Body Style Letters |
VINs, Cowl Tags, Build Sheets
Locating Businesses, etc |
Here is a complete (I hope) list of GM platform letter designations for vehicles sold in U.S. Names of vehicles sold in Canada may vary slightly. Also, years listed may be +/- 1 year. There's a time line list at http://www.geocities.com/MotorCity/Downs/4814/gmpltfrm.htm.
GM Passenger Vehicles:A - 64-80: RWD Cutlass/Skylark/Chevelle/LeMans/Malibu/Regal/Special 81-96: FWD Ciera/Century/Celebrity/6000 A Special - 68-80: RWD Coupe Monte Carlo/Grand Prix B - 62-95: RWD Delta 88/LeSabre/Caprice/Bonneville/Roadmaster/Parisienne/Catalina/Impala,etc 92-96: Buick Roadmaster 94-96: Impala SSThe B-body has always been RWD, and ceased to be produced around December 14th, 1996. The B body Bonneville was discontinued in 1981 and then brought back as the Parisienne in about '84. 1985 marked the last year for Olds and Buick RWD B-cars, and the new for '86 FWD models were built on the 'H' platform, which closely resembled the FWD 'C' cars. B-body wagons continued past '85; Pontiac was the first to be discontinued ('90??), followed by Olds ('92), then Chevy and Buick early in 1996.C - Dn-83: RWD 98/Electra 225 84-Up: FWD 98/Park Ave D - Dn-96: RWD Fleetwood/Sedan DeVille/Limo 85-96: RWD CadillacWhen the 'C' cars went FWD in '85, the rear drive Cadillac Fleetwood Brougham (renamed only Brougham from '87 -'92) continued to be produced, and became the D-body.E - Dn-94: Toronado/Eldorado/Riviera F - 67-up: Camaro/Firebird G - 78-88: RWD Sedan Cutlass/Regal/Malibu/Bonneville 95-up: FWD Aurora/Riviera G Special - 81-88: RWD Coupe Cutlass/Regal/Monte Carlo/Grand PrixI'm sure many Canadians would associate the '80s use of the Bonneville nameplate with the 'G' platform (4-dr), while 'Parisienne' would grace the Canadian B-body conterparts. The G body was renamed the Bonneville instead of the LeMans in 1981.H Special (HS body) - 75-80: RWD Starfire/Skyhawk/Sunbird/Monza H - 85-Up: FWD Bonneville/Delta 88/LeSabrePontiac introduced their H-body, the Bonneville, in 1987.J - 81-Up: FWD Firenza/Skyhawk/Sunbird/Cavalier/Sunfire/Cimarron K - 85-Up: FWD Seville K Special - 84-Up: FWD Deville/Concours L - 87-96: FWD Corsica/Berretta M - 85-Up: FWD Chevy Sprint/Geo Metro N - 85-Up: FWD Calais/Somerset-Skylark/Grand Am P - 84-88: Fiero 97-Up: Electric - EV1 P-90 - 97-Up: FWD Malibu/Cutlass R - Geo Spectrum/Storm S - 84-Up: Chevy Nova/Geo Prizm T - 74-85: RWD Chevette/T-1000 U - Lumina APV/Silhouette/Transport V - 87-93: Allante 97-Up: RWD Cadillac Catera W - 88-97/98: FWD (GM-10) Cutlass Supreme/Regal/Grand Prix/Lumina 97/98-Up: FWD (MS-2000) Intrigue/Monte Carlo/Grand Prix/Century/Regal/Impala X - 62-79: RWD Nova/Omega/Ventura/Apollo/Phoenix (also the original RWD Seville) 74: GTO ??: F-85, Skylark 80-85: FWD Omega/Skylark/Phoenix/CitationWhen this small Cadillac was introduced in 1975.5, GM made so many changes to the 'X' chassis that they gave the Seville a K-body designation (GM's K-car !). The 'K' platform remained a separate entity until about 1991. If I remember correctly, it was amalgamated with the 'C' cars in '92. The K-cars had much in common with '80 and up E-cars.Y - 53-Up: Corvette Z - 58-69: Corvair 90-Up: SaturnGM Trucks:C - All: Full Size 2WD Pickup Dn-87: 2WD Blazer/Jimmy/Suburban/Crew Cab 92-Up: 2WD Tahoe/Yukon/Suburban/Crew Cab G - All: Full Size Van K - All: Full Size 4WD Pickup, including Blazer/Suburban/Crew Cab except 88-91 Dn-87: 4WD Blazer/Jimmy/Suburban/Crew Cab 92-Up: 4WD Tahoe/Yukon/Suburban/Crew Cab L - 91-Up: AWD Astro/Safari M - 85-Up: 2WD Astro/Safari P - Delivery Van R - 88-91: 2WD Blazer/Jimmy/Suburban/Crew Cab (old-style body) S - 82-94: 2WD S-10 Pickup/S-15 Pickup/S-10 Blazer/S-15 Jimmy 95-Up: 2WD S-10 Pickup/Sonoma/Blazer/Jimmy T - 82-94: 4WD S-10 Pickup/S-15 Pickup/S-10 Blazer/S-15 Jimmy/Bravada 95-Up: 4WD S-10 Pickup/Sonoma/Blazer/Jimmy/Bravada U - 88-96: Lumina APV/Trans Sport/Silhouette 97-Up: Venture/Trans Sport/Silhouette V - 88-91: 4WD Blazer/Jimmy/Suburban/Crew Cab (old-style body)
The "A" pillar is the windshield post.
The "C" pillar is the post or panel at the back window.
The "B" pillar is the post (if any) between the two.
On a post coupe, the door glass is framed in, and the glass travels up and down, guided by the doors window channels. A hardtop style has no frames showing when all the windows are down.
Oldsmobile Body Styles
2 doors, no center post => Holiday Coupe (or Toronado)
2 doors, center post => Sports Coupe
4 doors, no center post => Holiday Sedan
4 doors, center post => Town Sedan
[ Thanks to Steve Ochs, Kevin Wong, Joe Padavano, Doug Kitchener, Kurt Heinrich, Mike Van Auken, Matt Finholm, Henry's Garage for this information ]
The scheduled build date was just that, scheduled. While most of the time the cars were built on that day, sometimes they would get side-tracked or something goes awry, and the car is actually built earlier or later than the day it was scheduled. (There is a person for assigning assembly schedules specifically dedicated to this task.)
Probably accurate is the build sheet and "blue door sticker", but also look at the cowl tag scheduled build week code. This would also give you an idea of around the date the car was built. The cowl tag was supplied with the body from Fischer. The date code on the cowl was the week they built the body, but that wasn't always the case. Usually the car was completed within a day or two, so those date codes are really close to the actual build date. The blue sticker on the door was applied AFTER the car was built, so it is probably one of the most accurate pieces of info as far as build months are concerned.
[ Thanks to Mike Rothe for this information ]
Try Switchboard for contact info.
You might also want to try the GTE Super Pages, and The Yellow Pages.
To those looking for Cutlass front fenders from GM, they are in fact no longer available. Right fronts are hard to find but left fronts are still available - from some of the people who bought them up. One source for left front fenders, GM number 404719 is Classic Cutlass in Florida. 941-365-3032. Ask for Eric. He has several GM NOS fenders and is asking $375 each. Not cheap but solid NOS.
There is a place in Detroit who are licensed by GM to stamp FULL (not skins) real quarter panels (and I think fender and doors too) for '70 - '72 Cutlass/442's. The name is New Center Stamping (Detroit, MI) and they're phone # is 810-239-9510.
I have heard (several people in my family work for GM, and I have been told that either GM is/will be stamping new panels for their classic vehicles, or in this case will license a stamper to make full panels for their vehicles).
The company that supplies Year One and others with floor pans, trunk pans, patch panels, core support patch panels, etc. is a company called Goodmark. Ask for Mike Grey at 770-339-8557.
[ Thanks to Bob Handren, Craig Dobbins for this information ]
Fiberglass Body Panels
VFN Fiberglass, Inc. 501 Interstate Road, Addison, IL, 60101. Voice - (708) 543-0232, Fax - (708) 543-9877.
[ Thanks to Steve Steve Reed for this information ]
Checking for Rust
Don't forget the trunk, floor pans, rear quarters, rear wheel arches and inner fenders, windshield area, back glass area, and of course, the doors, decklid, & the lower front fenders in front of the doors.
One area that rusts out a lot is the rear body mount areas behind the rear wheels. The rear glass area is a popular rust trouble spot on cars. The trunk floor is also a good place to check, particularly if rust in the rear window area has let water into the trunk.
Anywhere water and debris might collect and stay for awhile.
Also check under the front carpet, the sealant for the windshield dries out after a few decades and the windshield will leak behind the dash, under the carpet, rusting the front floors. This is also an area where water collects, soaks into the carpet and pad, and has a hard time evaporating, even without a big rubber mat lying on top of it.
[ Thanks to Danny, Bill Culp, Joe Padavano, J2RKT@aol.com for this information ]
Part Sources, Locating Parts
When seeking parts on a nation- or world-wide scale, it would be wise to cite
1) Where you are located,
2) The minumum acceptable condition for the parts, and
3) What you have tried so far to locate the items.
For those hard to find parts, where there are no reproductions or NOS available, Always check with
1) Your local salvage/wrecking yards
2) The dealer
When out of town, check around at a few yards in the area that you are visiting. You'd be surprised what the dealer still has in stock for these cars.
For most new, readily available parts, consult the list of suppliers on Bryceman's web page, such as BAP, etc. BAP, in business since 1979, inventories over 4,200 different new parts and over 300 parts cars. They also have the worlds largest NOS Oldsmobile Parts collection and the best restoration and tech guys in the Cutlass/442 Hobby. Every time I have called there for tech help the guy on the phone had already done the job I was tryng to do and was familier with every nut and bolt on my 442. Check out their industry leading 100% positive feedback on Ebay at http://http://stores.shop.ebay.com/bap-inc. I got a 103 page BAP catalog with color photos free at http://038e603.netsolhost.com/catalog.pdf. 1-800-442-PART or Oldsparts.Com
For unavailable sheetmetal, frames, other typical rust victims, there are folks in CA, AZ, etc. who do that sort of thing.
Your local yards, of course, should be tried. Be sure to ask the folks if they know of any obscure, out of the way yards, or ones that have older cars. Many rare parts in great condition can be found at swap meets, for good prices. You have to know what you are looking for, and how to identify it.
If you have the ability and the facilities to dismantle a car, at least partially, you must not overlook the possibility of buying a parts car, either. Often, you can find a car advertised as a running vehicle which is inexpensive and easily worth the price for the parts it contains.
Also, if there are scrap metal processors in your vicinity, do not overlook them. Once you can ID an Olds engine or trans readily, many bargains can be found therein. You do have to personally visit, poke thru the pile of parts, and get grubby in the process.
Probably the best known is Hemmings Motor News. Published monthly. Check out their web site at http://maple.sover.net/~hemmings/hmn.html.
Often called the "Bible of the Old-Car Hobby". Because 1st class delivery is rather expensive, I suggest a regular subscription to HMN. Therein, you will find just about every part imaginable for every car made. Condition varies, and prices are generally as high as the market will bear, but often negotiable. Also, as a subscriber, you enjoy reduced rates on your ads.
There is a great web site to search for new and used parts. Try http://www.worldparts.com.
They send e-mail out to a number of dealers and parts suppliers, and they reply if they have the part. You enter the name of the part and it will search for the part number, give you a price and who has the part. If the part is not found, you fill out a form and an e-mail message is sent out to their dearler network. The dealer will send you e-mail back if they have the part, along with a price. You can search for new or used parts. Give it a try, it is free, and it may locate the hard to find parts you need.
[ Thanks to Steve Kenny, Tom Lentz, Bobby Etzel for this information ]
Bench Seat to Buckets
I believe that the Buick, Pontiac, & Chevrolet basic seats are the same. These would need recovering to match an Olds pattern though. It would be a trick to find perfect seats anyway.
You would need the floor brackets as well as the seats for the exchange. Those floors are reinforced at the transmission tunnel for buckets. A similar situation exists for the console as brackets are welded to the tunnel for it.
Changing to a console will require relocating the shifter from the column. Either get a new console type column, or remove the shifter lever, cut off the boss that olds the shifter on the column, & glass up the hole. If you get a console, get everything for mounting the console & shifter, get the necessary wiring, & don't forget the brackets for the cable to the transmission.
I would exchange the bench for the buckets. Olds didn't use the most modern buckets, but they look cool. I believe that the swivel ones are a little straight up & down, but I have never sat in one for long. The other buckets are rather comefortable looking & really dress up the interior.
You really need a donor car to do this right. You need to drill out the floor brackets from the donor car for the swivels and weld them to your floor plus the different seat belts. Same goes for the console.
[ Thanks to Bill Culp, Steve Reed for this information ]
For anyone interested in obtaining OEM type bolts, fasteners, clips, etc., Auto Vehicle Parts Company in Covington, KY probably has all the stuff you would need. (Au-ve-co trade name, go ahead, look at some of the original rubber bumpers and bolts, you'll probably see this name).
Their address is P.O. Box 17350, 7 Sperti Drive, Covington, KY 41017. Phone is 800-354-9816, Fax 606-331-5590.
If you call, you want customer service and ask them for a catalog. They have just about everything in the fastener department. I just placed a catalog request, and they are sending it out today.
It's true you can also get the parts at dealerships, body shops, etc., but if you like to reference your own parts, since you are using them, and if you order directly from the manufacturer, sometimes you can get better pricing, and may not have to wait if your jobber is out of a particular item.
Hood HingesThe difference between a 1968 & 1969 fender is the hood hinge area. The 1968 hinge was a one year only hinge which did not allow the hood to open very high. Anybody with a 68 knows this because of the old bump on the head when working on the car. The 1968 used a 2 bolts to bolt it to the fender and the 1969 used 3 bolts. To interchange the fenders, all you have to do is add a missing spot weld nut and the the hood hinge. 1969 to 1972 hinges interchange on Cutlasses.
You could change the hinges on a '68 with those from a '69-'72 and get more head-room. Save on making a batch of ice cubes every time you get under the hood!
[ Thanks to Mike Fisher, Brad Baker for this information ]
Same Body Style
Don't forget to check across GM divisions for common or shared parts.
Energy Suspension sells polyurethane boot for ball joints!! Under $8 for a set of 4. I got mine from Jeg's mail order.
[ Thanks to John Pajak for this information ]
Unique Rubber Shapes
As a last-ditch effort, if the pieces have a molded lip or such on them, Eastwoods has a rubber-molding kit for creating such items. Again, you'd use your originals to create the form, and then just pour some liquid rubber into the mold.
The first set of gasket/rubber items I made had many, many air bubbles in them. I called a rubber casting expert, and he said to make up the material. Then put it in a bell jar, evacuate the air, the bubbles come right out of the part being cast. My second set was as good as Oldsmobiles original part! I did have the originals though, very tired, very much hardened rubber, but they made a good pattern for making the mold.
[ Thanks to Cliff Feiler for this information ]
I just finished doing the quarter window w/s earlier today and it wasn't too tough. There were a couple of tricks, though.
The old w/s was really hard and brittle, more like bakelite than rubber. At first I couldn't budge it from the metal channel on the glass and couldn't figure out why. I discovered that there is a small screw at the bottom of the channel and I had always figured it was there to hold the channel itself in place, but once I took it out I realized it actually held the w/s on the channel. The old stuff then slid out easily.
The replacement w/s didn't have the hole for the screw and since it has a metal insert under the rubber I didn't go to the trouble of drilling it. The factory held the w/s in with the screw at the bottom and a small dab of w/s adhesive at the top. I used the adhesive at both top and bottom since I wasn't using the screw. I was able to slide one of the w/s in with no trouble at all, but the other one really fought going up the last couple of inches. I think I may have had the curve of the w/s not quite right (the stuff takes a set in storage and doesn't match the original curvature exactly when you unwrap it) but with a little muscle power it went in place.
Looking at the original stuff I'm amazed it sealed at all. The new w/s is very flexy and you can see the seal it makes to the glass. Hopefully there will be no leaks when I wash the car next time. Time consumed, approximately 30 minutes, an easy job once you figured out how the old stuff was held in place. Don't be afraid to give this job a try.
I was able to slide one of the w/s in with no trouble at all, but the other one really fought going up the last couple of inches. To make the w/s slide easier, try a little liquid dish soap in the weatherstrip channel next time. Also Soft Seal offers an instruction booklet available from them or any major vendor.
[ Thanks to Greg Beaulieu for this information ]
I don't think you want to scuff them with an abraisive because you'll remove the shiney surface. I've been told that paint won't stick to them. At least you would have to add a flex agent to the paint.
A friend gave me a four step process to make them look like new. I personally don't believe it will work. Here is the process:
- Steam clean.
- Clean them with grease/wax remover.
- Cover them with Dow bathroom cleaner and rinse them off with water.
- Spray one step tire cleaner on them and let them set overnight. Hose them off the next morning and they will look like new.
The easiest way to clean that,would be to use a scuff pad, and scuff them with some strong detergent soap to get rid of any oils, and grease residue. This process will clean and, at the same time, sand the fenderwells. A couple of coats of marhyde semigloss paint will finish the job. By the way, the paint # is 1501 and is good stuff. <
I did a frame off on my own 70 4-4-2 ragtop while in college 2 years ago. I did not use any bracing across the door jambs. I had the car supported by (2) 4 X 4's. One at the front of the car under the fender, and the other in the rear wheel well. Because I was a broke, part-time working stiff, the car sat frame off for eight months. I had the car four concrete blocks high, and had each corner of the car tie strapped to a tree. Yes, the car was outside! I had NO PROBLEMS at all with body alignment upon assembly. I rolled the finished frame assembly under the body and gradually lowered the body. The body went down and lined up on each of the mounts without one problem. I didn't have to jimmy around the body at all! I could see how if you opened the doors while the body was off that this would be a weak link, but I still had no problems doing this. I think if the car is supported properly you shouldn't have any problems.
I had a few friends who made their own body rotating kit. They made it from 2 X 2, steel, and had it bolt to the body mounts under the front of the door/fender area, and the rear around the wheel well. That boxed piece was then attached to a center piece on each end (like an engine stand) then to the legs with casters. I'm sure you could build one a lot cheaper than buying, if you have access to a welder, and a few friends.
I used the method described in Greg Donahue's How to Restore Your Musclecar on lifting the body. An absolute dream, I used a crane on the front and rear and lifted the body simultaneously, no problem.
I spoke with the folks that sell the body rotisseries, and they said I would have to add a support from the firewall, through the open windshield frame, to the aft end, drop down and connect it to the bumper area. This to keep the body from sagging as it is rotated.
After I removed the body to frame bolts, I could raise the body with no problem with just a lever. I detected no deflection of the body (cowl area drooping , etc.). I had just completed the removal and replacement of the floor pans on both sides (Year-One full-length), and the rocker panels on both sides were not rusted. These rocker panels seem to serve as beams to keep the body stiff and straight. After I was resonably certain that the body would not sag, I purchased an engine hoist at Sam's for $200, cut some old log chain to lengths, and attached the chain to the front two outside, and rear two outside seat belt attach points. Since these points are located in the underbody cross braces, I thought I could trust them. This is a technique that can probably be best used on convertibles.
The body gets raised to the full travel of the hoist. I can comfortably stand under it to sand blast, prime and paint, and weld in repairs. When it is not on the hoist, it sits on four concrete blocks. Since I have the ability to lift the body for work, there is no need to rotate it, and hence no risk in the body sagging as it is flipped. Also, the rotisserie costs around $ 1000.
This body is being fitted with replacement metal on both quarters, and also has some wheelhouse repairs. Unfortunately, there are no good sources for convertible quarter panels, and one will have to make do with coupe-type panels. There are no convertible wheelhouses available. I have installed decent quality used pieces from a donor car.
This is my first attempt at a frame-off, and I should have started with something in better shape. However, I have learned a great deal, learned what skills I probably will never master, but learned to be a respectable gas and Mig welder along the way. I also have learned that one should consider what metal is available for the particular model you are reviewing as the amount of work is exponential if one is forced to reclaim used panels in lieu of NOS or Repro.
The car is 'stronger' with the interior included than without it. At GM plants, unsupported convertibles were brought down exactly the same as the sedans and wagons. The convertible is of course the least rigid, and without the doors probably downright unstable. Add to this bad metal, or cut-a-way panels, and you've got a structural nightmare.
My best advice from a rigidity point of view would be to leave it on the frame, and work on it with the frame atached. Then after you have the body done, set the body upright, get it well supported, and remove the frame. Do the frame, then start reassembly.
If the doors are removed when the body is taken off the frame, one needs to weld supports in between the door jambs prior to removing the body from the frame. I have a hard time doing this welding in a visible area and plan to instead fabricate a set of struts which will bolt to the door hinge holes and the door latch striker hole. I figure (that old college structures course kicks in) that I'll need a "V" shaped brace, with the point of the "V" at the striker hole (with appropriate load spreading plates) and the ends of the "V" at each hinge location. Since I expect to get some slop in the system (the hinge nutplates float, for example) I was planning to put some sort of turnbuckle arrangement in the struts to allow preloading of the brace prior to lifting the body.
I have heard of people welding or bolting a heavy bar across the door opening before taking the body off the frame on a convertible. Something would have to be done at that weak area.
I've pulled a conv body off a frame with no problem. the doors were even left off the car. The only thing was that the car was bare inside, no seats, console etc. It came apart and didn't flex the slightest bit. Don't worry just support it well as it comes apart.
You might try bolting a bar in the door opening as suggested, with an additional beam on each side going back and bolting to the rear seat belt mounting holes. From the driver's door hinge area to the rear pass. belt hole, and vice versa. This might help control any twisting that might go on as well.
Basically, I built a jig out of a set of 4x4's, and rolled the frame out from under the body. I didn't have any problem remounting the two, even though the frame was cracked and I put new quarters, floorpan and trunkpan in while the two were apart.
I used a method I read in the book How to restore your musclecar, actually a variation of the method. It called for a floor jack or engine hoist, four 6 ton jackstands or 55 gallon drums and a couple 2x10 boards. What I did was place some lumber on the saddle of my floor jack to distribute the load and SLOWLY raise the front and back of the body shell off the frame. Then when the body is high enough I slid the 2x10's between the body and frame and rested the body on them. Then roll the frame out. This is the readers digest explanation of what I did. I plan to buy some dollys , and placing the jackstands on them so I can move the body shell around.
I would place the fender liners loosely into the fenders (or loosely attach them), and then mount the fenders. They are a pain to shove in later. I'm sure that you'd gouge them up putting them in later.
[ Thanks to Bill Culp for this information ]
Some things to consider when shopping for a top replacement:
- Rear window (glass) reusability
- Re-enforcement at stress points. (Old top is split where the supports flex above the rear windows).
I've had 2 done recently. One is on a 1989 Lebaron where I bought the top from J.C. Whitney and had it installed. This one cost around $150 w/no rear window and lifetime warranty. The company's name on the box was Crown (which I've heard good and bad about). The top's been on for a year in Alabama heat and always outside; fits nice and looks nice. Installation was $160 but the workmanship could be better. It is probably as good as factory though.
The 2nd is a 1963 Dodge. I paid $500 for the top and installation. This top has a plastic window. I don't know the supplier's name, but I believe that it is not Crown, and it has a 5 year warranty. It is kept inside and used about 15-20 times over it's 8 month life. It fits and looks very nice but is already showing wear at the back where it folds next to the quarter window and the body. This may be an installation problem or a design problem w/Dodge. The installer and I will discuss it soon.
I believe that there are only about 3 or 4 companies that make these things and then everyone uses them as their suppliers. I would get the best grade that you could afford. Don't get an upholstery place to make one from scratch unless you are SURE that they know what they are doing. The vinyl impregnated ones are the most practical. Canvas tops will stain badly, fade, and generally don't wear well, unless you get one made from a superior grade of canvas.
Finally, don't forget the pads. They are a large part of the life of the top, as it beats against the bows and folds into the well. Rear curtains w/glass windows can be freshened by using vinyl top paint. If yours is very good, save money and only buy the top made w/material that matches the curtain material you have.
Just a few things I learned when replacing the top on my 72 Delta 88 this winter while I was in Florida. As far as fabric goes, there are single and double textures (maybe even triple). Double is better than single.
As far as the window goes, that can get pricey. I had to replace mine because the top vinyl had come away from where it attached to the glass (lower part of window on the outside). The guy that did it said it was 1 in 1000 that it could be fixed. I ended up ordering a new window at around ~$180 w/ defog (cost is maybe $60 less w/o defog). The top itself was double texture white vinyl from EZ On, and has a warranty.
Cost: $375. It fits well, but I swear there is more buffeting at high speeds than my last top. I also had the well replaced for $45. They did a cheap paint job on the frame and the total bill came to $620. More than I initially had planned. I did shop the market and this guy seemed knowledgable and had good prices.
The previous top was still in decent shape and I've never had any problem with rips or stress points with one exception: the two spring loaded supports which hold the bottom of the rear window. One pulled away from its fixture, and then eventually, the other, and the old interior fabric ended up getting ripped in that area. That's all been replaced and repaired, but make sure the support brackets are fixed firmly to the rear window.
The top repair didn't end at the shop though. Since then, I've replaced one cable and the weather-stripping where the top meets the windshield. I also repainted part of the frame. I was a little disappointed in having to do this stuff. None the less, it was not a bad deal and I'm happy.
My 1972 Cutlass has an Electron top that was installed in 1990. I am very satisfied with this top.
When the shop called Electron to order the new top, they wanted to know what was wrong with the old one before they would send a new one. From what I remember, Electron provides extra wide top pads to help prevent the tearing problem these cars have above the rear ¼ windows. They also recommend that the tacking strip cover that runs along the last roof bow not be attached too far down the sides. This gives the top more room to stretch. Heavily recommend an Electron convertible top.
I'd rather spend the $$$ and know the top installation is done right for the long term (and guaranteed!), rather than attempt something like this, especially with cosmetic as well as functional significance, and botch it.
FWIW, I tried to bring the car in last year for the new top, and the shop said I should replace the front bow before they do the job; I was shown where corrosion was bubbling under the current top, which would eat its way through a new installation in 1 - 2 years without being replaced. As they didn't do that work, I opted to wait until this year. Found the bow and will be putting it in after Big Red comes out of hibernation.
Yeah, it's a difference of spending $200 or so for the top itself and doing it myself, or spending $700 for them to do it; but I figure the $500 on labor is better than the PITA in my doing the top a couple of times due to poor installation. Plus, I just don't have the time to do it.
Consider going the extra mile and having the whole assembly blasted and painted.
There are many different kinds of top thickness' and varied material. If your trying to get OEM material, request it and ask for a sample swatch. Don't look at just the cost when comparing replacement tops.
The critical part seemed to be the attachment of the three seperate parts to the three part tack strip that attaches in the trunk under the belt line (the chrome trim strip behind the back seat). All this must be stapled together then bolted up before you stretch it up and over to the front. It seems impossible to adjust it once you get it close. Close ain't good enuf. More art than technical.
Do it Yourself References
You can find the official factory directions (which aren't real clear IMHO) in the Fisher Body Manual of your car's year. It's pretty detailed with some decent diagrams, but I didn't come away saying "Wow, I can do that!".
Hydro-Electric has a video on how to replace a top and I think it costs $39.95 or $49.95. Anyway, I think you can return the video after using it, and be refunded half of your money.
Work slowly! Don't get fustrated. Don't put any screws in until liner is totally in place! Coathangers will replace lost/missing bows. The liners usually have about 3-4" of excess to be trimed, before trying to install the bows. goodluck!!
Here's something you might want to consider for a headliner. This headliner attaches to the top frame bows with velcro. It appeares to be an insulated fabric, black in this case, though I imagine colors are available. The magazine article said that it was easily removed for shows if originality was a concern, and that the top could be raised and lowered with it in place.
It looked great in the pictures, and having owned a convertible, I often thought a headliner would be a good addition - cover up the metal bows and add some sound insulation. Anyway, this sounds like an interesting project. No prices were given, but the "Retrofit Headliner Program" is offered by:
Brothers Automotive Products, 7360 W 162nd St, Stilwell, ks 66085 913-851-7977
Levers / Latches / Top Locks
By latches, I'm assuming you're referring to the two spring loaded levers and associated hooks which latch the top frame to the top of the windshield. These two latch assemblies are retained to the top frame by a pair of bolts which install from the top side of the frame. It is easiest to replace these when the top material is removed from the frame, however, by positioning the top about half-way up, you should be able to get enough slack in the material to access the fasteners.
WARNING: The same two bolts which retain the latch assembly to the frame also hold the header bow in place. The header bow is the frontmost cross member in the top frame, and it is adjustable fore and aft to match up with the windshield. Removing the top latches is guaranteed to mess up this alignment, so be prepared to readjust it when the latches have been replaced. Simply install the latches and fasteners slightly snug, lower the top, check the alignment, and slide the header bow fore or aft as necessary to correct. Note that you should replace only one latch at a time to prevent the header bow from coming off completely.
To keep the yellow foam lining (top pads) of the top boot attached to the convertible boot, try using spray-on weatherstrip adhesive. However, it would only hold the foam on for a few months. The open-cell foam that the pads are made of meant the adhesive wouldn't work very well. The last time I tried, I used liberal amounts of weatherstrip adhesive.
Another solutions is to use closed cell foam, like an insolated pad from camping store. Cut to fit. Use liberal amounts of 3M spray adhesive to glue it to the boot. Presto. A decent fix. Not great, but it beats reglueing the open cell foam every three months. Another alternative, would be to sew a fabric case on the underside boot into which you could insert (and therefore retain) the foam pads.
What you are feeling is compressed cardboard. It is the 'tack strip' that runs inside of the metal bow. To do the job 'exactly right' you need to have that replaced. My husband fixed ours by using a syringe of epoxy and filling the hole with that. When the time comes to replace our top again we will also replace the tack strip, but the top was new when we bought the car, and they didn't go to that expense. I don't think that you can replace that strip without removing the top at least part way. This worked for us. Not exactly the 'right' way but once in a while you have to 'southern engineer'.
Window Glass Replacement
Get the window seal from an auto glass shop. Ask them for a length of the seal, long enough to do the job.
The seal was a stiff rope of material that reminded me of tar with lots of solids in it. It came in a coil, with a strip of paper interleaved between adjacent bits of the seal. The stuff was about the color and shape of a black licorice rope.
Make sure you keep the seal clean and dry, to ensure it stays sticky. Also, make certain to have a good clean and dry surface on the body of the car when you apply the seal. Any dust or dirt will make for a compromised seal.
After removing the window, thoroughly clean the channel where the original seal was. After you dig out all the old seal (I used a wire brush on a drill), clean the surface with a good solvent. Don't use any petroleum based solvents, since they all leave a trace of oily gunk after they dry, and the seal might not stick to the body. I used rubbing alcohol, but if you go to an electronics supply house, you can get a bottle of 93% isopropynol (same as rubbing alcohol, just as pure as it can get in the presence of air).
Do likewise on the glass, but not with a drill. I used a single-edge razor blade scraper, changing blades as often as it seemed necessary. For the last pass before cleaning with alcohol, I used a fresh razor blade to make certain I removed as much junk as possible.
When storing or transporting the glass, be careful how you support the window, since any undue pressure can cause it to break. If you're single and not too anal, the couch or a carpeted floor and a bunch of pillows comes to mind.
After all is clean, clean, clean, lay the seal in the channel where the old seal was. Applying the seal to the window first would make it tough to fit the window "squarely" and keep the seal clean.
To fit the window (and to remove it, for that matter), have a friend help you place the window. Hold the window by the edges or, better yet, by suction cups ($3-$7, ea.) from the outside. You'll want to make sure your placement is "square", so go slow and do all the eye-balling you need to feel confident about the fit.
Set the window on the gasket, making certain the window isn't directly supported by the body, since the seal also acts like a vibration isolator for the glass. If you have direct contact with the body, you might wind up with a broken window a while down the road.
Push the window firmly into the seal. I remember using a large rubber mallet, but I don't recommend it. I do recommend doing this procedure when it's warm out, rather than cold, to make sure the seal is pliable enough to form an occlusive seal between the window and the seal and the body.
For a replacement source of the grained vinyl covering on the windshield header (where the top header seal mates to), if you are very careful you might take a piece of extra material from elewhere on your top and very carefully slip it between your metal and the hole on the inside (underneath). If the hole is just thread bare it may do the trick with some clear vinyl repair, or if the holes are too big you may just have to replace the whole top. I've used the clear vinyl repair and it does work - it's not for show though.
Hydraulic Fluid Replacement
The fluid you have is most likely Delco supreme #11. The rest of the world calls it DOT 3 brake fluid. If the fluid smells kinda like hard liquor that has turned sour the color should be somewhat clear. This is a good indication that the fluid should be replaced. You can run tranny fluid in system (Dexron II) in fact that is exactly what GM did later on. A lot of people on the list also advocate this. The main advantage of tranny fluid is if you ever spill the stuff it won't damage the interior like brake fluid will also I think tranny fluid is more stable with age.
Use ATF instead of brake fluid. Brake fluid is an excellent paint remover & quickly makes painted metal unprotected. The worst places for this are seams, and nooks and crannies that are difficult to get clean and painted again. Often this happens long before you discover the problem. It will also absorb water rather easily. ATF will operate as well as brake fluid & can be cleaned up rather easily. It is not so bad to clean out of carpet & upholstery either.
Don't worry about getting at the cylinders. In the trunk, mounted on the differential hump, is the top hydraulic pump. There are two lines coming off it on either side, each going to the top and bottom of each cylinder. The pump itself also has a hydraulic fluid reservoir. To purge the cylinders, I would just disconnect one of the hoses from each side at the pump, and with a container to catch the fluid, have a friend operate the switch. This should pump the fluid out of the cylinders (but be careful you don't spray oil everywhere or that the top doesn't crunch you if it moves down). If you reverse the switch, the oil should get pumped out of the reservoir (you will probably want a couple of pieces of fuel line hose or whatever to put over the fittings leading to the catch pan for this, and use a hose clamp to avoid any leakage).
Cycling this a few times should get rid of most of the oil. You then need to refill the reservoir with ATF and reattach all of the hoses. You will need to cycle the pump back and forth a number of times, and top off the reservoir to purge the air out of the system. The top won't move at all at first, then it will move very slowly, then all of a sudden, it works like new. Hope it won't leak with the ATF in there (it shouldn't, unless you forget to tighten down the hoses). Just go slowly and be patient. Oh, and be sure to reinstall the fill plug when you're done.
To purge any air from the hydralic lines, cycle the top up & down repeatedly. After each cycle, replentish the fluid. After a couple of cycles, it should get noticeably better. When the bubbles are out of the lines & not showing up in the resevoir, you should be there. Don't forget to repeatedly top off the resevoir.
I just came across a convertible top hydralic purge kit in a (Indian chief) catalog. I made one two years ago from a diagram in the Fisher Body Manual and it worked well. Kit cost is $17.00.
Check out Hydro-Electric for parts like cylinders, etc. They advertise in Hemmings. I have done business with them and was very pleased.
There are 7 pieces on my 98: header seal and three pieces on each side. The Cutlass may be simpler, but the following principles should hold.
The trick is to get the rubber to sit low enough on the window to seal out air/water, but high enough to allow the door to close properly. I think the margin for error is <1/8". Very, very small and hard to hit consistently across the length of a 30 year old convertible top frame. From among the choices/combinations below change one thing at a time and then drive the car. Then change back or try something else.
There are 4 points of adjustment: 1) tightness of the top latches, these hooks screw into the latch itself, if yours are tightened all the way down (up?) try loosening them and see if it buys you any improvement. Too loose and you'll have air coming thru the header seal. Too tight and you won't get the latches to close without high effort and/or snap the hooks off (spring loaded latch, dontcha know).
2) Shim the roof rail rubber with some flat wide rubber (like a bike inner tube, but thicker -- available at Skycraft in Orlando). The shim goes between the top frame and the roof rail rubber to force the rubber to sit lower on the window. I'm about to try this as my next in a many year series of experiments for good convertible sealing.
3) Adjust the window height. You pull the door and interior panels and there are 7/16" nuts at the base of each window which allow maybe a 1/4" or so of movement of the window glass itself. No fun, but it may help. Especially if your doors have dropped just a hair thru years of use. Or if the hinges are worn. Mine are.
4) There are also two bolts on either side of the back of the top mechanism near the hydraulic cylinders. These can be loosened and adjusted, but I didn't make any progress at all so I put 'em back where they started (or as best I could estimate).
How do you adjust the bolts behind the rear seats, what top movements do these control or limit?
I think there are actually 2 different sets of bolts there. One would adjust the fore-to-aft position of the top frame, the other the clearance between the top of the window glass and the frame. These last ones are the ones I'm interested in (my discussion applies to my '64 A-body; I assume the design of the big cars is similar). On mine, there's a pair of bolts oriented vertically that tighten down over a serrated plate. According to my manual, lowering the position of this plate would raise the clearance on the side of the top frame. To get at them you have to take out the rear seat and remove the inside panel trim. I have been meaning to do this for a while now but have been a little hesitant. Afraid that it might be a 2 or 3-man job, and a little fearful that I might screw it up worse than what it already is. But I really need to do it one of these days. It would be nice to be able to close the door without rolling down the window ½ inch.
On mine there's also a fine adjustment in the frame about halfway along the length of the glass opening on either side of the car. It's a little allen screw thingy that gives you maybe ¼" of leeway. But the main adjustment described above has to be in the ballpark before this one does you any good.
As far as adjustments go, I believe the main bolts where the assembly attaches to the car (behind the rear seat) will allow the entire assembly to be either rotated forward/back, or moved forward/back.
I personally wouldn't try adjusting either of these unless you're in the middle of replacing your top. You might find the adjustment helps the mechanism anchor more tightly to the car, but I'd be shocked if you didn't introduce wrinkles in the fabric. Don't forget, the material was installed TIGHTLY based on the current bolt positions.
The only adjustment I know of that won't stretch the fabric is the hold down bolts on the front bow.
Outside of shimming the roof rail rubber any great ideas for noise reduction?
I'm not sure how much of the noise you're hearing is coming from the glass-to-rubber seal. I always suspected a lot of it is just in the nature of convertibles and comes from where the top covers the top frame. On mine they use cables inside the top fabric to hold it snug to the frame, but I'm sure that's not a totally airtight seal. Don't know exactly how you could ever do that given the fact that the thing has to fold.
Should the nuts and bolts on the top frame be tight or not? When tight, I'm always afraid I'm overstressing the hydraulic system in overcoming the resistance, when loose, I'm hearing many more rattles, squeaks, etc.
Many of the fasterers have curved springy washers (wave washers?) on them, so I have been able to eliminate most of the frame rattles. there was one directly over my left ear that was driving me crazy for a while, turned out it was so loose the washer itself was rattling. They have a distinct bell-like sound that drives you nuts. I do need to go over it once a year to check. Some of them seem to actually tighten up with use, while others loosen.
Having said that, I'll offer that a 60's convertible isn't ever going to be particularly rigid if mine is typical. Structure just wasn't a real high priority then, and so you're always going to get some shake and squeak when driving with the top up. I've learned to live with it, and try to drive with the top down whenever I can.
Remember to regulate the window clearances when replacing the pillar weather striping. Not doing so increases the probability that the windows wouldn't roll up all the way without opening the door.
Open the door. Does it drop slightly when it clears the sill? Or does it not line up when closed? If it drags or drops when opened, take hold of the rear end of the door near the handle and try to raise it. On an exteremely good car, you should be able to rock the entire car without seeing any up and down movement in the door. However, if the hinge pins are worn in the doors, you will encounter some play - half an inch to inch is bad, but less than that is probably okay for an older car.
If you suspect the pins, many catalogs offer repair kits that allow you to remove the hinge from the car, drill the holes larger, and install a larger pin or a pin with bushings to take up the slack. But, if you think they're fine, you can adjust the door striker on the body (raise or lower it) by loosening the bolts and using a trial and error process of adjusting it until the door lines align to your satisfaction.
GM offers an oversize bushing for hinges that are worn through the bushing & into the hinge metal. They are pretty cheap and fix the car w/out replacing hinges. There should be almost no movement when lifting the door handle end of the door against the hinges. The replacement job isn't hard, but does require door removal. You'll need the help of a friend here & plenty of masking tape on the door & fender edge to avoid chipping paint.
Door alignment isn't too bad, but can be time consuming. Try marking the hinges w/a scribe or magic marker around their circumference so as to get them back on at the factory location. If you don't want the marks, drill a 1/16" hole through the hinges and into the door before loosening anything for later alignment w/a 1/16" drill. No one will notice this factory looking hole later.
The hardest part with adjusting the door was getting a wrench on the bolts, because they're behind the hinge and very difficulty to reach. I know that the shops use an L-shaped wrench to get at them, so I made my own. I took a cheap-o 1/2" box end wrench and bent it in the vice in two places (finally--a use for those India-made tools - I doubt that a Craftsman would have bent so readily), so it was shaped like a chair with the back legs missing, if you know what I mean, and it fit fine.
I had read some about how trying to adjust a door can be tricky and how you can end up making it worse than it was, but I was successful. The door can be very heavy, so you've got to support it before you start loosening things, or it will sag on you as you loosen it and might damage a hinge or itself.
I used my hydraulic floor jack with some rubber padding on the jack tip to pad the door and not scratch it. Then I snugged it up under the open door and began loosening. When the hinges were loose enough to move, I started pumping on the jack to raise the door. One thing I found is that, to get the right angle on it, I had to keep the door almost closed when I was using the jack, otherwise the door wouldn't go up right. Then I'd have to slide the door open enough to get at the bolts and tighten them. Then I'd remove the jack and check the alignment again.
I had to iterate about half-a-dozen times (snug jack under door, loosen bolts, close door almost all the way, pump jack a bit, open door a bit, tighten bolts, remove jack and check alignment), but I finally got it just right, and it really made a difference. That was about three years ago now, and I've not had problems since.
[ Thanks to Chris Fair, Greg Beaulieu, Bill Culp, Dan Gulino, Shaun R. Guillermin, Jar Lyons for this information ]
Cleaning / Protection
Whatever you do, DO NOT use Bleech-White, the whitewall tire cleaner. It will completely dry out and crack the vinyl top. If you can't get it clean with Tide and a scrub brush, you could always use upholstery dye and spray it white again.
I've tried a coupla industrial strength cleaners for my top, and I found what works best is called "Mean Green". It's not very expensive and comes in a squirt bottle. I never seen any cleaner designed expressly for convertable tops. Also be careful not to get to much cleaner or scrub to hard on the stitching. Ssome of those concentrated cleaners can really weaken it.
First, purchase some of the hand cleaner in a tub stuff like Goop. IMPORTANT: make sure it is white, and not colored. Get the slimy stuff (consistancy of soft lard). I would avoid application on colored tops due to possible fading.
Now, scrub the top using a brush with the cleaner and water. Believe me, the water is critical to success! I dip the brush into a bucket of water, scrape out some cleaner with the edge of the brush, and scrub vigorously. It will tend to bleach the stains out. Then just rinse. I would be sure to rinse all of the cleaner off the paint pretty quick, as it is probably be a little hard on the top after sitting a while.
Did the whole top and the white waterless hand cleaner worked excellently. There were dark areas outlining the bows, and on edges, I guess from dirt sifting thru the Technalon cover and maybe from chapping. Anyway, had tried one panel a couple weeks ago, smeared the stuff on, scrubbed with a brush and rinsed. Looked good, but noticed a few daze later that just rinsing with water din't take off all the residue, which attracted some dirt, so decided to try the following:
Today, slathered on the stuff (use regular white waterless hand cleaner, nothing with pumice or any other stuff in it) by hand, figuring that by the time I got it all covered, it woulda set long enough on the part where I started. Went over whole top with a brush, then rinsed, then washed top with laundry detergent in a bucket of water. Looks like new!
Only downside is that the detergent stripped the wax off the paint. Anyway, highly recommended!
I have a daily driver Lebaron convertible w/a white roof. I use X-14 & a soft brush for the mildew. Dish washing detergent for the other cleaning works well w/a soft brush & a toothbrush (I can't remember what else these are used for). Use plenty of water & don't do this out in the hot sun.
Folding the top wet will encourage much mildew. Get it dry first. Use any harsh detergents & abrasive ones like Ajax very sparingly. Vinyl spray paint will renew a dingey top or curtain. I have put a new top on my car w/out replacing the rear window & was able to match the new top perfectly this way.
Spray-Nine and a scrub brush and a strong arm. Toothbrush on hard to reach spots. I get my Spray-Nine at the local hardware store. Its a germicidal cleanser. So not only will it be clean, but it'll be totally germ free.
One of the things the upholstry guy told me was not to wash it with car wash soap, and not to Armorall it more than once or twice a season. The soap contains harsher detergents and can dry out the material, causing it to tear more easily. This will also help avoid the dry-rot under the windows we also sometimes see. He said wash it in diluted Tide - which is what the manufacturer recommends. Dry it with a soft cloth rather than letting it dry in the sun helps, too.
Other products tried:
vinyl top cleaner (Turtle Wax)
Comet (though this did a nice job otherwise)
Son-of-a Gun cleaner (STP)
I always use a soft bristle brush when cleaning it. The amazing thing is that most of these things are equally ineffective on what are either grease of mildew stains. Comet did a good job on the unstained areas but did nothing for the stains.
For problems with a top not going up or down, try the following as condensed from the GM body service manual.
They suggest checking first for binding in the top assembly. You do this by disconnecting the top mechanism from the hydraulic cylinders and manually raising and lowering the top to check.
The next step is to check that the fluid in the pump reservoir. It should be within 1/4" of the bottom of the filler hole.
Assuming that's OK, and that the pump functions from an electrical standpoint (which I assume yours does), the next step is to check the cylinders. To do this they say you need to remove the rear seat and side panels. Operate the top and observe the operation of the cylinders. If the movement is sluggish or uncoordinated, check the hoses from the pump to cylinders for kinks. If one cylinder moves more slowly than the other, they say the cylinder is defective and should be replaced. If both move slowly, they say you need to check the pressure output from the pump (although I suppose its possible both could be defective).
Here's where it really gets nasty. To check the pump you need a pressure guage (or more likely, a hydraulics shop). You remove the pump and test it on a bench. Plug one port and install the guage to the other. Pressure specs are between 340 and 380 psi (this is for a 1964, but I presume other years would be the same). Then you check the other port. As long as both are within the range specified its OK (they don't need to be exactly the same). If they're out of spec, your pump needs repair or replacement.
Check the pump tank. If it is low, add the fluid (brake fluid if clear/yellowish, or ATF if red) to full, replace the cap, & cycle the top up & down a couple of times. Recheck the fluid level & refill as necessary. Recycle the top a couple of times. Repeat this until you have a properly operating top.
Removing the rear seat & checking the floor for either brake fluid or ATF should tell you about a leak. Tighten everything in the area of a leak. You'll have to replace lines that may be cracked & leaking. Pumps & cylinders need to be rebuilt or replaced if they leak.
Check the channel under the beltline (the opening in front of the trunk lid that the top folds into). Any water the drains off the rear window and finds it way into that crack is supposed to end up in this channel and runs forward, around the hinges for the top and dumps into the side panels just in front of the rear wheel wells. There should be drainage holes at the underside of the body panels. These are probably clogged up. You may have to take off the inside armrests in the backseat and get into the access panels like your going to work on the rear side window mechanisms. Flashlite and vacumn cleaner should clear out any debris. You might also go head first into the trunk, on your back and feel along that channel to see if its cracked or broken, but it curves way around and is gonna be tuff to reach clear to the sides. Found all this out trying to redo my top.
If the convertable top is ripping in the corners near the rear roof bow (or strangly in other places as well), check your hoses. If their stiff and don't flex real well, replace them! Check both pistons. See if the "push rods" are bent or if the cylinder(s) is leaking. If so, replace them! All of this is much easier (and usually cheaper) if you do it while the top is being replaced.
relays are prone to water contamination. I picked one up at Carlisle for $15.00. They have a set of contact points inside that can become mis-aligned over time. Try jumping out the relay with a 30 amp fusible link From the local parts house. If this works, replace the relay.
The easiest way to find correct color for your aircleaner or any other misc parts, is to use the SIKKENS colormap, which has tens of thousands colors grouped by shades, not by auto manufacturer. This colormap is used worldwide, so if anyone needs, for example, the correct color code for a 1965 Starfire 425 aircleaner (red-orange), I can check it from my car here in Finland (Scandinavia, Europe!), and you can buy the same color from local Sikkens car paint dealer in India or USA or wherever you live, and it matches exactly.
The fire wall is 30% gloss black. The core support is gloss black. Hood hinges should be 30% gloss black.
Rustoleum Satin Black for a semi-gloss on under hood sheet metal. It looks good, and a lot like the original stuff.
The Satin Clear does an excellent job on your hood hinges after they have been sandblasted (not bead blasted). Four or five coats right after blasting and they look just like the factory finish and very durable.
[ Thanks to Glenn Connors, kdporter (email@example.com) for this information ]
Drag link - manganese phosphate/color coded. Tie rod ends are the same. Tie rod end adjusting sleeves - semi gloss black. Idler arm is the M-P /C-C. Pitman arm is cast iron gray C-C. Spindles are cast iron gray C-C. Brake backing plates are 30% gloss black. Most I have seen have been natural.
The frame is chasis black.
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