Installing a Bestop Supertop
from a '70's CJ-7 on a '95 Jeep Wrangler
When I bought my YJ new in 1995, it came with a factory hard top. I loved the hard top because it was warmer in the winter, quieter on the highway (although I'm told the new sailcloth tops rival the hard top's noise level), and more secure from thieves. Of course, it's also more inconvenient. Removing it requires either a hoist or 2 adults, and then you've got to store it somewhere. When I drove to my favorite wheeling spot, I had to choose between getting blown to death on the highway drive vs having to wheel with the top installed on a beautiful day.
After 8 years, I finally solved this problem by buying a used Bestop Supertop from another Jeeper. I still plan to run the hard top all winter, but now I can hear myself think while cruising the highway and still soak up the rays when we hit the trail. The Supertop is Bestop's top-of-the-line soft top. It comes with 2-piece full soft doors that can be easily separated and stored while wheeling, which is the main reason I held out for that particular type of top. I would have preferred spice to match the interior of my Jeep, but I settled for black, which matches the exterior, since spice tops seem to be pretty rare. I got a great deal -- $200 for a top that generally costs $700 new. It's not exactly in like-new condition, but it'll suit my purposes just fine.
The one issue with this top is that it was designed for a pre-1981 CJ-7. It still fits my Wrangler, but there were a few design changes along the way that I had work around.
In preparation for installing this top, I downloaded the Supertop instruction sheet from Bestop's web site and watched an official Bestop VHS tape of the install that another Jeeper gave me (thanks, JF). Alas, my top is an older model, so while those items helped me, there were a few places where they differed from the top that I'd acquired.
The most notable difference (and the only one I knew about before I bought the top) was the door latches. In 1981, Jeep switched its door latch style. My YJ with full hard doors had the later style (obviously), while the doors on the soft top used the older style. The guy I bought the top from sent me the body-side latch pieces along with the top, so all I had to do was remove my original latch post brackets from the inside of the body tub (four T20 Torx screws), then drill a couple 3/16" holes on the edge of the door frame and bolt the new latch brackets in place. I located the holes in the door frame so that the bracket would be centered on the edge of the frame. After fully assembling everything, I found that the door weatherstripping prevented the door from latching when the bolts were in the middle of their slots in the bracket, so I had to slide the brackets as far outboard as the slots allowed. If I were doing it again, I'd have drilled the mounting holes a little bit outboard of the door frame centerline rather than right on it.
Another issue is the bottom channel for the rear window. On a CJ, the spare tire rack swings away on its own, allowing easy access to the closed tailgate. Consequently, the CJ Supertop is designed so that you screw a channel directly to the top of the tailgate into which the bottom of the rear window fits. Since the YJ's stock spare tire rack is bolted directly to the tailgate, my 33" spare tire obscures access to this style window channel. The YJ Supertop comes with a channel that attaches to the body on either side of the tailgate but not to the tailgate itself. This allows you to release the rear window and open your tailgate without having to reach between the spare tire and the tailgate. After experimenting for a few minutes, I decided that I should be able to use the CJ-style channel just fine without having to hug my spare tire too tightly. The lower edge of the window is shaped differently on Supertops intended for YJ's (with a cutout to allow the tailgate to pass under it), so you can't simply get a YJ-style bar for the CJ-style top. Perhaps you could get a YJ-style window to put into the CJ-style top, but I can't say for sure.
There were also a few differences between my older Supertop and the newer ones documented in the instructions. These weren't necessarily a result of the CJ-to-YJ conversion. Basically, the hardware that created the door frames was quite different. The little bracket that bolts to the body is different. The older style still works just fine once the stop is installed, but I found it a little difficult to keep the vertical bar in position while installing the top. On the older top, the horizontal bar along the top of the door is a 2-piece, telescoping design.
The biggest difference is how this bar attaches to the windshield. I actually had to have a friend (Matt Hickey) figure this one out for me, since the design outlined in the instructions was totally different. The newer tops use a bracket that bolts to the upper corner of the windshield (on a YJ, it's sandwiched between the windshield and the sport bar). The horizontal bar attaches to this bracket with a pin. The older top instead uses an angle iron bracket that you screw to the back side of the drip channel along the side of your windshield. At the top of this bracket is a plastic piece that the horizontal bar clips into. It seems a little on the flimsy side (no doubt why they replaced it), but it works. I had some reservations about drilling screw holes through my drip channel, but I decided a couple drips along my hard top doors wouldn't kill me. The new-style brackets should work fine with the old-style horizontal bars if you care to buy a set or fab your own. However, the old-style bracket provides a sealing surface for the upper door weatherstrip. Without it, there would be a pretty big gap between the windshield and thd door. The Supertop video I got (but not the instructions I downloaded) indicated that this style of bracket was still used on the CJ-5 Supertop, but not the CJ-7 or YJ.
The easiest way to mount these brackets would be to drill small holes and use sheet metal screws to hold the bracket on. There really isn't room inside the front of the drip channel for a normal hex nut. However, I'd been wanting for some time now to try out a set of "riv-nuts." A riv-nut is a threaded nut that gets installed through a (possibly blind) hole like a rivet. You install the nut on the installation tool, push it through the hole, and tighten down on the tool. This squishes the two parts of the nut together, expanding part of it for a snug fit in the hole. Once installed, I can use machine screws or bolts to attach the brackets as many times as I like without fear of stripping out the thinner sheet metal by torquing down a screw. That's the theory, anyway.
As it turns out, the metal in the drip edge is over 1/8" thick, so in this case, I could have just drilled & tapped the drip edge itself without bothering with the riv-nuts. Unfortunately, I had a little trouble installing them. The riv-nuts I got for $.55 each at the local Ace hardware store were aluminum. The first one I installed got torqued down too tight (didn't know how tight I had to make it), and it stripped the very tiny "thread" grooves that secure the "nut" half of the riv-nut to the "rivet" half. Hence, the two halves tend to separate when unscrewing the bolt. This is mildly annoying when I can get at the back side of the nut, but if I'd installed it in a blind hole, I'd be SOL. I didn't torque down the other 3 riv-nuts as hard, but I still had trouble with the two halves separating. I'm not sure if I'd use that same kind of riv-nut again or not. Because these screws are located in a spot that is exposed to even more moisture than most of the Jeep's exterior, I used stainless steel machine screws ($.39 each) to secure these brackets.
When adding any Supertop to a YJ that previously only had a hard top, you have to drill a few more holes. I had to drill three more 3/8" holes along the top edge of the body tub on each side -- one at the corner by the side door, one about a foot rearward of that, and one right by the tailgate. These are used to secure the channel into which the bottom of the soft top clips. Use the channel as a template to locate the holes, mark the positions with a punch, and drill a smaller pilot hole before finishing with a 3/8" bit. I already mentioned the new 3/16" holes to mount the door latches. The channel along the top of the windshield was different than the one I used for my bikini top, so I had to drill 11 new 1/8" holes in the top of my windshield frame (in addition to the 6 already there) to mount that channel. Fortunately, my bikini top will also work in the stop top's channel, so I can probably just plug those old holes with silicon caulk or something. I also had to drill three 3/16" holes in the top edge of my tailgate to mount the rear window channel. It's important that these holes are centered no lower than 3/8" below the top edge of the tailgate, otherwise there won't be room for the nut on the inside. Finally, I had to drill 2 holes in the drip rail on each side of the windshield to mount the front support bracket. As you can see, this isn't a project you'd want to attempt without a drill and a collection of sharp bits!
[MORE COMING LATER]
My first significant highway trip with the soft top came a few months later. Prior to this, I'd only had a hard top. Compared to the hard top, the soft top is deafeningly loud. It's also hard to strike a balance between heat (in a black Jeep with no A/C) and wind. On the way back, we opted for wind and left both front windows down. We could still hear each other talk if we yelled. Having a 10 mph tail wind helped cut down on the noise somewhat. As uncomfortable as the soft top is, the convenience of being able to lower it at our destination and go wheeling topless on a sunny day is certainly worth it, IMHO. We were fortunate to be able to store my doors and windows in some of the roomier vehicles (thanks Brent & Jeremy), but I probably could have found a spot for them in my little YJ if I'd had to.
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originally written 27 May 2004
last updated 23 Aug 2004 Obi-Wan (firstname.lastname@example.org)