Fitting a soft top on a budget

With the winter months coming to an end and the sun showing itself once again, I decided to replace my hard top with a convertible soft top. The strain of constantly removing the hard top and re-fitting it at the end of a sunny day finally got to me, especially with the risk of damaging the paint! I found a cheap frame on the Midget and Sprite Club Facebook page that needed light restoration. Unfortunately the header rail and top itself was too far gone to repair.

The header rail was a goner - as was the rest of the hood material

The header rail was a goner – as was the rest of the hood material

I started off with examining the frame and top, finding light surface rust and some stuck joints on the frame itself and several big rust holes in the header rail. The top was torn in many places, very hard and dried out and the rear window was fogged and scratched beyond repair. The screws attaching the frame to the head rail were also severely rusted. I decided to remove the head rail, and with it the vinyl top, then have a go at freeing up the frame. The rusty mild steel screws didn’t budge one bit. I even tried my impact driver, completely ruining the screwhead with a single hit. Since the header rail was way past the point of repair anyway, I decided to drill off the damaged screw heads to much success. I scrapped the header rail and attached soft top.

The rusted screws holding the frame to the header rail, freshly soaked in penetrating oil

The rusted screws holding the frame to the header rail, freshly soaked in penetrating oil

Since the car is nowhere near pristine condition and is my daily driver, I decided to go for a budget-friendly restoration of the frame. I bought several different grits of sandpaper and went to town, sanding off all the old paint and rust. This step actually took me several days as the frame is quite large and has many awkward angles leading to a sore wrist.

Every night after I was done sanding, I’d wipe the frame down with white spirits and spray the joints with a penetrating oil. By the time the frame was completely stripped the joints were moving smoothly. I was initially going to dismantle the entire thing by drilling out the rivets and having it powdercoated. Unable to find a local company and not wanting to pay for shipping I instead painted it with two coats of Gloss Black from Hammerite, using nearly an entire bottle.

The frame sanded down to bare metal. I also sprayed the joints with penetrating oil to free them up.

The frame sanded down to bare metal. I also sprayed the joints with penetrating oil to free them up.

As for the header rail, I found a cheap and good condition one on eBay that was recently repainted. I ordered all the spare screws, rivets and rubber gaskets from Moss Europe (https://www.moss-europe.co.uk/). The soft top was bought from Don Hoods (http://www.donhoods.com/). I went with a black Mohair top instead of Vinyl. Our weather over the winter dips to below freezing overnight and sometimes persists into the morning and I didn’t want to risk the cracking that happens in vinyl when its that cold. Plus, being a long-term daily driver I’m hoping the mohair will last much longer too.

One side of the frame after a couple coats of paint

One side of the frame after a couple coats of paint

For installation, I looked locally and discovered Trim Deluxe (https://www.facebook.com/Trimdeluxe/). I browsed through his Facebook page to get a feel for his work and found it’s all done to a very high standard. He seemed knowledgeable on the phone and even though he hadn’t done any Spridget tops, he said he had done a MGB and they’re both quite similar. Unfortunately I was placed on a 2-month waiting list over the winter. The wait was worth it and after finally having it all installed, the end result was fantastic!

The old frame turned out great, and the mohair top definitely gives the car a more “upper class” look. The only modification I’d make is replacing the velcro where the top meets the doors to a tenax fastener to hold it more securely. While driving at speed with the windows down, the velcro would come loose and the edges of the top would flap around.

In the meantime, I’ve removed the velcro strip from the body of the car and replaced it with some 3M ultra strength velcro. It’s solved the issue, though a tight fit is still impossible and when it rains, water sometimes splashes through the gap.

All in all, I’m very happy with the conversion to a convertible soft top – just in time for Spring!

Thanks for reading!

By | 2018-10-09T01:05:24+01:00 February 6th, 2018|General|0 Comments

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