Current Options for Top Materials


For Vintage Car Tops

Haartz Sport ToppingWhether one selects a material based on personal preference or for best authenticity, begin by deciding on a basic type of material. Then determine the color options available within that category. Restorers and Trim Professionals generally suggest that it is better to select a top material color before finalizing paint and upholstery colors, especially when color harmony is important. Beyond the basic blacks and tans of all eras, additional color options available now only approximate most original choices.


Although the color choices available today tend to be limited by the availability of suitable fabric, the current popularity of cloth topping for modern convertibles yields a greater color selection than has been available in decades. Very little three-ply cloth material with cotton face fabric remains on the market, and its colorfastness is mediocre at best. Newer cloth top materials use a solution-dyed, acrylic face fabric, Haartz Stayfast® being an example. Few other fibers can outperform acrylic for colorfastness and general weatherability, hence its widespread use in modern cloth top materials. Generally a topping composed of a square weave facing and drill weave lining provides the best authenticity for most vintage cars. However, one may choose a twill faced material either because that is appropriate on a particular car, or in order to use a special color not otherwise available.


Some of the vinyl coated fabrics presently on the market provide suitable material for replicating old tops of surface-coated materials. For rubber or pyroxylin materials from prior to 1940, vinyls with similar embossed grains are well accepted. Colonial (and the nearly identical Bison) and Short Cobra grains are appropriate for open and convertible car tops. Long Cobra grain material is available for roof covering and top decking of closed bodied cars from the mid-1920s into the 1930s. Early vinyl tops from the mid-1950s onward are readily replaced with newer vinyl, the classic Standard (a.k.a. diamond or pinpoint) grain still being produced. Few colors are available compared with the Original Equipment options. While the Original Equipment vinyl topping was four-ply double texture material for most Ford and General Motors models, suitable two-ply material is now used in its place. Standard or Denim grain white vinyl is the closest in look to the Orlon cloth tops of the fifties, despite the sacrifice in authenticity.


Very early cars, and later custom-bodied cars using leather top material can be fitted with new leather tops, unless a vinyl topping is preferred for ease of maintenance. Khaki cloth topping on very early cars can be replaced with tightly woven cotton duck in a suitable tan shade. This option is not advisable for replacing Burbank material from the late twenties and the thirties unless you are sure that your classic car will not have to withstand a heavy rain! Uncoated canvas (usually a tightly woven cotton duck) for military and farm vehicles remains available. Enameling duck remains available for the do-it-yourself restorer seeking to trim and paint this. Oilcloth of the kind used on pre-1940 vehicles for fixed roofs and side curtains seems to have vanished from the commercial market. Some do-it-yourself historians have retrieved techniques for replicating this product in limited quantity, and that will likely be the way this can be replicated if one so chooses.


Since vintage and collector cars usually undergo prolonged storage at times, the practice of raising the top for these instances lengthens the useful life of the topping. If the storage area is subject to airborne dust or dirt, it is a good practice to cover the top material, particularly if it is a lighter color, or has a cloth exterior surface. Long or repeated exposures to moisture and ultraviolet light affect topping just like they do the car’s paint and trim materials. Periodic cleaning and care, as recommended by the fabric or top maker, help to increase the useful life of the top. For routine cleaning of dirt and pollen particles from cloth top materials, gentle vacuuming is a good technique.

Resource Links

The Cadillac Database

The Cadillac Glossary and Fact Finder


Coachbuilding Terminology

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