotive paint.  Know what else I learned?  Paint has gotten massively expensive in 3 years.  A gallon of Transtar 2K primer went from $116 to $200.  A quart of Nasons black single stage acrylic enamel is now $120.  Nason is the less expensive division of Dupont paints.  Then I looked up Chromaclear 7900S clearcoat, and it is now $436 a gallon and the quart of activator is $137.  For you painters, I switched to Nasons Select clear and saw no difference to chromaclear.  It is $150 a gallon and the activator is $75 a quart.    

   So I put up the tarps and plugged in the air compressor.  It ran for a little while, made a strange noise, then tripped the circuit breaker.  Good thing I had the pancake air compressor as back up.  It worked fine for the top sockets.  I will admit that I don't like to paint small rods like this, as it is more wasteful of paint than doing car panels.  Still it does the job.  I do have to go back and brush touch up all the joints as it is best to paint these top sockets in the nearly open position, but then you have to go back and touch up the small spots at the joints.  The small top sockets in the background are for a 1910 Metz that I am putting a top on.   



Edited by Hubert_25-25 (see edit history)
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7 hours ago, Hubert_25-25 said:

Powder coater is 1 hour away.  I also had a concern about the wood coming out from inside the sockets if the sockets spend too much time in the oven.


I wonder whether coating thickness/build-up would also be a concern with powder coating, particularly at the joints.  Then, there's the touch-up problem as well.  Seems like paint is the right choice.  The material price hike is ridiculous, however.  Lately I find myself falling back into my 1980s habit of not delaying purchases any longer than necessary in an attempt to get ahead of increasing prices...

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